What Materials Do You Need to Bind a Book?

By Elizabeth Tumbarello
Binding a book allows you to get creative with supply choices.

A basic book needs just a few simple elements -- something for the cover, something to fill it with and something to hold it all together. Different methods of binding require specific supplies for these elements. A few basic tools speeds the process along.

Materials for the Cover

First, you'll need a thick base. Cardboard and chipboard work the best for heavier covers. Bristol board works better for lighter covers. If you're feeling exceptionally experimental, you may even want to try balsa wood or thin plywood for your cover base. You'll also need something to wrap your covers in. Leather is a favored choice for heirloom tomes, but you may prefer the feel of book cloth -- a type of cloth that has a paper or plastic-covered backing. You may also choose decorative paper for the inside cover of your book that will also serve as its end papers.

Paper for Pages

You'll need to choose a type of paper -- or several types of paper -- for the pages inside. The papers for your pages are limited only by your creativity. You can go for a formal look with classic white or off-white acid-free archival paper, or get quick and dirty with plain printer paper. If you've got a creative green streak, upcylce paper products such as maps or brown paper bags for the pages of your book. Handmade paper -- either created by yourself or purchased -- can make a book truly one-of-a-kind. Experiment, and don't be afraid to mix and match paper types for a truly distinctive book.

Putting It All Together

You'll need some tools to help you put your book together. A needle and thread are necessary for most types of book binding -- the exception being books that utilize ring binding. Traditionalists might prefer waxed linen thread. If your spine will be showing on your finished book, you may prefer the look of a brightly colored cotton, polyester or even metallic thread. You can even experiment with yarn.

Tip

Keep a little extra wax on hand in the form of a beeswax candle to help re-finish the thread or stiffen it appropriately as you work.

If you're putting together a thick, hardbound book where the spine won't show, you'll want to invest in some book tape, which is specially prepared strips of linen or fabric tape or ribbon that you can stitch over to reinforce the spine and make the book sturdier. If you're going to be gluing any part of your book --such as the end papers, or to strengthen the spine -- invest in some archival quality polyvinyl acrylate glue and a couple washable brushes.

Poking Holes, Cutting and Folding

You'll need something to help you cut your cardboard, chipboard and cover cloth. A simple craft knife can get the job done easily, though you may find you work best with a heavy duty pair of scissors or shears. Cutting paper, likewise, can be done with a craft knife, scissors or a straight-bladed paper cutter.

To poke holes in your signatures -- the folded groups of paper that make up a book -- you'll probably want to invest in an awl, although a needle or any other sharp, pointed object can work. If you're making a Japanese stab-bound book or something similar, you'll want a drill, either electric or manual, that can go through the covers and all the pages at once. Folding the paper requires a nice, crisp edge created with a bone folder, though any rounded, flat object that you can hold in your hand will do.

Useful but Not Necessary

Clamps can take the cramp out of your style and keep your folios nice and tidy while you glue, bind or otherwise put together your book. Regular metal C-clamps work just fine. A paper punching jig made specifically for book binding can also make punching holes in your folios more uniform -- and it can speed up the process. Finally, tissue paper to glue over the spine after it's been bound adds an extra layer of strength to your project, ensuring it's stability for years to come. To make cleanup easier, you may want to have some clean white scrap paper on hand.

Tip

Newspaper works in place of clean scrap paper, but be careful to avoid ink transfer and smudges onto your project.