No lumpy leather in this bindery

No lumpy leather in this bindery
22 February 2012

"Can you feel the lumps?" asks Robin. "Lumps?" I reply, "what lumps? my fingers are too numb!" I've been paring leather this week, and my fingers are numb from holding the leather and the knife and pushing down and pushing across, all at the same time. Paring leather is the action of making the leather thinner.The aim is to "get to zero", where there is no noticeable difference between leather and the working surface. And that is REALLY thin Since I've been at the library I haven't had much call to use leather. Let's face it, the items I service don't warrant the expense of time and materials. However since Robin has been our new lab manager, she has brought with her many bookbinding skills and implements. My first practise was with her spoke shave.

Using a spoke shave

Using a spoke shave

That was fun. I’d never even seen one before, let alone handled it. Getting even pressure along the leather is the hardest part of all. With the leather secured under a wedge of wood, I try to run the spoke shave along the leather in one swift motion. Just like anything else, paring leather requires practise, and with practise the skill becomes easier.

Different thicknesses of leather, and I’m still not anywhere close to finished

Different thicknesses of leather: too thick!

Different thicknesses of leather, and I’m still not anywhere close to finished

Thinner....

Different thicknesses of leather, and I’m still not anywhere close to finished

Not thin enough  and I’m still not anywhere close to finished

In the past I've used a scalpel to pare leather; we have a paring knife here but it seemed awkward and cumbersome. I change scalpel blades every other minute when paring leather. Robin brought in her whetstones, and voila! Sharp paring knife, fingers intact and gone are the days of blade changing. The first step is to bevel the edge ever so slightly. I started with the scalpel.

Starting to pare. I need to pare from the spine outwards, with the edge eventually becoming thinner than thin.

Starting to pare. I need to pare from the spine outwards, with the edge eventually becoming thinner than thin.

After that, it is a matter of making various passes all around the piece of leather, enlarging the gradually thinned surface. The lumps happen if the blade doesn’t pare along the surface in one continuous motion.

Lumpy leather

Lumpy leather

The marks you can see are from my stopping and starting, possibly digging in a bit more in some spots. Ideally, by the time I’ve finished, those marks will no longer be there. Scalpels get blunt quite fast; by comparison, a sharp paring knife lasts a lot longer. Robin gives us a lesson in how to use the whetstones. It was so much fun, I went home that night to finally sharpen my kitchen knives.

Sharpened paring knife

Sharpened paring knife

 

Let’s get back to my numb fingers. Above is a picture of the sharpened paring knife. Unlike a scalpel, it is not flexible, and my fingers get numb from trying to hold the blade not quite flat, pushing the blade across the leather swiftly, and holding the leather down, all in one easy motion. I eventually pared all the leather down to my mark. This was for a spine repair. It was important that the edges be as thin as possible so that there was no bulk showing. I don’t have a picture of the final product. Needless to say it took me a while to get it to the thickness required, and I needed help over dangerously thin sections of leather, but the end result was quite satisfying. I dyed the leather a charming mustard yellow and did a fine job on the spine repair.

Before shot: components of the book I was repairing.

Before shot: components of the book I was repairing.