Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Press Tub

Last week I finished the tub for my book press.  My woodworking skills haven't advanced much past the 10 year-old Boy Scout stage, but I'm pretty happy with the result.  I didn't have the proper size bit to drill pilot holes, so I ended up splitting the wood when I drove the screws in, and the outsides of the rails are a bit chopped up, but the functional bits should all be fine.

The tub is basically just a box with rails.  The actual book press will sit between the rails, with one section sliding over the top, which has been sanded smooth.  I should be able to complete the press as soon as I find some hardwood in the proper dimension.

Overall the tub is about 22" wide by 11" deep by 8 1/2" tall.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Simple Tools

I started work on the tub for my book press earlier this week.  The wood needed a lot of sanding.  At first I tried this by hand using just sandpaper, then I remembered a quick tip that someone taught me as a kid.  Staple the sandpaper to a piece of scrap wood.  Not only does this give you something to grip while sanding, it'll also help avoid rounding the corners of the wood that you're sanding.

I took a quick look online to see how much sanding blocks cost.  Seems like they run anywhere from $5 to $10.  This one was made for a few pennies within about a minute, and worked great.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First Paperback Book

A few years ago I took part in National Novel Writing Month for the first time.  I succeeded in completing 50,000 words, and was left with a typed manuscript that people were begging to read.  Well, begging may be too strong of a word.  My wife wanted to read it, and I wanted to read through it as if it were a real novel.

Since my wife and I both tend to read in bed before falling asleep, I decided that I would create a paperback version of the novel rather than try to deal with loose sheets of manuscript.  Creating a paperback book in this fashion is probably one of the simplest forms of bookbinding.

The first step was to create the pages.  This entire process was done before I had researched any sort of bookbinding techniques at all, so I made all of the steps up as I went along.  The pages were created in Microsoft Word by setting the page size to that of a paperback book.  I added page headings and page numbers, then printed the entire thing to regular printer paper.

The next step was to cut out each page.  This was one of the more time consuming processes since I had to cut out each page individually.  If I recall correctly, there were between 250 to 300 pages.

Once all of the pages were cut out, I assembled them into a single block, in order by page number.  I added a couple of blank sheets to both the beginning and end of the book.  I pressed the sheets together between a couple of wooden boards, leaving just a bit of the spine protruding.  I measured the width of the spine to have as a reference for creating the cover.

The next step was to glue all of the loose individual sheets together.  While the book was pressed between the boards, I used a stiff brush to dab regular school-grade rubber cement into the spine, making sure to get in between the pages as well as I could.  While this was drying, I began work on the cover.

The cover was designed in Photoshop, using a couple of photos that my wife had created.  The entire cover was done as a single piece, with the back cover to the left, the spine in the center, and the front cover to the right.  Since I wanted a dark cover, I converted the two photos to black and white, then added them to the front and back.  On the front cover and spine, I added text for the title and my name.  On the back, I added an excerpt from the story, and a short biography of myself.  The spine and back cover were both purposely done in black, just in case my spine measurement was incorrect.  That way, the fold could fall slightly off without affecting the look of the book.

The cover was printed on heavy matte paper used for photos.  Once the cover was cut out, I folded it along the front edge of the spine, then fit it over the now dry block of pages that made up the bulk of my paperback.  The back cover was folded along the spine wherever it naturally fell.  After a little trimming, I glued the cover to the spine of the book, again using rubber cement.  My first published book was born!

You can see from the photos that the cover has faded slightly.  Overall, though, the book has held up well over the past few years.  At least three people have read it in this form, and it is still together.  In fact, it blends in well enough with the other books on my shelf that it took me a few minutes to find it in order to take these photos.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


What do you do when you want to build a kayak, but winter is coming and the house that you rent is too small to build one inside?

You build snowshoes.

What do you do when your loving wife tells you that you can't build the steam box necessary for bending the wood needed for building snowshoes?

You make homemade cream soda.

What do you do when your homemade cream soda experiment fails?

You move on and try bookbinding.

Or in this case, try bookbinding again.  I've already successfully bound one book, using instructions found at  That particular book turned out well.  Well enough that it peaked my interest in the proper art of bookbinding.  I ordered a couple of books to further my education on the subject.  One of the books, Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction, by Aldren Watson, contains nicely detailed instructions for not only binding books, but also for making the equipment needed to do so.

This morning, several months after reading both books, I decided to make the equipment that Watson explains.  The largest piece of equipment in the book is a book press.  I took some quick notes on the dimensions and materials needed to build one, along with notes on some of the smaller tools shown.  This afternoon, my oldest daughter and I made a trip to Home Depot.  We picked up a single 1"x12"x6' board, a single 1"x6"x6' board, a three foot long piece of 1/2" threaded rod, and four 1/2" hexagonal nuts.  I'll use these as my starting materials.

The book press, though, will have to wait until I can get my hands on some 3"x3" hardwood.  In the mean time, though, I started work on one of the smaller tools.  In particular, the awl.

The awl, used for making holes in the signatures of a book, is basically just a needle stuck in a handle.  Looking around my basement, I found a small piece of scrap wood.  I cut it to the dimensions of the awl shown in the book, and used a hand saw and some sandpaper to shape the handle.  I know this is truly a project, as I ended up slicing my finger open on the saw.  It's not really a project unless there is blood involved.

Once the handle was shaped and sanded to comfortably fit my hand, I found a small nail in my toolbox.  I used that to create a pilot hole for the needle.  The needle came from our sewing box that only gets opened every couple of years.  There are a bunch of needles in that box, so this one shouldn't be missed by any seamstresses or tailors that may show up at our house.  The needle was glued in place.  Once it dries, and I'm satisfied that the needle won't fall out, I think I may stain the handle to give it a nice finished look.