Bookbinding 201: Make hardback books at home!

The following page shows a simple and easy way for anyone to make a hardback book. All you need is some paper, a little glue, and a few commonly available tools. With these items and the following instructions you'll be able to turn that novel you've written, but never managed to get published, into a professional-looking book anyone would be proud to have in their library. Interested? Let's get started!

The first step is that you need a book to bind. It can be anything you've written: a novel, a collection of short stories, or even a series of poems. (For example, the images on this page were taken of my binding of a book of my wife's poetry.) Once it's completed, go to a stationary supply store like Kinko's, Staple's, or Office Depot and have them cut a ream of paper into 6-inch wide by 9-inch tall sheets (the standard size for most hardback books.) Take this paper home and stand it on edge, look for irregularities in the cut and discard any pages that are too tall or too wide. You need a stack of paper where all the sheets are all the same size. Once that's done, print your book on this paper (double-sided is preferred but single-sided is easier) and use the steps outlined on my page BOOKBINDING 101 about making paperback books to bind these pages together. This creates the body of the book. Once that's done all you have to do is attach the spine and mounting pages to the body, make a cover, and glue the two together.

Gluing the pages together to make the body of the book. Please see BOOKBINDING 101
for the details of how to do this.


Unlike paperbacks, hardback book covers don't flex so they require a bending relief at the spine (edge of the book). This is why they spine of the cover isn't glued directly to the spine of the book's body. To provide this bending relief we need to glue three pieces onto the body: two mounting pages and a cloth spine enforcer.

The two mounting pages are shown in the photo above as the two folder pieces of paper standing by the front and back of the book. The halves of these sheets next to the body get glued to the spine of the book while the halves away from the body get glued to the book's cover and serve to hold the body to the cover. The cloth spine enforcer is just a strip of cloth the helps hold the pages together.

To make the mounting pages purchase some heavyweight (50 to 70-weight) paper that measures 11x14 inches. Cut two sheets of it to the same height and twice the width of the size of the pages used in the body of the book and fold them in half. (Note: be aware that even though you may ask the stationary store to cut your book pages a certain size, they almost always come out slightly different than you requested. To make everything to come make sure you measure the finished pages and size everything that follows to the actual page dimensions.)

Lay a very narrow bead of glue that dries flexible (I found transparent school glues work well) alone the edge of the book's spine and press one of the folded mounting pages over it, aligning it to the book's body so that all the edges line up. The goal is to have the glue spread just the first 1/8 to 1/4-inch. Repeat this on the back side of the book.


Place the book in a holding jig, such as the one shown below made out of discarded scraps of wood) or in between two books covered with foil to protect them and using more of the flexible glue, attach the clove spine enforces to the spine of the book and the mounting pages. This cloth strengthener should extend 1/2-inch beyond the spine of the book and be glued both to the spine and to the backs of the two mounting sheets. Massage the glue into the cloth so that it soaks through and makes good contact with all surfaces.

Set that aside to dry. This takes 8 to 24 hours depending on the glue and atmospheric conditions. Next? Time to make the cover!

The following steps show how to make a hardback book cover with glossy, color illustrations on it. A more traditional cover can be made by simply substituting a non-stretching cloth for the paper used here. For a more elaborate cover, a faux-leather vinyl material can be emboss with gold lettering by a printing company and them=n cut to size.

Here's the artwork for the book of my wife's poems:

For a book that uses 6 x 9-inch pages and is 7/8-inch thick, the overall cover dimensions are 14 and 3/4-inches wide by 10 and 1/2-inches tall. Since this is larger than most home printers can handle, you may need to go to someplace like Staple's office supplies and have their printing service print it for you. (In 2006 this only cost me $6.00.) Once that's done spray the cover with a glossy, transparent photo protectant spray. This will prevent the ink fro getting smeared and scratched. (Note: even with the protective spray the cover can still be damaged. Always place it face down on a sheet of clear paper to protect it when working on the back.) The important thing to do is to make sure that any title artwork on the spine of the cover is positioned exactly down the middle of the cover or it won't be centered on the spine when the book is finished. Also, you'll need to play around with the title on the front of the cover to make sure it will be centered on the cover after the book is assembled. Fortunately, this can be done on home printers by simply printing out half of the cover and practicing with it.


Once the cover is done, turn it over and draw guide lines needed to tell you where to glue the cardboard cover boards and make the folds. For a book with a body that's 7/8-inches thick, I start by drawing two vertical lines (partially covered in the image above by a strip of paper) down the center that are 7/8-inches apart. These line show where the spine of the body of the book will go. A draw a second vertical line 1/2-inch outside of each of these lines to mark where the inside edge of the cardboard cover boards go. Cut a strip of typing paper that's just as wide as these second two lines are apart. (This paper gets glued here a little later.) Next, draw two final vertical lines 5 and 3/4-inches farther out from the second set of lines. These last lines mark the outside positions of the cardboard cover boards. finally, draw two horizontal lines 9 and 1/4-inches apart and centered on the cover (they should be 5/8-inches from the top and bottom of the cover.

In the picture above, the large rectangles (marked with large Xs) are where the cardboard cover boards will be glued. The lines close to the outside edges of the cover are where the covered will be folded over and glued to the cardboard, and the vertical lines down the center of the cover are where the cover will be folder around the body of the book. The dimensions given are for a book with 6 x 9-inch pages. Books with different sized pages will have to have the distances adjusted to fit their particular size.

Cut two cardboard cover boards out of a solid, heavyweight matt board. You want something that's a little less than 1/16-inch thick. Framing stores carry this type of cardboard. A cheap option is to buy two pads of paper with cardboard backing sheets and tear out the cardboard to use for your book. The cut dimensions should be 5 and 3/4-inches wide and 9 and 1/4-inches tall.

Now comes the sticky part: gluing the board to the back of the cover.

I tried several glues and found that all water-based glues warped the cardboard cover borders and blistered the paper covers. They were also difficult to spread and get to adhere evenly. The only glue I found that worked well was called Super 77, a spray-on contact adhesive. Place the cover printed-side down on a sheet of scrap cardboard and spray it lightly and evenly with the adhesive, making sure that you spray in such a way that none of the sprat gets on the printed side of the cover. (Always follow the instructions of the can of adhesive.) Next spray one side of each of the cardboard cover boards and place them sprayed-side down on the sprayed side of the cover so that they lay perfectly inside the guide lines drawn on the back of the cover. Fold the top and bottom edges of the cover up and over the cover boards, using a sheet of paper between the cover and your hands to avoid touching the printed face of the cover. Work carefully to avoid getting and glue on the cover's face.

Folding the top edge of the cover up and over the cardboard cover board.


After pressing the folded flaps down very hard to make sure they're stuck to the cover boards, trim the corners of the cover on a diagonal to provide a neater corner. Spray a little adhesive onto a plastic cup and use a small paint brush to lightly paint the uncovered edges of the cover boards and fold the remaining two edges of the cover up and over them. pressing them firmly to make good contact all the way along the edges. Be careful not to paint any glue where it won't be covered by the folded area of the cover. Place the narrow strip of paper down the center of the spin and press it in place. This strengthens the spine and covers the exposed glue so the spine of the body of the book doesn't stick to it.

Turn the cover over and covering it with a piece of paper, gently but firmly run your thumbnail down the inside edge of each cardboard cover board to crease it. This creates a fold line for when the book is opened.


Finally, turn the cover over again and using a ruler, fold the cover along the two vertical center lines that mark the width of the spine of the body of the book.


Remove the ruler, fold the book over all the way along each of the two spine folds, cover with paper and after making sure the the front and back covers are even, make a soft crease. (Note: avoid pressing so hard that the print's emulsion cracks.)

That's it! The cover is done! The spray glue dries instantly so as soon as the glue on the spine of the body of the book is dry you'll be able to glue the book inside it's cover.


Once the glue on the body of the book is dry, lay it on the inside of the cover and use it as a guide the place masking tape around the edge of the cover that won't be covered by the mounting pages. The idea is that the spray glue is going to be used again and you don't want it to be sprayed where there won't be paper to cover it. Also place some masking tape down the middle of the cover to prevent glue from getting on the area of the cover that may touch the spine of the body of the book. But, be sure to leave the 1/2-inch strips between the spine and the inside of the cardboard cover boards exposed. These are areas that need to be glued to the mounting sheets.

Place tape around the outside edges and spine of the body of the book. We only want the spray adhesive to get one the surfaces of the mounting pages.


Spray the inside of the the book cover and the front and back surfaces of the mounting pages on the body of the book with a even coat of adhesive, again being careful not to get spray on the printed surface of the cover.

Remove the masking tape and carefully potions the body of the book so that one corner of a mounting page rests in the appropriate corner of the inside of the cover. Roll the body of the book down onto the cover to prevent any air from being trapped under it and press the mounting page in place. Fold the cover over and repeat to adhere the over mounting page to the other side of the book's cover. This is the most challenging step in the entire process. The spray adhesive can't be repositioned so it has to be right on the first attempt. Work slowly and carefully to get the positioning right before pressing the mounting pages in place. And by all means, be sure the body of the book and the cover are in the correct orientation so that they are upright with respect to each other. Make sure that the entire surface of the mounting pages are pressed onto the cover so that they are completely adhered to it.

And that's it! You now have a hardback book that anyone would be proud to display!


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