Bookbinding, and the Care of Books, by Douglas Cockerell

Chapter XII

Preparing for Covering — Paring Leather — Covering — Mitring Corners — Filling-in Boards

Preparing for Covering

After the headband is worked, a piece of brown or other stout paper should be well glued on at the head and tail, care being taken that it is firmly attached to the back and the headband. When dry, the part projecting above the headband is neatly cut off, and the part on the back well sand-papered, to remove any irregularity caused by the tie-downs attaching the headband. For most books this will be quite sufficient lining up, but very heavy books are best further lined up between the bands with linen, or thin leather. This can be put on by pasting the linen or leather and giving the back a very thin coat of glue.

Fig. 58.
Fig. 58.

The only thing now left to do before covering will be to set the squares and to cut off a small piece of the back corner of each board at the head and tail, to make it possible for the boards to open and shut without dragging the head-cap out of place. The form of the little piece to be cut off varies with each individual binder, but I have found for an octavo book that a cut slightly sloping from the inside cutting off the corner about an eighth of an inch each way, gives the best result (see Fig. 58). When the corner has been cut off, the boards should be thrown back, and the slips between the book and the board well pasted. When these have soaked a little, the squares of the boards are set; that is, the boards are fixed so that exactly the same square shows on each board above head and tail. A little larger square is sometimes an advantage at the tail to keep the head-cap well off the shelf, the essential thing being that both head and both tail squares should be the same. In the case of an old book that has not been recut, the edges will often be found to be uneven. In such cases the boards must be made square, and so set that the book stands up straight.

When the slips have been pasted and the squares set, tins can be put inside and outside the boards, and the book given a slight nip in the press to flatten the slips. Only a comparatively light pressure should be given, or the lining up of the headbands or back will become cockled and detached.

Paring Leather

While the slips are being set in the press the cover can be got out. Judgment is necessary in cutting out covers. One workman will be able, by careful cutting, to get six covers out of a skin where another will only get four. The firm part of the skin is the back and sides, and this only should be used for the best books. The fleshy parts on the flanks and belly will not wear sufficiently well to be suitable for good bookbinding.

The skin should be cut out leaving about an inch all round for turning in when the book is covered, and when cut out it must be pared. If the leather is of European manufacture most of the paring will have been done before it is sold, and the leather manufacturer will have shaved it to any thickness required. This is a convenience that is partly responsible for the unduly thin leather that is commonly used. The better plan is to get the leather rather thick, and for the binder to pare it down where necessary. For small books it is essential, in order that the covers may open freely, and the boards not look clumsy, that the leather should be very thin at the joint and round the edges of the boards. For such books it is very important that a small, naturally thin skin should be used that will not have to be unduly pared down, and that the large and thicker skins should be kept for large books.

Binders like using large skins because there is much less waste, but if these skins are used for small books, so much of the leather substance has to be pared away, that only the comparatively brittle grained surface remains. By the modern process of dyeing this surface is often to some extent injured, and its strength sometimes totally destroyed.

When the cover has been cut to size the book is laid on it with the boards open, and a pencil line drawn round them, a mark being made to show where the back comes. The skin is then pared, making it thin where the edge of the boards will come. Great care must be taken that the thinning does not commence too abruptly, or a ridge will be apparent when the leather is on the book.

The paring must be done quite smoothly and evenly. Every unevenness shows when the cover is polished and pressed. Care is needed in estimating the amount that will have to be pared off that part of the leather that covers the back and joints. The object of the binder should be to leave these portions as thick as he can consistently with the free opening of the boards. The leather at the head-caps must be pared quite thin, as the double thickness on the top of the headband is apt to make this part project above the edges of the board. This is a great trouble, especially at the tail, where, if the head-cap projects beyond the boards, the whole weight of the book rests on it, and it is certain to be rubbed off when the book is put on the shelf.

Fig. 59.
Fig. 59.

The method of paring with a French knife (Fig. 60, A) — the only form of knife in use by binders that gives sufficient control over the leather — is shown at Fig. 59. To use this knife properly, practice is required. The main thing to learn is that the knife must be used quite flat, and made to cut by having a very slight burr on the under side. This burr is got by rubbing the knife on the lithographic stone on which the paring is done. The handle of the knife should never be raised to such a height above the surface of the stone that it is possible to get the under fingers of the right hand over the edge of the stone. Another form of knife suitable for paring the edges of leather is shown at Fig. 60, B.

Fig. 60.
Fig. 60.

To test if the leather has been sufficiently pared, fold it over where the edge of the board will come, and run the finger along the folded leather. If the paring has been done properly it will feel quite even the whole length of the fold; but if there are any irregularities, they will be very apparent, and the paring must be gone over again till they have disappeared. When even, the book must be again laid on the leather with the boards open, and a pencil line drawn round as before. If there are leather joints they will have been pared before the book was sewn, and care must be taken in paring the turn-in of the cover that it is of the same thickness as the leather joint, or it will be impossible to make a neat mitre at the back corners.

Covering

Before covering, the book must be looked at to see that the bands are quite square and at equal distances apart. Any slight errors in this respect can be corrected by holding the book in the lying press between backing boards and gently tapping the bands from one side or the other with a piece of wood struck with a hammer. This is best done when the back is cleaned off, but by damping the bands slightly it may be done just before covering. The squares must be looked to, and the edges of the board well rubbed with a folder, or tapped with a hammer, to remove any burr that may have been caused by the plough knife, or any chance blow. The back is then moistened with paste, or, in the case of a very large book, with thin glue, and left to soak. The cover can then be well pasted with thickish paste, that has been previously well beaten up. When the cover is pasted, it can be folded with the pasted sides together and left to soak for a few minutes while the back is again looked to, and any roughness smoothed down with the folder. Before covering, the bands should be nipped up with band nippers (see Fig. 61) to make sure that they are sharp. The coverer should have ready before covering a clean paring stone, one or two folders, a pair of nickeled-band nippers, a clean sponge, a little water in a saucer, a piece of thread, and a strip of smooth wood (boxwood for preference), called a band stick, used for smoothing the leather between the bands, a pair of scissors, and a small sharp knife, a pair of waterproof sheets the size of the book, and, if the book is a large one, a pair of tying up boards, with tying up string, and two strips of wood covered in blotting-paper or leather. It is best to have the band nippers for covering nickeled to prevent the iron from staining the leather. The waterproof sheets recommended are thin sheets of celluloid, such as are used by photographers.

Fig. 61.
Fig. 61.

When these things are ready, the pasted cover should be examined and repasted if it has dried in any place. The amount of paste to be used for covering can only be learned by experience. A thick leather will take more than a thin one, but, provided the cover sticks tight at every point, the less paste used the better. If there is too much, it will rub up and make very ugly, uneven places under the leather; and if there is too little, the cover will not stick.

Fig. 62.
Fig. 62.

Take the pasted cover and look to see which is the better side of the leather. Lay the front of the book down on this exactly up to the marks that show the beginning of the turn-in. Then draw the leather over the back and on to the other side, pulling it slightly, but not dragging it. Then stand the book on its fore-edge on a piece of waste paper, with the leather turned out on either side, as shown at Fig. 62, and nip up the bands with nickeled band nippers (see Fig. 63). After this is done there will probably be a good deal of loose leather on the back. This can be got rid of by dragging the leather on to the side; but by far the better plan, when the back is large enough to allow it, is to work up the surplus leather on to the back between the panels. This requires a good deal of practice, and is very seldom done; but it can be done with most satisfactory results. The book should now have the leather on the back stretched lengthways to make it cover the bands, but not stretched the other way, and the leather on the boards should lie perfectly flat and not be stretched at all. The leather on the fore-edge of the board is then rubbed with the hand on the outside, and then on to the edge, and then on the inside. The edge and the inside are smoothed down with a folder, and any excessive paste on the inside squeezed out and removed. When the fore-edge of both boards has been turned in, the head and tail must also be turned in. A little paste is put on to that part of the leather that will turn in below the headband, and this portion is neatly tucked in between the boards and the back. The turned-in edge must lie quite evenly, or it will result in a ridge on the back. The leather is turned in on the two boards in the same way as described for the fore-edge, and the edge rubbed square with a folder. At Fig. 64 is shown a convenient form of folder for covering. At the corners the leather must be pulled over as far as possible with two folders meeting at the extreme point, the object being to avoid a cut in the leather at the corner of the board. The folds so formed must be cut off with the scissors (see Fig. 65, A), then one edge tucked neatly under the other, (B). Care must be taken throughout not to soil the edges of the leaves.

Fig. 63.
Fig. 63.

Fig. 64. Fig. 64.

At the headband the fold of leather, pared thin for the purpose, must be squeezed together with a folder and pulled out a little to leave an even projection that can be turned over to form a head-cap. When both ends have been turned in, in this way, the boards must each be opened and pressed against a straight-edge held in the joint (Fig. 66) to ensure that there is enough leather in the turn-in of the joint to allow the cover to open freely; and the leather of the turn-in at the head and tail must be carefully smoothed down with a folder.

Fig. 65.
Fig. 65.

Fig. 66.
Fig. 66.

Fig. 67.
Fig. 67.

The book may now be shut up if a waterproof sheet is put at each end to prevent the damp of the cover from cockling the paper. It must then be stood on its fore-edge and the bands again nipped up with a pair of nickeled band nippers, and the panels between the bands well pressed down with the band stick to cause the leather to stick at every point. A piece of thread is tied round the back from head to tail, squeezing the leather in the gap caused by the corners of the board having been cut off. The book is then turned up on end, resting the tail on a folder or anything that will keep the projecting leather for the head-cap from being prematurely flattened. The head-caps (Fig. 67) must now be set. To do this the first finger of the left hand is placed behind it, and a sharp folder is pressed into the corners of the head-cap between the headband and the thread. The leather is then tapped over the headband, and the whole turned over on the stone and rubbed at the back with a folder. This operation requires great nicety. The shape of head-cap is shown at Fig. 67. The nice adjustment of head-caps and corners, although of no constructional value, are the points by which the forwarding of a book is generally valued.

Fig. 68.
Fig. 68.

If the book is a large one, it will be best to tie it up. The method of tying up is shown in Fig. 68. The tying up cords will make marks at the side of the bands, that are not unpleasant on a large book. If they are objected to, it is best to tie the book up for about half-an-hour, and then to untie it, and smooth out the marks with the band stick. Even with small books, if the leather seems inclined to give trouble, it is well to tie them up for a short time, then to untie them, to smooth out any marks or inequalities, and to tie them up again.

Mitring Corners and Filling in

A book that has been covered should be left under a light weight until the next day, with waterproof sheets between the damp cover and the end paper to prevent the sheets of the book from cockling through the damp. When the cover is thoroughly set the boards should be carefully opened, pressing them slightly to the joint to ensure a square and even joint. If, as is sometimes the case, the turn-in of the leather over the joint seems to be inclined to bind, the cover should be merely opened half-way, and the leather of the turns-in of the joint damped with a sponge, and left to soak for a short time, and then the cover can usually be opened without any dragging. A section of a good joint is shown at Fig. 69, A, and a bad one at B.

Fig. 69.
Fig. 69.

Fig. 70.
Fig. 70.

The next operation will be to fill in the board and mitre the corners. To fill in the boards, a piece of paper as thick as the turn-in of the leather (engineer’s cartridge paper answers very well) should be cut a little smaller than the board, with one edge cut straight; then with the straight edge adjusted to the back of the board, and a weight placed on the centre, the paper is marked round with dividers set to the intended width of the turn-in of the leather. Then with a sharp knife, paper and leather may be cut through together. The paper should then be marked to show its position on the board, and the ragged edges of the leather trimmed off. This will leave an even margin of leather on three sides of the inside of the board, and a piece of paper that will exactly fit the remaining space. The corners must next be mitred. To do this, both thicknesses of leather are cut through from the corner of the board to the corner of the inside margin. The knife should be held slightly slanting to make a cut, as shown at Fig. 70. The corners should then be thoroughly damped, and the overlapping leather from both sides removed, leaving what should be a neat and straight join. If the leather at the extreme corner should prove to be, as is often the case, too thick to turn in neatly, the corners should be opened out and the leather pared against the thumb nail, and then well pasted and turned back again. The extreme corner may be slightly tapped on the stone with a hammer, and the sides rubbed with a folder, to ensure squareness and sharpness. When all four corners have been mitred, the filling in papers can be pasted in. As they will probably stretch a little with the paste, it will be well to cut off a slight shaving, and they should then fit exactly. When the boards have been filled in and well rubbed down, the book should be left for some hours with the boards standing open to enable the filling-in papers to draw the boards slightly inwards to overcome the pull of the leather.

In cases where there are leather joints the operation is as follows: The waste end paper is removed, and the edge of the board and joint carefully cleaned from glue and all irregularities, and if, as is most likely, it is curved from the pull of the leather, the board must be tapped or ironed down until it is perfectly straight. If there is difficulty in making the board lie straight along the joint before pasting down, it will be well first to fill in with a well pasted and stretched thin paper, which, if the boards are left open, will draw them inwards. If the leather joint is pasted down while the board is curved, the result will be a most unsightly projection on the outside. When the joint has been cleaned out, and the board made to lie flat, the leather should be pasted down and mitred. The whole depth of the turn-in of the covering leather in the joint must not be removed, or it will be unduly weakened. The mitring line should not come from the extreme corner, but rather farther down, and there it is well to leave a certain amount of overlap in the joint, for which purpose the edge of the turn-in leather and the edge of the leather joint should be pared thin. After pasting down the leather joints the boards should be left open till they are dry (see Fig. 71). The turn-in and leather joint are then trimmed out, leaving an even margin of leather all round the inside of the board, and the panel in the centre filled in with a piece of thick paper.

Fig. 71.
Fig. 71.

When corners and filling in are dry, the boards may be shut up, and the book is ready for finishing.

It is a common practice to wash up the covers of books that have become stained with a solution of oxalic acid in water. This is a dangerous thing to do, and is likely to seriously injure the leather. Leather, when damp, must not be brought in contact with iron or steel tools, or it may be badly stained.

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