Bookbinding, and the Care of Books, by Douglas Cockerell

Chapter VI

Trimming Edges before Sewing — Edge Gilding

Trimming Before Sewing

When the sheets come from the press the treatment of the edges must be decided upon, that is, whether they are to be entirely uncut, trimmed before sewing, or cut in boards.

Early printed books and manuscripts should on no account have their edges cut at all, and any modern books of value are better only slightly trimmed and gilt before sewing. But for books of reference that need good bindings, on account of the wear they have to withstand, cutting in boards is best, as the smooth edge so obtained makes the leaves easier to turn over. Gilt tops and rough edges give a book a look of unequal finish.

If the edges are to remain uncut, or be cut “in boards” with the plough, the book will be ready for “marking up” as soon as it comes from the press; but if it is to be gilt before sewing, it must be first trimmed.

Fig. 23.
Fig. 23.

The sheets for trimming with end papers and all plates inserted must first be cut square at the head against a carpenter’s square (see Fig. 7). Then a piece of mill-board may be cut to the size, it is desired to leave the leaves, and the sections trimmed to it. To do this three nails should be put into the covering board through a piece of straw-board, and the back of the section slid along nails 1 and 2 until it touches No. 3 (see Fig. 23). The board is slid in the same way, and anything projecting beyond it cut off. When the under straw-board has become inconveniently scored in the first position, by shifting the lower nail (1) a fresh surface will receive the cuts. Fig. 24 is a representation of a simple machine that I use in my workshop for trimming. The slides A A are adjustable to any width required, and are fixed by the screws B B. The brass-bound straight edge C fits on to slots in A A, and as this, by the adjustment of the slides, can be fixed at any distance from B B, all sizes of books can be trimmed. As by this machine several sections can be cut at once, the time taken is not very much greater than if the book were cut in the plough.

Fig. 24.
Fig. 24.

Considerable judgment is required in trimming. The edges of the larger pages only, on a previously uncut book, should be cut, leaving the smaller pages untouched. Such uncut pages are called “proof,” and the existence of proof in a bound book is evidence that it has not been unduly cut.

Before gilding the edges of the trimmed sections, any uncut folds that may remain should be opened with a folder, as if opened after gilding, they will show a ragged white edge.

Fig. 25.
Fig. 25.

Edge Gilding

To gild the edges of trimmed sections, the book must be “knocked up” to the fore-edge, getting as many of the short leaves as possible to the front. It is then put into the “lying press,” with gilding boards on each side (see Fig. 25), and screwed up tightly. Very little scraping will be necessary, and usually if well rubbed with fine sand-paper, to remove any chance finger-marks or loose fragments of paper, the edge will be smooth enough to gild. If the paper is very absorbent, the edges must be washed over with vellum size and left to dry.

The next process is an application of red chalk. For this a piece of gilder’s red chalk is rubbed down on a stone with water, making a thickish paste, and the edges are well brushed with a hard brush dipped in this mixture, care being taken not to have it wet enough to run between the leaves. Some gilders prefer to use blacklead or a mixture of chalk and blacklead. A further brushing with a dry brush will to some extent polish the leaves. It will then be ready for an application of glaire. Before glairing, the gold must be cut on the cushion to the width required (see p. 200), and may be either taken up on very slightly greased paper, a gilder’s tip, or with a piece of net stretched on a little frame (see Fig. 26). The gold leaf will adhere sufficiently to the net, and can be readily released by a light breath when it is exactly over the proper place on the edge.

When the gold is ready, the glaire should be floated on to the edge with a soft brush, and the gold spread evenly over it and left until dry; that is, in a workshop of ordinary temperature, for about an hour. The edge is then lightly rubbed with a piece of leather that has been previously rubbed on beeswax, and is ready for burnishing. It is best to commence burnishing through a piece of thin slightly waxed paper to set the gold, and afterwards the burnisher can be used directly on the edge. A piece of bloodstone ground so as to have no sharp edges (see Fig. 27) makes a good burnisher.

Fig. 26.
Fig. 26.

There are several different preparations used for gilding edges. One part of beaten up white of egg with four parts of water left to stand for a day and strained will be found to answer well.

Fig. 27.
Fig. 27.

After the fore-edge is gilt the same operation is repeated at the head and tail. As it is desirable to have the gilding at the head as solid as possible, rather more scraping is advisable here, or the head may be left to be cut with a plough and gilt in boards.

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