Faux Book Box

Completed outside of the book Inner book paper installed, view of the inside

I've been wanting to learn more about bookbinding for a while, so when a Surprise Swap came up on Craftisian, I decided part of the build would be a box built with some bookbinding techniques.

Faux book spine and one cover

I started by making a faux spine, using a piece of spalted elm I had on hand, and rounding it to approximate the spine of a book. I cut rabbets in the front and back of it to accommodate covers (made of poplar, more on that later), and then cut some small pieces of hard maple to make the other three sides of the box, which would represent the edges of the pages.

Faux book, faux bands Hinge cloths holding the cover to the faux book

I then drilled holes through the spine and wrapped some nylon string through them to look like bands. They seemed fairly thin, but I guessed they'd “read” ok through the leather, and that worked out pretty well, though I forgot to take a photo of that.

With the hard-maple pages glued into grooves in the back cover, I applied some cloth strips between the bands to work as hinges for the front cover. I used Titebond II diluted about 3:1 with water to apply these hinges, and that seemed to work pretty well.

View of faux page-edges, which are hard maple, grooved with a slitting gauge, then painted with a yellow milk paint wash View of faux page-edges, which are hard maple, grooved with a slitting gauge, then painted with a yellow milk paint wash

I also had grooved the page-edges by using a slitting gauge on the hard maple, making small cuts along the length of it, spaced about 0.6mm apart (the smallest amount I could reliably adjust my gauge). Then I painted the edges with three coats of a thin (1 part milk paint, 4 parts water) wash of lemon yellow milk paint, which gave the pages a more paper-like look.

I put magnets into the page edges and the front cover to hold the cover closed, and then I applied the outer book paper. I remembered partway through that the leather was supposed to go on a half-bound book first, but it was too late, plus this gave me a look of how the book was going to look. Also, I hadn't received the leather I wanted yet, so at least I got comfortable gluing on the book paper on what would have otherwise been a wasted day.

First (outer) book-paper put on; Also visible are the magnets which will hold the cover closed

Before applying the leather, I spent a morning carving away part of the spine of the faux book. I realized that it extended beyond the edges of the pages and that didn't look right, so I carefully pared it down so it was even with the edges of the pages. As the spalted elm was pretty soft, this meant hardening it up with some thin CA glue so that I could pare it with chisels and gouges without getting too much tear-out.

Leather half-binding installed Edges of leather pared down

Once it arrived, I applied the leather. I didn't do a great job paring its edges down before applying it, but I figured this is my first book, so I'm allowed to make a mistake or two. Plus, with book paper yet to go on the outside, I could pare the leather down and then apply the book-paper and it would look ok.

Second outer bookpaper installed View of inner bookpaper installed

With the outer book paper on, I was waiting on USPS again. I had ordered some nice book paper for the inside of the box, but it got held up in customs for over a week. When it finally arrived, I glued it to the inside of the box, and I think everything looked pretty darned good. The only problem was that the glue for the inner book paper swelled the wooden cover a bit, so the front cover wouldn't close for a couple days, but once the poplar dried out again, it worked fine. Also, I tore one of the creases in the inner book paper getting it pressed into the box.

And that's the project. When I do it again, I'll change a few things. I'll make the spine of good quality hardwood, rather than something soft like the spalted elm I used. The covers will be made of either good quality thin plywood, or I'll home-make some thin plywood from veneer I have around, rather than poplar, which moves too much with moisture changes. I'll remember to apply the leather first, and pare down its edges better before putting it on. And I'll be more careful applying the inner book paper. That's a tricky job you wouldn't have to do when binding a real book, though.

#woodworking #project #bookbinding

Discuss... Or contact me in the fediverse @davepolaschek@writing.exchange