Adventures in Bookland: Part 1

Binding 440 books by hand

cutting book covers
Sawing nearly 900 book board pieces

As you may know, I’ve done printing and am now binding my Appalachian Trail series by myself. Binding bids came in in access of $22K, so instead of hiking up the price (pun intended) of the books, I’ve established Tanuki Bindery- that is, at least until Sept. when the books will be done.

I am creating two separate editions of 110 copies each of: “The Complete A.T. Print Collection”- A 14-print edition (one print per state along the trail) and a 2-print “A. T. Terminus Collection” (prints depicting the Trail’s endpoints). There are accompanying texts about location and production notes.

Binding Planning

The first order of business was to put together some prototypes- I created 9 separate versions: some case-bound and some a hybrid stab binding. Ultimately, I went with the stab binding because of its relative simplicity.

My calculations for 220 books call for 440 book covers requiring 880 pieces of board.

sanding books
Sanding the edges of each book board piece 8 edges x 880 pieces- you do the math. Very dusty regardless!

Supplies: The next phase was ordering materials: Davey board, book cloth, text paper, glassine, EVA glue, methyl cellulose, paracord, thread, endpapers, archival binding tape, book cloth tape, title labels, etc.

Machinery: Drying press, needles, gluing machine, light table, a large-format printer, sandpaper, awls, clamps, embossing tools, cloth cutters, hole saw bits, hole saw bit sharpener, paper scorer, paper trimmers, hand binding tools, and a myriad of jigs of my own design.


Starting the Production Process

I soon realized that box cutters weren’t going to “cut it” with the amount of cardboard and accuracy that I needed, so I used a combination of table saw and radial arm saw to size them. I then hand-sanded each board piece to smooth the edges.

We have had a record amount of rain during the winter here in the Southeast U.S. To reduce the “board dust”, I had to wait for good weather in order to work outside.

After the boards were cut and sanded, I positioned them onto my “hinge jig” and applied reinforced gummed acid-free tape to create a hinge connecting the two pieces of book board.

binding jig
Hinging jig:  1″ wide piece of book board (left) and a 10.25″ (right) piece are joined with tape to make an inside hinge.
450 covers… whew!
Charting progress in thin red lines.

Dealing with Thousands (and Millions)

Comparing this project with hiking 2,100 miles is completely appropriate. Of course, I do not have to deal with the vagaries of weather here, but, unlike hiking, I’m having to balance my time with working full-time and life events.

I’d estimate the number of steps to be equal to each other. The sheer determination of keeping moving is often the order of the day. The A.T. is said to require 5 million foot steps. The number of “hand steps”, planning, physical, and mental efforts certainly seem equal to that in this 3-year project. Add to that my bout of cancer and loss of a parent and it’s certainly been a challenge.

“On occasion, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the numbers, but I have to remind myself that a lot of small things cumulatively add up to big ones.”

It’s been a help to stave off being overwhelmed by charting things out. Here’s the top 2/3 of my overall process charted out for my mental health.

There is another schedule below what you see outlining the steps of designing the 14 prints, carving the 150 blocks, and printing the 280 or so proofs. What you see marked out in red is the printing of the 1,800 prints (36,000 impressions) and above that, the approx. 30 individual binding steps for the 220 books. Even though the binding chart is pretty blank now, cumulatively, I think that I’ll make it…

Saying that, I frankly VERY much more enjoy printing than binding, but a proud end of this project is BOUND (sorry) to come!

Next: Using my gluing machine to apply 440 pieces of book cloth onto the boards, folding edges, applying spine tape, embossing fronts, applying title labels…

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