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How to Get Your Books Back in Perfect Shape

DIY bookbinding can put your pages back in order (and it's cheaper than buying a new book).

Paperback Bindings

Photo by Gabriel.

Repairing Formerly Perfect Books

Are the pages slipping from your favorite paperback novel?  Does your much-used cookbook look like it’s been through a blender? If your book was “perfect bound” with glue instead of stitching, this repair method will put those pages back in order, and cost less than replacing the book. (Note: this method is not suitable for fine books with a stitched spine.)

Supplies:
•    Two strips of wood, four to six inches longer than the book’s spine
•    Two C-clamps large enough to hold the book at the spine, and the wood strips
•    Glue. PVA—either bookbinder’s glue or carpenter’s glue—is ideal*
•    Wax paper to protect the book’s pages from glue
•    A small paintbrush with sturdy bristles
•    Fine grit sandpaper
•    A sharp craft knife

Instructions:
1. Finish taking the book apart. Carefully remove all the pages from the spine, using the knife as needed.
Put the cover aside.
2. Stack the pages into a neat rectangle. The spine will be a rough edge: that’s fine.
3. Add a piece of wax paper to the front of the book, and another to the back. This will protect the pages
from glue.
4. Place one wood strip on the front of the stack and one on the back, close to the edge of the spine. The wood will protect the spine and help hold it together while the glue dries. Clamp the spine, including the wood strips, at both ends. Tighten the clamps as evenly and firmly as possible. (Keeping the pages aligned is the hardest part of the process.)
5. Suspend the book, by the ends of the wood strips, between two tables, chairs, or piles of books.
6. Sand the spine a little so the glue can be absorbed.
7. Apply the glue and work into the surface by dabbing the brush over the entire spine. Leave to dry (this may take a day or so). Repeat.
8. Remove the clamps and wax paper. Trim excess glue with the knife.
9. Before you glue the cover on, check to make sure it will fit. If not, make adjustments.
10. Add another coat of glue to the spine, and put the cover in place.
11. Gently clamp the cover in place and let the glue dry completely.

Your book is now good for the next 100,000 miles!

*PVA, polyvinyl acetate, dries clear and stays flexible. It is the basis of all “white” glues. The Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database classifies the overall health concerns for PVA as low. (But don’t eat it.)


 

Signe Predmore wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Signe is an intern at YES!

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