Modest progress on the challenge

Further work on both the oak boards and the text block. Both boards are now cleaned off, showing how carefully they were shaped with a slanting angle at head and tail so that the deep bevel on the edges was reduced at the headbands position. Otherwise the headbands would have to be very tall.

The detached board, when cleaned off, showed that a piece had been scarfed in by the joiner who made it, probably to replace a fault in the oak. Also the method of attaching the boards to the cords on the spine is revealed – the cord goes through a single hole drilled straight through and is then secured with a little peg. This is a simplified (and less robust) method based on that used by medieval binders, where the cord goes through the board and is then returned through another hole and trimmed off, both holes being pegged.

Scarfed piece at hinge edge of upper board
Detail of board attachment: the hemp cord was passed through a hole which was then pegged. The other apparent peg is where a hole was made in the wrong place and then filled in.

The traditional method of re-attaching boards where the cords have broken is to use strong thread tied to the old cord and then passed through the old hole in the board (as described by Middleton and others)

Personally, I don’t use this method – it is time-consuming and actually not very strong. It involves forcing needles under or through the cords which stresses already weakened material and it adds bulk if several threads are used – and if you don’t use several threads you don’t have any strength.

So, as described in an earlier post, I cover the back of the text block with strong cotton fabric – ‘Fraynot’ as sold by suppliers, but a good piece of cotton bedsheet will do perfectly well – and then sew through it from the centre folds of the first section of the text. In this case as it is a large heavy book I will sew though the first two sections, and of course the last two sections as well.

Strong cotton fabric covers the whole spine and is well tamped down with a stiff bristle brush to ensure complete adhesion directly to the text block. The cuts across the original cords just ensure it can be worked right against them. The excess at head and tail is cut off flush.

Before gluing the fabric to the boards, place a fold of paper of the same weight as the intended endpaper in the joint to create the correct fit of the board against the shoulder.

I leave the broken cord ends in place. They will show under the new leather when the spine is covered and replicate the original surface profile.

The amount of work that went into preparing the oak boards is impressive. The slots for the attachment of the plaited clasps are very detailed and must have added a lot to the binding cost

Upper surface of board showing how the plaited clasp strap is recessed to avoid wear , and the slot through to the under side.
Underside of board. The strap is glued into the recess and then filled in with a kind of glue-putty on which the endpaper will lie flat.
Same size recess in the upper board with the forged iron hook riveted through a piece of the same leather as the spine.
Underside of the hook attachment showing the ends of two rivets secured with glue-putty. The endpaper has been removed as it was browned and very weak. The dark line across the leather wrap shows the position of the edge of the endpaper

I am fortunate to have located a copy of the book at the Court Barn Museum in Chipping Camden, about 20 miles from my home. It is currently being ‘conserved’ and I will be able to inspect it in a few weeks time. The Museum has sent an image showing that the plaited clasp strap is secured on the hook with a simple iron ring.

More soon!

One thought on “Modest progress on the challenge

  1. The ordinal craftsman/woman ( must be Wokingham correct here) certainly was very painstaking as indeed you are. The explanations are very clear and precise. Many thanks


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