See this binding? Looks fairly simple right? It is, only it ain’t…
Take a look at the second photo, I placed an average sized book next to it so you can get an idea of its dimensions. As you can see the notebook is about 4 times bigger. Binding books of this size can be challenging and since commissions of the sort are not frequent I thought to make a post regarding some peculiarities one might come up with during the process.
Let me start with an anecdote first. I have had the luck to spent a year next to a great Greek binder. During one of the days at her bindery a chubby man dashed in and asked “how much?” pointing at the first binding he laid his eyes on. The binder mentioned a price and the man immediately showed a smaller one next to it and asked again. To his astonishment she replied with the same price. “But this one is smaller…” he said a bit annoyed. “Hmm… yes, you’re right…” she answered indifferently and then said a much higher price, which of course made him leave.
This small incident comes to mind often and I have been sharing it on occasion to underline that no matter the size we always apply the same techniques during the binding process. A bit bigger or a bit smaller doesn’t change a lot of things. When the book is very big or very small though the binding behaves differently and the binder must plan ahead and also find ways to overcome difficulties that may arise.
Upon accepting such a commission make sure your equipment can accommodate such a binding. It would be frustrating to find out your sewing frame isn’t large enough and probably start looking for a carpenter just after you have sawed the signatures. If you’re short on time you can always make do with a crude DIY wooden frame, as long as the threads are tight. Respectively, check your backing and finishing press, pressing boards etc.
-Use numerous sewing stations.
Above a certain size case bindings simply don’t cut it. The book’s mass will gradually detach the block from the boards. It is preferable to go for a french binding with laced in boards and saw for numerous sewing stations. The perfectionist me wanted 9 but practical me slapped him in the face and decided 7 was good enough in this case.
A book 4x times the size of an average book correspondingly leads to 4x time for the various binding stages; It usually takes me 20-40 mins to sew a book, this took an hour and a half. Sawing, backing, leather paring and dyeing afterwards were proportionally time consuming.
-Laminate your boards.
Boards warp because they absorb moisture when paper, leather or any kind of material is pasted on them. Large boards = lot of warp and thicker boards don’t really help to prevent this. The answer is laminated boards; Use 3 thin boards pasted together to accomplish the desired thickness. NOTE- the board in the middle must have its grain opposite to the other two, meaning horizontally.
I make laminated boards 80% of the time. I believe the trouble is worth it since they are much more resilient and I find them easier to work with.
If you’re going to bind a very thick book and intend to make handsewn headbands think twice about the design/pattern. I remember having spent a day and a half sewing headbands for two volumes. A 1or2 colors simple headband with a bead on the edge might be a more practical choice than a 3colored double-core french headband or a chevron headband.
-The big cover up.
Finding a leather big enough can be a problem. I waited two weeks for some leathers to arrive and the larger hide among them was full of marks, alas I had no alternatives. I decided to do a bit of cheating; Since handling such a huge surface would be quite difficult and stressful I divided the cover in segments and cut the hide in 5 pieces. Made my life a LOT easier. I “masked” the meeting points by overlaying thin leather strips lined with tooling.
-A pressing matter.
As mentioned earlier, make sure you have sizable pressing boards.
The nipping press is quite important; Large books are harder to press properly since the pressure diminishes outwards from the center. If your press can exert the needed force then no problem. However if it’s not strong enough you might be up for a nasty surprise along the way. Four-screw presses tend to exert pressure more uniformly across a surface but are also more troublesome to use. Make sure your press is up for the task or talk with a local binder to arrange use of press space during the crucial stages.
The binding weighs some 5+ kilos. There’s still the owner’s insigne to be tooled on it but it’s practically finished. Have to admit though, difficult as it may be binding such large books the feeling when handling it at the end is very rewarding.
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