Handmade Book (Process and How To)


This article consists of 4 parts and describes the process of book creation (printing, cutting and bookbinding) in very simple language. Also, I will mention some other ways to create a book - booklet and file techniques.
Currently, here are 3 finished parts of this article. The last one (the 4th part) - will be about making a cover for our book.

Probably, it's not the most efficient or the most right way to make a book, but it worked for me - so I consider it as a good enough method. You, of course, can decide for yourself.

Note, that I am not a professional bookbinder, and I just describe my own personal experience of the book creation here, which I did for fun.
Also note, that I use standard European\International A4 paper for that.

Part 1 - Preparation

Usually, when I need to make a book, I just print all the pages on both sides of standard A4 paper, then put all printed pages inside sheet protectors and then put all the sheet protectors inside a file.

This way is very fast, handy and doesn't take much effort to accomplish. You can easily replace any page in a file or easily add new pages at any place in a file.

And the pages have good protection from environment because of the sheet protectors - so you can eat, drink and do all the other nasty things while reading!



But one day I've decided to make something more compact and more like a 'real', traditional book.
Furthermore, I found an old Bookbinder Kit somewhere deep in my storeroom - a long time ago, my parents bought it to print some books, but then never used it for at least last two decades.

So this time I've decided to print 4 pages of the book on 1 sheet of A4 paper (i.e. 2 book pages on each side of A4 paper), then cut them (thus transforming my A4 pages to A5), bind them and make a cover, to get a nice new book.

Besides the paper, I've used some other materials:

  • Twine (rope), for paper block sewing. I used cheap and simple twine from local hardware store.
  • Gauze.
  • PVA glue.
I've bought all the stuff at different local shops - stationery (office supplies) store, hardware store and pharmacy.

The Bookbinder Kit itself was in need of some preparation before it could be used. After a long time of no-use, the yellow material (foam rubber) dried out and stick to the tools, so I had to clean all that stuff. And I didn't find instruction for the kit inside of it, so I had to look for it in the Internet.

But after all, the only tools from the kit that I've used - it's a metal ruler and a press - so you can do everything in this article without having such kit, you only should get a [metal] ruler and find some way to press the stack of pages (for press you can use almost any heavy object - even a stone, if you wanna go full wild).

Part 2 - Printing and paper cutting

I've printed my book on А4 paper (the most important thing here - is to choose the right printing settings, in my case: Duplex Printing, 2-on-1 Printing, Portrait Orientation, Booklet Mode). The exact settings may depend on your printer model and operational system.

Another important thing to check is the page order. Usually, odd pages are on the right side of the open book and even pages are on the left side. Sometimes, in pdf files the blank page after the book cover is missing - and so if you print the book as it is, the page order can be wrong. Usually, it doesn't matter anyway, but if there was a 2-page map or other big picture or table in the book, it will be messed up.



After printing all the pages, we will have a bunch of pages, but still no book, so let's make it!

If there are not too many pages (no more than a few dozens) - you can skip binding and other stuff and just make yourself a simple booklet instead. All you have to do - it's bend all the pages in half, then fix them with staples or threads. The result will be something like a notebook.

I've used this method to make GURPS Lite rule books (they are free to print, by the way - and it's tabletop RPG).
If you have a lot of pages, this way will not be rational (and often - even not possible), though.

Another way - it's to cut printed A4 pages to get A5 pages and then bind them.

One of the first problems is the paper cutting. Let's say we have a pack of A4 paper and we want to cut it to get A5. The first thought would be to just cut the whole pack with one single cut. But if you do that, you can easily destroy all the pages in pack, because it's very difficult to cut a big pack of paper, and the edges of resulted pages almost always will be uneven and rough, which is very ugly.
You can easily destroy a lot of printed pages that way!

Tools to cut pages

Tools to cut pages

So, it's better to cut paper sheet by sheet (but that exhausting) or by small pack of several sheets. To cut paper, you can use either special devices (there are various interesting things existing out there, like guillotine paper cutter, etc) or by using simple common household instruments.

The last includes the most available method - with a paper knife and a metal ruler. All you have to do is to put metal ruler on you pack of paper, press it to the table with one of your hand, and then use your other hand to cut the pack with your paper knife alongside the metal ruler (at some angle).

You should focus more on the holding (pressing) the ruler to paper than on cutting with knife and apply more pressure to the ruler. Apply as much pressure as needed to hold metal ruler and pack of paper still, so it doesn't move. You don't have to press your knife very hard, if you can't cut your pack of paper in one single cut then you should sharpen your knife or decrease the amount of paper sheets in a pack.

Always put something under your pack of paper, like plywood or something, so you won't scratch your table!
This way you will effectively cut your paper pack by pack, using only cheap items that you probably already have.

I don't recommend you to use scissors for paper cutting, because it's very difficult to cut paper evenly with it (especially - to cut several sheets of paper in one cut - there is a big chance that you will waste your paper and will have to print it again).

Cutted pages

Cut pages

Personally, I've used the 'metal ruler and a paper knife' method.

First, I've measured on my table the length from the edge of the table to the end of one A5 paper, then I drew a line there on the table, parallel to the edge of table. Now I will know where to put my packs of paper and how to align them.

Then, I put plywood on that place, took a pack of printed pages (I've used packs of 3 paper sheets in each) and put it on the plywood - so one edge of the pack was on the edge of the table, and the middle of a pack was right on the line, where I've measured A5 length. I put my metal ruler on the pack of paper, lined it up to line, press it so neither pack of paper nor metal ruler could move and then - finally - cut pack of paper on half with my paper knife.

This method requires some patient, but as a result I've got a very even cut pack of A5 paper, without using any fancy paper cutting tools.

Before going any further, I suggest to also cut another blank sheet of A4 paper and to add the resulted blank A5 pages to the begin and to the end of your final pack of printed A5 pages. It will serve as flyleaf (endpaper) - they will be glued to the cover of the book later, and for now they also will help to protect the pages of the book from glue and press.

Part 3 - Bookbinding

Now we finally can get to the bookbinding process.

Align your pack of A5 paper, put it under your press - in a way so edge of the pack where will be the book spine pop out of the press a little bit - let's say, by half of an inch (~1 cm) or even less. Compress it tight with your press.





Using hacksaw or some other sharp tool (I've used fretsaw) make some tinny slots in the book spine, not too deep (5mm \ 0.2" deep or less), with 15-20 mm (0.6" - 0.8") distance between them (and the same distance from the book edges).
Later you will put twines inside these slots.

Now add glue to these slots, then put your twine inside of them, and then add some more glue.
Let it dry out. You can trim the ends of the twines, if you want.

As I understand, usually bookbinders also pull their twines while doing that - but personally, I didn't that.



When it will become dry, put glue all over the book spine (cover it all with glue). Cut a piece of gauze (or other cloth) and put over the book spine, so it will cover the whole book back. Again, wait and let it to dry out.
Personally, I've leaved it to dry out until the next day.

After that, you can get your book out of the press - actually, you've already made a book, and can use it as it is!
But to make it look better and to be more protected from the environment, you should make a cover for your book.


The Result

To be continued. We still have to make a nice cover for that book!