Bookbinding, and the Care of Books, by Douglas Cockerell

Chapter X

Cutting in Boards — Gilding and Colouring Edges

Cutting in Boards

The knife for cutting edges may be ground more acutely than for cutting boards, and should be very sharp, or the paper may be torn. The plough knife should never be ground on the under side, as if the under side is not quite flat, it will tend to run up instead of cutting straight across. Before beginning to cut edges, the position of the knife should be tested carefully by screwing the plough up, with the press a little open, and noting whereabouts on the left-hand cheek the point of the knife comes. In a press that is true the knife should just clear the edge of the press. If there is too much packing the knife will cut below the edge of the press, and if too little, it will cut above.

“Packing” is paper inserted between the knife and the metal plate on the plough, to correct the position of the knife. When by experiment the exact thickness of paper necessary for any given knife is found, the packing should be carefully kept when the knife is taken out for grinding, and put back with it into the plough.

The first edge to be cut is the top, and the first thing to do is to place the boards in the position they will hold when the book is bound. The front board is then dropped the depth of the square required, care being taken that the back edge of the board remains evenly in the joint. A piece of cardboard, or two or three thicknesses of paper, are then slipped in between the end paper and the back board to prevent the latter from being cut by the knife. The book is then carefully lowered into the press, with the back towards the workman, until the top edge of the front board is exactly even with the right-hand cheek, and the press screwed up evenly. The back board should show the depth of the square above the left-hand cheek. It is very important that the edge of the back board should be exactly parallel with the press, and if at first it is not so, the book must be twisted until it is right.

The edges can now be cut with the plough as in cutting mill-boards. The tail of the book is cut in the same way, still keeping the back of the book towards the workman, but cutting from the back board.

Fig. 54.
Fig. 54.

Fig. 55.
Fig. 55.

Cutting the fore-edge is more difficult. The waste sheets at each end of the book should be cut off flush with the edge of the board, and marks made on them below the edge showing the amount of the square, and consequently how much is to be cut off. The curve of the back, and consequent curve of the fore-edge, must first be got rid of, by inserting a pair of pieces of flat steel called “trindles” (Fig. 54) across the back, from the inside of the boards. When these are inserted the back must be knocked quite flat, and, in the case of a heavy book, a piece of tape may be tied round the leaves (see Fig. 55) to keep them in position. A pair of cutting boards is placed one on each side of the leaves, the back one exactly up to the point that the edge of the board came to, and the front one as much below that point as it is desired the square of the fore-edge should be. The trindles are removed while the book is held firmly between the cutting boards by the finger and thumb; book and boards are then lowered very carefully into the press. The top edge of the front cutting board should be flush with the right-hand cheek of the press, and that of the back a square above the left-hand cheek (see Fig. 56). A further test is to look along the surface of the right-hand cheek, when, if the book has been inserted truly, the amount of the back cutting board in sight should exactly correspond with the amount of the paper to be cut showing above the front board. It will also be necessary before cutting to look at the back, and to see that it has remained flat. If it has gone back to its old curve, or the book has been put into the press crookedly, it must be taken right out again and the trindles inserted afresh, as it is usually a waste of time to try to adjust the book when it is in the press. The leaves are cut in the same way as those of the head and tail.

Fig. 56.
Fig. 56.

Gilding or Colouring the Edges of a Cut Book

Gilding the edges of a book cut in boards is much the same process as that described for the trimmed book, excepting that when gilt in boards the edges can be scraped and slightly sand-papered. It is the custom to admire a perfectly solid gilt edge, looking more like a solid sheet of metal, than the leaves of a book. As the essential characteristic of a book is, that it is composed of leaves, this fact is better accepted and emphasised by leaving the edges a little rough, so that even when gilt they are evidently the edges of leaves of paper, and not the sides of a block, or of something solid.

To gild the edges of a cut book the boards should be turned back, and cutting boards put on each side of the book flush with the edge to be gilt. For the fore-edge the book must be thrown up with trindles first, unless it is desired to gild in the round, a process which gives the objectionable solid metallic edge.

After the edges have been gilt they may be decorated by tooling, called “gauffering.

This may be done, either by tooling with hot tools directly on the gold while the leaves are screwed up tightly in the press, or by laying another coloured gold on the top of the first and tooling over that, leaving the pattern in the new gold on the original colour. But, to my mind, edges are best left undecorated, except for plain gold or colour.

If the edges are to be coloured, they should be slightly scraped, and the colour put on with a sponge, commencing with the fore-edge, which should be slightly fanned out, and held firmly, by placing a pressing-board above it, and pressing with the hand on this. The colour must be put on very thinly, commencing from the centre of the fore-edge and working to either end, and as many coats put on as are necessary to get the depth of colour required. The head and tail are treated in the same way, excepting that they cannot be fanned out, and the colour should be applied from the back to the fore-edge. If in the fore-edge an attempt is made to colour from one end to the other, and if in the head or tail from the fore-edge to the back, the result will almost certainly be that the sponge will leave a thick deposit of colour round the corner from which it starts.

For colouring edges almost any stain will answer, or ordinary water-colours may be used if moistened with size.

When the colour is dry the edge should be lightly rubbed over with a little beeswax, and burnished with a tooth burnisher (see Fig. 57).

Fig. 57.
Fig. 57.

In addition to plain colour and gilding, the edges of a book may be decorated in a variety of ways. The fore-edge may be fanned out and painted in any device in water-colour and afterwards gilded; the painting will only show when the book is open. The fore-edge for this must be cut very solid, and if the paper is at all absorbent, must be sized with vellum size before being painted. The paints used must be simple water-colour, and the edge must not be touched with the hand before gilding, as if there is any grease or finger-mark on it, the gold will not stick evenly. Painting on the fore-edge should only be attempted when the paper of the book is thin and of good quality. More common methods of decorating edges are by marbling and sprinkling, but they are both inferior to plain colouring. Some pleasant effects are sometimes obtained by marbling edges and then gilding over the marbling.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06