How can I make a cool looking book?
July 7, 2006 5:47 PM   Subscribe

What's the coolest book I could possibly make myself?

I'd like to make a book (of blank pages). Ideally, it would have that 2000-page large-format wooden-board-covers musty leather-bound inlaid-silver Book-of-the-Dead look about it. Exceedingly durable would be good too. How do I do it? How do I bind an extremely large tome? How do I attach hard covers? What do I use for the spine? Is there anything else I could use for a cover other than leather? Difficulty: I have lawyer-hands, not artist hands.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This site gives a good overview of the bookmaking process.

I plan on making one myself.
posted by lekvar at 6:01 PM on July 7, 2006

The coolest books I know of are books detailing a single tree, the catch is the whole book is made from that species: covers, pages, binding. And the book includes a show box layout with samples of bark, roots, leaves, seeds, cones and sometimes samples of symbotic insects or fungi.
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 PM on July 7, 2006

Mitheral is right. Check out this thread for lots of xylothek-flavoured goodness. But I reckon making a book like one of these would be quite a challenge.
posted by bunglin jones at 6:22 PM on July 7, 2006

Around here (Portland), there are two art colleges. At least one (if not both) offer classes on bookmaking. Perhaps there are similar classes near you. For a couple hundred books, you can get professional instruction and lots of ideas. Maybe a local community college would have info for you, too.
posted by jdroth at 6:59 PM on July 7, 2006

Where I live there is a Book Arts center; I actually took a couple of classes on bookmaking and have bound a few (relatively small but nice) books. Although bookmaking is not difficult in principle, I think I'd have found difficult to get it right from a book. If you really want to make a big, ornate book from scratch seeking out a class is probably all but necessary. And I'd have to say that I wouldn't try to take on a project of the type you describe without doing some smaller binding projects to get techniques down first. You will probably also need access to some equipment (at the least, a serious paper trimmer) that a book arts center or bookbinding classroom will have available.

The other thing I'd note is that bookbinding can be a fairly tedious hobby - folding paper very precisely, tying lots of little knots, applying glue very carefully and then doing a lot of assembly that has to be fast but precise. In particular sewing signatures (the sheafs of folded pages that make up the body of the book and are sewed individually and then bound together) is tedious and if you make a big book you're going to have to sew a lot of signatures.

And I don't even know how you would approach the whole embossed-inlaid cover thing if you're serious about that. That's serious leatherwork, and a serious additional component to the process of putting on the cover.

I don't mean to discourage you but it really is quite a lot of work even if you're just making a small classically bound journal. And my experience was that a relatively small amount of sloppiness or mistakes translated into very visible deficiencies in the appearance and functionality of the book. I don't think I could make the kind of book you're describing without having ongoing guidance from an experienced instructor.
posted by nanojath at 10:57 PM on July 7, 2006

There are lots of ways to do it. From hand binding to posts to leather cords, and other. Start looking at books, large photo albums, and other interestingly bound items. Inspect how they are made.

If you check out the kitchen section of a department store, they have a range of rolls of adhesive vinyl with various designs (eg marble, woodgrain etc) for some kitcheny purpose. Sometimes there is also self-adhesive faux-suede. (You can use whatever you want as a surface for the cover, but the self-adhesive suede struck me as extra useful :)

Practise - make a few booklets and various parts to get the idea of how you're going to fold/cut/attach things.

Also - experiment - you are in control and you don't need to do it the same way as other books. A modern book is machine-made, and a human can bind a book in far more interesting and/or intricate ways than a machine, so don't aim for the quality of modern machine production, aim higher!

Speaking of thinking outside the box, an excellant example I read about online of someone making a necronomicon / book of the dead, was that after finishing the book, in order to make it look the part, he buried it for three weeks. When he dug it up, it was musty, parts of the pages were hard to decypher due to smeared ink and water damage and rot, there were molds growing through the pages, it looked every bit as evil and ancient as he could desire :-)

I've done books with metal hinges and other hardware as well. That stuff can look/feel good too.

I guess you could start with the wikipedia entry, which will give you a few names and terms used for the various parts and methods, and this in turn will give you the ability to make focused web searches for the techniques you decide you want to use.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:10 PM on July 7, 2006

I would temper nanjath's comment with the note that you can turn many of those bugs into features. Eg. Perhaps you don't have a good way to cut paper? That means you'll have a lot of difficulty getting all page edges cut so as to form a crisp block... but... do you really want a crisp block? The book of the dead was probably not bound by machine with precision cuts. Mechanised binding _requires_ a precision cut (eg quires are generally made from a single folded sheet that is trimmed once folded), thus if your pages have a kind of uneven random raggard-edge look to them, that means it can't possibly have been made by a machine :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:23 PM on July 7, 2006

The guy at Renaissance Art seems to use coptic binding for his large fantasy/medieval journals, so maybe start by learning how to make signatures. Then from there graduate to putting signatures together in a coptic binding, then graduate to cover attachment, and so on. Make a few small books and go from there.
posted by xyzzy at 12:23 AM on July 8, 2006

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