Bookbinding 101, A Quick Introduction

I love bound books with their pretty covers and blank or lined sheets. The market is flooded with a wide assortment of books that come in all sizes, shapes and bindings. For each personality that’s out there in the world writing their thoughts down on paper, there is a perfect blank book to match their style and mood. However, purchasing journals from a store is not only addicting, but can get expensive. That is why I’m going to spend the next few articles here on D*I*Y Planner to introduce you to the art of bookbinding and making your own perfect journals. This week I plan on starting off simple by giving you an quick and dirty overview of the world of bookbinding. Next week, I’ll show you just how easy it is to make your own book in a few simple minutes. And finally, two weeks from now, I’ll take you through a more complex and stunning example of the art.

Ever since man has had the desire to record their thoughts there has always been a medium on which to store them. Some of the earliest books appeared as large tablets or long scrolls made of papyrus. Early books were bound and scribed by monks. The process to create modern books evolved from two early inventions: paper and the moveable type printing press. Not only did this produce books as we know them nowadays but it also allowed printers to publish the written word much faster, making books more appealing to a mass audience. The introduction of printing spurred the beginnings of the bookbinding movement. The early 16th Century was one of the finest periods of decorative bookbinding. Towards the end of the 19th Century, modern bookbinding techniques had been perfected into a fine art. Fast forwarding to today, hand bound books can be found everywhere, along with the instructions and a few unique tools, anyone can possess the knowledge to bind and create their own small works of art.

As you can see by the pictures in this article, there is no end to the imagination of creating books for use to record thoughts. From variance in each book’s size to the way each is sewn together. While many of the books look complex and hard to produce, there are many ways to bind books easily, quickly and elegantly. Binding a book can be as simple as folding and stapling a few sheets of paper. However, to make a more studier book, you need is some book board, paper, adhesive, book thread (waxed or heavy thread) and some imagination. Most of these items can be found in many forms and purchasable at your local art supply store (except for the imagination which you already come equipped with).

Just like any discipline, bookbinding comes with its own list of terminology. I’ve listed a few of the more common terms that most books on bookbinding use below. This list is not exhaustive, as the list of terms could go on and on and become a glossary. These are just a few of the most common words to get you started. Over then next two weeks week, when I teach you how to create some simple books, I’ll be using words from the list below.

Book board: heavy cardboard that is used for making the cover of hard bound journals.

Folio: A folded sheet of paper. It forms two leaves or four pages in a book.

Fold: The folded edge of a folio or signature (pages of the book).

Signature: Folios (usually three) make up a signature.

Signature-Set: A number of signatures make up the signature-set, which in turn makes up most of the pages inside the book.

Awl or Paper Punch Tool: Used to punch holes in the signatures (pages of the book) so that they can be tied together.

Bone Folder: Used to fold or crease paper and smooth-out air bubbles.

Endleaves: The page at the beginning of the book and the end of the book.

Book Block: The inner part of the book, consisting of the signature-set and endleaves.

PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate): a type of glue most commonly associated with binding books, this can be found in any craft store.

bookbinding needles: Special needles constructed for use on paper and

Wax thread: Waxy thread used to hold signatures together for binding.

Today, many artists are pushing the traditional limits of what is called a book. These renegade artists use all sorts of things to craft their books. Large tags cut from cardboard paper or envelopes that can be used to carry all sorts of dimensional collections are being sewn together. Pages can be glued together to create niches where smaller books can rest inside a larger book. Some artists are even crafting books to be held in wedding ceremonies or worn as jewelry with their clay covers protecting private thoughts from being washed with the weather. There is no limit to what a book can become.

Thus concludes my whirlwind introduction to bookbinding. Next week I’ll demonstrate a one signature book that is simple to make and easy for you to carry around inside your planner or hipster to record thoughts, dreams or sketches. If you are curious about bookbinding and want to know more about the art and don’t want to wait until next week’s tutorial, I’ve listed a few good books that go more in depth into the art. I do have one word of caution, once you’ve assembled your first handmade book, you will never look at store bought journals with the same eyes. You will start looking at them in terms of “how can I make one of these” and dissecting every bit of how that book was constructed so you can make your own version.

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Cool stuff. I can't wait for

Cool stuff. I can't wait for future installments.

One curiosity, though: How much does it cost to start from scratch and make a simple book or two (the types you allude to above)? Are the materials expensive? Can you buy them in small enough quantities so as not to have a ton left over?

Thanks for this...

-- dT

If you do not plan on making

If you do not plan on making hard bound books like the pictures in the articles, binding paper together is just as easy as getting the paper folded and sewn together with some thread and a needle. bookbinding thread which comes on spindles or in small packets is relatively inexpensive ($5 or under) and a pack of 10 book binding needles is about the same.

if you want to learn to make hard bound books, you could get away with making books at around $30 or less, depending on the style.

PVA can be found around $10 or so, but the bottle lasts a very long time (my first bottle is still good at over 2 years).

bookboard comes in large sheets and is about $8 a sheet (allowing you to make 3-5 digest sized books from it). most places do not sell in smaller quantities, and i've noticed that online carriers will cut to order but charge more for smaller quantities.

so the answer to your next question is... not really. however, making books is a great way to give gifts throughout the year or you can always donate the supplies to other book artists.

thanks for reading,

bookbinding supplies

Scrapbookers may have an edge when it comes to bookbinding on the cheap. Try scrapbook stores for acid-free chipboard or grungeboard (Yay Tim Holtz!) in place of the traditional daveyboard for your covers. It's cheaper, acid-free, and easier to punch holes through. Grungeboard is more flexible than regular chipboard, but both kinds take paint well and can be covered with paper or fabric.
Scrapbook stores also carry book rings (like the kind used in 3-ring binders), and various binding systems like the Zutter or 7 Gypsies wire binding machines.

I also have a couple of great books on the subject: Making Books by Hand and More Making Books by Hand, both by Peter and Donna Thomas. They give instructions for traditional cased-in hardbound books, but they also spend a lot of time on accordion bindings, Japanese stab bindings, and my all-time favorite. the dowel-spine portfolio. I highly recommend that binding for being inexpensive, simple to make, and an overall great technique. Materials came from the paper aisle at Hobby Lobby, the 1/4 inch dowel came from the model-building section, and the X-act knife I already had. No glue, no sewing, no board for the covers. Can't get any easier.

Yes it is cool stuff.

Yes it is cool stuff.


I echo the previous commenter. I really am looking forward to this series.

One small suggestion/request : Can you perhaps suggest tips during your series about how to adapt these techniques to make my own personalized albums. I am seriously thinking of making my own album instead of buying one.


the easiest way to adapt any

the easiest way to adapt any of these instructions is to cut the paper to match the size of the book you want. so if you want a full 8.5 x 11 book, you'll need to get 11x17 paper. or if you want to make an index card sized book you'd need to cut paper to match two cards wide or tall. (math fails me here as to what the correct dimensions are). most of the paper i get for my books comes in 12 x 12 which is "scrapbookers" paper, which can be easily cut to match most of the sizes i work with.

i have 3 more articles planned on bookbinding, the next 2 showing instructions for simple and intermediate books and a final article on adding cool little things into your books and what others are doing with it.

i'll even give you suggestions on how to incorporate these books into yer planners or hPDAs on the last article.

thanks for reading,

I've been looking at the

I've been looking at the articles here about the commonplace book, thinking I'd like to set something like that up for my daughter, with some moleskine-type pockets where she could store postcards and souvenirs.

Also would like to incorporate the tab pocket/calendar template
( designed by MHall into a booklet but don't see how it could be done--seems it would need really big paper if we'd have to print two sheets to a page--or is there another way to do it?

Thanks, and please keep the articles rolling--this is really helpful.

Maybe you can try these?

I love the idea of making a book for your daughter. An easy way to make BIG pockets is to take two sheets of paper and either tape 3 of the edges together and then bind that into your book as it's own signature or use pre-made envies of your choice (i like the old fashioned ones with the string to keep them closed, they're fun and come in all sorts of sizes and colors now) and then bind that into the book. I've seen many journal books recommend that you take books made for kids to kinko's and have them spiral bind the book with spiral bindings of colorful colors so that kids can lie the book flat when they scribble or write in them.

As to your tab pocket signautre question... I'm not sure what to recommend. I presume you want a full page calander, and if so, then you need to probably print on two sheets. OR you can size the template down to a more manageable size and then just tape or glue that calander into your book.

Thanks for reading and I hope my suggestions are helpful.

Tab Pockets

You woud need a big sheet of stock, but you could also use a legal folder.

A full legal folder won't fit in my printer, so I would probably alter the template in draw to eleminate the 1" infolding tab on one side of the pocket. Then I would mirror the template for the other side. Print out the two templates and paste on the the folder. Use the existing folder fold for the fold on the bottom and you are all set.


I must say that I'm really looking forward to these articles, too: it's something I've been wanting to learn about for years. I might even dig out some of my old leatherworking tools to make a nice leather cover and some accessories.

all my best,

For people who may not live

For people who may not live near many suppliers Daniel Smith can send bookbinding supplies any where in the world. They also have instructional books (i'm not sure if you'd recommend them, and a wide selection of paper aswell.) I am a bit of a klutz when it comes to sewing and pasting but this is always something I've wanted to try. I'll skip the leather work though... lately I feel too guilty to wear my old leather jacket. (Not quite a vegetarian yet though, but I haven't been able to eat pork ever since I saw Babe and heard that pigs cry real tears.)

Book Binding

If you would like to read some free bookbinding books online come visit


Wow... I'm getting interested in binding my own...

I've always been very interested in books, writing, and art/craft. I have a degree in design but I write in my businesses. Your information on bookbinding has really inspired me to bind my own soon... when I was in art school I was really into the papers for my projects.

Now that I'm an adult with 2 businesses, I still seek ways to be express the art inside of me as well as encourage writing (in self and others). I hope to begin creating some books soon so I can encourage friends and others, too. It would be great if we start a vast resurgence in writing, journalling, and art -- "viral" creativity!


Me too, Lauren. I've always

Me too, Lauren. I've always wanted to leave something written behind. The problem is that I don't really have the time now. I could surely use a job that pays me a year in advance :)). Putting joke aside, I can't wait to start my own book. Thanks guys!

I don't know what's gotten

I don't know what's gotten into me, but I really want to give book binding a try. I love journals, I love paper, I love good pencils, writing stuff down and i love Handmade Jewelry. And I notice that there are lots of folks who make journals and such -- but I want exactly what I want. :-) Plus, fabric-clad hardback books? What better way to use up some of my stash?

I love the design of your bookbinding. It's cute

Using a Blank Book as a Planner

Does anyone have any ideas of how to use a 500 page "antique library" blank book as a planner? I am attracted to these handmade creations with their beautiful bindings and find mainstream planners and diaries a bit sterile and not really useful for what I want which is part traditional planner, part diary, part journal and part scrapbook. I like the idea of having as many pages as I need for a particular day or idea but want the permanent binding. Adding a calendar has me stumped. I am considering starting by gluing in the daily Unschedule pages found on DIY as needed and just go from there.

Lots of people have drawn in

People have drawn in their own monthly view calendar pages into a Moleskine. That would keep the book from getting too thick with pages pasted in.

You could just date each page as you go along. I've seen someone do this, and it worked for her. She just dated the next day's page and if that day took up more than one page, that was ok. But it would be difficult to plan ahead with this system, unless you had some pages set aside for appointments and holidays etc and always referred to those pages before you set up an appointment. That could get tricky.

If you paste things in, that could make the book too thick. Maybe you could remove every fifth or every fourth page to allow for that. Or after you paste something in, you could remove the next page.

Planning Ahead

I hadn't thought of the glued in paper making the already very thick book even thicker .... thanks for that! Yes, dating each page may be the way to go .... Now, how do I plan ahead when I need to?

Planning Ahead

At the front or back of the book, write in one or two page per month calendars. Use these for your advance planning. When you date the pages, transfer any applicable appointments.

Yes, since my last post I

Yes, since my last post I have had that very thought to draw out monthly calendars at the front of the book and transfer whatever is needed from the dated pages. Thanks!

I paste in the daily pages

I do past a daily form in my journals, then just use as many pages as I need for the day. I really do like the flexibility. If you are worried about the thickness then I agree drawing in a simple todo/appointment schedule for the day. I've tried doing the weekly planning in the same journal by just taking a couple pages and putting a post-it tag to that part. Then I followed with the days. I got tired of this because I didn't want to start a new week if I wouldn't have enough pages for all the days of that week, and it felt wasteful to leave too many pages blank. So I stared doing weekly/monthly/etc stuff in a second planner -- the format of which changes every other month.

Custom-made stamp?

I saw something a while back (here? not sure... shoot, maybe I dreamed it...) that someone had a custom stamp made with all the "parts" they wanted in a planner, with a space for writing in the date. For example, they would take a blank Moleskine of the preferred size and have an appropriately-sized stamp made that had lines for to-do and time boxes down separate columns (similar to the page per day planner pattern).

You could have the stamp made to your specifications and then just stamp the first page of each new day (or week or whatever). You could leave the first (or last) couple of pages blank to use as an index.

Try the Scrapbookers

They have resources for custom stamping.
I'll Google a bit and get back to you
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Update: Found a site, it is expensive, but it can do the job

The stamp you want may cost in excess of $50

I tinkered around with their Stamp Design Wizard and created a 3" by 3" stamp for which they want to charge $42

(dang! I need to spellcheck)
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Stamping for Productivity

That's a lot for a stamp, but then again... that's what addictions/fetishes/etc. are for, I guess...!! If you wanted to go all out, there's always the Home Stamp Kit at

Alternatively, I know there are made some stamps that print a simple grid, I think we used to use something like that in lab notebooks (back in the dark ages) for quick graphs and such (come to think of it, maybe that's where I got the idea...).

Here's a place that has various sorts of grid stamps 4" x 5 1/4" for $15.00 - maybe something like that would work.

This teachers' website has all sorts of interesting things for this **most dangerous** time of the year... :^} This page of math stamps has some very interesting grids, 1" and 2" clock faces, fraction circles, etc. I can think of all sorts of fun applications! I might just toddle down to the local teachers' supply place tomorrow and see what they're hiding down there.... !!

Good Idea

The rubber stamp is a clever idea!

There was a stamp printer once

There was a printer a few years ago, that could print output from your computer to any surface (paperbag, napkin, cards, your wall, etc). I think it was inkjet technology, it printed to a limited size, in black and white only.
I will see if I still have the link somewhere. At the time I hoped they would eventually release drivers for portable devices like Palm, etc, as I did not see a point to a portable printer without a portable computer. Not sure if it is still being sold.

Adding LInes to a Blank Page

What is an effective way to turn a blank page in a bound book to a ruled or lined page when needed?

Not my idea...

I purchased some unlined journals that came with a separate lined page. It doesn't add any lines to my page, but being able to see the lines through the page I'm writing on works just as well, at least for me.

Turning a blank page into a lined page

3 words: Ames lettering guide.
It's an old school drafting tool, and I used one when I did calligraphy in the SCA.
You can set it to any line width you need. Stick your pencil in a hole, butt the bottom up against a straightedge, and away you go.

Useful product for the

Useful product for the purpose of drawing parallel lines in a drafting situation or if you can remove the page from its binding and put it back. Could be awkward to use if the page in question is fixed in its binding. Bob H.

Rubber stamp, maybe?

Back when I was researching for a book,I had a 3" X 5" rubber stamp made up with a "template" for the book details I needed to capture for citations. Basically it was a bunch of labeled lines to remind me to make a note of publication year, edition, and other such boring stuff that otherwise I often forgot.

Yes, you could print this same stuff directly, but my printer is inconsistent on handling index cards. The rubber stamp was super easy to use (btw, when you get a larger stamp, be sure it is put on a 'rocking' type mount, makes getting the full imprint much easier) and I would simply stamp out a few dozen cards during a commercial break or the like.

Anyway, I bet you could get a 'lined' rubber stamp made up easily, for whatever size you need. No, you wouldn't be able to print all the way into the binding, but do you write there? Most of us leave a gutter anyway.


Nice article.