This is Part 1 of the next-to-last post in this mini-series about the “Intro to Bookbinding” class we had on July 27th. I’ll do a write-up about tools next and then it’s on to other long-delayed work for a while. Whenever we do another class, though, I’ll put up some more Bonus Info posts with lots of hopefully non-confusing pictures.
The last thing we made in class was a 4″x4″ 6-folio, single section pamphlet with a cover. I’ll review the highlights here, but first I need to talk about trimming sections after they’ve been nipped. We used a Kutrimmer, which works fine, but Kutrimmers are expensive and I can’t really recommend getting one unless you’re going to start doing a huge amount of book production (or if you’re part of a co-op or something, in which case, get a couple of different sizes if you can). Board shears are an even better tool for trimming sections, but good luck finding one in good condition for a price that won’t at least bruise your soul. And, in any event, I can’t really train anyone how to use a board shear via this blog, since in my opinion that requires getting real-life guidance from an experienced user. One reason I think this is because of several fun scars I have now from cutting down my thesis, meaning it’s kind of Serious Business. Another reason is because the nuances of how to cut paper well on a board shear just need to be seen firsthand in a totally focused way.
But not having access to this equipment leaves you with the challenge of how exactly to trim down your sections. Which, of course, you don’t have to do if you want to keep the torn edge, which some folks like. Plus you don’t have to worry about it if you’re using copier paper, except that even then it’s nice to trim back the fore-edge of a zine so it doesn’t look quite so sloppy. But for a lot of the books you make, you’re probably going to want to trim the sections, so here’s how I would do it (although, feel free to experiment and come up with your own, better method if you can):
1. Make a bench hook. Or buy one. But making one is better because then you can customize it. Basically, a bench hook is a flat-as-possible piece of wood (MDF, masonite, or plywood) with a backstop on the far edge of the top side and a hook on the near edge of the reverse. It’s nice to add an additional backstop on the topside left-hand edge, too (or, I think, the right-hand side if you’re a lefty). I use 1″ square pine sticks from my local DIY place. Tack the sticks on with a little glue and a few short nails (nail through the base to the stick). This will give you a fairly stable “third hand” that will help out when it comes to cutting. If you add the side rail, try to create a perfect 90 degree angle with the backstop. You might want to make a variety of sizes of bench hooks to use for different projects. This tool is also 100% necessary when cutting lino blocks.
2. Lay a self-healing mat on the base. Secure it with double-stick tape, if you like. My diagram shows just one folio on top of the mat, but it’s best to cut all the folios in a section all at once. With 6-folio sections of Mohawk, this isn’t a problem. It could be an issue if you use thicker paper. The general rule is, the heavier the paper, the fewer folios per section (all the way down to one).
3. Decide on the height and width of your book block and have a plan for how you want to go about trimming your paper. Try to stay focused on the minutiae of what you’re doing, since this is a time when lots of little errors can creep in that might have big effects later. What I usually do is, I first use a rough (but perfectly right-angled) measurement to take off the tail end of each section. This clean cut then gives me a reference line for much more accurately measuring and trimming the head end and then the fore-edge. I don’t often use a ruler for marking the sections; instead, as I demonstrated in class, I use a pair of dividers to transfer measurements from a ruler or from a template. The pointy ends of the dividers make marks that are plenty good enough. The cutting lines in the diagram above are not lines I would ever draw on a section. Also: recycle your scraps! Or try to figure out a teardown method in relation to some other final book size that will reduce the amount of waste. And then recycle the tinier scraps.
4. An Olfa knife is by far the best and safest knife for trimming. Always cut along a metal straightedge. Triangles and carpenter’s squares are preferable to rulers for this job. The straightedge must extend beyond the limit of your cut. Jog each section to the spine fold before you place it on the mat to make sure the folios are all nestled together. Lay your straightedge according to whatever measuring system you’re using. Hold the Olfa knife at a low angle (10-20 degrees, definitely not more than 30). Holding the knife at a higher angle tends to produce ragged cuts. Don’t expect to cut through all the folios at once. Make several medium-speed shallow cuts until the blade arrives at the mat. Keep a steady, firm pressure on the triangle or the square. And be careful! Oh, and I pretty much always do this kind of work standing up. Kitchen counters are usually at just about the right height. Make sure wherever you work has lots of light.
5. While you’re cutting the head-to-tail dimension, cut a few scrap pieces of card stock to use later for a sewing template. And don’t forget to do the covers (unlike the way I almost forgot to mention them). For the 4″x4″ notebook, the cover should be no less than 16″ wide and very slightly more than 4″ tall (about 1.68374 millimeters is enough). In other words, you want the cover to be a little taller than the book block and you want it long enough so that you can fold in the front and back end flaps as a near-final step. More than 16″ wide is actually better; the excess will get trimmed off after the sewing’s done. Trying to be exact before that point usually doesn’t end all that well.
This cutting procedure is potentially a bit less accurate than working on a Kutrimmer or a board shear. But it can get pretty close if you take your time and carefully consider each cut. And even with the preferred tools, you probably shouldn’t take it on faith that they’re always completely squared-up and ready to go. Most of the last percentile of accuracy resides inside your own eyes and hands and brain, not so much in the equipment. This is my personal theory, at least. The equipment may disagree.
So, next time, on to sewing and then, after that, a short tool list. And after that, drawings of future styles of hairdos!!!