As promised I will be going through the prototype for Chairmaker’s Notebook in detail in this blog post. To start I wanted to reiterate the difference you will see between this book and a production bound version. With large formatted art books the weight of the textblock can strain the joints of the book. The construction for the hand bound version is built to withstand this weight by using airplane linen at the joint, as well as sewing the pages of the book on tapes that also attach to the covers. The cover materials are archival and also printed by hand, adding to the longevity of the cover.
Anatomy of the Book
As with any art form, bookbinding has its own terminology. So I thought it would be helpful to start out with an illustration pointing out the anatomy of a book. Of course depending on the structure you choose the anatomy can vary greatly. So this is simplified to encompass the terms I will be using for this book.
I used an old copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous to make the prototype. What makes this design unique is how the cover image is incorporated into the book. I made my own woodcut to illustrate this, but as seen in the previous post, I will be using an original drawing of Pete’s for Chairmaker’s Notebook. The book is a tight joint, quarter leather binding, with semi-hidden corners, and leather endbands.
Tight Joint Bindings
We call a smooth transition, from the spine to the cover, a tight joint.
Historically the covers of a book were laced onto what we call the textblock (the pages of the book), before the cover materials were added. This style is considered a tight joint, whereas today most books have a joint space from the spine to the covers.
Production bound hard cover books with a joint space are generally minimally attached to the textblock. This is why the pages of the book will sag away from the case over time, often tearing the inside paper at the joint.
Rather than using cord to lace the covers on, I have chosen airplane linen—a very thin, high thread count fabric, that is preferred by conservators for its longevity over other materials. The linen is adhered to the spine of the sewn book, along with vegetable tanned leather, and handmade archival paper.
These linings are what allow the book to open properly. The leather is adhered and then sanded perfectly smooth before a hollow paper tube is then also adhered. The tube functions as a spring, pushing the pages of the book away from the case when the book is opened. This displaces the strain on the joints of the book, and offers the correct amount of draping for the paper as well.
A quarter leather binding means that there is leather on the spine but the cover is in another material. Half leather would mean there were full leather corners, and of course full leather is self-evident.
I refer to this binding as a quarter leather bound book with semi-hidden corners. Semi-hidden corners are made out of leather or vellum and are designed to strengthen the corners of the cover, while simultaneously offering an elegant solution for a large cover image. In my bindery fixing corners is one of the most common repairs because they are more exposed than other parts of the book, and therefore ware and bend more easily.
Endbands or headbands, are either sewn or glued to the top and bottom of the textblock spine. There is generally a core material made out of cord, leather, or paper (batonettes), that is then wrapped in leather, cloth, paper, or thread. Historically they were not only attractive but also functional. Much like raised cords they were also laced into the covers. Today most are machine made and added simply for decorative purposes.
Very high-end handmade books will even have hand-sewn endbands made from silk thread, as seen with this image and the image above of a book’s opening.
With Chairmaker’s Notebook the endbands will be made out of leather and help to form the endcaps—the shaped leather at the top and bottom of the spine.
Aligning the Image
As seen with Captains Courageous, the printed cover art is perfectly aligned from the paper to the leather. This is achieved by first printing the leather, then paring the thickness of the leather by hand, and finally adhering and molding the leather to the covers and textblock with paste. Once the leather has dried the cover paper is trimmed to size and adhered.
As with wood, paper has a grain. And it will therefore expand when moisture, such as PVA glue, is added. This further demonstrates the complexity of trimming the paper exactly to size for the semi-hidden corners to be uniformly revealed, and for the printed image to line up exactly.
Only after the materials are printed, dried, and assembled, are the titles added to the cover. Metal dyes are made of the text and are heated in a press and then stamped onto the cover with foil. Leaving an embossed impression in the leather.
Once I receive the textblocks I will be posting the process for the actual books. There are still many additional steps involved in making a book of this nature. But I hope in the meantime this explanation helps you to see the difference between a handmade book and one that has been made by a machine. I know many of you are woodworkers, and therefore you understand the difference. But now you will be able to literally judge a book by its cover.
Below I included the cover layout of Chairmaker’s Notebook for those who would like a closer look.
This signed and numbered limited edition of 45 books speaks to the passion it takes devoting yourself to a trade. I hope you all enjoy the edition, and I also hope that the popularity of this new book leads to many more printings in the future.
You can find the product listing here if you’re interested in pre-ordering a signed limited edition.