How to Fix Your Books

We’ve talked about craft bookbinding, but how do people repair existing books? Luckily, I have more experts at hand who are willing gullible enough to let me photograph them as they Do Things With Objects.

In this week’s object lesson, Chuck, a retired librarian in central Maine, shows us how to replace the cover on worn books. I didn’t exactly write detailed notes, so just, uhh… trust me on the details!

1. Find worn-out books. 

Maybe you have books with covers that are falling off, or crumbling at their little cardboard corners. Maybe when you open it, the cover kind of lolls to the side, or it’s so tight that it doesn’t sit straight on a shelf.

All of these could benefit from a new cover:

A cart of books ready for repair.

This, of course, presumes that your chunk of pages (“text block”) is sound. Are the pages fading and torn? Will they hold up if you fold a corner back and forth? Is the glue strong enough to keep the pages together, or will they just be falling apart between your pretty new covers? That’s your judgment call…

2. Pull off the old covers. 

If the glue on an old book is falling apart, you may be able to gently but quickly yank the cover off. (As a librarian, this was psychologically quite hard to do!) Otherwise, you’ll need to cut the endpapers to free the text from the old over. If the board covers are still solid, you can set them aside to re-use:

Worn book covers waiting for trimming and repair.

3. Scrape off any old glue. 

Here, Chuck gently scrapes any leftover glue and mesh fabric from the spine, keeping the binding intact.

C. scrapes off glue from books which need a repaired cover.

4. Apply new glue.

You can also add new mesh or paper liners, which will strengthen the binding:

Applying glue to the spine of a book.

5. Piece together a new–or upcycled–cover. 

Trim the excess paper or fabric from your old boards–or cut and cover new boards in fabric, if the old ones are falling apart. If all you have are old boards, you’ll need to cut a new piece of fabric for the spine. Both Chuck and Jonathan patiently measure several times before they cut or glue, checking the fit of each part:

Lining up new material to connect the boards together.

6. Attach the cover to the book. 

I don’t have images here, as I was asked to actually help (!). You’ll put endpapers on each side of the text block, and glue those to the interior of the new book cover.

The result? A stack of freshly-bound books. The text inside is the same, and maybe even the boards that guard the text. The new binding is stronger, and will protect the pages from tearing and rumpling. Chuck adds new labels, and then the books go back on the shelves.

Repaired books with a strengthened cover.

(And a bonus… Coffin Bookshelves) 

As if that’s not enough, Chuck is also a talented carpenter. He makes and sells wooden coffins that can double as a bookcase until you die; the image below is from his booth at the Common Ground Fair held every autumn in Maine. Quite a macabre, if economical, two for one: a place for your newly bound books, and a nice little memento mori for your living room.

Wooden Coffins and Home burials in Maine. Sign at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine, September 2015.

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