Practising paring, ploughing and paperwork

Practising paring, ploughing and paperwork
Some of the weird and wonderful activities that are commonplace in our bookbindery
26 November 2012

I've been rather quietly lately about the goings-on in the bindery. I guess it's all become routine, and I forget that from the outside Preservation might seem like a mysterious place. Practise makes perfect;  I suppose in any craft one looks to attain a degree of skill that makes the jobs seem effortless. Well, let me tell you about what I've been practising.  Much of my work consists in doing the backbone job of binding: sewing. I still do a lot of pamphlet and stab sewing.  I have, however, made enough in-roads in my workload that I am now doing a lot more spine repairs. Spine repairs involve re-attaching the spine to the book cover, and/or reattaching the cover to the book.

Repairing the spine of a book

A simple spine repair where the spine is reattached to the cover

For the most part I use book cloth or buckram. Occasionally leather bound books come my way, and I sometimes bind them with cloth.  Do I hear you ask: "Why don't you use leather?"  The answer is neither simple nor straightforward. There are many reasons why I don't use leather, the least of them being that I don't feel very confident using leather.  However  the main reason is that more often than not the book is bound with such bad leather or might have very little value, so it is alright to use material other than leather. But these days I can hear some books on the shelf calling  me to bind them in leather, and I need to get ready. So for the last few weeks I've been paring odd bits of leather as practise.

At the bench paring with my new paring knife

At the bench paring with my new paring knife

In a previous entry I described the process of paring. I am proud to tell you that I am getting better at it. My fingers still hurt, but as my sharpening skills increase, my paring is becoming more confident. In fact, on the days I don't pare, I feel a little let down. These days I'm trying to focus on getting the whole rectangle of leather thinned down evenly. What else do I practise?  Ploughing. Ploughing in the bindery doesn't involved domestic animals or soil. It does however, involve old fashioned wooden machines, like the ones you see in illustrations. Ploughing is the act of shaving, cutting if you will, a fine layer of paper off the edges of a book. It can happen with a sewn textblock, and in some instances with a book block with uncoveredboards.  It is also a somewhat lengthy method of cutting the uncut edges of paperbacks. To tell the truth, there is not much call for me to plough; should I need to make clean edges we have an electric guillotine that makes nice even edges in seconds. The guillotine, though,  has been known to leave a mark on the edges if the blade is in anyway damaged or has some sort of residue or grit on it.

At the plough

At the plough

The process of ploughing  involves passing a sharp flat blade forwards and back along the edge of the book.  You cut on the forward motion; the backward motion allows you to bring the blade back to the starting position and then you turn the handle a little so that the blade moves forward across the book to cut a few more pages. I suppose as I am practising I am cutting 2 or 3 pages at a time. The end product is excellent: the smoothness of the ploughed surface means that very little sanding is needed for edge gilding or painting. I think it is a good skill to learn and know. Paperwork. I am not a paper conservator;  on the job I have come to  learn basic paper repair techniques which I use every day. In my very first week here, our then lab manager Sophie showed me how to use heat set tissue. This involves ironing pre-adhesived tissue paper onto torn items. It's very quick.  Japanese tissue repairs are, on the other hand, more time consuming, fiddly and more fun to do.

Japanese tissue strips

Japanese tissue strips ready for use

Usually  a long line is drawn with a water brush and  a small strip of  tissue is torn away; the fibres need to fan out. The strip is brushed with starch paste and  the japanese tissue is placed along the torn line. Weighed  down with remay, blotter and weights, left to dry. It's the drying that slows this process down, but I have seen some of the girls in the paper lab to beautiful invisble work. It's all about practise: I might not need to plough and pare all the time, but increasing my skills can't hurt the next item I treat. And with paper repairs, I'm refining my repairs. Practise, practise, practise!