Professional Development

Leather Bookbinding, day the first

Monday, March 23, 2009 10:46 pm

A removed spine

Wilkes-Barre(bear), PA…not your idea of a fun spot, eh?Mine either.This is a place that did have a thriving economy, but that was when coal was king.It’s located on the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, and now it is definitely a city struggling to make it.I drove 8 hours up I-81 to spend aweek learning leather book conservation from Don Rash, a seasonedbookbinder, calligrapher and letterpress printer who studied with Fritz and Trudi Eberhardt, two well respected binders.Don owns 3 houses, all adjacent to each other: one is Don’s home, one is his workshop and the third is used for student housing.I have the luxury of coming to Don’s school- The School of Formal Bookbinding-on a slow week-so it’s just me and one other student.

We began the first day by discussing each book we’d brought and how we would approach the repair.I brought nine books from Special Collections dating from the 17th-19th centuries.Immediately. I realized I needed a tool which I didn’t have-a lifting knife.Don had a new one which he sold me.The lifting knife is used to “lift” the old leather spine from the book.Before we tackled lifting spines, we learned to sharpen our leather skiving knife and my new lifting knife on wet Japanese stones while Bill’s numerous cats watched.

Books with clean spines

First all the books were ganged together in a large “lying press” with wooden boards separating them.We then took each book and lifted the spines of each one-trying to keep the fragile leather in-tact if possible- if not possible, we tried to save the labels.This required running the lifting knife along the outer edges of the spine and gently encouraging it to release itself.Unless you were really lucky, you just ended up with leather crumbs.When most of the leather was removed, we applied a poultice (glop) of corn starch paste and let it sit for 15 minutes.Then, we used a bone folder to get the remaining leather bits off the spine.Finally, we let the spines dry then removed them from the lying press. Tomorrow…paper repairs, sewing and headbands.

7 Responses to “Leather Bookbinding, day the first”

  1. Sounds a lot like People of the Book! Enjoy Wilkes Barre!

  2. Thanks Lynn- I’m learninbg a lot! I’m working on reading People of the Book- I just downloaded the audiobook. WB is cold-18 degrees tonight!

  3. This is so neat Craig! I wondered what the steps were in book repair. I’ve been through Wilkes-Barre on the way to Oswego, NY…I can sympathize.

  4. Wilkes Barre is definitely not the hub of activity! We love the Susquehanna though, it goes all the way up to where I am from in NY! Enjoy the work shop! Don’t bring any cats home in your suit case!

  5. Thanks for posting Craig! Keep up the posts and pics! I want to see the finished repaired book!

  6. Thanks for the interesting insight into what all goes into book repair. I am fascinated! Julia

  7. Hey Craig, your photos are amazing! It’s awesome that you can show us what you are doing through the blog. It looks like this is a great opportunity!


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