Basic book repairs

This week’s class (with guest professor Steve Smith from Wellesley College) focused on book history and basic repairs to books. I won’t go into the history here, since I hope to write more about that in the fall (I’ll be taking a class called History of the Book, so I’ll have plenty of inspiration), but I will describe each of the repair types we worked on this week: hinge tightening, tipping in, and hinging in.

Since I’m using a lot of terminology that all readers might not be familiar with, I’ve taken the opportunity to put up a pictorial glossary of terms. If you’re unfamiliar with book construction or the parts of a book, I highly recommend that you look there before continuing.

Hinge tightening

One of the most common problem plaguing library books is the loose hinge, caused by anything from poor shelving practices to book drops. Luckily, this is also a really quick, simple repair, and it can significantly extend the usable life of the book. Essentially, PVA (or a mixture of PVA and methyl cellulose) is painted onto a knitting needle or skewer, the hinge is held open, and the needle is pushed down into the gap, rotated, and pulled back out. Wax paper is then inserted between the board and the text block (or the pastedown and flyleaf; the aim here is to prevent the repair from sticking to another page should the adhesive leak through), the joint is boned down, and the book is set to rest under weight with another knitting needle or skewer resting in the joint.

A loose hinge. This probably isn't the best example, but apparently most of my hard-cover books have great hinges. In any case, this should get the point across.

A loose hinge. This probably isn’t the best example, but apparently most of my hard-cover books have great hinges. In any case, this should get the point across.

The hinge I repaired in class. This is (more or less) what an undamaged hinge looks like.

The hinge I repaired in class. This is (more or less) what an undamaged hinge looks like.

Still, even though this is quite simple, care must be taken not to do additional damage; depending on the condition of the paper and cover, it can be easy to poke through the endsheet or bookcloth. It takes some practice to learn when to push through a bit of resistance and when doing so will result in further damage to the book.

Tipping in

Tipping in is one of the two options we learned about for inserting pages into a book. This could be either for repairing damaged or missing pages or to insert something such as an erratum. In fact, in the past it was fairly common for publishers to tip in pages—especially for plates and errata. We tried this with a sheet that was torn from the book, but it can also be done with a photocopied page (which we used for hinging in; see my notes on dealing with the photocopy below). Here are the basic steps:

  1. Remove the remnants of the torn page from the gutter as much as possible, being careful not to damage any other pages in the process. As always, when in doubt, leave it alone.
  2. Trim the edge of the loose page, while removing as little as possible (in cases where there is a deep U-shaped portion cut out of the page, it’s often better to leave it and trim the page as if it wasn’t there; otherwise, you might end up trimming off so much that the text won’t be readable). If there are tears in the page that could be fixed with Japanese tissue, these should be taken care of first.
  3. Glue the edge (about 1⁄8th of an inch) of the loose sheet with PVA (or a PVA–methyl cellulose mixture), by placing blank newsprint below and above the loose sheet. In other words, you want both a base to glue on and a piece of scrap paper above the loose sheet, so that you only glue exactly the portion you mean to.
  4. Position the page carefully against the page that will be supporting it (making sure that it’s facing in the correct direction, so that the page numbers are ultimately in order), bone it down gently, and insert a piece of wax paper over the repair. Then set the closed book to dry under weight.
A view of a tip in from the bottom. The tipped-in page is on the right. As you can see, the margins between the pages can be severely reduced by this technique.

A view of a tip in from the bottom. The tipped-in page is on the right. As you can see, the margins between the pages can be severely reduced by this technique.

Another angle on the tip in. Notice the close margins in the gutter.

Another angle on the tip in. Notice the close margins in the gutter.

One problem with this repair is the fact that it will never  open as cleanly as the other pages in the book (see above). Related to this is the strain that it puts on the supporting page. This means that it’s a technique you want to avoid for anything with brittle paper. That said, it’s a decent repair for low-use items and books that are relatively new and in good shape.

Hinging in

The most difficult technique we learned was the hinge in. As with tipping in, hinging in is used to repair loose pages or to insert new ones. However, unlike tipping in, this repair can be used on more brittle papers, because it places very little strain on the pages. In addition to the PVA/methyl cellulose used in the other repairs, this one also requires some Japanese tissue.

  1. First, steps 1 and 2 of the tipping-in procedure are performed.
  2. A strip of Japanese tissue is cut to size, placed on waste paper, covered by another piece of waste paper (again, as with tipping in, above), and wet with PVA (or a PVA–methyl cellulose mixture). The wet tissue is then applied to the loose sheet, sandwiched between wax paper, and boned down, and the sheet is left to dry under weight. (This drying step can be skipped, as we did in class, but it makes the subsequent steps more difficult.)
  3. At this point, the excess tissue can be trimmed even with the head and tail of the page (it actually helps to angle the cuts inward slightly, to ensure that no part of the tissue hangs past the head and tail of the book in the end), but this can also be done after the hinge in has been completed.
  4. Next, the loose sheet (with hinge now attached) is flipped over onto a clean sheet of waste paper and covered with another strip of waste paper. Again, adhesive is applied to the tissue, but a thin area of tissue (no more than 1⁄8th of an inch) between the glued portions should be left unglued (in other words, glue should never touch this portion). In order to make sure that the correct side of the tissue is being glued, the same side of the tissue should be glued during each step; the Japanese tissue should make a V shape around the sheet being hinged in.
  5. The sheet is placed into the book such that it is even with the head and tail edges, and the tissue is boned down. Wax paper is placed on both sides, and the closed book is set to dry under weight.
A view of a hinged-in sheet (right). If you look closely, you can make out the Japanese tissue used for the hinge.

A view of a hinged-in sheet (right). If you look closely, you can make out the Japanese tissue used for the hinge.

The other side of the hinged-in sheet. Here you can see the unglued portion of the tissue (although it's a bit wider than it should be).

The other side of the hinged-in sheet. Here you can see the unglued portion of the tissue (although it’s a bit wider than it should be).

Sometimes, a photocopied page must be inserted instead of one coming directly from the book (this sheet can be either tipped in or hinged in; it doesn’t matter for the purposes of these instructions). This means that the page must be reduced to the correct size. There are multiple methods, but the technique we practiced was to cut the page to size on the head and tail edges and crop the gutter if necessary, and to leave the fore-edge long. Once the repair has dried, a cutting mat is slipped in under the hinged-in sheet, and a straight edge is lined up under the page(s) directly over the hinged-in sheet. A cutting knife or scalpel is then carefully run down along the straight edge. If done properly, this will leave the fore-edge of the hinged-in page even with the fore-edge of the book.

The cutting mat is lined up below the hinged-in sheet, and the straight edge is lined up with the adjacent page. At this point, the top page gets moved out of the way, and the cut is made.

The cutting mat is lined up below the hinged-in sheet, and the straight edge is lined up with the adjacent page. At this point, the top page gets moved out of the way, and the cut is made.

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As always, if any of this is unclear—or if you’d like to learn more—I highly recommend starting with the NEDCC’s website. They have great of resources for how to do various of repairs, and in fact we’re using their instructions for many of our in-class activities. Although I’ve tried to be clear in my descriptions, I haven’t been extensive, and one of the things I’ve found as I continue my education in this area is that it can be invaluable to have multiple resources to consult; what makes sense to one person isn’t always clear to another, and often, when one description seems ambiguous, another will alleviate the confusion.

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