Updated: May 2
Materials for Bookbinding
I often get asked what materials I use for bookbinding. This post will lay out what I use and what I recommend.
Note that this is just what I use and is in no way comprehensive!
Paper - interior and endpages
We’ll start with the inside of the books and that means paper! I like to use a nice writing weight paper that is fairly smooth and off-white. Specifically, I use Neenah Classic Crest paper in 70 lb text weight. I settled on this paper after buying a sample book from Neenah and feeling a lot of the different weights and textures. If you’re new to choosing paper, I recommend doing this so you know what to expect and you don’t waste money on picking the wrong paper. I’ve used this paper in natural white and black.
For endpages, I use Lokta paper.
Thread and Cord
Next is sewing the pages together. For thread I use Irish linen thread in 18/3 or 25/3 thickness in the natural color. It comes in multiple colors so it can be matched to whatever paper you’re using. You can buy thread waxed or unwaxed. I buy unwaxed but apply wax right before sewing by running the thread over a chunk of beeswax. The pages are sewn onto 3 mm jute cord that is doubled up so it ends up being around 6 mm. I do this in part because of how my sewing frame works, but I also like the really thick bands on the book.
Once your textblock is all sewn up, it’s time for some glue. I use PVA and wheat paste. PVA dries quickly, doesn't require prep work, and is easy to clean up. Wheat paste has the advantage of drying a lot slower which is great when attaching leather. It's also reversible. The downside to it is that you have to make it either on the stove or in the microwave and it goes bad after a few days.
Endbands are a great place to get creative! You can create beautiful patterns that compliment your binding. My favortite thread is Soie Perlee. It's a beautiful silk and comes in a miriad of colors. You can also use DMC brand embroidery thread. It's thicker than the traditional endband silk, but it's cheaper and can be a great material to use until you want to create more elaborate endbands.
There are many options for what the cord material is; I’ve used leather and cotton before. You generally want to use a thickness of cord that is matched to the square on your book. This can be a matter of preference, but you certainly don't want to make the endband too thick and have it go past your cover.
I use mull to reinforce the spines of my books.
2 or 3 mm Davey board is what I use for the covers. If I’m going to be adding an embossing border, I’ll use 2 mm. Otherwise, and for the back cover, I use 3 mm board. This is another choice that should be matched to your book. If make a smaller, thinner book, you would want to use a thinner cover board.
This material can be expensive to ship because it comes in large sizes like 20”x30”, but it does make it more cost effective to buy large sheets and cut down yourself, despite the shipping price.
Leather and Dye
I use veg tan goat leather for all of my work. This is the standard in bookbinding and produces a beautiful, sturdy result. I dye the leather myself because I prefer the grain and matte finish I can achieve. Fiebing’s Pro Dye has given me the best results and is what I stick to when I can. Not all of their colors are available in the pro dye formula. I’ve tried Eco-Flo dye but did not care for the result because it was pretty streaky. However, I do use Eco-Flo as a sealant. It’s the only sealer I’ve found so far that has a matte finish. There are other good options for sealing the leather dye (like Resolene), but most of them give a shiny finish.
This one is all over the place! I make a lot of the cover decorations myself through a process of 3D modeling and printing, making a mold, then casting in resin. This allows me full freedom in my designs since I don’t have to work around whatever sizes and colors I happen to find in stores. Though I do still buy things like rhinestones through craftstores or online. I recommend browsing around and seeing what you can get inspired by. I find that bookbinding has turned me into a bit of a hoarder or pretty, shiny things to one day use in a cover design.
For the gold and silver lines, I use Posca paint pens. I keep around an extra fine nib and a regular nib. Paint pens are a really easy way to get clean, thin lines on the book covers.
One day I'll get into real blindtooling!