Perfect-Binding a Textbook In Quarantine ft. My Garage
Updated: Jul 19, 2020
In this post, I'll be talking about how you can make a very professional looking perfect-bound book with only things you probably already have in your house.
I'll be talking a bit about what perfect binding is and about the language-learning book I'm binding first, but if you'd rather skip ahead, scroll to the Ok, How? section.
So what am I binding?
This tutorial starts with me taking a break from animating an icon to learn Chinese via a Spanish textbook. So basically, a casual weekday.
As an avid language learner, I find it very useful to learn a language you have no idea about through one you want to improve your skills in. I'd found a free textbook online of about 200 pages (link at end) and was just about to print when I realised I'd have to hole-punch or binder clip this entire behemoth of a book.
Away from university and any kind of book binding service, it's a thorn in the side to get any kind of proper binding done. Personally, I dislike hole punching pages and slipping them into binders if I can avoid it -- that method tends to tear the pages easily and leaves you frustrated if you want to flip pages or use them as a workbook. But if you want to bind anything and avoid the hole-punching in the middle of quarantine, what do you do?
You perfect bind your pages with patience and school glue.
What is perfect binding?
Before we dive in, I want to quickly mention what perfect binding is. There are dozens of different binding techniques worldwide, all of which have very specific advantages, capabilities, and difficulties. Perfect binding is among the most popular of these binding methods. It requires little previous knowledge, only a few materials, and looks very pretty. The one downside of manual perfect binding is that it is relatively slow. This process took me around a day to complete due to humid weather and glue layers.
The key word to remember in perfect binding is the word "flat". Perfect bound books, when opened, fall flush to the ground, allowing you to see as much of the surface as possible. This makes it great for workbooks, photography books, and even regular novel books. You probably have quite a few around you right now.
In addition, while it's not much, it's important to note that you'll lose about half a centimetre (1/8 inch) of your binding edge (the edge of the paper where the pages are stuck together) when you bind, so don't print too close to the edge.
Why even bother?
Good binding, whether spiral, saddle, Coptic, or perfect, is a great motivator, especially if you've done it yourself. When you make something, a craftsmanship instinct kicks in, and you have a personal connection to the object, making you more likely to look at it, even just to hold it.
Plus, as shallow as it sounds, a pretty looking thing typically entices you to pick it up more frequently (indeed this is the principle on which most marketing is based).
For language learning, this can be a lifesaver. If you feel unmotivated by haphazard material, you will probably feel a bit less motivated to continue learning that language.
Beyond this, binding is fun, almost therapeutic, and even though it takes a while, it gives you great satisfaction to know that you know how to make something which is sold in stores across the world. And that's not an exaggeration - my friends and I very frequently end up having a blast commenting on production processes as we jaunt through Barnes and Noble, albeit probably more critically than we need to.
But enough of that. Now that we've established why, the next step is how.
Ok, so how?
For this list, I'm including variations of every component. Feel free to get creative though! Whatever you find around you, if it works, it works.
Your printed document
This is completely individual, but perfect binding works best with single sheets of paper cut to size, and over 40 pages long.
This paper can be either the same or longer length than your book. You need this during binding to prevent damage to your pages.
Two hard, flat surfaces
This can be wood, metal, thick plastic, two other books, etc. you will use this to press the binding edge together
Can be construction clamps, binder clips, or heavy things in general. You will use these to clamp your two hard, flat surfaces together.
Xacto, kitchen knife, Stanley Knife, blade, etc. You will use this to score and cut the binding.
PVC, Elmer's school glue, etc. I would not recommend any type of super glue for this, as this is what will be keeping your book together.
This is to apply the glue. Your fingers also work, but it's not ideal.
Preferably painter's tape or masking tape to cover your binding and protect it from damage.
Step One: Print
First off, you'll want to print whichever document you want to bind. Perfect binding works on single sheets of paper, so all you'll need to do is print out your document in its correct order on single sheets of paper. Perfect binding also normally works best on 40+ pages, because the glue holds better, but if you have less than that, don't worry.
If you're printing more than one page on each sheet of paper, like if you're making a book of letter sized page and you decide to print two pages horizontally on the same side to save paper, cut those apart first. Keep in mind that when you flip through your stack of pages, you want it to look exactly like it would if it were bound together.
For anything else, cut your pages to size first. Normally, if you have access to a professional cutter, you do not cut your pages to size beforehand to give you a bit of leeway if something is off or you make a mistake. However, if you're stuck inside with no professional cutter like a guillotine paper cutter, you'll have to take that risk and cut everything beforehand.
Step Two: Excess Paper
The next step is finding excess paper. What this means is finding scrap paper which is the same length or longer than the book you are binding.
Place this scrap paper above and below the document you want to bind. You'll need a good deal of paper, around 1 centimetre or 1/4 inch on each side. Add more as you see fit. This is especially useful if you have less than 40 pages in your document.
Even if you do have over 40 pages, this is not a step to ignore. It may seem silly, but the scrap paper protects your book from being crushed or having glue end up all over it. If anything gets damaged, it will be the scrap paper, not your work.
It's also helpful to use paper which is a different colour than your book or is longer than the edge of your book. This makes it easier to tell where the book starts and the scrap ends, but it is not mandatory.
Step Three: Assembling the Press
This is the part where it starts to look like bookbinding. So in order to actually bind the book together, you need to construct a simple press to keep the pages in place. This makes sure the glue doesn't seep through the pages and ruin the book.
First, place one hard object below your book and the extra pages and one above. Make sure that you're binding the correct edge! Then, add the clamps and tighten to the point where you can't slide the pages.
The press I'm using here is two pieces of wood held together by three clamps, two on the sides and one in the middle to even out the pressure.
Step Four: Scoring
Time to bind the pages together! Now that you have a structure for your perfect bound book, make sure you score the edges. This is just a fancy term for cutting slits into the binding, but it's extremely important. What scoring does is make grooves in the binding so the glue you're about to put on the edge has a better foothold.
To score, use your knife to create cross-hatching. That is, go down the length of the binding edge making shallow diagonal cuts in the paper. Then go back the other way angling your blade in the opposite diagonal.
Step Five: Binding
Once you've scored the binding edge of your book, take your glue and dip the brush into it. Over the next few hours, you'll need to apply a layer of glue to the binding side, then let it dry, and repeat the process.
Apply the coat of glue about 7 times or so, it'll depend on the thickness of the glue and is just an approximation. Make sure your layers of glue are a good medium between thick and thin. A thick coat will take ages to dry, not to mention might seep into your actual book and form blobs on the binding. A thin coat won't be enough to keep your pages together, and it will take much longer for you to reach a good thickness.
The final result should be a slightly opaque layer of glue on the edge of the book with a thin rubbery feel.
Wait for the binding to dry completely, or the pages will get unstuck. After this, remove your clamps and hard flat objects.
Step Six: Taking Off Excess
The next step in perfect binding is to trim off your excess pages. Remember those stacks of scrap paper you added in the beginning? During this process, you have bound those pages together with your actual book. At this point, very carefully flip through the pages or find where they change colour or shape and use your blade to carefully slice through the binding.
You'll have to do this for the top and bottom of the book and once you've done that, there you are!
Step 7: Binding protection
To protect the binding, you can cover the bound edge with tape or paper. This helps to keep your binding from breaking accidentally. If you want an additional cover on your book, however, you can skip this step, as putting tape on the binding decreases the effectiveness of the glue on the edges.
Step 8: Cover
If you'd prefer your book have a cover, you'll need to find a piece of paper a bit more than double the size of your book. This is so it reaches across the front, back, and spine of your project.
For this book, I used an old cardboard sheet I found. Unfortunately, it did not reach all the way, but I decided to use it as an artistic touch, and leave a small part of the front cover uncovered by the cardboard.
You'll need to measure out the cover, the spine, and the back, and mark where they are on the sheet. Then, gently score the lines so they're easier to fold and bend the cover along those lines.
After this, place the cover underneath your book so that the back of the book is on the back side of the cover. Then apply your glue to the finished edge of your book.
Quickly fold your cover over the book and make sure that the spine connects with the glue. Then hold the cover until the glue sticks and wait for it to dry.
Alternately, you could also take a different approach, like what I've done for this book. This cover is attached to the back page of the book, and the cardboard spine is detached from the spine of the printed material.
Congratulations, you've done it!
Well done on completing a perfect binding with stuff you probably already had at home! When you open the book, you'll notice that it lies flat on the table, making for a very good workbook, textbook, notebook, or novel.
More Links and Tips
If you're interested in learning more about languages or learning more than one at once, check out this link to Lindie Botes's blog: https://lindiebotes.com/2020/06/02/how-to-learn-multiple-languages/. She has tons of tips, tricks, and tutorials for language learning.
And if you're like me and are looking to develop Chinese skills through Spanish, click on the link below to access the free PDF: https://archive.org/details/NewPracticalChineseReaderTextBook1/page/n23/mode/2up
Happy bookbinding and/or language learning!