Arts and Crafts Challenge – the final stages

With the braided clasps completed and attached, all that remained was to cover the spine, add title label and suitable decoration, and insert endpapers of the right colour.

I gave a lot of thought to the title on the spine. I had part of the original spine with the gilt-lettered title still intact so that enabled me to select a suitable typeface from my stock of brass type. But choosing how to do the lettering was difficult. You have to be very clear about your own levels of skill and of the tools and equipment available.

The choices were between:

1. Using individual handle letters, as had been done on both the Court Barn’s copy

Skilful (but not perfect) hand-lettering by the Guild of Handicraft bindery – probably Annie Power herself

and the Eyre & Spottiswoode’s copy

Still not perfect!

2. Using my gold-blocking press to stamp the title directly on to the whole piece of leather to be used for the spine

3. Make a label on a piece of the same leather as the rest of the spine using the blocking press

An alternative to hand lettering is using a typeholder. I have used one many times in the past, with varying success, but you only get one chance at positioning each line, both centrally and horizontally and I know the result will not be as sharp as from the blocking press. So that method is rejected.

Blocking directly on the the whole piece of leather which will cover the spine will give an initially sharp impression but then that leather has to be dampened and pasted and stretched in the covering process. There is a risk that the sharp blocked letters will lose both sharpness and brightness in that process. So that method is rejected also.

That leaves individual hand lettering or a blocked label. That choice was made a bit easier as I had a set of type exactly the right size, but only one set of handled letters that was nearly right, but not quite.

So, before covering the spine I pared a couple of pieces of the same skin very thin ( about 0.3mm) and backed them with repair tissue.

When carefully edge-pared and placed in the second spine panel between the raised bands a label of the same leather will be virtually (though not quite) invisible
Same wording as the Eyre & Spottiswoode version; same size type.

The spine leather was pared all over to about 0.6 mm with the head and tail parts pared evenly right down to a feather edge for twice the measurement of the turn-ins. This is to avoid an ugly step in the finished spine surface at head and tail and also to have mouldable leather for the headcaps.

I gave up using a spokeshave or either the Brockman or Scharfix paring machines some years ago. A Little Giant paring machine with a new razor blade does the job perfectly in less than half the time. They have not been made for decades, but you can still find them second hand on-line
The parings are mainly thin strips with relatively few crumbs. Just what you want. The paring knife on the left is for the final feather-edging

Now, covering the spine: the spine has been previously covered with thin cotton or aero-linen and the spaces between the bands lined with strong paper which is sanded down to remove all unevenness. The bands have been raised a little with strips of leather so as to stand out well (see earlier posts of this Challenge).

The leather is damped on the hair side and pasted on the flesh side EXCEPT FOR ABOUT HALF OF BOTH THE TOP AND BOTTOM PANELS. It is stretched over the back and tied down with cord.

After ten minutes take the cords off and sharpen the bands with band nippers. Leave the book in the press for at least a couple of hours for the paste to dry.

The next stage is turning-in the leather at head and tail – this a ‘tight-back’ binding so there is no hollow to turn the leather into, which makes the operation more fiddly. But first, we noted in an earlier post on this project that the boards have a slant down from the top edge to the spine so that head bands are not as tall as the top and bottom edges of the oak boards, presumably to help protect them from knocks or rubbing when the book is in use. That means that unless packed out a little there will be an awkward step at the headcap. To avoid that I glued pieces of hemp cord on the inside of the spine leather so that when the headcap is made it is in line with the inner edges of the boards.

Now the turn-in leather is damped on the outside, pasted on the inside and paste is worked into the pocket behind the headband so that complete adhesion is achieved. The headcap is shaped in the usual way.

The blocked label is cut to size, edge-pared and glued (not pasted, as that can soften the leather and blur the lettering) in the second panel of the spine. I always sand the surface of the panel so as to ensure good adhesion.

There was some restrained decorative tooling on the original spine which I have replicated as closely as I can with the tools available- very Douglas Cockerell in style.

Remains of original spine on the right. Note that that leather was pigskin, not morocco, though the original braided clasps were morocco leather.

So, with endpapers of the same colour as the original, the job is finished.

A close match – the piece of original endpaper was quite flimsy, perhaps 90gsm. The new Hahnemuhle paper is 130gsm, about the same as the hand-made text paper.

About £350 in materials and labour. Cheap!

3 thoughts on “Arts and Crafts Challenge – the final stages

  1. Hi Chris,
    Any tips or techniques for using the Little Giant? I have found it difficult to use. The blade seems to blunt quickly and it is easy to go through the leather. Peter

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    1. First, make sure there are no crumbs of leather under the area being pared. Second, screw the wing nut that holds the blade in place firmly tight AFTER squaring the edge in the cutting slot. Third, use firm even pressure. Of course the blade must be new to start with, and even using both edges (i.e. turn the blade over as soon as the ‘cut’ begins to drag) you only get about a square foot of paring out of one blade. But blades cost less the 50p each.
      Good luck – let me know how you get on.

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