Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When a Spine Goes Bad

Spine can become misshapen from misuse or from being stored badly. Over time, the glue hardens and the distortion become set which adds stress to the joints of the cover, causing them to fail.

The front cover of this Bible was detached so I removed the text block from the back cover and placed it between book boards in my lying press. When putting the it in the press I tried to reshape the spine bit only had a little improvement.

I peeled away as much of the spine linings as I could get to come off easily. I coated the spine with a thick mixture of methyl cellulose to soften the lining paper and old glue. After 10 minutes, I used my bone folder to scrap away more of the lining and then repeated the operation again.

The old glue layer had softened enough so I could take the book out of the press and try to reshape the spine back to a more rounded shape. Then I applied another round of methyl cellulose and continued to remove the last of the lining and glue layers on the spine.

When the spine was finally clean I removed the book from the press and again reshaped the spine. I then returned it to the press to finish drying.

When handling large books like this, I tilt my laying press on its side in a stand I built for it. This allows me to place the book in on its side and rest it on the cheek of the press instead of trying to lower it from above and hold on to it while turning the screws. After the press is tightened I lift and turn the laying press over with the spine upright.

The press sit on the shelf at both ends. This allows the text block to hang below while I am working and I can store the stand and press separately.

To keep the shape of the rounded spine, I used three layers of paper and a layer of linen cloth on the spine. The paper of this Bible was very thin and had a good drape so even with a more heavily line spine it still opened well and the extra lining will help to hold the shape of the spine.

I then worked on the cover which was a heavy paper case embossed to look like leather. I reattached the front cover and reinforced the back hinge.


  1. This is amazing - fantastic to see, and such a great set of images. I've just joined your blog and am looking forward to seeing more!

  2. Hello Jana,

    thankyou for posting this series of images that clearly describe your processes; I am a self-taught amateur binder and have re-bound a ew old bibles and other books for friends. I have a growing arsenal of tools and equipment, much of which has been sourced from junkshops, backyards and the internet - that goodness for eBay! - and have a laying press from the 1970's, but have always used blocks to support it. Yours is the first 'frame' I have seen and coupled with the information you give on using the press on it's side as well as upright (why didn't I think of that?), this gives me the inspiration to build one for my own lying press.

    Thanks again for all your posts - I have been a regular but silent visitor for about a year - some of which are very inspirational for the enthusiastic amateur as well as being a great source of practical reference.



  3. Hi from Australia

    Found your site interesting and as above inspirational! Like the idea of the press on its side-as I abbout to make one will model mine on yours. If anyone out there has made one and has dimensions etc - would appreciate it.

  4. Jana,

    Where did you get your laying press that appears in this post? I'm looking to get something similar. Thanks,


    1. Nicholas,
      I made this press in a workshop with Tim Moore,http://www.timothymooretools.com/complying.html
      I also made the stand afterwards.