How can I repair the spines of paperback books?
July 2, 2010 4:46 PM   Subscribe

How can I repair used paperback books -- and keep them out of the recycling bin?

I tend to buy sad-looking used paperbacks and though the pages themselves are in good condition, they are often old and worn on the spine.

The main problem is that the glue is not sticky or flexible any more - it is dry and flaky - and chunks of pages fall out as I handle them.

I did find some bookbinding resources online but they seem geared to people who are professional or serious ameteur bookbinders.

How can I re-do the spines of these books and save them from the recycling bin?
posted by cranberrymonger to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a WikiHow article on repairing lose pages or covers of paperbacks. Google 'repair paperbacks' for many more links.
posted by Kerasia at 4:53 PM on July 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the link. Unfortunately my books seem to be suffering several times over: great chunks of pages falling out, not much in the way of a spine-cover on which to glue them, and the front and back covers are mostly separated from the spine, holding on by a few bits of dry crusty glue.

Maybe I'll need to get creative and employ several tactics...
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:33 PM on July 2, 2010

A lot depends on the books. If they are well-made you can use some supple kind of glue like Tacky Glue (a craft glue that stays flexible) to glue it all back together. For just a loose page or two, use a technique called tipping in pages. You can use some duck tape (it comes in lots of colors now!) to repair the spine. I like this kit, but it is crazy expensive.

If the books are dry and brittle, there really is not much you can do.

I train people to fix books as part of my profession. Honestly, there is a limit on how much you should do before you call it a loss.
posted by fifilaru at 10:15 PM on July 2, 2010

The Japanese bookbinding techniques are quite interesting. I could see drilling some small holes through the book and using heavy thread or light cord to bind the book. The advantage is that it completely re-binds the book so the old, hard, crumbly binding is irrelevant. The disadvantage is that the page margins are reduced, so if the margin was narrow to begin with, this method would make it difficult to read the book.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:53 PM on July 2, 2010

I also had some books that were really falling apart. Since I am a printer, I brought them to my shop, cut (what was left of) the spines off in a ream paper cutter, and velo bound the resultant covers and loose pages.

Velo binding won't last forever, but if you're not using them constantly it should still save the books for quite a while, especially if there are no spines to speak of and you're low on other options. One of the books I did this way eventually fell apart again, but it was a really large book that I read very frequently. If I had been more careful in saving the sheets, I could have easily taken it back in and rebound it again.

At the time I was working at Kinko's, fwiw. They should be pretty familiar with this procedure because a lot of folks come in asking to have spines cut off so that books can be coil bound to lay flat (music, cookbooks, etc.)

I'd go with velo binding above coil binding for this sort of thing, since it's much easier for individual pages to be torn out or fall out, in a coil bind. Also, velo binds are really close to the margins, much closer than a comb bind or coil bind can be. If the velo bind is not quite the right size (they tend to come in 8.5 inches and 11 inches), you might have to cut off the trailing bits with a knife, but it worked for me. Better than nothing anyway!
posted by ZeroDivides at 11:02 PM on July 2, 2010

Best answer: I haven't yet tried this, but I've thought before that padding compound could be an easy way to rebind books like this--strip off what remains of the spine-cover, smear pages with padding compound, clamp, let dry, smear on second layer of compound and add a piece of cardboard to be a spine and help hold it all together.

It's usually used to make things like notepads, but I flip through stuck-together notepads all the time and it stays just fine--I'd imagine that adding a spine as another layer of sticking-together-ness would only help matters.

Or, like fifilaru says, duct tape.
posted by MeghanC at 11:21 PM on July 2, 2010

Best answer: I've bound a number of books with Gorilla Glue and not had a single page fall out of one yet. The glue is flexible and invasive so it can be bent with the spine and will hold the pages securely. Cut and print a new cover out of card stock, and make a simple clamp out of two pieces of wood with screws between them to hold everything together while its drying and it's almost like having a perfect bound book.

It works best if you cut the old binding off first, but the equipment for that can be tricky.
posted by Ookseer at 2:08 AM on July 3, 2010

I've done what MeghanC describes with the padding compound, though I did it with plain paper. You need to clamp the pages before you apply the compound. The spine edge should be even and free of glue.

When I made the pads, the sheets didn't tear off easily. In your situation, that's a plus!

Here is a site that might be useful.
posted by wryly at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2010

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