Clamshell Boxes


A custom-fit enclosure can protect a book from abrasion, environmental damage, and – if the volume is in particularly rough shape – keep all the parts together. In the first year curriculum we practice a few different styles of book enclosures and some time ago we spent a few days making drop-spine or clamshell boxes. These enclosures are constructed in three parts: a three-walled tray of binder’s board is made to fit the object and covered with book cloth, a second tray is made to fit the first, and the two trays are then put in a cloth-covered case. The trays are often lined with pH neutral paper.

This enclosure was made to hold my Medieval link stitch model.

On this particular box, I included a label well in the spine piece with a leather label with blind stamping. Unfortunately the text of the label did not come out in any of my pictures.


In bookbinding (as is probably true of craftsmanship in general), one can always learn a new way of doing things. Before coming to NBSS, I had learned at least two different methods for constructing and covering a standard clamshell box, and this time around I learned a third. We went by Linda Lembke’s instructions for construction and covering, and I found this method to create less bulk at the corners of the trays. Lembke is the proprietor of the Green River Bindery in Vermont and has taught workshops at NBSS in the past. One must contact her directly for a copy of her instructions, but the Preservation Department at Cornell’s library has made their instructions for creating a clamshell available in PDF form here.

In addition to the regular clamshell, we also made a form known in our program as the French Tray. Jeff says that he learned this one from Adam Larsson – so it might be known in other circles by a different name. This box is particularly useful for stacks of loose items (like cards or pictures) because the open sides allow the user to easily grasp and lift them out.

Note: we unpacked a new digital camera at school, so I’ve started putting a ColorChecker in my photos to ensure that I’m getting a representational digital image. Please bear with me as a work out the kinks.

This enclosure was made to hold my aluminum sharpening plates and strop.

The construction of this style of box is a bit different from the standard clamshell. The walls for each end of the open-sided tray are adhered in a line (with joint space between) to a strip of book cloth. The cloth is then turned in at the sides and rolled around the walls to completely cover them. A flange of cloth remains. The walls are then folded around the base and the cloth flange is adhered to the bottom of the tray. The top tray and case are constructed in the usual way.

I used this box as an opportunity to try making securing straps with snaps. On a recent field trip to the Boston Athenaeum, I noticed that a number of their vellum over boards bindings are kept in clamshells secured with snaps instead of a box with a pressure lid.

I used a snap-setter (kind of like this one) to put snaps in long strips of folded and glued bookcloth. At the stage in which the trays are being cased in, the straps are adhered between each tray and case. The snaps are much more secure than I anticipated – but in the future I will leave a bit more of a pull tab on the strap so that they are more easily opened.



Next episode: Onset Boards



6 thoughts on “Clamshell Boxes

  1. HI Henry. Nice work! Interested in doing some of this type of work myself. Where do you source the blank boxes you used?

    Thank you,

    1. Thanks for your comment, Eric! I constructed these boxes entirely from scratch using binders board, bookcloth, and paper. The Cornell link will provide you with detailed instructions on constructing them.

  2. Wow! Great work. This is exactly what I would like to make. The Cornell link does not have the PDF available anymore. Would you happen to have a copy you could share? Thanks!

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