Nifty Folio Repairs

Hello again and apologies for the long absence. Since I last added to this blog, Book Island broke loose of its moorings and took float, settling just a few cattails from its former position. Improvements include more space for my growing family of bookbinding equipment (more on that in a later post) and for holding mini-workshops; and proximity to a large vintage Wedgewood gas stove. There are many tradeoffs to living and working under the same roof; working for oneself also has its pluses and minuses. Not having to commute long distances, and being able to do things like let bread dough rise or soup simmer while working at the bench are things I would identify as pluses. Of course, it is a more solitary lifestyle; and there’s the whole tax/admin angle that has to be dealt with. In any case, it’s where Book Island is at right now. After sharing some tips on guarding and folio repair, I will include some snapshots of the new studio and workspace.

One of the great advantages to having formal training in bookbinding was the multitude of sidebar-type techniques we all learned. Being in a two-year, full-time bench-centered program afforded my class a fair amount of time for goofing off in the nerdiest way imaginable. In teaching us paper and book repair and conservation, my teacher gave us lots of bonus extra tips and methods for saving time and making a better result. Some of them may be in wider use than I am aware of, and some I go through phases of using heavily and then not using for a long time. One of these is something I have nicknamed the Folio-Mat. Like many studio aids in bookbinding, it is simply fabricated from a few pieces of scrap materials you probably have laying around not currently helping anybody, but it is completely out of the question to discard: binder’s board, buckram, mylar, and your favorite archival spun polyester. Oh, and don’t forget the Scotch 415 double stick… Yes, from these humble beginnings, you too could create wonders! Observe…

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue , amtching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue, matching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

The Folio-Mat (trademark pending) allows you to easily unite two leaves separated by time and neglect in order to prepare them for sewing. I recently had to guard an entire textblock this way and was able to save some time. It was much easier to jog the separated leaves to the foredge, avoiding much of the stepping out leaves often do when regrouped into signatures. This paper was quite soft and fragile, having been in a mostly-disbound state for many years (burns and fading could be seen on the edges of the pages sticking out from the stack). To say this book was in tatters would be an understatement. I’m not sure the pre-treatment photos quite express the causes for trepidation I felt when approaching the repair… I’m sure we’ve all been there. It was very rewarding to see how it came out, however.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

no more tatters!

no more tatters!

Lovely illustrations now come through

Lovely illustrations now come through

Spine functioning normally

Spine functioning normally

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

More fun from Book Island:

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly aquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly acquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

 

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Time for some pie!

…Or rather, time for pie to be transformed into something beautiful. Something gorgeously well-ordered. What on Earth am I talking about?? For a hint, here is a definition:

pi

noun

  1. The name of the sixteenth letter of the Classical Greek, Classical and Modern Greek alphabets and the seventeenth in Old Greek.
  2. (mathematics) An irrational constant representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter; approximately 3.1415926535897932; usually written π, where pi x diameter = Circumference.
  3. (context, typesetting) Metal type that has been spilled, mixed together, or disordered. Also called pie.

And, the exciting transformation:

IMG_3025Organizing this type is something that has taken me several years. Some of it is fairly worn, but it is all brass, and thus ideal for the hot stamping known in bookbinding as tooling, or finishing. Countless hours have been spent in sorting the various sizes and styles shown here, and even then, about half of the entire box in the bottom right of this picture comprises letters with no match. The other half of that box is punctuation which probably belongs in one of the other boxes, but I’ll have to leave that last part of this project for another day.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to explain to my clients why I cannot stamp their name in their chosen font on the book cover I make for them without having a die made. Perhaps the photo above might explain a little bit about the process of titling a book cover. As you can see, the tiny brass letters are fixed in size and shape. To a bookbinder, the meaning of the word ‘font’ refers to a set of these pieces of brass; it is not something that you highlight with your mouse and change from a dropdown menu. Very unfortunate, to some extent, since it does not allow for creative layout possibilites which respond to the particular needs of a specific project. For that, one must contract to have a die made, usually from magnesium, or for high volume production jobs, from copper. There are environmental risks involved in this process that the city of San Francisco has deemed unsafe; thus there are no companies that perform this service here. And once it is made into a stamping die, the magnesium is a health hazard of sorts as well– it is extremely inflammable, so for a bookbinder to store old dies is dangerous. G-d forbid any bindery with magnesium dies in storage should catch fire, for it would explode to high heaven. In a fire, brass type might melt. Which would be sad. But not dangerous.

Brass type is often the preferred choice for me because it also reduces waste; it is nearly infinitely reusable. A magnesium die is generally used only once, at the time of a single project. Of course, having a magnesium die made can be more fun because the possibilites are nearly limitless. Brass type lends a traditional, cultured appearance, where making a die allows more creative control. Here’s an example of a project I worked on which required a die.

sanfranciscocenterbookdodocaseipad22Dies are best made with type and line art– very little shading or solid blocks of color will come out well with a die. Theoretically it is possible, but for best results, line art and type are recommended.

The topic of book decoration could go on for volumes, and this is just a blog. There are lots of points of departure on my links page over on Book Island in case you’re interested.

Recent Project

Something I truly enjoy which most other bookbinders veer away from is Bible repair. The large family Bibles of the late nineteenth century are often unwieldy mammoth objects with heavy double-thickness boards, weak joints, and crumbling paper due to the production advances of the Industrial Revolution. Around now, 150 or so years after their production, these Bibles are widely in need of, ah, joint replacement surgery, so to speak. They are difficult to repair because of their heft, size, and fragility– never a good combination. I enjoy them, however, because they offer me the opportunity to fulfill what I feel is my purpose in being a hand bookbinder: keeping history alive, educating clients about the items they possess, and allowing clients the ability to page through a book they’ve been too scared to touch because it was damaged.

This Bible was a particular pleasure to restore because it was made prior to all the so-called advances of the late 1800’s. Instead of two laminated boards, this book had one thick one for each cover. Instead of deep blind tooling on the covers combined with carved board (which often delaminated), this one used fine gold stamping to decorate the covers. The leather used was not suffering from red rot, and probably never will, since the tannage seemed fairly stable, and the leather still fairly strong. the paper, as well, was healthy, and registered a pH of 6! Amazing. Another thing that impressed me about this book was the sewing. Tens of thin signatures all sewn in a remarkably regular way, as can be seen below. In binderies of this period, it was generally women who did the sewing, and they often sewed without pre-punching the signatures as we do today (though this book was likely sawn). I was kind of touched to see how many signatures there were to this giant behemoth, and all of them sewn perfectly regular.

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Image of Trinity Church in New York City

Every panel on the spine had a different illustration of a Bible scene or story

Every panel on the spine had a different illustration of a Bible scene or story

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New addition to Book Island

Most of you reading this blog know how much I love bookbinding equipment. One of the special things about this profession is all the extremely specialized tools and machinery we have at our disposal, when we can find it! And usually it seems to take care of itself, once you learn to use it properly. Acquiring a piece of old bookbinding equipment is like receiving a postcard from a simpler time– remove a little rust and a little tape goo, plug it in, and there you have it: a perfectly designed labor saver with steel and cast iron parts machined precisely to thousandths of an inch. Well, finally, it is my time to receive such a gift from the past. This very day with the help of my friends I un-shrinkwrapped a lovely, cherry-red Kensol. It is not (yet) as nice as some I’ve used, better than many others, but at last it is mine. Enjoy some pictures of the new baby and some other examples of titling I’ve done lately.

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

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Setting brass type for heat stamping

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

Now we're starting to have some fun

Now we’re starting to have some fun

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio. The only font available that seemed appropriate was too small and narrow for this large field, so I used large spacers between each letter to make the words take up more space. The result is a modern, minimal appearance that complemented the student’s content nicely.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

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Type was hand-set and stamped on a Kwikprint; all other decoration done with hand tools

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NBSS on tv

While having a deep conversation of a bookbinding nature with a friend recently, and wrapping up one of my typical thousand-ply yarns, I said, “Guess that was more story than you bargained for!” “Well, it just means I don’t have to watch more Craft In America episodes,” she answered. A pause. “Wait, what’s Craft in America?” D’oh! My tv was one of the many things given up in my move from Chicago to California. Although I don’t miss it, I suppose there are work-related things on tv from time to time I miss by not having one. I caught up on some of the episodes available online of this 2009 PBS series, and to my surprise discovered a segment on my alma mater, the North Bennet Street School. This episode also has an interesting and thoughtful interview with bay area book artist Julie Chen along with some shots of her beautiful and well-composed work. Another beloved bay area artist and printmaker, Tom Killion (yessss!!!), is featured in this same episode. I am always interested in how craftspeople integrate their work into their lives– the different work environments we create and the business models that result. The PBS series does not go too deeply into these issues, just gives us small, tv-shaped windows into the work and lives of craftspeople in a variety of fields.

Since some time has passed since I left NBSS, it was nice to watch the segment on my school, although at the time of filming, the bookbinding department had a different instructor and had moved to a different floor. I hear that spring 2013 marked the final year of classes in the building where I spent my two years beginning to learn my trade, and that the school is moving to a much larger building as of fall 2013. It’s great to know the school is growing; hopefully a good sign for the traditional crafts taught there. But oh! if those basement walls could talk. I remember that tiny closet with the Tormek where we all honed our knives, and the closet on the other side where the finishing tools were kept. My year was the first class that had the distinct advantage of a full set of gouges including a blender set for finishing tools, and wow, did we all keep those in heavy rotation. One of my classmates tooled a line drawing of Hank Williams and his wife Audrey on a plaquette! Amazing. My class also shared the distinction of producing the first bookbinder to win the prestigious Stanislov Cup. NBSS, the Fighting Craftspeople! Thanks Mark.

The segment on North Bennet Street School is about 44 minutes into the episode; Tom Killion is at about minute 18, and Julie Chen is 37 or so.

http://video.pbs.org/video/1275408713

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Ten years!

Ten years!

This was my Grandma Roz’s copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Nothing left of the covers other than a scrap of the spine, I rebound it as a project in the bookbinding program at North Bennet Street School when I was there ten years ago. The book is still going strong through consistent use. It stays open flat enough to cook with without having to weigh down the pages or use some kind of cookbook stand contraption. Humble cookbook repair remains one of my favorite parts of being a book conservator in private practice, forming its bread and butter, so to speak. Anyone who has been to my kitchen knows I love cookbooks! I love to cook, so it’s natural that I like to keep those Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping etc books in good shape for all you home cooks out there.

Fannie-coversFannie-open

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May 16, 2013 · 9:09 pm

This is my job.

Yesterday and today, I have been working on a special project: making lifting knives for my Intro to Book Repair  students. I have to make seven of them, which is twice as many knives as I have ever made at once, and seven times as many as I have ever made of one type. It takes a long time to make even one good knife by hand, so it’s a fair job for me. I began by visiting Noisebridge, a local hacker space which also happens to have a wood shop, to use their bench grinder to grind the high-carbon Sheffield steel blanks down to the right shape. A few of the young computer guys would come in and chat with me from time to time about what I was doing, and I got a lot of raised eyebrows. It turned out one of the guys who keeps up the wood shop is from Madison, so we got to talk about how much we miss a good cheese curd. Two other dudes came in to use the router in order to make a slit drum, and there was a lady making phoenix stencils and painting and sanding pieces of wood. Meanwhile, outside the wood shop, Noisebridge is having its weekly 10 minutes of fame event, where people share what they like to do. The place is packed! I heart SF.

The blanks having been shaped, I progressed to the actual sharpening process. We learned to make our own knives when I was at North Bennet Street School, as I have mentioned in this blog before. Although that process was painful, frustrating, and time-consuming, filled with lots of whining, crying, and the sharing of disturbing nightmares among my fellow students (Mark, I’m so sorry we put you through all that!), now I feel totally confident when dealing with anything knife-related, from small hand tools to board shears and guillotines. Since then and now, I have had a lot of time to think about steel, its uses, types, and qualities, and observe the tools I see in the field. I can appreciate the extreme hardness of the steel we use for our bookbinding tools. I have experienced tools that hold their edges and tools that don’t.

In any case, now I use a combination of Jeff Peachey’s sharpening system, a dry system which uses disposable sheets of progressively-smaller grit microabrasive papers, and my good old Japanese water stones from school.

The 6000 grit water stone with nigura stone in the foreground. Finishing strop is to the right, and three knife blanks at the back (with my own lifting knife in its sheath on top).

The 6000 grit water stone with nigura stone in the foreground. Finishing strop is to the right, and three knife blanks at the back (with my own lifting knife in its sheath on top).

Although the adhesive-backed papers are really easy to use, and much cleaner than the water stones, I used the water stones to create the edges on my seven students’ lifting knives.

From left to right: a Hewit paring knife I use as a blank; two right-handed lifting knives after being sharpened on a Peachey slab of 80-micron sandpaper, left-handed knife after same.

From left to right: a Hewit paring knife I use as a blank; two right-handed lifting knives after being sharpened on a Peachey slab of 80-micron sandpaper, left-handed knife after same.

The cleanup is worth it when you make multiple knives, and I try in general to stay away from disposable stuff unless the convenience really makes a difference. Well, the water stones really came through for me today, and though the knives are all a little irregularly- shaped, I am really happy with the bevel angle and the fact that they’re all sharp enough to shave. Ready for a class full of eager future book conservators!

It's shaving! You can see here the hair on the bevel. Game on, bookbinders!

It’s shaving! You can see here the hair on the bevel. Game on, bookbinders!

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Modern Shop Talk

The bookbinder’s trade has evolved in a rather solitary way these days, at least in North America. It hasn’t always been such. Depending on the size and region of the shop, there would be enough workers to support a division of labor into separate departments such as folding, sewing, forwarding, finishing, paper beating, paper sizing, ploughing, and edge treatment. Binders in European seventeenth century encyclopediae and manuals show jolly shops with generally cheerful workers all doing his or her own part. (For more on those, see Mirjam Foot, Bookbinders at Work, Oak Knoll 2006.) Even as late as 1906, we see the roster of the Doves Bindery in this photo, happy together and probably fresh off one of their lunchtime croquet matches. (If you made books as finely as the Doves, one might say you’d earned your afternoon croquet.)

Doves personnel

By comparison, this oft-published etching of Roger Payne from 1800 shows what happens when a bookbinder works alone in a garret for too long, though Payne took the status and skill level of bookbinding much farther than anyone working in the trade at the time.

rogerus payne

Is there some kind of line to be drawn between happy bookbinders working in concert with one another and unhappy, solitary, dark souls, hammering out reading material fit for the bookshelves of a king? I don’t think it’s quite that simple these days; however, one thing I do know is that it’s great to get together with other bookbinders and swap horror stories, tall tales of glory, and of course, just a sliver of plain old-fashioned gossip. Some might call this “shop talk”, but since no bookbinder I know works in anything similar to what is known as a “shop”, perhaps we can call it kvetching? Venting? Or just the modern bookbinding version of shop talk.

My old friend and compatriot in bookbinding from Chicago, Karen Hanmer, visited San Francisco for a few days in October to teach her brilliant way of doing things, and I was ultralucky enough to host this Famous Bookbinder while she taught here. Karen’s formal training in bookbinding is from the American Academy of Bookbinding, but my immense respect for her stems from the fact that experience is her guide, and she is constantly working and trying new techniques and binding styles. The space race of the 1950s, the early history of computers, and midwestern prairie imagery figure heavily in her work, and I must confess some envy of her quirky creative perspective. She and her husband travel by train almost everywhere they go, and they’ve taken some pretty neat trips together.

I also like Karen’s unpretentiousness, her humility about her own work, her uncompromising work ethic, and her desire to learn something from every project regardless of how well it turns out. Over the years I have seen Karen’s work evolve and her focus change and change again, and it is fascinating to me how dynamic the field of bookbinding seems when I think about the range of projects she has taken on. Typically I am not a “content guy”, as some have noted– rather more interested in technique and structure, but Karen’s creative work inspires me to devote more time and energy to design, color, and maybe even one day, content. That is one quality of a great friend– he or she likes you as you are, but will also draw you outside your comfort zone and encourage you, either literally or by example, to try new things. When we both lived in Chicago, we would show each other our worst binding mistakes, the most embarrassing boo-boos or bad design choices, and we assuaged each others’ guilty feelings as only the best friends do. Will do better next time and keep soldiering on.

While Karen was here, we didn’t have too overmuch time for hanging out– she taught classes over four full days, mostly to full groups of ten students. It is exhausting to be on stage all that time for anyone, and I also had to work each day she was here except Saturday.  We would eat dinner together and pretty much pass out just after! On her last day here in San Francisco, we went to see the mural by Diego Rivera at City College. It’s something I’ve always meant to do, but never devoted the time to doing it, and it was amazing. It’s remarkable that the mural is open to the public, viewable anytime the theater is open (11-4 Tuesday through Saturday). There was a student docent (history major, no less!) sitting near the mural to answer questions about it, and he was really helpful and informative.

Thanks for visiting, Karen! I’ll miss you! And thanks to Hand Bookbinders of California and the San Francisco Center for the Book for arranging for Karen to teach here.

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