Ch.7: Costing a book – the general shape of the thing

The basic elements of a book are two: the book itself and the case or cover that serves to protect it; bookbinding is the craft of making then joining one to the other.

The case is the simpler of the two. It consists of three boards – front, back and spine – which may be hinged together to form a whole (I followed this practice) which is then covered in material, typically bookcloth or leather. PVA glue is used to stick the various components together.

The process of casing in is illustrated with admirable clarity in this YouTube video by Jacqueline Poutasse which I found very useful, particularly in constructing the basic cover:


The book itself is more complex, being composed of a number of folded sections or signatures sewn together. Though it need not be, this can be done on a special frame, using tapes, which is the method I used, guided by this excellent YouTube video from Bookbinders Chronicle. I would commend all their Bookbinding 101 series, not only for content, but as examples of how instructional videos should be made:

From this, we can deduce that the ‘consumable’ elements that are required to make any book are: paper, ink (toner, in the case of a laser printer), thread, glue, board and bookcloth (or suitable binding material). To this you may wish to add (as I did) tapes (for sewing onto) and mull (a sheet of muslin glued to the spine of the book once it is sewn together) and decorative endpapers. These three elements all combine to make the hinge by which the book and the case are joined. The endpaper is the main element and serves to conceal the other two. It need not be decorative – plain paper will serve – but it is one of those features that greatly enhance the appearance of a book.

These are what must be costed for each book – and that involves working out the quantities needed per book, e.g. how much bookcloth do you require per case? – but some investment in tools and equipment is also required. I have already mentioned the printer, and here we have seen  the desirability of a sewing frame (in fact, I would call it essential, if you wish to produce in any quantity – mine allowed me to sew five books at a time, a useful unit of production). Applying pressure is necessary at various points in the process and you might want to consider the variety of presses on offer, if only to drool over them, but they are not cheap; alternatives can be found, as I will describe in due course. Such things as needles and pastebrushes you might have to hand, but they can be had from the delightful emporium that is J. Hewit & Sons, along with anything else you might need (provided you can afford it).

Another item you will require for large-scale production is a heavy-duty guillotine, an article I will discuss separately – but avoid anything flimsy: rigidity and weight are positive advantages here.

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