Ethiopian/Coptic Bindings


In the first few weeks of school, we started with non-adhesive structures. As one  of the oldest known forms of the codex, it is fitting that we started with Coptic style bindings. These bindings have chain stitch sewing that laces through the board. The sewing is done through pairs of sewing stations with a needle on each end of the thread. All of these models (unless otherwise indicated) are made with Mohawk Superfine paper and Davey Board covers. The holes in the board were created with a pin vise. The first model was made with no decoration or embellishment to get a sense of the structure.

(Click pictures to enlarge.)

In this style of binding, the boards are cut flush with the textblock. (Please forgive the crazy colors in these photos… I’m still trying to figure out how to set the white balance on the camera.)

One of the benefits of this binding structure is that it opens completely flat.

As with learning any new skill, practice and repetition are important – so I proceeded to  make a few more of these. First with some decorative paper covering the boards…

… then with a Coptic-style endbands. With this one, I moved the outermost sewing stations in a bit and pre-punched the sections for the endbands. I followed Greenfield and Hille’s instructions and after only about 5 attempts, succeeded in creating something akin to a Coptic headband. However, just a day or two ago while rummaging around the shelves in the workshop, I found a model supposedly done by Adam Larsson (the conservator, not the hockey player) that has an absolutely amazing set of Coptic endbands with links that are way tighter than mine. So I’ll have to work on those.

Next I tried some variation in the color of thread to create a nice pattern.

As well as some crazy marbled paper inside.

I also created a model with quarter sawn oak boards. The holes in these boards were created with a hand drill (like this one) and the bevel was made with a rasp. They were finished with a light coating of Renaissance Wax and polished.

Finally, I attempted a cloth-covered model with the Ethiopian style of leather headbands. The endbands themselves are made with two strips of leather laced together, and while they look nice enough, they put so much extra material in the joint that the boards splay out. 

I guess historically these books would be made with wooden boards and completely covered in leather, so the effect wouldn’t be quite so pronounced. But as for this model, I was not so enthusiastic about the result.

In the next few posts I’ll share some other types of non-adhesive bindings, as well as some pictures from our recent knife making/sharpening workshop with Jeff Peachey. Stay tuned!


13 thoughts on “Ethiopian/Coptic Bindings

  1. Very nice examples and enjoyed all the pictures of samples done. Loved the wood covered one.

  2. Hi was wondering how exactly you punch the holes on the side of the cover boards? I have seen this kind of a cover in a few places, but nowhere its explained how to do it. Do you drill them at 45 degrees so they come out the front/back?


    1. Hello,

      For the books that have boards made of just davey board, you can just pierce them with an awl angled at about 45 degrees. This is done after covering. It might take a bit of practice to get them to line up properly, but it’s fairly easy to do. The wooden boards are a little more difficult, because you actually have to angle the drill. I typically use a manual hand-drill with a small drill bit. The danger is that applying force at that angle increases the likelihood of breaking the bit. Take your time and continue cranking the drill as you go in and out of the hole so that it doesn’t get stuck.

      Hope that helps!

    1. I’m not sure if there is a video or drawings posted somewhere, but the Greenfield and Hille book is well worth the purchase. I refer back to it constantly for reminders on more complicated endband varieties.

  3. Thanks..I actually found this video on YouTube..sort of Basic. How does it fit into what is in the book you mentioned?

  4. Hello. Thank you so much for sharing your work! I have been looking for the type of book I wanted to make for months, and finally saw yours with the oak cover.
    I am very new to this process and would appreciate any input on how I can gather more information to make one like yours. Thank you Soo, Soo much!

    1. Hi Heather,

      See if you can get your hands on a copy of Keith Smith’s books on non-adhesive bindings. There are a couple of volumes, so I’m not sure which would have the sewing patterns in there. Otherwise, I’m sure you can find some tutorials online for these kinds of chain-stitch bindings. Try it a couple of times with binders board or laminated cardstock for your covers before you attempt the wooden boards. Only the most basic woodworking tools are required. You can get quarter-sawn oak boards from Colophon:

      Hope that helps!

  5. Hello Henry, As others have said, lovely examples, especially the wooden cover. What thickness is that wood and also the thickness of Davy board. I am in South Africa and we dont have Davy but other brands.

    1. Thanks, Paddy! You can use whatever thickness of board that you like for this structure. The wooden boards are probably 6 or 7 mm thick while the Davey board is only about 3mm. You can laminate thinner boards together to make them thicker if you need.

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