Summer Projects

To paraphrase the great American poet Verandah Porche, I feel like a virgin frying eggs for the very first time.

Bound to break some in this process so bear with me.

And of course I’ll much appreciate any comments.

I’m going to use this site to write about my bookbinding occupations and obsessions with the hope that they might be of interest to voices outside my head. Not much concerned with the “Art” part, I’m going to focus on the How’s and What’s of the work.

To begin, I’m a full time Hand Bookbinder and my one man shop gets in a range of work, everything from Design Binding to Edition Binding to the proverbial Family Bible, from the simplest of repairs to extensive conservation, restoration, and binding. I am lucky enough to have won numerous awards including the DeGolyer Triennial and to have had my work recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in their 50 Books of the Year.

* * * * *

There is one project which will be a theme here, running through the Summer and into Fall, Louis H. Kinder and his FORMULAS FOR BOOKBINDERS. Kinder was a quite important figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement and started and then headed the Roycrofter bookbinding workshops for a time. I own a 1905 copy of his manual (which is also available as a free download from Google books) and for some time have wanted to work my way through, actually trying out all the recipes, especially the more exotic. Now I have a kick in the pants and will report the results of my trials here.

* * * *

I’ve just sent in my entry to the Chicago Public Library’s ONE BOOK, MANY INTERPRETATIONS exhibit. The binding is on a unique single copy edition of THE PLAN OF CHICAGO by Carl Smith and published by the University of Chicago. I bound an iPad with the Kindle edition and supporting documents, movies, music, and photographs, from Sarah Vaughan to the Blues Brothers to the Chicago World’s Fair.

I used the opportunity to work more with my ideas for digital printing on leather (for example, the Hewit Fair Calf available at TALAS) running it through an inkjet using archival inks developed for fine art production. You want the inks to sink into the leather, not just sit on top, rather like tattooing on human skin. They dry almost immediately and the leather can then be used in the usual ways (unless you subscribe to the “a good soak” school of leather wetting). The colors are exceedingly wear, water and light resistant.

The leather should be vegetable tanned and not carry a waterproof finish. This rules out the chrome tans. Any leather you can use traditional egg glaire on will do. To check, simply put a drop of water on the leather and see if it soaks in. If it does you are good to go. If not the leather will print but the ink will sit on the surface and be easily abraded with handling.

Any image you can save as a digital file can be printed on the leather and of course you can use all the usual digital printing tricks including overprinting, resists, etc. The leather is not white and so the print comes out in a lower color key than designed. I tried using a very white alum tawed leather but found that the leather was unevenly absorbent yielding a somewhat splotchy look.

The process is a simple one and while I find it helpful to cut to size and pare and stabilize the leather beforehand this is not necessary. If you want to pursue it but don’t have access to higher end printer technology check with photographers in your area. They’ll be able to guide you to a service printer who will handle the mechanics for you.

There is a commercial process for digital printing on leather which involves the application of a printing film to the surface. This allows for the use of chrome tans but results in a rather slick and unnatural finish. For me, once the leather stops looking and feeling like leather, what’s the point? Might as well use Photo-Tex as a base.

Here’s the maquette (back board, spine panel, front board) of my Chicago binding, produced entirely in my MacBook Pro using CS5:

Obviously the process allows for the production of images not possible using traditional handbinding skills though these, hand tooling for example, can be used to augment the design. And still no cloth matches the sensations of a good leather.

Custom iPad cases anyone?

* * *


These are three designed for woodworking which double as really useful tools in my shop:


Upper left is a Center Finder. Used to locate the center of a round dowel or stock it also does a great job of producing a go to line for mitered turn ins. It has legs on both right angle edges fixed to a 45 degree diagonal and so is extremely accurate.

Upper right is a Japanese Double Mitre, also useful for marking out an accurate 45 inside or outside a binding. Lower center is a Japanese Combination Square, probably the most useful of the three. Both of the Japanese have shoes which enable them to stand upright on the bench as well as get a firm seat on an edge.

All three are made of heavy gauge stainless steels and are available from Amazon or most good woodworker supply houses.

I use a fair number of jigs and marking tools for accuracy in my work. A friend once expressed surprise at that saying she thought that by now I’d have it all down pat. My thinking is that winging it is great as long as you don’t make a mistake. And I do make mistakes (or “take holidays” as my friend Fred Weyrich was wont to say).

It is foolish to judge a binding by corners and endcaps as the Victorians believed but accurate and matching corners just look  better to my eye. Because there are so many things that can go awry with “the workmanship of risk” as David Pye called our sort of making isn’t it nice to nail down the few you can?

Speaking of tools I hope you know of Jeff Peachey’s catalog. If not be sure to check him out at

With tools and ideas his blog is about the most interesting out there.








This entry was posted in Projects. Bookmark the permalink.