Book Restoration Continued: Mending Tears


Title Page, ABH

Title Page, ABH


Our sheets have been guarded and put under weight for a few days. Now we need to repair the torn pages. There are a few large tears, especially on the page that was pulled out and used as house plans. I am following the instructions in Edith Diehl’s Bookbinding, Its Background and Technique (Vol. 2, page 53).

Starting with the front of the book, I examined each page for tears. If they were good I set them aside, if they needed mending these are the steps I am following:

Check for bevel. Most of the time when a page is torn there is a taper at the edges of the tear. I will make sure the bevel is lined back up so the fibers will re-align.

Cut tissue. I cut small pieces of Japanese tissue a little bit larger than the torn area.

Glue up. Using a very small brush I apply glue along the torn edges.

Press in tissue. With one piece of tissue under the tear and another on top I press the area with my bone folder (wax paper provides protection from rubbing and pulling.

These steps are repeated for every tear. When the tears have dried completely, in a few hours to be safe, I will pull the tissue up from the pages. This will leave a few strands of the Japanese tissue to reinforce the repair. The entire process has taken about 2 hours for this particular book, if there was just one tear the whole job would have only taken a few minutes.

The next step will be some light trimming and then arranging the signatures for sewing. Once the signatures are sewn I will add mull, glue up the spine and then do some more edge work.

That’s it for now. I think we are almost to the half way point for this project. I am not usually a very patient person so this has been a bit of a challenge to work on something so tedious. Good therapy I guess…

Thanks again for reading all this silliness, see ya!



Book Restoration Continued…Guarding Sheets

Elevation of Victorian home from ABH

Elevation of Victorian home from ABH




So our book has been sitting with baking soda for a week. I brushed off the soda, the pages don’t have the musty smell anymore! The next step will be to guard the pages and then repair tears. First I will guard all the pages and rejoin the two sheets that are split, then do repairs of the tears.

I started the process by cutting little strips of Japanese paper for the guards. They are 3/8″ wide and about the height of the text block. To speed things along I folded the paper over several times, then using my dividers I marked a strip. When I cut with my snap razor I got 6 strips at a time. I also cut some 1/2″ strips because a few sheets had much larger areas missing.

When I had the strips cut I took my time and pasted one strip to the outside of each sheet. There were a few sheets that didn’t need anything so I left those alone. There will be a fair amount of swelling anyway so if I could save some space I did it. This process took about 8 hours total for gluing and application.

Once everything was glued and dried I re-folded the signatures and have them under weight for a bit to compress the swell. Starting tomorrow I begin repairing tears. Once the tears are taken care of the sewing will begin. My goal is to have this book in boards by the end of next week.

Book Restoration: It All Goes to Pieces

Title Page, ABH

Title Page, ABH

So I took the first step in the restoration of The Album of Beautiful Homes. I was a little bit nervous but once I jumped in everything seemed to go alright. I laid out my tools (Fig, 1) and got to work.

The first step was to remove the text block from the case. I did this by running a razor inside the cover to peel back the mull (Fig. 2 & 3). This was done to both the front and back cover.  Basically just a slice on the inside cover and then using the micro spatula to lift. Mull is just sort of a stiff cheese-cloth-like material that is attached to books and then used to attach boards by pasting end sheets over them.

Once the text block was free I worked to remove the mull from the pages. This was the most delicate job because there seemed to be extra glue from some older repairs so there were extra strong bonds in places. Going too fast might tear pages and either make for a LOT of extra work or destroy the book completely. Again, the micro spatula was enlisted to gently pull the mull away (Fig. 4 & 5). There were two places along the spine with big globs of some amber colored glue. It was really brittle so it may have been horse glue. Those areas took about 10 minutes each to get the mull off. I worked another several minutes on each area to get most of the glue off. There will be more to do but I need to decide how the final glue removal is to be completed.

After the mull was away and most of the glue residue was removed I took a few minutes to clean my table and then started the process of separating the signatures (sections). I used the spatula, razor, scissors and tweezers. I gently pulled each signature, one at a time, by moving the spatula from inside the text block outwards to the spine. I would locate the separation between the sections and lift. This required a lot of patience because there was extra glue in some areas. Once the glue/chemical bond was broken I cut the cords going to the next section down and lifted. When the section was free I opened it flat on the table and removed cord pieces and sewing thread. This process was repeated for each signature (Fig. 6, 7 & 8).

After separating all the sections I went on to removing the tape that was holding one of the pages (leaves) in place. The ‘repair’ was done with masking tape. Again, using the micro spatula, I gently worked the edges of the tape, putting more pressure on the tape than the paper of the book. I worked the spatula in a small area until that started to lift then I went a little further and eventually the tape came away (Fig. 9). There was a total of 3 pieces of tape, each piece took about 10 minutes to remove.

Now that everything was separated I was able to take a close look at the damage to the book itself. There are tears in some sheets at the head and tail, some of the pages are completely torn free and the edges of one page are damaged so badly that it will have to be re-formed with new paper laid over the damage to get it back to the correct dimensions. (Fig. 10 & 11).

The last step for this part of the project was to number the sections and then lay them flat to relax the sheets for further work. Using a pencil I numbered each section inside the gutter (fold) so they could be reassembled later (Fig. 12). After this I laid each sheet out flat, sprinkled on some baking soda to absorb some of the musty smell and stacked the sheets up. After the sheets were stacked I put my cutting mat on top with a couple of books to hold the sheets in place and slowly press the folds out (Fig. 13). I will leave the pages like this for 3 or 4 days before continuing on.

One of my original thoughts was to de-acidify the paper. Books printed in the late 1800’s used wood pulp and the acid content can cause pages to become brittle and fall apart. After researching the process I decided that this was too risky for this project. There is a potential of printing being damaged, pages might curl up and if the paper isn’t pressed and sized properly there could be irreparable damage to the pages. My goal with this project is to make the book serviceable and able to be enjoyed. At some later date if somebody wants to have the pages treated they can do it at their own peril.

Next time I will be guarding the pages and repairing damaged sheets prior to sewing up. Thanks for reading, as always feel free to comment or ask questions.

The Book Restoration Project Begins

Title Page, ABH

Title Page, ABH

So, I have taken a good look at The Album of Beautiful Homes’ it isn’t so beautiful…

Rather than just jump in, I decided to do an in-depth triage of the book. It is clear that this book was used by the original owner to build a house. There is a page that was removed, folded several times and then (thankfully) taped back in. There are pages with lots of edge wear, they are dirty, corners folded, gutters ripped, sewing loose.

When you first think about taking on a challenge like this, there is a bit of bravado. There is the belief that you will be able to handle the work, no worries. Well, after REALLY looking at this book, there are a lot of worries. But I am going to press on and get this book restored. It just might take more than a week…

Here is a list of things that will need to happen:

  1. Disassemble entire book
  2. Separate text block into individual pages
  3. Clean paper and de-acidify (books printed in the late 1800’s to today have a high acid content in paper)
  4. Repair tears and worn edges
  5. Guard gutter areas to strengthen sewing structure
  6. Re-assemble sections and sew
  7. Make a new set of boards and cover in appropriate cloth
  8. Replace end papers
  9. Mount restored text block in new case
  10. Build a slip case or clamshell box to protect book

I think those are all the steps, if I find more issues or other challenges I will update this. For reference I am using Edith Diehl’s Bookbinding, It’s Background and Technique, Cockerell’s Bookbinding and the Care of Books, Johnson’s Book Repair and Conservation and Greenfield’s The Care of Fine Books. I think all these titles are available on Amazon and AbeBooks.

Here are some photos of typical damage to the book:

The Rarest Books Found in the Strangest Places

One of my weaknesses is auctions. I love the hunt, the competition and the thrill of finding something rare and special. When I was living in Indiana there were lots of estate auctions every weekend. I would check the website AuctionZip to see what was coming up and see if there was anything that piqued my interest. I went to an auction that had several children’s books listed, the description said first editions. Upon inspection they weren’t firsts, but I stuck around to see what deals I might get._MG_0347

About one hour into the action, the auctioneer held up a large blue book that looked pretty beat up. He said it was an old book of home plans. I started bidding at $5.00, and kept going until it got to $25.00. It just didn’t seem like that great an item. I shook my head no, but the auctioneer opened the book for me and showed me some pages. I don’t know why but the book suddenly appealed to me. I got up to $40.00 and everyone else bowed out, then one of the regulars who like to steal items at the last minute jumped in. He kept bidding, to ‘run me up’ as they say, but, again, I my Spidey Sense was going so I hung in there. I got the book for $90.oo. I put the book in a box with the rest of my junk and went home. The book is the National Builder’s Album of Beautiful Homes by George Garnsey, published in 1891. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for it, the book had been in a chicken coop, and it was pretty much covered in bird poo…pages were loose, there was dirt at the edges and the poor thing was just about ready to go in the trash heap, but the illustrations are cool and so I pressed on in my research.

My first stop was locating George Garnsey. That was easy. He was an architect from Chicago who lived from 1840 to 1923. He designed a lot of Queen Anne

style homes and helped rebuild Chicago after the fire in 1871. He also wrote a book on architectural terminology. That was great, this guy was real, he had credentials and had written other things. It will be easy to get more information on my book!

A year went by, and not so much as a peek at the title online. Was this just a junky title that had no interest or value to collectors? Then one day I typed the title into a search on AbeBooks and there it was, The Album of Beautiful Homes, 1891. It turns out this title is extremely rare, only 25 copies known to exist. The seller had his copy listed at $1800.00, obviously in much better shape than mine. So now I know that the book is worth preserving and protecting.

So here we are, with a barn find book that is worth quite a bit of money, and more importantly it is a great pieces or American architectural history. So here is where the new adventure begins. I am going to restore this book to a readable condition, so that it is safe for the coming generations. I will be updating as progress is made with photos and stories about the challenges I meet. Follow along and feel free to yell at me if you think I am doing something wrong. It’s not just an adventure, it’s a job!

Paste Paper

Some of my Paste Paper Efforts

Some of my Paste Paper Efforts

So, I took the class at the San Francisco Center for the Book (SFCB). I had a LOT of fun and learned a bunch more about book binding. For the class we had some really cool Paste Paper, made by our instructor, Juliayn Coleman. The colors were interesting and the paper had a 3-D sort of vibe when you looked closely at it. I was inspired.

Paste paper is basically sheets of paper that are decorated with pigments mixed in a paste that creates designs. The papers are used to cover books or boxes, or for other projects that a book binder might need decorative paper for. This is not marbled paper, which is even more interesting a subject but takes a lot more equipment to get going.

I searched the internet on methods for making paste paper and there was a ton of information. There are some videos on youTube and plenty of other places to gather knowledge. Armed with a bit of information and with no fear of failure, I started making paste paper. The first few pieces were kind of clunky, but I am getting some nice techniques down that are generating useful papers.

There is a very good tutorial here:

Doing paste paper is a very low-cost, easy project to try. I got set up with paper and paints for less than $30.00. Give it a go and let me know how your papers turn out!

Me and Books

Hand bound book covered with paste-paper

Hand bound book covered with paste-paper

When I was little it was always a big deal to go to the library with my mother. I would get to take two books home to read so I tried to pick something that would last, something with a few chapters. I would spend hours saying ‘hello’ to the books I had already read and then start meeting new friends. My mother would finally drag me to the check-out with my latest finds.

When I grew up I started collecting books, first in subjects that I love: magic and magicians, biographies and history, later I started buying things that were rare, older and more unique. For example, I have Rider’s British Merlin from 1780. In the world of book collecting it is not that old, but this edition is very rare, only a few copies are known to exist.

When I hold a book like that I think of all the history that has happened since it was published. The United States was still being formed; people lived simply, sometimes barely surviving from year to year and there certainly was no conception of all the technology we enjoy today.

A few years ago I started taking classes in the book making arts, particularly bookbinding. In San Francisco we have a place called the San Francisco Center for the Book (, where I have taken a few classes. I will post some pictures of books I have made and paper for book covers that I have made. If you live in SF or plan to visit, try to stop by their facility for a tour, always some interesting things on display.

If you are a bookbinder, letterpress printer or just love books like I do, let me know. Show me your favorite project or most prized book. I love seeing that sort of thing and hearing the history of how it came to be.

Have a great weekend!!