How to Do Bookbinding With Wooden Covers

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Enhance books with wooden covers via bookbinding.
Enhance books with wooden covers via bookbinding. (Image: Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The earliest writing was done on scrolls and these scrolls were protected from damage in clay pots. Sometime between A.D. 100 and 200 codices, stacks of paper sewn on one side, replaced scrolls. These simple books were wrapped in leather or placed in wooden boxes to protect them. By 800, codices were no longer boxed, but had boxes built around them. The first books were bound with wooden covers, many were hinged and held closed with a clasp or lock. Today, special books can be enhanced with a wooden cover.

Things You'll Need

  • Blocked book pages
  • Ruler
  • Wood, 1/4 inch thick
  • Saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain (optional)
  • Letter decals
  • Polyurethane
  • Headbanding tape
  • Leather
  • Illustration board
  • Glue
  • Decorative paper

Measure the length, width and depth of the block, the stack of bound paper that makes up the bulk of the book, with a ruler.

Cut two pieces of wood 1/4-inch thick wood to 1/3-inch wider than the block and 2/3-inch longer. to allow overhang around the edge of the book. The back edge of the cover is flush with the spine.

Sand all the surfaces of the wood smooth. Stain, if desired, and allow the stain to dry.

Press the letter decals onto the wood that will be used as the front cover. Use polyurethane to seal the letters and the stain. Allow the polyurethane to dry for 1 hor.

Cut headbanding tape to fit the width of the block. Headbanding tape is a twill tape with stitching along one side. Glue a piece of headbanding tape to both the top and bottom of the spine. Line it up so that the stitching just hangs over the edge of the bound spine. The stitching, not the tape, should be visible at either end of the spine of the finished book.

Choose a strip of soft, thin leather. Cut the leather 2 inches longer and 3 inches wider than the spine of the book.

Cut a piece of Illustration board the width of the spine of the block and 2/3-inch longer than the block.

Lay the leather face down on the work surface. Glue the piece of illustration board in the center of the leather. There should be 1.5 inches of leather on either side of the board and 1/3-inch above and below the board.

Fold the top and bottom of the leather over the piece of board and glue it in place. Allow the hems to dry for 1 hour.

Spread glue along the board and lay the spine of the book on the board. Hold the block in place until the glue dries.

Cut the decorative paper to the length and twice the width of the block. Fold in half. Open the front cover of the book and spread glue on the inside of the wooden cover. Spread the glue 1/4 inch on the first page of the block all along the spine.

Lay the decorative end paper on the glue so that the fold lies in the spine of the book and covers the leather hinge. It will not extend all the way to the edge of the cover. Repeat Steps 14 and 15 for the back cover.

Tips & Warnings

  • Practice on a modern book before attempting to bind an antique volume.

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