Intermediate book repair: Rebacking and recasing

This week’s class focused on some more advanced book repairs, rebacking and recasing. Each of these repairs involves quite a few steps, so rather than describe them here in the detail I did for the basic book repairs, I’m just going to give an overview of what’s involved with each procedure. (Trust me when I say that if you want to attempt these repairs yourself, you’re going to want a more in-depth description—and pictures or videos—of each individual step.) I had a lot of fun learning these repairs, so let’s get started!

Rebacking

When a book’s spine detaches (in whole or in part) from the rest of the case, the book can be rebacked, giving it new life. If the book is allowed to remain in this condition, damage will only hasten—not only will the condition of the spine itself worsen, but damage to the text block and endsheets also becomes more likely.

An example of what a book in need of rebacking might look like; the spine has become detatched. (In fact, this book really needs more involved repairs because the endsheets have split, but that's not evident when it's closed.)

An example of what a book in need of rebacking might look like; the spine has become detatched. (In fact, this book really needs more involved repairs because the endsheets have split, but that’s not evident when it’s closed.)

Since the book I was going to be rebacking actually had no significant damage to the spine, I had the pleasure of removing it entirely myself. (Many book lovers and library science students might shudder at this, but I didn’t have the slightest hesitation. This probably indicates that my book-soul is damaged in some unforgivable way.) This is also the first step, however, if the spine is not already completely detached. Once the spine has been removed, the procedure is more or less the following:

  1. Bookcloth is cut off of the boards a small distance from the edge of the boards, and the cloth is then lifted from the boards about another inch inward. (Later, the new bookcloth will be inserted under this wing.)
  2. The text block’s spine edge is cleaned of loose materials, and, if necessary (depending on what support is left), Japanese tissue and/or card stock such as Mohawk Superfine are applied to support the text block.
  3. Thicker card stock (the spine stiffener) cut to the height of the boards is adhered to a strip of bookcloth. The bookcloth is then turned in at the top and bottom to cover the head and tail of the spine stiffener.
  4. This new spine is rounded over the edge of a table to match the curve of the text block. Then it is coated with glue and slipped in under the bookcloth wings, which are then glued down on top of the new bookcloth. It’s important here that no glue seeps between the text block and the new spine. The book is pressed and dried (either in the press or under weight).
  5. Finally, any important information from the old spine (i.e., title and author information) is cut and adhered to the new one.

I made a mess of this repair in class because I accidentally measured the spine stiffener to the height of the text block, rather than to the height of the boards. I realized this before I attached the new spine to the case (but after I glued the stiffener to the bookcloth), but rather than risk falling behind, I decided to continue on with those materials. Now I have an embarrassing monument to my mistake, which hopefully means that it’s one I won’t make again:

My measuring mistake means that the repair looks quite silly. Here, at the head of the book, you can also see the paper backing of the spine sticking out ever so slightly.

My measuring mistake means that the repair looks quite silly. Here, at the head of the book, you can also see the paper backing of the spine sticking out ever so slightly.

Things line up a little nicer on the tail of the book, but it's still sloppy.

Things line up a little nicer on the tail of the book, but it’s still sloppy.

One final shot of the Monument. Here, you can see that the cut I made into the bookcloth on the board wasn't quite parallel to the height of the book.

One final shot of the Monument. Here, you can see that the cut I made into the bookcloth on the board wasn’t quite parallel to the height of the book.

Looking at it now, it feels like the only thing I got right was my choice of bookcloth, which I selected to match the color of the lettering as closely as possible (there was no blue bookcloth available). This is what happens toward the end of a long day, I suppose—silly mistakes and careless cutting. Still, often the best way to learn is by making mistakes, and since I understand what went wrong, I’ll be in much better shape when I attempt a rebacking again.

Recasing

This was actually the first repair we learned this week, although the two techniques do share several steps. Despite the fact that this procedure is more involved and I had a difficult book to work with (my professor actually went out of her way to switch what book she gave me so I would have more of a challenge), I actually think I did quite well with this one.

Recasing is performed when the text block is partially or completely detached from the case (but the case itself is still in decent condition and therefore not worthy of replacement):

In this book (which looks to have been rebacked in the past—but in a slightly different manner than that detailed above), the endsheet has torn, although the mull beneath it is still attached. Assuming that the case is still sturdy enough (questionable, given the previous repair), this book should be recased.

In this book (which looks to have been rebacked in the past—but in a slightly different manner than that detailed above), the endsheet has torn, although the mull beneath it is still attached. Assuming that the case is still sturdy enough (questionable, given the previous repair), this book should be recased.

As I mentioned, the book my professor gave me was in rough shape—the paper was extremely brittle. All of these photos are from after the repair, but they still give a decent indication of the state the book was in.

The color in this is fairly accurate. The text block would once have been quite a bit whiter. You can also see a bit of foxing.

The color in this is fairly accurate. The text block would once have been quite a bit whiter. You can also see a bit of foxing.

The result of a brittle-paper test. Essentially, a corner of the page is folded back and forth several times, and then tugged on. If the paper is brittle, it will detach along the fold. Here, the paper split before I even attempted to tug on it.

The result of a brittle-paper test. Essentially, a corner of the page is folded back and forth several times, and then tugged on. If the paper is brittle, it will detach along the fold. Here, the paper split before I even attempted to tug on it.

In many respects, recasing is similar to rebacking, but it takes things to the next level. First, the text block is carefully removed from the case, if it is not already completely detached. (Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed doing this, too.) Then, the following steps are performed:

  1. The flyleaves are removed (as long as there is no important information on them), and the spine of the text block is cleaned of all loose material. On the case, the spine area is also cleared of loose material, including part of the pastedowns.
  2. The new endsheets are folded in half, and a lip is shaped at the fold to the form of the text block’s shoulder. It should not extend beyond the height of the shoulder. This lip is then adhered to the text block (lined up with the head of the text block), and the whole process is repeated for the second endsheet (the following trimming step is easiest if the second endsheet is lined up with the tail). Both endsheets are then trimmed to the size of the text block.
  3. As in rebacking, Japanese tissue can be adhered to the spine for support if necessary. Crash or mull spine liner (we used cambric) cut about two inches wider than the thickness of the text block is then adhered and stretched over the spine. Finally, a strip of card stock is then adhered over the crash/mull.
  4. If necessary, the spine is reinforced with card stock. If the headcap and tailcap are damaged, the turn-ins are cut and lifted, and Japanese tissue (cut to the full height of the bookcloth, including turn-ins, and slightly wider than the width between the boards) is adhered to the cloth—then the card stock is inserted over this, and the turn-ins are re-adhered.
  5. The text block is positioned in the case, and the endsheets are adhered to the case. The book is then pressed and dried (either in the press or under weight).

All of this seems fairly simple looking back, but at the time it was definitely a lot to keep straight, and I’m glad to have step-by step guides for all of these procedures in my class binder. In any case, although it wasn’t perfect, I’m extremely pleased with how my first recasing came out.

Here, the text block is much better supported than it was initially. Instead of making a corner when opened, it forms a gentle curve.  You can also see some of the damage to the headcap.

Here, the text block is much better supported than it was initially. Instead of making a corner when opened, it forms a gentle curve. You can also see some of the damage to the headcap.

In this image, you can see the heavy-weight Japanese tissue peaking out from a hole in the strengthened tailcap.

In this image, you can see the heavy-weight Japanese tissue peaking out from a hole in the strengthened tailcap.

The repairs have dried. Here we see the new endsheets. The structure of the book is much improved.

The repairs have dried. Here we see the new endsheets. The structure of the book is much improved.

♦ ♦

Although it was certainly great to learn these techniques, possibly the most important thing we discussed in this week’s class was decision making. It takes both knowledge and experience to know what repairs are appropriate when, and we’ll have several other opportunities over the course of the semester to hone this skill. Next week, I’ll write about a related in-class exercise, as well as my experiences making a few protective enclosures.

Comments

  • I love to think that this book will have a new life. It is always so sad to me when books fall apart, from either age or neglect. I am sorry to say that I have taped them together. Beautiful work and lovely description of how to do it.

    Clare DoyleJuly 5, 2011
    • I think we’ve all taped books together at some time or another. Honestly, for many books, that isn’t the end of the world. It’s more of a problem for library books, which, ideally, are intended to be around indefinitely. For books in a personal collection that have no real value as objects, it’s not as much of an issue. Given the skills I’m acquiring, I obviously have other options at my disposal, but for many people it’s between tape and buying a new copy, and even though I may cringe to see it, I can’t legitimately criticize it.

      Of course, it’s a different story for anything of value or that’s intended to be passed down to kin.

      Jackie Divis DoyleJuly 12, 2011
  • Hello, Neat post. There’s an issue along with your web site in web explorer, could check this? IE nonetheless is the market leader and a large element of folks will leave out your great writing because of this problem.

    Custom hand binderyJune 8, 2012
    • Thanks for reading. Could you be more specific about the problem? I don’t see any issues in IE on this end, and it’s hard to track down the issue without more details. (That said, I use a pre-designed theme, so I really don’t have enough control to fix anything, other than simply choosing another theme—which could just as easily have a problem in IE or another browser.)

      Jackie Divis DoyleJune 10, 2012

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