Fine Binding


The second year curriculum is basically all leather binding and, just before Christmas, we get into the French style of fine binding. Lindsay’s Fine Binding: A Technical Guide is essentially the assigned text on the subject, because there is probably no other source out there that is so well written with clear pictures of each step. Jeff, however, tends to demonstrate the structure that he learned from Tini Miura and my binding was done using that method. This post is mostly just to share pictures of some of my work – I won’t go into so much detail on this structure or the steps. Fine binding is so complex and I am still learning about it. If you want to learn how to do a fine binding, I suggest that you read Lindsay’s book and then get one-on-one instruction. This kind of thing would be incredibly difficult to learn on your own.

My first fine binding is The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar.

I read this book after listening to Theressa Smith’s presentation at AIC last year on the treatment performed on Yourcenar’s typescript for L’Oeuvre Au Noir. You can read a summary of that talk here. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and thought it would be nice to do my fine binding on a first printing of the English translation by Grace Frick.

The binding is fully covered in black Harmatan goat skin with gilded lead set in the boards and gold tooling. There is a pasted-in leather hinge and the pastedowns and flyleaves are marbled paper. The endbands are sewn on a square core of laminated parchment and leather.

All three edges are graphite.

I will very briefly go over the underlying structure. In addition to the endsheets, a temporary section is made up and sewn on. The book is sewn on five German linen tapes.

The endsheet sections are made of black paper, so I changed over to black thread the front and back of the textblock to keep the sewing a bit more hidden in the gutter.

Mill board is laminated to the thickness of the shoulder and cut to size. After rounding and backing, the tapes are frayed out and laced into the boards.

The ends of the lacing get flattened out on the inside of the board.

After the book is plowed and the edges decorated, we cap-up the textblock with paper (above) in order to protect the edge decoration through the rest of the process. The spine of the book is heavily lined with paper using hide glue and paste. Those layers are then almost completely sanded away, giving you a perfectly smooth and hard spine. This style of binding won’t really open when finished, but that serves to protect the delicate gold tooling that is so common on French bindings. At this point, the boards are shaped (by sanding) and lined with paper so that they are smooth. Fine binding involves a lot of sanding…

The book is covered.

After removing the temporary section at the front and back, a leather hinge is pasted in and trimmed out.

Then the marbled paper is put down on the inside of the boards and made to the flyleaf. That paper is then trimmed down.

Sorry to keep the description so brief, but this is just a preview of the technique. I know so little about it and the different approaches to fine binding that I will not attempt to detail it further. I will say, though, that fine binding is not my favorite thing in the world. One must be so meticulous through every step of the process or the result is rather poor. While it is certainly an exercise in developing oneself as a craftsman, I feel much more comfortable doing conservation and repair. This book will be on display for the NBSS Annual Evening of Craft.


What’s next:

Albums, Springbacks, Parchment over boards, 18th Century trade binding, and much much more! I’ll get to it all one day…


Lindsay, J. (2009). Fine Bookbinding : A Technical Guide. London: British Library.


4 thoughts on “Fine Binding

  1. Hello Henry, I’ve been reading some of your posts for the last hour or so, and I’m quite happy I came by here. Your posts do not only point to details on names and variations but it also adds bibliography to every style. Its being very helpful. Thanks.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you have found it a good read. School has taken over my life for the past month or two, so I haven’t had as much time to post. But I hope to have more reading for you soon!

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