Saturday, August 14, 2010

Finishing in Hand Bookbinding

This binding was done on Finishing in Hand Bookbinding by Herbert and Peter Fahey, a book about the decorative techniques used in fine leather binding. I bound this book a few years ago but did not finish the decorative work on it until this summer. It had been set aside while I was deciding what to do for a design. I would occasionally bring it out and try something new but I was not happy with anything I attempted and back on the shelf it went, unfinished.

When binding the book, I used a Japanese chiryogami paper for the endsheets and it was this print design that finally gave me the idea for the design. The strong hard edges of the pattern and its modern feel needed to be used on the cover as well as inside.

The answer to my problem was eggshells. I used duck eggshells from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which kept us supplied with duck eggs for most of 2010. I rinsed the shells and then placed them in a diluted solution of bleach and water to remove the inside membrane on the shells. This membrane must be removed or it can cause the shell to fall off the book later.

I glued a piece of black Japanese tissue to a thin piece of Plexiglas to give me a flat surface for gluing on the egg shell pieces and for sanding, which comes afterward. I brushed out PVA on the Japanese tissue and then crushed sections of the shell down flat on the tissue. I went back in with small pieces of shell to fill in any voids
. To flatten the curves of the shells, I rolled a dowel across the top of the glued shells to press them into the glue. This also caused smaller cracks in the pieces of shell which showed up after the gesso was sanded.

Once all the pieces were in place and allowed to dry, I brushed over them twice with a black gesso that acts as a kind of grout around the shells.

With 220 grit sandpaper, I sanded the gesso back, exposing the shells. You can sand some areas less, leaving more of the black for a different effect. I also tried gluing some pieces of the shell with the curve up. Then after sanding you have a small pool of black surrounded by the shell. After sanding, I washed off the surface to remove all the dust and then let it dry. Once they dried, I sprayed the shells with a lacquer to seal the surface and give it a glossy finish. I used two coats to give a good finish to it.

On some other pieces, I tried using dyes and acrylic paint to stain the shells before lacquering but decided for this project to keep the shells white.

To aid with planning of the design, I photocopied the shells so I could cut up the copy first until I knew what I wanted for the book.

I then tried different arrangements on the book before drawing out my final design.

I made a title piece that I inlaid into the front, then I also inlaid the eggshell panels. After trimming out the areas, I painted along the cut edges where the lighter areas of the leather showed.

The black leather panels and the lines in the design are onlays. Here I am gluing the leather into the blind tooled lines with PVA.

For the larger onlays I scraped back the area with a scalpel to give the glue a more absorbent area to hold to. In this photo you can see that before covering the book in the terracotta leather I added strips of thin board to raise up the areas along the spine and fore edge of the cover, creating a recessed section on the cover.


  1. Beautiful work, as usual. Thanks for sharing both the finished result and how you got there. Happy New Year.

    --Mark Arend

  2. Fantastic idea to use the duck eggs. That's ultimate recycling.

  3. Thanks for this! Kaisa Rantakari and I have been talking back and forth about how to do this technique since we first saw it--this is very helpful information. Did you find it peeled off the plexiglas easily?

  4. When I did this eggshell it peeled on the plexiglass easily but once when I was trying to show this technique to a friend it did not peel off as easily. Make sure your plexi is clean and scratch free.