Repurposing Tools

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Every field of endeavor, it seems, re-purposes tools for one reason or another. And by re-purposing I mean using tools in unintended ways. Maybe you’re some redneck hillbilly who can’t afford a BBQ grill, so you roast critter on your engine block, or maybe you’re an astronaut on Apollo 13 rigging parts so you can return to earth and enjoy some roasted critter with your family and friends. But re-purposing tools is not just for Rocket City Rednecks.

Why re-purpose at all? Oftentimes it’s cheaper to find parts or tools that already exist to accomplish your task rather than have something custom manufactured. If you’re not a machinist yourself, the manufacturing process can be extremely expensive in short runs. Your only alternative might be to hunt high and low for just the right thing (or close enough), but sometimes it’s worth the effort.

Here is my most recent misuse of an object (that sounds vaguely obscene for some reason). It is a callus remover for scraping tough, ugly skin from your body. But I’ve been using it to roughen spines before gluing them in the SimpleBind. Some papers just don’t take well to glue, but the callus remover helps convince these stubborn papers otherwise.

It’s basically a super-fine cheese grater that works very well on blocks of paper. This particular model is the Perfect Grip Callus Remover by Studio 35. I picked it up at Walgreen’s for a few bucks. Just clamp your book block firmly in whatever device you’re using, or even hold it firmly between to blocks of wood, then grind away. It does a nice job without tearing the hell out of the paper.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Now I have to run off and see if that squirrel is done cooking yet. If not, a couple more times around the block ought to do it.


Hardcover with Dust Jacket

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is a Smyth sewn copy of Attack of the Flying Spiders with a sample dust jacket attached. My HP 4700 will accept paper long enough to print the 15″ jacket, but the printer will only lay down an 11″ image. A strange and stupid oversight by HP. So I had to print two images, cut them out and tape them together. I will have some nice jackets printed professionally once I have fixed all of the alignment issues.

I used the Punching Device to quickly pierce each signature. This worked very well. I might offer some of these for sale. I find that each bookbinding tool is more and more specific, perfect for a very small pool of people who have my specific needs. It’s not exactly a recipe for success as a business model, but I’ll probably build some anyway.

I really love having dust jackets on books. It  gives them that professional, finished look. Funny though—every single person who has looked at the book immediately removes the jacket to look at the book itself. I don’t recall seeing anyone do that with any other mass-produced book (except a few of my book-collecting junkie friends). Maybe it’s to admire the craftsmanship, or look for flaws—I haven’t decided which.

The sewing is still the most time consuming portion of the process. I have tried a few different stitching methods, even some I have invented myself (all of which were miserable failures). Sometimes I have to remind myself that human beings have been binding books for many hundreds of years, and the odds that I will think of a method that hasn’t been tried before are very poor. Still, hope springs eternal.

I plan to start offering these limited edition hard covers in the next few months. They will all be Smyth sewn—which is still the best method for a comfortable, lay-flat read—and will be signed, numbered and jacketed. Please shoot me an e-mail if you are interested in one the the 100-copy run.

Alternative to the Punching Cradle

April 7, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m always looking for ways to make bookbinding quicker, without sacrificing quality. By its nature, hardcover binding is a slow process, maddeningly so at times. I’m just an impatient person by nature. Perhaps I’ve worked too many jobs that place a premium on speed and efficiency. This is both my strength and my weakness. But it is also what has driven me to increase (and improve upon) the entire SimpleBind line.

This new device is still a bit rough around the edges, but it really has some potential. It has sped up my punching ten-fold. It allows you to make all of your punches in one action. The pins are fully adjustable, both in number and position. Set it up one time and you can punch away on your signatures. I’m still working out some adjustment and cosmetic issues, but it is nearly read for prime time.

Hopefully, the photos will be self explanatory. If not, please feel free to drop me a line.

A Stitching Gizmo

April 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s a little doohickey (or gizmo) to help with sewing book blocks that don’t use tapes or cords. It’s mainly for Smyth sewn books, though I suppose it could be used for Coptic stitching as well. Sewing signatures always seems to be an uncomfortable process, hunched over a sewing frame, or chasing loose signatures around while trying to keep the stitched signatures from sliding out of square.

This little jig helps keep the block square. Just tap the pages tightly into the bottom left corner, then pull your string tight and tie your kettle stitch. The grooves cut into the board allow you to more easily tap signatures that are smaller than the board itself. If you always make the same size books, you could simply make a board that is slightly smaller than your signatures and save yourself the headache of cutting the grooves.

What I like about this method is you can do your stitching on your lap. This seems to be a much more natural position and makes this chore a bit more enjoyable.

Paper Grain Done Right

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is an example of what signatures look like when folded in the proper direction.

The folds are much easier to accomplish and the result is much more satisfactory. Notice how thin and tight each 16-page (4-sheet) signature is. This makes sewing a tight book block far easier.

Never underestimate the importance of grain direction.

I will post a photo of the block once it’s been stitched and had the mull applied.

Paper Grain Revisited

March 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Some time back I talked about grain direction problems when scoring and folding some covers. And now the grain issue raises its ugly head again. This started out as a test using cord on my spines (I don’t like it), but ended up as an exercise in what not to do in regards to grain.

Even as I was folding the pages I knew I was going against the grain. It was especially noticeable with the paper I was using—a slightly rough art paper. The folds were very rough and uneven. But I really didn’t think it would matter that much once the signatures were tightly stitched and the mull was glued on.


The glue and mull only made matters worse. The paper curled and the pages have a very unpleasant resistance to them, much like an old catalog that has gotten wet, then dried.

I have reformatted the book, making it slightly smaller, so it will fit across the short direction of the paper and fold the proper direction. If this paper was available in larger sizes, I simply would have purchased the over sized sheets and cut them down with the grain direction in mind. Sure I would have wasted some paper, but the result would be much more satisfactory.

The photos below don’t really tell the whole story—the effect is worse than it appears.

Lesson learned.

Images Arcoss Multiple Spines

March 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve always loved sets of books with images that flow across them. They just look so great on a shelf, and they have a sense of…completion. ‘This is a set’, they say. ‘There ain’t no more’. Or maybe it’s the little man that lives inside my ear saying that.

In any case, I love these things. I especially love the Stephen King/Richard Bachman hardcovers by Mark Ryden (the fourth photo)—one of my favorite authors teaming up with one of my favorite artists to create one of my favorite book treatments.

Please feel free to send me any pictures of sets you find.