Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Bookbinding Press . . . And a Look Over My Shoulder

As part of my older daughter's Christmas gift, I promised to assemble and make the items necessary to bind books.  The backer board, paper and adhesives had the good manners to arrive under the tree on time, but this little project stubbornly remained on the drawing board.  But when I realized that I might get some use out of it as well, (like the Rick James album I got my then girlfriend, now wife back, in 1982) I got straight to it. Suddenly, I thought of many things that could be pressed (veneered drawer fronts, wild flowers, my enemies' heads.)

It was just a lucky coincidence that my daughter started her first project in the studio as I got this underway.  Little did I know that it would be a lesson in both parenting and the nature of craftsmanship.

The press itself is pretty straightforward.  If you look at any bookbinding supply place  (Hollanders) you will see them offered at steep prices.  Two boards are separated by four posts.  A veneer screw is suspended in the top board so that it can be turned to press down on a platen, in turn sandwiching the item in question against the bottom board.  I chose four 1/2" carriage bolts (10" long) as the posts.  Not pretty, but useful.  Scouring the shop I found some 3/4" plywood and OSB that would also come in handy.

Meanwhile, my daughter began making her book  -- a book that could be made without the use of a press.  It was fascinating to see the way she just dove into the project.   She's not an industrial arts kind of girl and she clearly had little respect for rulers, directions, or my input.  Seventeen years of parenting her have taught me to stay out of the way when she is in full flight like this but I began to see storm clouds on the horizon . . .

At my end of the bench I set about gussying up the OSB.  Having recently put down a hardwood floor in my shop, I have plenty of white oak flooring around and anything that doesn't move quickly enough is apt to get covered with it.  After sizing the OSB (one board slightly smaller in both dimensions) I affixed the oak with drywall screws.

I then stacked the smaller board on top of the larger and centered it.  I measured in an inch or so from the corners and drilled 1/2" holes for the carriage bolts in both boards at the same time (ensuring that the bolts would fit.)  With a larger forstner bit I countersunk the holes on the underside of the bottom board to house the bolt heads and covered it with feet made of, (you guessed it) white oak flooring.  This gives the press a firm base and keeps the bolts from dropping down when the press is idle.

. . . North Bennett Street School doesn't offer a full concentration on bookbinding because it is easy or intuitive.  It seems that in my daughter's haste to get going she used the wrong bookcloth to bind the backer boards together.  The stuff she used was kind of like stiff gauze.  And when she did choose to ask my advice, she was visibly disappointed that I didn't have some 500 years of bookbinding knowledge in my head.  "No big deal," I said.  "We can just start over."  That wasn't happening.  Sensing what might come next, I put some space between us.  She pushed on . .

I made a vow this year to fashion my jigs in a manner that makes them more like furniture and less like Frankenstein's monster, so I created some white oak strips to edge the boards and hide the OSB.  I glued it up, drilled 1/4" holes a couple of inches into the substrate, and rammed home doweling.  I even went so far as to turn a 9/16" rod of oak to make plugs for the screw holes.  (Note to self, always countersink to a dimension that matches doweling that is readily available.)

The last step was to drill for the veneer screw.  Outlined on the instructions (that I tossed) it said to drill a 1 1/8" hole.  I do not have a forstner bit of that size so I did a little ignoring of proper procedure myself and used a file to enlarge the 1" hole, employed a bigger hammer, and in one mighty death-or-glory whack seated the screw collar.  This little brute would get no finish. It is, after all, just a fancy jig.

With cat-like tread I decided to check on the goings-on at the other end of the bench, and to my surprise, she was smiling.  Somewhere along the line my daughter had rallied and the project was complete -- without my help.  Imagine that.  No, it wasn't perfect, but that wasn't the point.  Someone who doesn't normally make things (her creative outlet is writing) had built something useful.  And without milking this too much, I realized that all the experience and skill you gather as work your craft can make you forget that feeling you had, early on, when everything you did exceeded your expectations.

So that's my resolution in the shop for 2010 -- to take pride in the effort, and to realize that all results are subjective; it just depends on how you measure them.  Next up, a Shoji-inspired door.


  1. Chris,
    Very nice work- I know exactly what you mean by taking the time and making the effort- even if it's just a simple shop jig. Finding pleasure in the process is why we have to take those extra few steps.
    looking forward to the Shoji...
    keep well.

  2. Any chance of you giving plans for this project? mostyn 68 at gmail dot com.
    Thanks. Nice work. Chris