Thursday, April 9, 2015

Love your books a little longer: How to fix a ripped book spine

One of my very favorite college classes was bookbinding. If I had time for a hobby (and I hope I will someday) this would be it. And although I can't really claim to be an expert, it has certainly come in handy over the years, mostly in the way of repairs. I can't tell you how many times I have been tempted to kidnap hymnals from church to take them home and fix them up. I just ahve to remind myself that with 5 kids and a houseful of books I have an ample supply of repairs right here at home. Many just get the tape treatment. For board books that just need to last through one more toddler before it hits the donate box, strapping tape will do. If I'm feeling generous it'll be archival acid-free scrapbooking tape. But there are a few that get the royal treatment.

Back in the day, books were made to last. "Paperbacks" did not exist. Spines were carefully and lovingly stitched together and bound with sturdy, precisely cut and placed materials. The weakest joints, where the spine meets the board, would always be made from cloth or leather that resists tearing. Somewhere over the past few decades, we traded quality for cheap, fast production. While books are more available and affordable, they are also more disposable. My kids think I'm the worst mom ever because I refuse to buy books from the book fair or those monthly catalogs the schools send home. Naturally, I want my kids to read, and I used to buy those books, but they are some of the worst made books on earth and I don't see how a flimsy, tear-apart book is going to get my kids excited about reading. Even when we invest in a hard bound book, though, it's hard to find one that is built to last. The boards are commonly held together with no more than a thin piece of paper. I don't know about you, but since I was a kid I have folded paper to help it tear more easily. So guess what? Paper endpages which are always folded at the joint of the spine are going to tear!

We got this book for our son for Christmas a couple years ago. We were in the height of our family "Zelda" kick, having just gotten our first gaming system a year or two before. It was one of those finds online that you're just like, "that's the one!" We were so excited to give it to him, and we emphasized the importance to taking good care of it. Well, you know how that goes, and pretty soon it was getting left around, borrowed by younger siblings, and in general mis-treated. Inevitably, the spine ripped. I gingerly set it aside and promised to repair it. I was going through my kid's books today looking for give aways when I realized I'd better repair it so I can keep it with a clear conscience. I decided to blog about it in case anyone else needs to repair a hardbound book.

Here are the materials needed for this project: binding cloth in a color that looks great with the book cover (I found a nice green that was nearly a perfect match), PVA glue, a 1/2"-3/4" wide paint brush, a cutting board, x-acto knife, metal ruler, and possibly binder's board, if the spine board is damaged or missing. Most of these materials can be found at a nicer art supply place like Blick, or I'm sure you can find them online. PVA is a special archival glue made specifically for book binding. If you don't care as much about the longevity of the book (if it only needs to last until your kids outgrow it) common white glue would work just as well.

My first step was to cut the spine board from the book. It was only attached on one side. If I wanted to cover the entire spine, I could have left it attached, but I wanted the title to be visible. I repaired another book once by cutting a hole in the binding cloth to fit around the text on the spine, which worked okay, but this book had much more text and image to dodge.

So this time, after cutting off the dangling spine, I used my x-acto blade to carefully peel the paper off the spine board and set that aside for later. If your spine board is damaged, bent, or missing, you will want to cut a new one from binders board. It should be as tall as the cover boards and a little narrower than the thickness of the book.

Once I had the paper off the spine board, I cut a piece of binding cloth a couple inches wider on each side and at least half an inch wider on the top and bottom. I brushed the board with PVA glue and placed it in the center, pressing it on tightly. Once that was dried, I tested the wrap around to make sure the cloth wasn't going to cover up the gold image on the front, and had to trim back one side to allow for that. Next I cut slits in the cloth straight down from each of the corners, starting at a distance about the thickness of the board away from the edge of the board. I used my metal ruler pressed right against the long edge of the board as a straight edge. Next I cut a diagonal slit out to form little notches. (In hindsight, I should have cut them more square to compensate for the thickness of the book cover, which was slightly padded.)

I Brushed the two smaller tabs at the top and bottom with glue and wrapped them over onto the underside of the board, pressing down tight. The remaining tabs will tuck around onto the inside end pages after it is glued in place.

Since the boards on my book were tearing away from the end pages, I needed to glue those back down. Apply glue and brush on, making sure you pull the glue all the way to the edges. Press the book closed, weigh it down and leave it for a few hours. If your weight is not bigger than the book, use a large rigid board to help distribute the weight.

Once that has set, it is time to glue on the spine board. Lay it flat and wrong side up on a clean piece of scrap paper. Brush glue on all the wrong-side surfaces of the binding cloth, pulling the glue all the way past the edge and onto your scrap paper. This will ensure the glue goes all the way to the edge. Be very careful if you move the cloth that you always move it away from the area that has been brushed with glue to avoid getting any on the reverse.

Stand the book on its edge, spine up, and position the spine board in place. It is important to position it this way rather than lying the book onto it flat so the spine ends up centered. Pull the cloth down over the sides in the middle, then tug gently and press it down all along the sides. The cloth has a little stretch, so you may need to press and tug it a little to get the edge straight.

When it looks right, tuck those tabs around to the inside and press them down as well.

Close the book again and allow the glue to dry. After that has set you should inspect the end pages for wear. Since my book's tears we minimal and I didn't want to cover the lovely gold accented image up, I just decided to leave it be. If there is enough ripping, you will want to put in new end pages, or at least a strip of paper wide enough to cover the center seam as well as both the tabs of binding cloth. Cut precisely to the height of the book and the width you want, brush with PVA glue and press on. You can use a bone folder to press out any bubbles, but you should protect the paper from burnishing by covering it with a clean piece of paper before you do. Once again, close the book and weigh it down while drying.

The very last step for me was to trim the strip from the original spine with the title on it and glue it to the cloth spine. Again, the glue should be allowed enough time to dry before the book is handled. The finished product feels even more sturdy than the original and should last a good while. Back on the shelf it goes, and hopefully this time it will be treated a little more lovingly!