Book Binding

To begin, I’m not the best communicator. So this might be less of a tutorial and more of a personal experience with vague instructions on how to bind paper. I’ve included several resources at that might help a whole lot better than my written words. I’m not offended if you think they’re better. But the best part for me of projecting is the journey to figure out how to do things.

I started making booklets for myself a few years ago. It all started because I couldn’t find the notebook I wanted to use. I prefer a nice, slick paper with grey dots in a grid pattern. Blank printer paper was fine, but the ends of my sentences would always trail off. So I experimented with several techniques for binding paper. I’m still experimenting (I don’t take as many notes as I did in college, so it’s slow going…) Binding paper can be as simple or as complex as you are willing to make it. In this post, we’ll discuss three ways, in increasing complexity, to binding paper.

Materials

Paper – Any paper will work. The thicker the paper though, the harder it can be to fold and sew together.

PVA Glue -Polyvinyl acetate. This is literally used for everything: wood glue, Elmer’s glue, Modge Podge, etc. PVA is a used in bookbinding because it has a very low acidity and is very strong, which increases the lifespan of bound paper.

Thread – Book binders typically use linen thread. It doesn’t deteriorate quickly and offers some play for changing environments. Use whatever thread you want or have though. I have plenty of regular sewing thread lying around that I use for quick cheap projects.

Needle – You’ll need a thicker, more sturdy needle than the kind you use to sew on a popped off button.

Stapler – (optional) Depending on the size and number of pages of your folio, you can use a stapler to make the folio instead of needle and thread.

Covering – We won’t go over this in detail, but anything can be used as a covering. Vinyl, leather, fabric, and cardstock work really well as coverings and provides a decent amount of regular wear and tear on a book. You can even get creative, using old comic books or old book pages.

Awl – The tool you’ll use to make holes. It’s really a glorified meat skewer.

Bone Folder – This tool used to be made of bone. Now a days it’s made of plastic and helps create a crisp fold line in your paper.

Process #1: Tear Away Paper

The most basic way to join paper is by gluing one edge of a stack of paper together with PVA glue. Simply stack together some paper, making sure one edge is uniform and flat. Press the stack together between two stiff surfaces. This will make gluing easier. I uses two planks of wood I’ve threaded with some bolts. In addition to an easier glue-up, the planks of wood allow me to lock bigger stacks in place and allows me to clear off my desk in the midst of a glue-up.

Once stacked, spread a layer of glue on the edge. Allow to dry before adding more layers of glue. One to two layers of glue works well for tear away paper, but if you’re looking to have a stronger, sturdier pad of paper, use three to five layers of glue. Easy peasy.

Process #2: Booklet

This is my favourite process. I like the ability to change out notebooks for different purposes and I don’t feel as bad about the time I spent making this when I fill up the notebook quickly.

Booklets are essentially folios. Folios are booklets of paper folded in half and inserted inside each other. Think how a newspaper is put together. Any paper will do for making these folios, but the thicker the paper, the smaller the folios will need to be.

A standalone booklet can be 5-20 individual pages. I typically use 20 pages. 20 pages is enough to take about 3 weeks of notes for me (remember, I’m not in college anymore, so your results may vary).

Take the number of pages you’re using for your booklet/folio and fold them in half, one at a time. You could fold them all at once, but you get a crisper, more professional spine if you fold each page individually or, at tops, three pages at a time. Once folded, stack the pages inside each other to make the folio. Unfold the folio and lay it flat on a surface.

At this point, you can take the easy way to bind: use a stapler. It’s quick and it is pretty sturdy. Staples don’t work though if you’re making a bigger book. Bigger books require needle and thread… and awl.

Take your awl and make five to seven evenly spaced holes through the fold and threw every sheet of paper in the folio. More holes equals a sturdier spine. Thread a needle with a lot more thread than you think you will need, approximately three times the height of the portfolio. Triple knot the end of the thread. We want the knot to be bigger than the hole, enough so that you don’t accidentally tear the knot through the hole. Now thread through every hole just like you would sewing cloth. You will notice that the thread leaves a gap between every other pair of holes. Once you pull through the top hole, we’ll reverse direction, ending up back at the knot and filling in the gaps we made on the sew up. Triple knot the thread when you return to the beginning and cut off the excess thread.

NOTE: the threading should be just taut enough. Too taut, and the thread will rip through the paper as you use the finished product. Too loose, and the pages won’t hold together well and will flop all over the place.

You can use this book on its own, or as inserts for Midori style notebooks. You can make your own using a fabric style cover (leather, cloth, and vinyl work great) and some elastic.

Process #3: Bound Book

This is the most complicated, but potentially the most rewarding. We’ll use the other two paper binding methods to inform this process. First, we’ll make some folios from Process #2, anywhere from three to ten folios makes a pretty nice sized book. Each folio should be made somewhere from one two five pages. Any more and you might have problems when opening the book flat on a table. To each their own.

Begin sewing the first folio. When you get to the end of the sewing process from #2, do not knot it! We’re going to continue sewing the next folio with the same thread. When you pull the thread on the outside of the spine, loop the thread you’re sewing with through the thread of the previous folio before continuing sewing the current folio. Continue this for every folio till there are no more folios to thread and triple knot it at the end. If you run out of thread in the middle, don’t worry. Just knot off the thread when you run out, thread the needle again, and continue on your merry way.

Press your sewn together folios together and use your PVA glue to bind the spine. Next, we’ll need to make two single sheet folios to glue the outer covering to the book innards. Run a 1/4in bead of PVA glue along the outside of the front and the back of the booklet close to the spine. Take the folios and hold them in place to the book. Lastly, your cover material. Your cover material needs to be big enough to cover the front, spine, and back of the book with room to spare. You can trim it down once it’s connected if it’s too big. Spread a thin sheet of PVA glue to the outside of the folios we just glued to the book innards. Then wrap the cover material over the book. Leave a little room in the spine area to allow easy opening and closing. Once dry, you can trim everything.

And that’s it! Three way to bind paper. I highly encourage you to experiment and try different types of binding and paper. It’s a fun little craft/hobby to do. Enjoy!

Resources

Make your own Midori-style notebook! There are several instructions on how to do this, but I found this one incredibly informative. @Instructables

Sea Lemon on Youtube is a really great teacher and has several great tutorials on book binding. @SeaLemon

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