Bookbinding III: inside

The inside of a book is called a book block or register. Register makes only sense if the content must be in a certain order, such as in text, images, or any content. Blank pages are… blank.

Bookbinders love book designers who include a tiny square on the spine of each signature, that will form a diagonal line on the spine, when the order is correct. Doesn’t happen anymore though, as all books are mass produced on massive production line with interconnected machines.

Sometimes, signatures would have numbers at the bottom, so far down the page it gets cut off when the book block is trimmed.

The direction of the fibers must be along the spine. Must. Must. Must. The direction of the fibers define the size of the books i make.

If it doesn’t, things will crack. I promise. I will repeat this forever.

Do you have any fancy coffee table books that creaks; where the pages kinda stick up when you open it? Fair bet the fiber goes the wrong way. It hurts me every time. Very few books these days get it right, and i think it is about the formats of books in correlation with the sizes of industrial paper mills. If we had changed either just a little bit… this would be solved. And we would have better books, that lasted longer.

End papers

…are those things just inside the cover. Traditionally, they would be a different colour, texture, printed, marbled, or with some kind of decoration. The idea is that the endpapers is a kind of transition from the cover to the content, and personally i think it should soften any dramatic cover. So i am not a great fan of Italian marbled end papers – particularly on small books. They are dark, ostentatious, busy. They are great fun to make, they work as covers, but they eat up any content – and your tastefully selected ivory book block paper and ebony ink.

There are essentially two ways of attaching end papers to the book block:

  • the end paper is twice the width as the book block, and are folded once and glued with a thin – say 2 mm – strip on top of the block.
  • the end paper has two folds, and are about 1 cm longer than the book block. It is then stitched into the book block, by wrapping the first and last signature. The first and last signature should then have fewer pages than the rest to compensate for this unfortunate added strip.

I don’t like either of these solutions, but to my knowledge there is no other, so then the second is definitely the best of the two. In the first, when the end paper is glued to the cover, the fold in the hinge gets too tight, and it will pull the first few papers of the block so they stick up, instead of (ideally) lying down. In the second, if the end papers are coloured, the fold will be horrifically visible somewhere around page eight or so, and that is part of why i don’t like dark, busy end papers.

The book block can be trimmed smooth, or have torn edges. I actually like torn edges, but it is a lot of work and takes practice. I don’t have a machine for cutting paper, so i use a rather medieval plow that works with my rather medieval press. But it works.


Lots of ways of doing, it lots of ways to make it unnecessarily complicated. Books are usually stitched on threads or tape – i prefer tape (it is not tape per se. It is linen bands). Though thread would make the book tighter, i am so far mainly doing sketchbooks and books for writing in, and then you don’t want the spine to be too rigid. For literature binding and ledgers; a different kettle of fish. Literature: threads would be a good fit. Ledgers: are stitched into the tape so that is a wildly different thing.

Edge decoration

In the olden times personal hygiene was not great, the lamps open flames and sooty, reader’s fingers sticky, sweaty, sooty, and greasy. The insanely expensive book ends would get yellow, blackened, sticky. So we decorate the edges. For the insanely rich: with gold. For the less rich: dyes. Sometimes, with art, patterns, marbling, engravings, titles, and hidden messages or artwork. So far, i am sticking to full colour, spatter, or sponge. Later: hidden art, gold.

Head & tail bands, bookmark ribbons

Head and tail bands used to be part of the stitching of the book block, but now is purely aesthetic. This is a bit of a shame, as they added enormous strength to the spine, since people tend to pull books off a shelf with pulling on the headband. Which they shouldn’t do. Don’t do it. Don’t be One Of Them. I might sew some, but for now, they are simple and white.

How should you get a book off a shelf, if not pulling on the top headband? Two ways: press down on the book block itself, and you can kinda tilt the book enough away from the others so you can grab the covers. Alternatively, put your hand all the way to the back and push the book out from behind, pushing on the front edge.

Next up… judge by the cover.

One thought on “Bookbinding III: inside”

Have an opinion!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.