Press All the Things…

So I finally managed to get my hands onto a nipping press. It is a lovely little cast iron baby, with a turn-wheel instead of a handle. It’s in pretty good nick: the paint is peeling in a couple of places and the screw is a bit rusty (luckily it only looks like surface rust).

You may remember that I was planning to make my own nipping press from wood. Well, that’s not going to happen any more is it? It’s probably a blessing in disguise so I’m not that worried about it. I may still build one and sell it. Would you be interested in buying a wooden nipping press? I have a few projects on at the moment, so one less is no worries.

I’ll post some more pictures once I’ve cleaned it up a bit.

Happy bookbinding!

Book Binding and Restoration Class

Geometrically Compartmentalised

I ♥ Learning

I am 5 weeks into a Book Binding and Restoration class at Sydney Institute of TAFE. The instructor is Carolyn Kenney, a binder with a long history in the trade. She is the second instructor I have had, having first started with Rosemarie Jeffers-Palmer at Amazing Paper in Enmore. One of the wonderful things about learning from multiple people is seeing different ways of doing things. Already I have learnt a few different, more efficient methods for things such as a method of tipping end papers that work for many at a time.

We’ve started off pretty simply, and are getting into sewing soon with a Japanese-style stab-bound book (first introduced to me as an Oriental Side Stitch). If you want some inspiration with your Oriental Side Stitching (or stab binding), check this out on Becca Making Faces’ blog. It is amazing.

Last class, we finished rebinding a paperback, and continued to create a case for an adhesive-bound printout of the free e-book Bookbinding and the Care of Books by Douglas Cockerell. An ePub format—among others—e-book is available from Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is an awesome resource, and if you want to bind something instead of blank paper, print an e-book from PG and bind that. You will probably find a PDF version set up for printing on commonly sized paper—for example, Pride and Prejudice is available as a PDF imposed 2-up on A4, so that you can just print it and fold it and there you have it!

I’m not sure what legal issues—if any—stand in the way of using the PG stuff in your own work. I think you are free to use any e-books as you like. Can anyone shed any light on this?

A Lovely Gift

One of my compatriots of the course gave me a surprise the other day when at the end of the lesson she presented me with a beautifully crocheted cardigan vest with a hood for my little boy. It is so cool. As I told her, I love handmade things, and the knowledge that she took time out to create something for my little son personally is really special. It’s a little big, so I can’t wait for him to grow into it. Thanks Eleni!

TeX, or Tech, or Whatever It’s Called

A little while ago, I hit on this excellent page, outlining the process of printing a text and binding it. This was my introduction to the arcane and mysterious world of TeX. TeX is a system that allows the user to typeset a document into a high quality book. It is a cross-platform, free, and open source bundle of software. It is not as easy as plugging a Pages publication (or something from the other word processor) into it and, ‘Hey, presto!’, you have a book. It is pretty much a programming language all in itself, so there is a pretty steep learning curve: only the most intrepid computer savvy nerd will want to go there. I generally use it for imposing pages for creating booklets where that option is not available on the printer itself.

I started on converting Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice into a TeX document a little while ago, with the idea of binding and giving it as a gift for my Mum, but never actually got to the printing and binding stage. If you want, you can email me and I’ll send you a copy. You’ll need a working install of TeX, and a bit of knowhow and a certain amount of bull-at-a-gate-ishness.

Anyhow, I got bogged down with technical TeX stuff, in particular: getting a nice typeface to use (in this case Minion) which was not at all easy, and the way the pages were imposed, and how laser printers’ duplexing units (that allow printing on both sides of a sheet of paper) often are hopelessly inaccurate at getting both sides of the page to line up correctly (the registration). If anyone know how to improve this, please let me know!

I really want to give this a better go, because I can think of so many gifts I could make by printing classic novels. Imagine a set of hand-bound Charles Dickens or Jane Austen novels! The mind boggles.

A Random Post

So this was a not-so-directed post; or, a little bit random. I’ve been wanting to post about TAFE for a while, so I’m glad I finally got to do it. The impetus for that of course was the excellent cardy Eleni crocheted. Next time I post about TAFE I will wax lyrical about the wonderful experience of using an electric guillotine.

Little Sacks of Weight

Heavyweights II

Weighing in at 750g…

I made these heavy little guys soon after I started bookbinding. My first bookbinding teacher Rosemarie inspired me to create them one lesson. They are great for holding things down (duh), especially when I am sewing sections together. I also use them when something has to dry under weight. I prefer them to a heavy block of metal or a brick because they are soft and supple, they feel nice, and because the make a cool sound when I toss them from hand to hand; they also double as stress balls. They will not dent your boards or whatever when you drop them either. They are dead easy to make; one just has to find a gun shop that will sell one some lead shot. I forget the size I got. Make sure when you do get some that you put them into a strong container—or several—because man it is heavy for its size.

Heavyweights I

How to Make a Heavy Leather Bag of Lead Shot

This is pretty easy so I won’t even explain each step, you’ll be able to figure it out.

  1. Get some lead shot and put about 750g into a separate container.
  2. Cut yourself a template from some breakfast-cereal-box card according to your desired size. Remember to allow for your seam.
  3. If you’re using leather and hand sewing, I recommend pre-punching holes. I marked the holes’ positions on the template so I’d get an evenly spaced blanket stitch.
  4. Cut two pieces of leather, old jeans, or some other heavy fabric according to your template.
  5. If you’re using leather, use your awl if you have one to pierce holes for sewing. Remember to protect your work surface.
  6. Start sewing around the outside of the paper weight with some strong thread. In the picture above, the red and the white stitching is linen bookbinding thread, while the blue is a couple of strands of embroidery floss.
  7. Once you have only about 2–3cm remaining, make a funnel from some heavyish paper (roll it into a cone, then cut a hole at the bottom, and cut the top down so it’s manageable), and pour your shot in. If it all won’t fit, or you need more, that’s cool, just play it by ear.
  8. Complete the sewing
  9. Et voila! You have a heavy bag of lead. Use it for peaceful purposes only.

If you want to make it more secure, you can either use a sewing machine, or make an inner bag out of some thin strong fabric—preferably sewn using a machine—and cover that in the leather or your covering material of choice. Also, I wrote this with blanket-stitching in mind. If you wanted to use another stitch you’ll have to mark and pierce holes according to whatever stitch you’re using.

My First Tutorial

That was just it. Please let me know if it needs editing or a bit of clarification. Just let me know.

PS: I wonder how many Higg’s Bosons a little ball of lead-shot has…

A Simple Finishing Press and Plough

Side of the Press


I had wanted to make a finishing (lying) press for ages. In my dreams I was going to buy on of these wood thread tools, some dowels, and make some wooden screws. Because they are just so cool and I love the creaking sound you get when you turn them. That was a long time ago. I didn’t ever get around to it.

Then, the other weekend, I decided after a flash of inspiration to just make a very simple version with some long bolts with wing-nuts for ease of tightening. I never wanted to make one like this, because I wanted the beautiful wooden screws mentioned above. I also tend to have very grand ideas that I have to think about for ages and that are too hard for me to accomplish, thus they never get done!

To make the press, I cut two cheeks on the table saw out of 25mm MDF (while wearing an old pair of pyjama pants as a dust mask—MDF dust is bad to breathe in). Next I drilled holes through both cheeks, and finally made the holes on one cheek bigger for ease of movement over the threads. All I had to do was thread the bolts through the holes and tighten them until the square bit under the cup-head sank a bit into the MDF.

Plan View of Lying PressPloughing in Progress

Chisels into Ploughshares

Part of the reason that I made this was because I wanted to use one of my chisels as a sort of plough for finishing off the head, tail, and fore-edge of some books I was working on for Christmas gifts. After making the press as described above, I gave one of my chisels a sharpen and a strop on leather, then set about testing the setup. It worked very well, but with some possible areas of improvement. In thicker books, I found that standing with the press perpendicular to me and using a pulling motion on the chisel was much easier and safer than trying to push it through left-to-right or right-to-left.

The Result III (Fanned Edge)
The Result IIThe Result I


After using the press and chisel–plough to finish the edges of some small books I was making for some christmas presents, there were some things I wanted to improve. I  got longer bolts so that I could make the press cheeks thicker, which I’ve done by adding on another bit of MDF to each side, doubling each cheek’s thickness. The 25mm by itself tends to bend under a lot of pressure, and also is not quite wide enough for the chisel to rest firmly and securely—on 50mm the chisel is much more stable, and doesn’t bend as much.

I also want to build a better plough, more like the traditional bookbinding plough. I have found that the results from the chisel are OK, but it tends to leave lines in the paper, where I might have moved the chisel slightly up or down between passes. I want to make a blade from some old hacksaw blades too—one that can be used pushing and pulling.