How My Dad Saved My Book (And how you can save your books too from spine breaks)

Posted: January 27, 2013 in Gallery Post, Heroes, Scribe Scribbles
Tags: , , , ,


Today began like any other day; one where I’m surrounded by  things I ought to do on one side, and things I want to do on the other.  In the middle of my procrastination (actually I’m still procrastinating by typing this up but I wanted to share and I have most of the review done in my head) I was discussing Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart with Megan, and went to grab my copy. I was all set  to happily thumb through the story I  love while encouraging her to read it. To my horror, pages fell out of the book.

Okay, so I got my copy in an omnibus edition, so it’s over forty years old, so I only paid a dollar for it at a library book sale. It falling apart in my hands is not acceptable!  Thankfully, I know someone who knows about bookbinding.

My Dad worked in a book bindery as a young man.

The first thing he tells me, is that this is a perfect bound book, not a folio binding.  The good news for the book, is that we can fix it. Folio bindings are a little more complicated than perfect, they’re stronger and more expensive too.

Before I go any further in my adventure in book repair, let me say that this is an amateur fix on a book  with the sole goal  being that I can read the tome without it falling to pieces.

All right, onward for the step-by-step how to perform perfect bound spine surgery.

Step 1: Acquire the help of someone who has some experience in bookbinding

This is very important. Without the aid of someone who has some experience in this, you could wind up with a mess.  So as tempting as it is, don’t go this one alone.  If you don’t know anyone who has experience in bookbinding (and it’s becoming somewhat harder to find those with this skill) click here for some advice. He has a great video series on book binding, and this shows how perfect binding is done.  Also, don’t try this with any book you can’t throw away. Remember, I’ve only got $1 invested in my book.

Step 2.: Acquire tools.

It’s important to use the right kind of adhesive with a perfect bound book. It needs to be able to flex and hold at the same time.  Most of the book pages are still holding together with the original glue which make the work simpler for us.  I also dabble in folio hand book binding and have some adhesive in the basement.


To apply the adhesive, we use a foam brush, the kind that most craft stores sell. I use these for mod pod too, and wait until the craft store puts them on sale for $0.10 each  then buy as many as I’m allowed to, usually there’s a 50 brush limit or something like that. A paper cup to put the glue into, a set of adjustable clamps, two pieces of scrap wood, and a vice are also needed to do this.


Step 3: Prep the book

Dad aligns the sections of the book that are still holding to the glue and cloth of the spine, then clamps the loose pieces to the top of the pile. This gives him a block of paper to work with that is stable.  It’s important to make certain all the pieces are even, because ones the glue sets its going to stay like this.


The pages here are clamped to the back of book, not to the workbench.  It takes several tries to get everything lined up as it should be and careful adjustments are made until he’s satisfied that the pages are right, not necessarily ramrod straight, but aligned. After all, I’m going to be opening this book and closing it quite a bit.

Step 4.) Apply the adhesive


Dad applies the adhesive with the foam brush, carefully coating both the paper edges, and the membrane that has become disconnected from them. Originally, after the paper was treated and glued the cloth was rolled over the naked spine and allowed to dry. We could cut the paper spine away and do the same but then we’d have to re-attach it using the proper tapes and that’s more work that either of us are interested in doing for this book. Carefully, Dad matches up the upper portion of the book with the lower now-glued portion, and I stroke/press the spine through the cover, making several passes to make sure that the cloth and pages have met and any excess glue is squeezed out and wiped away.

Step 5.)  Position the book in the vice and allow the glue to dry for 24 hours

The end piece  that you see dangling here  is not really connected to the pages, it’s a different piece of cloth than what I smooth through the spine. See how our alignment isn’t perfect?  And also note the chunks of text that you can clearly see even now that it’s in the vice. It won’t win any book beauty pageants, but then again, that isn’t the goal.  The goal is to have a repaired, readable tome.  And that, I have.  I’ll update this tomorrow with the last picture and the book open to the repaired section so you can see how it turned out. Until then, if you have any questions, post them below and I’ll pester Dad with them.   Also, if YOU have any tips for repairing books, post them in the comments below.

  1. Megan-Marie says:

    Sooo . . . . yeah, not going to apologize for provoking random book restoration 😀

    Repairing books isn’t well understood, as is evidenced in the Rifftrax short “Broken Bookshop” in which they mock the idea that books can be/need to be repaired. I tend to replace books rather than repair them, but that’s generally because I’ve bought them super cheap secondhand without noticing the cracked spine or profanity scrawled over half the pages (Macbeth. True story. Actually it was shrinkwrapped in with three other books for a quarter). That hasn’t happened much. But paperbacks that need reinforcing — like my 3-inch Brit Lit book, for example — well, I use packing tape for all MANNER of things. Is this library approved? No, it is not. But these are my books in my collection and I don’t really care if pressure adhesives give Jim Canary and the staff at ALF nightmares.

    ALSO: Dear the entire universe, do NOT attempt to repair library books :p I guess it’s really tempting. One time I read on Bookfessions this girl who said she tore a library book page and wept the whole time she was applying Scotch tape. I wept when I read what she did to that poor book. Don’t ever put Scotch tape on book pages; I don’t even do that with my own books. It will shred the page sooner rather than later because the adhesive wastes away but the plastic stays forever, creating a hard edge that will tear the paper even more. And especially never do anything to a library book because if they’re worth their salt, they have procedures that really shouldn’t entail slathering it with tape.

    I know you know that 😀 It just gets to me. Anyway. This was fun. I tend to do half my book repair with packing tape, as I mentioned before; and yes, I will use stiff tape on paper dustjackets. My argument there is that the tape stiffens the jacket. The torn pages I have, though, are waiting until I can invest in some adhesive Japanese tissue.

    The funniest thing, as Ralf once pointed out in class, is that it’s called “perfect” binding when it’s like, the worst one there is, as far as falling apart is concerned. Though, at least easily broken means easy to fix. I like it when a book comes back from ‘ospital all safe and sound 🙂 I feel accomplished when I fix a book. And I’m still excited to read Nine Coaches Waiting.

    I think my comment is longer than your post 😉 I should stop. And do something else that does not consist of playing a flash game or eating.

    • LOL it might be? Your comment being longer than the post I mean. But there’s something rather gratifying in repairing a book rather than running around trying to find a replacement of it. Also I’m rather attached to this copy 3-in-1 volume. Though I’m beginning to wonder if its truncated. I would think not. I remember having rescued it from the dollar shelf at the library. I had red “My Brother Michael” and really liked it and then to have two NON read stories PLUS that one in a single book? I couldn’t pass it up for a dollar. I mean that’s $0.34 a piece (roughly) per story. I’ve bonded with the boring beige cover and orange lettering.

      In fact, if you tell me WHEN you are going to be reading Nine Coaches, I might just read it again with you now that my book is FIXED 😀

  2. Gee says:

    Your dad makes the process look easy (but I know it isn’t). Thanks for the fun, practical read. This could even become a part-time job opportunity for those with the time, the knowledge, and the skills to practice it. Libraries, used-book stores, and individuals with old books might be interested in such services. I would maybe call such a business The Book Clinic.

  3. Gee says:

    Unfortunately, many of the books in academic and public libraries are defaced by highlighters, annotations, food, and worse. A few have broken backs, too, which makes me wonder if and when they are ever repaired. On an unrelated note, I have twice been told that books that I had returned to the library were overdue, only to locate them myself, on the library’s shelves, where staff had placed them, apparently without first checking them in. By finding them, I saved myself about $200 in fines and replacement costs. I did have a third book at home, which, unable to find it in time to return it, I had to purchase (i. e., pay replacement costs and a fine of about $100). I haven’t misplaced another lately (but the library has). LOL — books: gotta love ’em!

  4. Megan-Marie says:

    I forgot because my comment got so freakin’ long, but I was going to emphasize that the reason I end up replacing damaged books is I have no emotional attachment to them. And that is because I bought them en mass for very little. Not that I’ve found damaged ones often, and when I replace books, it’s almost always because I find a more comfy edition. And the reason I found more comfy editions is HPB didn’t offer too wide a selection of editions to choose from and usually I just made sure it smelled acceptable.

    In closing, I’ve decided Nine Coaches Waiting will be my library book for February, so as soon as I finish Quiet Flows the Don . . . 😀

    • Then I am SO going to read it with you. Cos my copy is all repaired. xD And, it’s one of my all time favorites. So, reading it at the same time someone else is reading it for the first time is ALMOST as good as reading myself for the first time.

  5. Kathy says:

    Your love for books shows. And I am sure the author and the publishing house would approve of your helping their hard work continue on for several more years. I think you told me this book was published in 1954, which makes it 59 years old. Re-purposing is always a good idea.

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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