Bookbinding, and the Care of Books, by Douglas Cockerell

Chapter IX

Cutting and Attaching Boards — Cleaning off Back — Pressing

Cutting and Attaching Boards

The first quality of the best black board made from old rope is the best to use for “extra” binding. It will be found to be very hard, and not easily broken or bent at the corners. In selecting the thickness suitable for any given book, the size and thickness of the volume should be taken into account. The tendency of most modern binders is to use a rather over thick board, perhaps with a view to bulk out the volume. For manuscripts, or other books on vellum, it is best to use wooden boards, which should be clasped. From their stability they form a kind of permanent press, in which the vellum leaves are kept flat. In a damp climate like that of England, vellum, absorbing moisture from the atmosphere, soon cockles up unless it is held tightly in some way; and when it is once cockled, the book cannot be made to shut properly, except with very special treatment. Then also dust and damp have ready access to the interstices of the crinkled pages, resulting in the disfigurement so well known and so deplored by all lovers of fine books.

For large books a “made” board, that is, two boards pasted together, is better than a single board of the same thickness. In making boards a thin and a thick board should be pasted together, the thin board to go nearest the book. It will not be necessary to put a double lining on the inside of such boards, as a thin board will always draw a thick one.

Fig. 45.
Fig. 45.

If mill-boards are used they are first cut roughly to size with the mill-board shears, screwed up in the “lying” press. The straight arm of the shears is the one to fix in the press, for if the bent arm be undermost, the knuckles are apt to be severely bruised against the end. A better way of fixing the shears is shown at Fig. 45. Any blacksmith will bend the arm of the shears and make the necessary clips. This method saves trouble and considerable wear and tear to the “lying” press. Where a great many boards are needed, they may be quickly cut in a board machine, but for “extra” work they should be further trimmed in the plough, in the same way as those cut by the shears. After the boards have been roughly cut to size, they should have one edge cut straight with the plough. To do this one or two pairs of boards are knocked up to the back and inserted in the cutting side of the press, with those edges projecting which are to be cut off, and behind them, as a “cut against,” a board protected by a waste piece of mill-board.

The plough, held by the screw and handle, and guided by the runners on the press, is moved backwards and forwards. A slight turn of the screw at each movement brings the knife forward. In cutting mill-boards which are very hard, the screw should be turned very little each time. If press and plough are in proper order, that part of the board which projects above the cheek of the press should be cut off, leaving the edges perfectly square and straight. If the edge of the press has been damaged, or is out of “truth,” a cutting board may be used between the cheek of the press and the board to be cut, making a true edge for the knife to run on.

Fig. 46. — Lying or Cutting Press
Fig. 46. — Lying or Cutting Press

The position of the plough on the press is shown at Fig. 46. The side of the press with runners should be reserved for cutting, the other side used for all other work.

Fig. 47.
Fig. 47.

The plough knife for mill-boards should not be ground at too acute an angle, or the edge will most likely break away at the first cut. The shape shown at Fig. 47 is suitable. The knife should be very frequently ground, as it soon gets blunt, which adds greatly to the labour of cutting.

After an edge has been cut, each side should be well rubbed with a folder to smooth down any burr left by the plough knife. Then a piece of common paper with one edge cut straight is pasted on to one side of the board, with the straight edge exactly up to the cut edge of the board. Then a piece of paper large enough to cover both sides of the board is pasted round it, and well rubbed down at the cut edge. After having been lined, the boards are nipped in the press to ensure that the lining paper shall stick. They are stood up to dry, with the doubly lined side outwards. The double paper is intended to warp the board slightly to that side, to compensate for the pull of the leather when the book is covered. If the board is a double one, a single lining paper will be sufficient, the thinner board helping to draw the thicker. The paste for lining boards must be fairly thin, and very well beaten up so as to be free from lumps. It is of the utmost importance that the lining papers should stick properly, for unless they stick, no subsequent covering of leather or paper can be made to lie flat.

When the lined boards are quite dry, they should be paired with the doubly lined sides together, and the top back corner marked to correspond with the marks on the top back corners of the book. Then near the top edge, with the aid of a carpenter’s square, two points are marked in a line at right angles to the cut edge. The pair of boards is then knocked up to the back and lowered into the press as before, so that the plough knife will exactly cut through the points. The same operation is repeated on the two remaining uncut edges. In marking out those for the fore-edge, the measurement is taken with a pair of compasses (Fig. 48) from the joint of the book to the fore-edge of the first section. If the book has been trimmed, or is to remain uncut, a little more must be allowed for the “squares,” and if it is to be cut in the plough, it must be now decided how much is to be cut off, remembering that it is much better to have the boards a little too large, and so have to reduce them after the book is cut, than to have them too small, and either be obliged to get out a new pair of boards, or unduly cut down the book.

Fig. 48.
Fig. 48.

Fig. 49.
Fig. 49.

The height of the boards for a book that has been trimmed, or is to remain uncut, will be the height of the page with a small allowance at each end for the squares. When a pair of boards has been cut all round, it can be tested for squareness by reversing one board, when any inequality that there may be will appear doubled. If the boards are out of truth they should generally be put on one side, to be used for a smaller book, and new boards got out. To correct a badly cut pair of boards, it is necessary to reduce them in size, and the book consequently suffers in proportion. If the boards have been found to be truly cut, they are laid on the book, and the position of the slips marked on them by lines at right angles to the back. A line is then made parallel to the back, about half an inch in (see Fig. 49). At the points where the lines cross, a series of holes is punched from the front with a binder’s bodkin on a lead plate, then the board is turned over, and a second series is punched from the back about half an inch from the first. If the groove of the back is shallower than the thickness of the board, the top back edge of the board should be bevelled off with a file. This will not be necessary if the groove is the exact depth. When the holes have been punched, it is well to cut a series of V-shaped depressions from the first series of holes to the back to receive the slips, or they may be too prominent when the book is bound. It will now be necessary to considerably reduce the slips that were frayed out after sewing, and to remove all glue or any other matter attached to them. The extent to which they may be reduced is a matter of nice judgment. In the desire to ensure absolute neatness in the covering, modern binders often reduce the slips to almost nothing. On the other hand, some go to the other extreme, and leave the cord entire, making great ridges on the sides of the book where it is laced in. It should be possible with the aid of the depressions, cut as described, to use slips with sufficient margin of strength, and yet to have no undue projection on the cover. A slight projection is not unsightly, as it gives an assurance of sound construction and strength, and, moreover, makes an excellent starting-point for any pattern that may be used. When the slips have been scraped and reduced, the portion left should consist of long straight silky fibres. These must be well pasted, and the ends very slightly twisted. The pointed ends are then threaded through the first series of holes in the front of the board, and back again through the second (Fig. 50). In lacing-in the slips must not be pulled so tight as to prevent the board from shutting freely, nor left so loose as to make a perceptible interval in the joint of the book. The pasted slips having been laced in, their ends are cut off with a sharp knife, flush with the surface of the board. The laced-in slips are then well hammered on a knocking-down iron (see Fig. 51), first from the front and then from the back, care being taken that the hammer face should fall squarely, or the slips may be cut. This should rivet them into the board, leaving little or no projection. If in lacing in the fibres should get twisted, no amount of hammering will make them flat, so that it is important in pointing the ends for lacing in, that only the points are twisted just sufficiently to facilitate the threading through the holes, and not enough to twist the whole slip.

Fig. 50.
Fig. 50.

Fig. 51.
Fig. 51.

To lace slips into wooden boards, holes are made with a brace and fine twist bit, and the ends of the frayed out slips may be secured with a wooden plug (see Fig. 52).

Old books were sometimes sewn on bands of leather, but as those sewn on cord seem to have lasted on the whole much better, and as, moreover, modern cord is a far more trustworthy material than modern leather, it is better to use cord for any books bound now.

Fig. 52.
Fig. 52.

Cleaning off the Back and Pressing

Fig. 53.
Fig. 53.

When the boards have been laced on and the slips hammered down, the book should be pressed. Before pressing, a tin is put on each side of both boards, one being pushed right up into the joint on the inside, and the other up to the joint, or a little over it, on the outside. While in the press, the back should be covered with paste and left to soak for a few minutes. When the glue is soft the surplus on the surface can be scraped off with a piece of wood shaped as shown in Fig. 53. For important books it is best to do this in the lying press, but some binders prefer first to build up the books in the standing press, and then to paste the backs and clean them off there. This has the advantage of being a quicker method, and will, in many cases, answer quite well. But for books that require nice adjustment it will be found better to clean off each volume separately in the lying press, and afterwards to build up the books and boards in the standing press, putting the larger books at the bottom. It must be seen that the entire pile is exactly in the centre under the screw, or the pressure will be uneven. To ascertain if the books are built up truly, the pile must be examined from both the front and side of the press. Each volume must also be looked at carefully to see that it lies evenly, and that the back is not twisted or out of shape. This is important, as any form given to the book when it is pressed at this stage will be permanent.

Any coloured or newly printed plates will need tissues, as in the former pressing; and any folded plates or diagrams or inserted letters will need a thin tin on each side of them to prevent them from marking the book.

Again, the pressure on hand-printed books must not be excessive.

The books should be left in the press at least a night. When taken out they will be ready for headbanding, unless the edges are to be cut in boards.

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