DIY Bookbinding Techniques - Bookshelf Memories

DIY Bookbinding Techniques

Favorite books can begin to look tacky after thumbing through the pages hundreds of times. Binders begin to crack, or worse, the bookbinding comes loose, requiring gluing back in place to secure it. Book aficionados with a flair for the creative arts can create unique works using a variety of DIY bookbinding techniques. Some are suited to hobbyists and crafters, others are better suited to preserving the longevity of cherished books by reinforcing the binding or making decorative leather-bound book covers, complete with indents and gold foil stamps.

Unearth 9 Creative DIY Bookbinding Techniques

1. Saddle stitch bookbinding

Illustration of saddle stitch bookbinding technique

Saddle stitching is the most basic of bookbinding techniques. It can be done with a single piece of thread, or using staples. All it requires is folding individual sheets of paper, piercing holes down the center fold line, stacking the sheets, and then stapling or stitching them together. It’s ideally suited to thinner books that are generally under 25 sheets of paper if using staples, and if you have more, a needle and thread will be the better option.

2. Perfect binding

Perfect binding is a standard format for paperbacks. The spines of perfect bounds books spring closed when you try to read them with one hand. It’s the reason why you need bookmarks to find where you left off. They’re designed to spring shut when you put the book down. The sturdiness of the binding is impacted by the strength of the paper, and the flexibility of the glue used to bind the pages together. Burst binding or notch binding are variations of perfect binding that involve creating notches to allow for the glue to permeate deeper into the paper forge a stronger bond.

A newer technique is HMPUR (hot melt polyurethane reactive) binding, which is the same as perfect binding, but uses a polyurethane reactive (PUR) adhesive for a stronger bond. Perfect binding uses an EVA glue that cures as it cools. Polyurethane reactive glues cure via a chemical reaction that continues for 24 hours creating an even stronger bond.

3. Case binding

Hardback book with a bookbinding kit including an awl

Case-bound books are a fancy way to describe hardbacks. The only real difference is the materials used to encase books. Unlike mass-produced hardback books, case-bound books are usually made with superior quality materials such as leather, cloth, or thick card. Rather than printing the book details, a luxurious touch is added by debossing (which is placing permanent lettering indents) onto the case, then using foil blocking to fill in the indents. The foils are often gold or silver letters and designs that go on the case of books, giving a traditional style that’s typically associated with formal book displays. Ideal if you want to color-coordinate your bookshelves.

4. Singer-sewn bookbinding

Singer-sewn bookbinding also goes by the name of thread-stitched binding. Important to note is that Singer is a brand name that’s synonymous with sewing machines. Suffice to say, Singer-sewn bookbinding is done with one of Singer’s industrial sewing machines specifically designed for stitching through various thicknesses of paper. The stitches run down the center of the pages creating a line of en dashes. These are typically used on thinner bookbinding projects with runs of up to 60 sheets of paper. Due to the tightness of thread-stitched binding, the result is a book that can be laid open and remain flat.

5. Section sewn binding

Section-sewn binding is a hybrid of sewing and perfect binding. Thinner stacks of paper are sewn together, then collated and glued to the binding.

6. Coptic Binding

image of a book with coptic binding done

Seth Morabito (Flickr) | CC BY-SA 2.0

Coptic is a term used to describe “Egyptian”. Coptic binding is one of the earliest methods of bookbinding. It’s a hand-sewn technique that involves creating signatures (page sections), and hand stitching them together individually. The first signature is sewn to the cover, the second signature gets layered over the first, and so on until the back cover is stitched to the final signature. Any color of thread can be used, which is partly why Coptic binding is popular for binding journals, diaries, and notebooks. The primary reason though is that books can be opened and laid flat. It’s a handy method if you want to print out colorful recipe pages and bind them together to make a DIY recipe book.

7. Japanese stab binding

books in different colors with the traditional 4-hole japanese stab binding - Yotsume Toji

Krissy and Dennis (Flickr), CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There are different types of Japanese bookbinding techniques, but the most basic and easiest to customize is the four-hole bookbinding technique, known in Japan as Yotsume Toji. Within this style, there are several patterns including Kangxi binding, Tortoise-shell (Kikko Toji), Noble binding (Koki Toji), and Hemp leaf binding (Asa-No-Ha Toji). For anyone interested in Japanese crafts, or perhaps have some photo prints from a vacation in Japan, consider making a DIY photo book by sticking them to paper, then using Japanese bookbinding to create a custom photo book that’ll look like a gem on a Japanese bookshelf design.

8. Lay flat binding

Lay flat binding is a variation of perfect binding. Rather than applying hot glue, cold glue is used and takes longer to cure. Usually 24 hours. That’s just the first layer though. A thin layer of glue is applied to the pages first, and then endpapers are attached as inner liners. Alternative materials can be thin fabric such as mull, Japanese tissue, or cheesecloth. This is secured over the binding. Lastly, the book cover is glued to the inner liner. When the book opens, the inner binding flexes, and since the cover is not attached to the bind, it pulls away. Regardless of how many times the book is opened, because of the additional flex the book cover has, it’s not going to crack.

9. Dos-à-dos / tête-bêche bookbinding

two books bound together in a Dos-à-dos / tête-bêche bookbinding style

Emma Jane Hogbin (Flickr), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dos-à-dos is French for “back to back”. The correct term is tête-bêche, which means “head-to-tail”. In bookbinding, this style is when you place two (or more) books side by side, with one of the books upside down. It’s quite an unusual style because they don’t share a back cover. Instead, you have two front covers, and one spine visible when placed on a bookshelf. To read the second, the book needs to be rotated 180 degrees.

For fanfic fans, you could use tête-bêche bo0kbinding to pair the original fan fiction stories published on platforms like FanFiction.net or Wattpad.com that have gone on to be published in print. Download the original as a PDF, print it, bind it using any of the aforementioned DIY bookbinding techniques, and then create a collection using a Dos-à-dos style to bind the fanfic with the published version. For avid readers, dos-à-dos bookbinding would make a one-of-a-kind gift for bookworms that would be sure to take center stage on the bookshelf.