The Simple Edge Decoration - Eduardo Tarrico

Colorful, Decorated Edges, by DBOA Member Eduardo Tarrico
Welcome, everyone! In today's blog, DBOA member Eduardo Tarrico gives us a step-by-step process to creating a simple edge decoration for designer books. Though the process will be the same, Tarrico's technique can give you book a range of styles and feels: from the gilded edges of an antique leather-bound volume to a sleek black and even bright and colorful!

Step 1 - Cut the edges of the book. I prefer the plough, but you can also use a guillotine.

Step 2 - Sprinkle the cut edges with talc. This will prevent them from sticking to the leaves.

Step 3- Put the book in the press, making sure that the book is well-squared and held in tightly with wood tables or cardboard on the sides.

Step 4 - Using sandpaper of varying thickness, sand the edges of the book. Start with the thickest sandpaper and work your way to the thinnest, ensuring a clean and even edge. In these works I used: 120, 150, 180, 220, 400, 600, 800, 1200, and 1500 weight sandpaper.

Step 5 - When sanding the edges, wrap the paper around a thick eraser. The sandpaper should be thick enough to cover the entire thickness of the book's edges.

Step 6 - Always sand in one direction: from our forward position. Experience will best indicate when you should change the sandpaper, but multiple passes with each thickness is a good guide. Do not allow the sandpaper to overheat, do three or four passes, pause, and start again, otherwise you run the risk of the sheets sticking together.

Step 7 - Between passes, frequently clean off the dust. These particles can damage the paper if you are sanding on top of them.

Step 8 - Check (using a magnifying glass is highly recommended!) during the sanding process that the edge of the paper is perfectly smooth. When working with the finest sandpaper, the paper should appear smooth and polished.

Step 9 - When the sanding stage is finished, the edge of the book should look like a mirror.

Step 10 - Apply a mixture of water and paste with a brush or cotton. The water acts as a mordant paste.

Step 11 - Once the glue is dry, us a soft Japanese paper muffin to polish the cut.

Step 12 - Paint. In this case the edges were painted with an airbrush, but you can also work with a brush, cotton, sprays from a brush and a grill, etc. You can also use several different types of paint, such as acrylics, watercolors, and airbrush paints.

The edge painted purple:

Step 13 - Apply a little beeswax to a soft cloth and use this cloth to wax the edge of the book. The wax protects the paint and enhances shine.

Step 14 - Polish the edge with an agate hand tool, as seen below.

Step 15 - The book can now be removed from the press! The book will now be complete with a colorful, finished edge! Repeat these steps on the other two sides of the book fully-colored edges. Each side can be the same color, or you can mix it up. Try something new!

-Eduardo Tarrico, Designer Bookbinders of America

Binding a Book with a Reverse-Round, aka Concave Spine

Book with a Concave Spine
Some weeks ago, Bookbinder Bill Minter published a post about the origins of a particular book project he worked on with Bill Anthony. The post was intended to illuminate a discussion on the use of the concave spine structure, used most famously by James Brockman in the UK. Here Bill traces his own organic development and experience with the structure, an interesting inversion of the conventional and practiced principles of traditional binding technique. Upon request bill furnished us with these pictures, and further added text, which you can also find posted today on the book arts list serv.

You can find the discussion on the book arts list serv. on the archive hosted at the Philobiblon website, and more coverage posted earlier on the Bonefolder Extras Blog.

In the early 1970s, during my apprenticeship with Bill Anthony, he was telling me about the BOOK OF KELLS, an 8th century Irish manuscript that he had seen during a visit to his homeland. Roger Powell had restored that great Irish national treasure in the 1950s. When this book is exhibited to show the magnificent illuminations, a wooden dowel is inserted under the spine to support the sewing. Bill went on to describe the stress that a binding encounters as a book is opened and how the spine moves from a convex shape to the concave. Then there was the inevitable question:   "Why do we force a book to do that?" He further explained the swelling that is created by the sewing thread, and how we, obviously, manage that swelling by rounding a book with the convex shape. We wondered what would happen if the book were bound with the concave-shape "built-in". Obviously, the concave shape is readily seen on many well-used, flat-spine books, such as thick telephone books. 

In order to learn more, we prepared an old discarded textblock by sewing it on linen tapes. After gluing up the spine, we reversed the round to accommodate the swelling, thus producing a concave spine. Since we were thinking that the book should look "normal", we prepared a piece of wood --- #1 pine (without knots) from the local carpenter, as I recall -- to fit the concave shape; the linen tapes were then wrapped around the wood. Then another piece of wood was shaped for a normal spine, but this wood was wider to allow a normal shoulder to accommodate the boards. The binding was quarter-leather with vellum sides --- note here we experimented further by attaching the vellum with contact cement which is certainly not a standard bookbinder's adhesive. The true beauty of the binding was obvious upon opening. The book functioned magnificently with no stress or strain while the pages opened fairly flat and the gutter margin was easily viewed. The binding verged on being absolutely perfect and a dream to behold.

Sadly, Bill died on February 8, 1989. This one and only "reverse-round" binding was then thought to be lost because it was not in Bill's binding collection. Only recently was the book found and it is again part of Bill's collection of historic binding structures now available at the University of Iowa. These and many more historic bindings can be viewed at the University of Iowa website:
As we know, James Brockman has furthered the development of this interesting and unique structure --- a brief description is available at The concave spine binding is a structure that deserves further investigation for that special book or perhaps for all books, if that were possible.
-Bill Minter

Basic Techniques for Printing on Goatskin - Gavin Dovey

A Goatskin Print, Gavin Dovey

Out of necessity in 2008-09, I worked hard on transforming the regular goatskin onlays I was using to decorate my boxes. I had already been working on the boxes for 3  years, and after completing a lot of regular tooled onlays, I needed to start using new techniques in order to keep the work fresh, and keep both myself and the client interested. I had done some stamped onlays, but limited the use of these for children's books, and other volumes that had distinct jacket designs. As in the set of C.S. Lewis, and boxes like the signed first edition of Camus' La Peste. However, I tend to avoid the use of plates where possible, for although they do save time and make the design process easier, they can give a box a generic machine made look. I had done lacunose on a box a few times, but that can be time consuming, and certainly not efficient when working on an edition. I needed a more inventive, artistic method to transfer an image onto goatskin, or to find new ways to work or transform the onlays.

It was with this in mind that I began printing on goatskin, by first carving images into blocks of wood. I took some fair goat, dyed it, inked up the blocks, and pressed them onto the pre-pared skins. The first question was, "should I pare the skins first or after printing?". The next issue to overcome was the exact method of pressing in the studio, without the use of either a table-top adana, or any other hand-cranked letterpress machine, which I would later employ to great effect.
I experimented at first with hand techniques similar to those used in Japanese wood-block printing,  but found it difficult to get enough pressure. Lastly, resorting to the use of a nipping press. You can get good results using a nipping press, but it requires a deft touch. The problem with using a nipping press is that all the pressure is exerted on all points of the block at the same time, which can lead to bad bleeding. Using a cylinder is much more preferable for this reason, although even with a cylinder press its possible to bleed an image with either too much ink, or too much pressure. If you are going to try this yourself,  care must be taken not to smudge away the image while pasting onto the surface. The method of pressing, and the fact that the onlay is already pared to 0.10 microns, means that the image tends to be more delicate.

I used this method quite well in Cormac Mcarthy's "Child Of God, and Budd Schulberg's"Waterfront", and some others, however having had some success with rudimentary printing on goat, decided it warranted using more complex methods.

In the next development, I made regular polymer plates (Box-Car Press), for use on a hand-cranked Vandercook cylinder press. By"regular", I mean a plate that has a positive and negative printable area. Images from distinctive  jacket designs were relayed to the plate maker. With the help of friend and print artist Mindy Beloff (Intima Press)we set them up on her Vandercook. I brought both pared fair goat, and un-pared goat, and it became clear right away that we were going to get much better results more easily with the unpared goat. I need not have been concerned about the paring, as with enough skill and enough sharp blades, onlays could be comfortably pared down to .10 - 0.12 microns on the scharfix without stretching and distorting the images...mind you, it doesn't hurt to have a few spares!

The next step was to see if the half-tone polymer plates I had used in the reproduction of some famous civil war photography for the endpapers of a binding of Walt Whitman's "Wrenching Times," which I was working on in 2009, would print well enough on goatskin. They did, here's a tip: ink up the plate 5-6 times before rolling over the with the goat. The results were very impressive, and a long way from the rudimentary wood block printed onlays. The half-tone plate works using a series of small dots allowing for a variety of tones in the image, much the way older printing technologies have worked. What about running the skins through the scharfix. No problem!, again no stretch, but always advisable to have spares. It is still possible to rub the ink off by over pasting the onlays, and if the onlay is too thin, so caution must always be heeded, but the onlays were much more stable than the wood block printed onlays of before.

This technique provided me with opportunity to transform the images, whether by dyeing, distorting, tooling. It's a good way to add an element to a design without too much hand tooling, but using photography printed by half-tone on goatskin can get old very quickly, if its over used , or not used in combination with other techniques, or it is not essential to the overall atmosphere of the design. In the case of the binding of "Wrenching Times", the images used not only are some of the first ever photographs to be taken in history, and some of the most expressive and famous images of the civil war era, they go well with gaylord's wood engravings inside the book. The images though, have not been used without some element of transformation, ie , they have been deliberated distorted by colouring over them, in the hope of giving them more subtlety, and have been surrounded by broken surfaces of gold leaf, to give an atmosphere of a faded, empty, and perhaps forgotten glory.
The latest method for printing on goatskin I have used (October 2011), is quick, easy, and very effective:
Photo-transfer, or off-set printing on animal skins for bookbinding is nothing new, but the methods I have used before in combination with acetone were in no way as effective as this last method. You do not need plates, a vandercook or proofing press, inks, or any other solvents. It is a very basic method, rudimentary, and possibly not the most tidy, or elegant method out there.....but it does work, and work well. Take an image, remembering to reverse it before printing on a high quality printer, or make a xerox copy - colour or black+white. Cover the image to be transfered with a layer of liquitex matte medium and press. If you are carfeull enough you should be able to remove the paper after drying using water and a piece of cotton. If you are too aggressive you can break the polymer bond, leaving craters, so take your time and do it in stages. This method is good for inlays or for parts of the cover that do not require movement...such as the joints and the surface will break, and so too the image....The images used for a box made for Woody Guthrie's own copy of "American Folksong", are over 12"x9" large, and the transfer is of a very good quality black and white, managing to capture all tones light to dark.

This last technique has great potential for making endpapers, doublures, or for use in covers as part of more complex collage work.
My experiments with printing on goatskin, and transforming goatskin in general will continue, and I'm sure there are many more techniques out there I could put to good use.

-Gavin Dovey

The Marquetry and Bindings of Alain Taral

In honour of an exhibition featuring the work of French Binder and winner of the first ever international exhibition organised by DBUK, we are pleased to bring you a brief overview and discussion of the structure and style of Taral's solid wood, and venner bindings.

It was my good fortune 2 years ago at the Grolier club in town, to meet among others the winner of the 2009 International Bookbinding competition, Alain Taral. It was my further good fortune to arrange a meeting at the bindery, through his student, artist and interpreter Laurence Fayard. Alain was also more than happy to demonstrate his style of binding, to the conservation teams at the Met museum and the Morgan library, and we were then privy to the expertise of the respective heads of the departments Mindy Dubansky, and Maria Fredericks.

It was a great opportunity to see a completely different style and approach to binding, and its always nice to meet other binders anyway.

Alain started binding in Toulon in 1989. A client had asked for a binding using wood, and so began his journey, perfecting his solid wood, and veneer bindings, complete with the most exquisite inlaying and marquetry.
Its all about the hinge...a regular piano hinge built around metal rods, or pins, and some variations which provided for a good solid binding, completely detachable if needed, with a great opening.

He first produced a small clamshell, with the first incarnation of the hinge...this he said was suitable for making boxes for documents that were not to be handled that often.

The second incarnation is the hinge style he uses for design bindings, akin to the joint used on his recent winning entryin the 2009 competition, "Water".

The third hinge , was truly a marvel...double hinged with 2 pins per joint,and butterfly clasps, giving the opening a kind double-jointed action.This example was reserved for special bindings for important conservation work.

We talked at great length on many subjects....the one thing that did stick out , was his statement that he had know idea why leather became so popular and wooden bindings faded, and that it would seem counter-intuitive, as wood properly treated was so much more longer lasting.

Interestingly, it would seem, the arc of bookbinding archaeology may be reversing, meaning more and more binders over recent decades, have been using many different alternatives to animal skin, including woods, but also polycarbonates, and metals.

Our first visit was to the conservation department at the Met museum. Mindy Dubansky was gracious, considering the recent upheaval of rennovations to the conservation dept., and totally engaged with the work. Mindy has worked at the Met for almost 30 years, and in so doing has an extensive knowledge of collections, history, and art. The meeting was personally informative, as I was introduced by Mindy to the word, "xylothek"(greek-xylon=tree, theke=storage place), for the first time,  or wooden libraries, an example of which could be found in alnarp, sweden, made in Germany.

Alain also demonstrated his limp veneer bindings, where movement was obtained in the veneer, by cutting strips and laminating them side-by-side, onto a piece of leather, at which point Mindy made the very clever point that in his strips, and hinges, Alain had managed to bring flexibility to a material that does not naturally have any.

The staff were suitably impressed with his work, Jae Carey was particularly pleased in light of her recent studies of the piano hinge.

The photograph shows an animated Mindy talking of xylotheks!

Next came a trip to the Morgan Library, where again I was lucky enough to tag along, any excuse really to see the fabulous facilities in the conservation dept., and also the Magna Carta in Mr.Morgan's library, complete with silk walls, and secret staircases.
Maria Fredericks was able to bring an historical context, disappearing for moments and bringing back with her a splendid example of a renaissance illuminated book, that had a later metal binding, complete with metal hinges, that worked in almost the same way as alian's hinges. Interestingly, the book was attached by means of a metal rod laced through a hollow in a fabric covering at the spine.
Alain's books are sewn, no adhesive is used on the text-block, and the book is attached to the binding by means of suede flap, wrapped around the binding(not glued to the spine),and glued to the fly leaves of the endpaper.The suede is then able to be attached to the solid wood spine, leaving a hollow when the book is flexed open. The spines are typically made from solid woods, and the boards decorated using a technique known as fusion marquetry. The wood is finished using approximately 20 layers of laquer.

Of course, using wood in the binding and preservation of important materials naturally raised the question on both visits, about the presence of acidity. Taral maintained that the amount of lacquer used formed an impenetrable surface, and that he had used both the box and the binding, for various conservation institutions in France without issue.

You can get more of Alain's bindings here , and the information for the exhibit opening today in Paris here.

Both visits brought a closer critical understanding of how the bindings work. Thank you to all who were able to take part, with a special thank you to Maria and Mindy for their hospitality and insight.

-Gavin Dovey

(an edited version of this article first appeared in, May 2010)

Rudimentary Surface Gilding on Leather - Gavin Dovey

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Surface Gliding on Leather, Gavin Dovey

In 2010, I started using what I call a rudimentary method for surface gilding on leather on several binding and box making projects.

I call it "rudimentary" as it is easy, quick, and pretty hard to get wrong. There are many methods, and many adhesives used in the gilding of any material, all of which have different results.

Bookbinder John Mitchell has 2 very good manuals with comprehensive guides and lists dealing with gold tooling, edge gilding, and guaffering, both of which should be required reading (edge decoration, gold finishing), but at the end of the day, each binder will use their own idiosynchratic methods and adhesives.

The following methods ease revolves around the adhesive, namely a thin mixture of PVA and water. I will not bother with a ratio, as it is common sense not to make it too thick, and the glue is so strong that it will take a good amount of thinning, and will remain tacky when dry.

I use a low tack tape, or film to mask out an area for gilding.
If I'm going to texture the skin before applying the adhesive, such as by sanding, or puckering, i would do it next.

Typically, I will apply one coat, let it dry for 10 minutes, then apply the second, floating the gold and overlapping it almost immediately. There is probably no need for a second coat, but I do it anyway to make sure.

On large areas the glue will begin to dry, simply reactivating the moisture on the surface by breathing on it, as is common when overlapping gold, you can finish with no problem.

I double layer the gold, if I need a seamless unbroken surface, or could, after "setting", and burnishing, manipulate the surface, by sanding with wire wool, or applying different shades of gold. Alternatively, I can colour the gold using dyes, or tool on it, or as I found lately, place back pared onlays over it.

This last method is particularly pleasing as the extra thickness gives the onlay just that little extra of a surface to bite into, making the paring on the back side easier.

It also looks pretty cool, too....

-Gavin Dovey

Eggshell Panels for Books - Gavin Dovey

The Great Gatsby, with Eggshell Panels, Gavin Dovey

Jean Dunand(1877-1942) is credited with first using lacquered eggshell panels in furniture and bindings. I was lucky enough to be around to see one of my old teachers make a panel in 1998, and consequently I have another trick I can use.(thanks Mark Cockram!)

I first published this article on the PDB blog, back in September of 2009, but have edited it, giving a more detailed account here. There are many ways to do this, and different methods work better depending on what you are covering.

This method is good for straight cut panels, with the panel being made "off" the object, cut and glued into a recessed onlay.

The eggs are broken apart into halves if possible, care should be taken to preserve as much of the size as possible, in order to achieve maximum coverage, and good cracking. Larger eggs could be used such as goose eggs, but I use regular brown eggs, because of their availability.The white ones are no good, don't know why...that is, it is all to do with the thickness of shell....generally, the larger the egg, the thicker the egg shell....white chicken eggs are no good as the shell tends to be thinner, brittle and not good for withstanding the sanding...I had a student in 2005, use Emu eggs!lets just say she never got to finish her sanding over a weekend.

They are then washed out, and the membrane removed, so that all that remains is the shell.

The shells can then be glued onto a sheet of rough black paper which is drummed onto a perspex board.

An initial sanding will remove overlapping shells, and at this point you can fill areas with large gaps.
When dry enough, cover the sheet with a layer of black gesso, using it as a grout, and scrape it off using a spatula...the idea is to make the gesso stick between the cracks, then sand it off when its dry.

This should be repeated working your way up to 600 grade sand paper, and a reflective finish like glass.

The panel can be coloured with acrylics at this point, before finishing with layers of shellac.

I have worked panels into shapes and curves before, but it is a great deal of work, and requires different prep. Or alternatively, you cover your object with gesso, acting as a laquer, pressing the shells directly onto it.

I suppose you could do the same with the drummed panel, though I never tried it myself.

Interestingly, the panel does have some flexibility, and will wrap around round objects, be re-sanded, and finished.

You can find some more books with straight-cut eggshell panels here,  made while attending the bookbinding program at LCP, 2000.

-Gavin Dovey