The Art of Bookbinding/Chapter 13

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The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf
Chapter XIII.



There is no occasion to wait for the book to be advanced as far as the backing before the workman sees to his boards; but he should take advantage of the period of drying to prepare them, to look out the proper thickness of the board, and to line them with paper either on one side or on both.

There are now so many kinds of mill-boards made that a few words about them may not be out of place. The best boards are made of old rope, and cost about £30 per ton. The various mills make each a different quality, the prices ranging down to £14 per ton; about this price the straw boards may be said to commence, they going as low as £7, and even less.

A new board has lately appeared called leather board; it is exceedingly hard and durable. I made several experiments with this board, but up to the present have not succeeded in getting it to lay flat on the book.

Boards are made to the various sizes in sheets varying from pott (17¼ × 14¼ inches) to double elephant (40 × 28 inches). The thickness is known as 6d., 7d., 8d.; 8x, or eightpenny one cross; 8xx, eightpenny two cross; X for tenpenny. Here is a list in full of all the boards likely to be used:—


6d. 7d. 8d. 8x. 8xx. X.
Dozens in a Bundle. Weight per Bundle. Dozens in a Bundle. Weight per Bundle. Dozens in a Bundle. Weight per Bundle. Dozens in a Bundle. Weight per Bundle. Dozens in a Bundle. Weight per Bundle. Dozens in a Bundle. Weight per Bundle.
inches lb. lb. lb. lb. lb. lb.
Pott 17¼ x 14¼ 6 28 6 40 5 48 5 56 4 60 3 58
Foolscap 18½ x 14½ 6 32 6 44 5 50 5 58 4 62 3 58
Crown 20 x 16¼ 6 36 6 50 5 62 5 72 4 74 3 72
Small Half Royal 20¼ x 13 6 30 6 44 5 50 5 60 4 62 3 58
Large Half Royal 21 x 14 6 30 6 48 5 60 5 62 4 70 3 72
Short 21 x 17 6 38 6 55 5 70 5 78 4 78 3 78
Sm. Half Imperial 22¼ x 15 6 36 6 50 5 64 4 70 3 62 2 60
Half Imperial 23½ x 16¼ 6 40 6 60 5 66 4 70 3 66 2 64
Mdle. or Sm. Demy 22½ x 18½ 6 45 6 60 5 66 4 74 3 72 2 66
Large Middle or Large Demy 22¾ x 18½ 6 48 6 68 5 66 4 76 3 74 2 60
Large or Medium 24 x 19 6 48 6 70 5 65 4 76 3 74 2 60
Small Royal 25½ x 19½ 6 52 6 78 5 78 4 84 3 84 2 68
Large Royal 26¾ x 20¾ 6 52 6 78 4 68 3 76 2 68 2 86
Extra Royal 28½ x 21½ 6 56 6 82 4 74 3 80 2 74 2 92
Imperial 32 x 22½ 6 72 4 72 3 72 2 72 2 96 2 120

Having chosen the board, it is necessary to cut it up to the size wanted. If the book is 8vo., the board is cut into eight pieces; if 4to., into four; using a demy board for a demy book, or a royal for a royal book. To cut up the board, first mark up, as a guide for the mill-board Cross-hatched drawing of a pair of shears.
Mill-board Shears.
shears. These are very large shears, in shape somewhat like an enlarged tin shears. To use the shears, screw up one arm in the laying press, hold the board by the left hand, using the right to work the upper arm, the left hand meanwhile guiding the board. Some little tact is required to cut heavy boards. It will be found that it is necessary to press the lower arm away with the thigh, and bring the upper arm towards the operator whilst cutting.

A mill-board cutting machine is now in all large shops. The cut fairly well explains itself; the long blade descending cuts the boards, which are held fast on the table by the clamp. The gauges are set either on the table or in front. The board is put on the table and held tight by pressure of

Line draing of a table-like macine, including guillotine blades and hand-wheels.
Line draing of a table-like macine, including guillotine blades and hand-wheels.

Mill-board Machine.

the foot on the treadle; the knife descending upon the exposed board cuts after the principle of the guillotine blade. Another kind, introduced by Messrs. Richmond, of Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, is made for steam work, and is no doubt one of the best that can be made. Instead of a knife to descend, a number of circular cutters are made to revolve on two spindles, the one cutter working against the other (see woodcut); but I give Messrs. Richmond's own description, it being more explicit than any I could possibly give: “The machine accomplishes a surprising amount of superior work in a very short time, and the best description of the ordinary lever mill-board cutting machine cannot be compared with it. The machine is very strongly and accurately constructed. It is furnished with an iron table having a planed surface, and is also provided with a self-acting feed gauge. The gear wheels are engine cut, and the circular cutters, which are of the Line drawing of a table-like machine, with many wheels along the near edge, connected to a a larger, belt-powered wheel.
Steam Mill-board Cutting Machine.
best cast steel, being turned and ground “dead true,” clean and accurate cutting is insured. The machine will therefore be found to be a most profitable acquisition to any bookbinding establishment in which large quantities of mill-board are used up.”

The boards being cut, square the edge which is to go to the back of the book. This must be done in the cutting press, using a cutting board for one side termed a “runner,” and another called a “cut-against” for the other side. These are simply to save the press from being cut; and a piece of old mill-board is generally placed on the cut-against, so that the plough knife does not cut or use up the cut-against too quickly. The boards are now, if for whole-binding, to be lined on both sides with paper; if for half-binding only on one side. The reason for lining them is to make the boards curve inwards towards the book. The various pastings would cause the board to curve the contrary way if it were not lined. If the boards are to be lined both sides, paper should be cut double the size of the boards; if only one side, the paper cut a little wider than the boards, so that a portion of the paper may be turned over on to the other side about a quarter of an inch. The paper is now pasted with not too thick paste, and the board laid on the paper with the cut edge towards the portion to be turned over. It is now taken up with the paper adhering, and laid down on the press with the paper side upwards, and rubbed well down; it is then again turned over and the paper drawn over the other side. It is advisable to press the boards to make more certain of the paper adhering, remembering always that the paper must be pasted all over very evenly, for it cannot be expected to adhere if it is not pasted properly.

When the books are very thick, two boards must be pasted together, not only to get the proper thickness, but for strength, for a made board is always stronger than a single one. If a board has to be made, a thick and a somewhat thinner board should be fastened together with paste. Paste both boards and put them in the standing press for the night. Great pressure should not be put on at first, but after allowing them to set for a few minutes, pull down the press as tight as possible. When placing made boards to the book, the thinner one should always be next the book. It may be taken as a general rule that a thinner board when pasted will always draw a thicker one.

When boards are lined on one side only it is usual to turn half an inch of the paper over the square or cut edge, and the lined side must be placed next the book.

Many binders line the mill-board all over with paper before cutting; this may save time, but the edge of the board at the joint is liable to be abraised, and the resulting joint uneven.

The boards when lined should be laid about or stood up to dry, and when dry, cut to the proper and exact size for the book. As a fact, the black boards now sold are much too new or green to be used direct by the binder, they should be stocked for some months.

The requisite width is obtained by extending the compass from the back of the book to the edge of the smallest bolt or fold in the foredge. It is advisable not to measure less than this point, but to leave a leaf or two in order to show that the book is not cut down. The compasses being fixed by means of the side screw, the boards are to be knocked up even, compassed up, and placed in the lying press, in which they are cut, using, as before, the "cut-against," and placing the runner exactly to the compass holes. When cut they are to be tested by turning one round and patting them together again; if they are the least out of truth it will be apparent at once. The head or top of the boards is next to be cut by placing a square against the back and marking the head or top with a bodkin or point of a knife. The boards being quite straight are again put into the press and cut, and when taken out should be again proved by reversing them as before, and if not true they must be recut. The length is now taken from the head of the book to the tail, and in this some judgment must be used. If the book has already been cut the measure must be somewhat larger than the book, allowing only such an amount of paper to be cut off as will make the edge smooth. If, however, the book is to be entirely uncut, the size of the book is measured, and in addition the portion called squares must be added.

When a book has not been cut, the amount that is to be cut off the head will give the head or top square, and the book being measured from the head, another square or projection must be added to it, and the compass set to one of the shortest leaves in the book. Bearing in mind the article on trimming, enough of the book only should be cut to give the edge solidity for either gilding or marbling. A few leaves should always be left not cut with the plough, to show that the book has not been cut down. These few leaves are called proof, and are always a mark of careful work.

About twenty years ago it was the mode to square the foredge of the boards, then lace or draw them in, and to cut the head and tail of the boards and book together, then to turn up and cut the foredge of the book.