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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



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Monday, August 29, 2016

years ending in 6 have been good... part 2


It all really started in the late 1800s when so many Scandinavians moved to Seattle that English wasn’t even spoken in some neighborhoods and households. Norwegians, mainly, who moved there to do what they had done in Norway: fish.

My grandmother, born in Minnesota, moved to Seattle in 1901 when she was two. She spoke only Norwegian at home, with friends, shopping—until she started school—all Norwegian.

So many Scandinavians moved to Washington State that part of the charter for the University of Washington required the school to have a Scandinavian Department. The charter calls for, not just a few classes covering that part of the world, but a whole department.

Another result of this migratory influx was that my high school offered Swedish as a foreign language. I took it for three years. Swedish appealed to me because my father’s father came from Sweden (settling in Denver), while my mother’s four grandparents were from Norway.  Norwegian was taught at Ballard.  Danish was also available at a high school, but I can’t remember where.

Because of my high school Swedish classes, I managed to be in the receiving team to greet the king of Sweden when he came to Seattle. Didn’t actually shake his hand, but if I remember right, I wore platform shoes, just to be extra fancy. I certainly didn’t cut my hair, though.

After high school I attended the University of Washington and took Scandinavian classes—mostly because they were smaller than classes in my major. I accidentally took enough classes to get a degree. Anyway, as an undergrad at Washington I spent a semester in Linköping, which is not pronounced “Link-o-ping,” as my wife believes, but “Lynn-shipping,” as the Swedes say. Linköping happens to be the very town from which my grandfather had emigrated illegally. There I met Lasse who is still my dearest friend, even though he is so inconsiderate in that he and Maria have the nerve to live about ten thousand miles from Arizona. I love them, but clearly they are bad people. Well, just for that reason.

I loved it there.

Fast forward to 1992, when I finished at North Bennet Street. My goal upon graduating was to get more training but without having to pay for it. First I wanted to take the time to relearn everything we had covered in school, which I did in my evenings for a few years. After I had gotten comfortable with most of what we had covered at NBSS, I applied to several grants to study in Sweden somewhere.

In 1996 it happened. Thanks to the graciousness of Per Cullhed and Lars Munkhammar (and the Fulbright program) I had the opportunity to work and study in the library at Uppsala University. Their graciousness was equally spread amongst the others in the lab: Adam Larsson, Lars Bjordal, Bosse Carlsson and Åke. (Åke was 63 at the time and had started in the field when he was 13!) It was a fantastic year amongst even more fantastic people, in a great country. Even taking the wrong bus en route to Linköping was kind of fun. Ended up in Lidköping. Clearly my Swedish wasn’t so great.

It was the year that made everything else possible. What did I do? I made books, studied structures, laughed, swore in Swedish because it didn’t sound like swearing to me, went to Helsinki and Copenhagen, and made more books. I also bought as many books as I could afford. At the end of the year, one of the other Fulbrighters told me that I was the only one of us who had done what I set out to do. I think that was probably true, but it was only true because the folks who hosted me, helped me do it.

One example is shown here with Bosse teaching me proper safety practices in a conservation lab:

People ask me what the year in Sweden was like and I tell them this story, which perfectly sums up the spirit of the entire year: By the end of the year, my finances were smaller than slim. When packing to come home, I tried to get a bunch of stuff into three suitcases each less than 30 kilos (maybe it was 25, not sure). Gave everything else away. I knew I’d have to pay for the third bag, and probably for all the bags, which were overweight a tad—a real concern given my empty pockets. When Lasse and I got in line at the airport a man walked up and asked where I was going. Seattle, I said. He said, Come with me. We lugged my bags over and set them down next to a counter. The computers had just gone down, he said, and they weren’t charging for extra bags or extra weight. I just had to weigh the suitcases and put them on the conveyor. Pretty much the whole year was like that.

After finishing, I went back to the University of Washington and began working part time so that I could do more private work. I was looking forward to doing that for years. The Mendery at Washington was a nice place to be—gave me great experience and I got football tickets. The Huskies were even good at the time. I was preparing to work at UW half time and looking forward to that arrangement very much. There was lots of interesting work up in Seattle for private practice.

But then, and I think because of the time in Sweden, NBSS called and asked me to run the bookbinding department. I went out for an interview, it all worked out, and then I flew back to Seattle where I spent the final few weeks working until two or three in the morning to finish off my private work, Mendery work, and pack. Slept a few hours a night; managed to keep eating. It was a bit tiring but an exciting time. Early August I drove out in a rental truck to a new life.

Taught at NBSS for almost ten years. Probably should have moved on in 2006 to keep up the decade theme, but we moved to the desert in 2007 instead. A move that was possible because of my time in Sweden. A Fulbright carries some weight, even if folks don’t really know what it was for.

During my time in Massachusetts, I helped get Adam over here to teach; first at NBSS and helped some on a grand tour, maybe cracked opened some doors for him. I was able to see Per and Bosse when they came over for meetings. And for several years students from NBSS went to Uppsala for a couple of months in the summer. They all loved being there as much as I had.  And when I think about that year those are the things that I'm happiest about.

One really nice thing that reminded me of it all happened last Spring when I was teaching in San Francisco. I saw that someone I’ve never even met was teaching a binding technique that I had brought back from Sweden. I had taught it to Juliayn, who had taught it to them, and they were now teaching it to others.

That’s what the year 1996 was really about, after all. It wasn’t so much about me spending time in Sweden, but more about sharing knowledge across borders. And that’s what it did to a T. But I’ll take all the other benefits as well . . . .

And to think it all started with Norwegian fishermen heading out of Ballard looking for salmon a hundred years ago.

Monday, August 22, 2016

I can see clearly now, the schmutz is gone

I kept having friends complain about the state of my glasses and wondering how I could see anything.  The problem was that I didn't have time to get new ones and I don't really enjoy doing all that anyway so I kept putting it off.

The problem was this:


Part of my reason for not moving ahead was that I wanted to know what had happened to cause this.  I have never had this problem before and didn't want to spend good money and have it happen again.

The glasses were bought at Costco. When I went there and asked the guy why this had happened he said it was because I probably sweat on them and it destroyed the coatings.  Look, I work hard as a binder and conservator but I don't really sweat much in doing the work.  I don't like to turn the A/C on until it gets to about 80 or so but still I'm not sweating.

I have, in my life, done real work where I did sweat and my glasses didn't react this way.  One summer I repaired a pier on the Seattle waterfront.  Replacing the flooring of a parking area with pieces of 12" x 16" x 10 foot long pieces of wood that had to be cut with a chain saw to fit.  It was fun.  The only concern was falling into the water 30 feet below but at that point in my life that would have just been a big laugh.  

I knocked out the old pieces, dropping them into the water below, cut replacement pieces with the chain saw, placed them and then used spikes to hold them in place before applying asphalt over the top.  It was really fun, beautiful weather and tourists watching from the ferry terminal on the next pier over made me want to give them a bit of a show.

The point is that I sweated a lot and still didn't have this happen to my glasses.

So, I'm in Seattle getting my eyes checked and asked the guy why it happened.  His response was, "Do you work with chemicals?  The fumes can cause this to happen."

AHA!  That actually makes sense. But I didn't know that chemical fumes could cause that kind of damage to lenses.

I don't have a fume hood, instead I have a portable device that sucks air away from what I'm working on and filters it.  Sometimes I'll just work outside, there's no one within a hundred yards of where I'm working so I don't think I'm hurting anyone.  Still this exposes my glasses to more fumes than if I had a hood.  (Though I should say I'm not using anything that's crazily toxic.)

But mainly, I'm going to be using my old glasses for this kind of work.  And keeping my new ones away from the  chemicals.  Hopefully they'll last longer that way. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cash across the water, cash across the sea....

The Interweb is a great thing. It removes borders and boundaries and makes everything accessible to all. Or at least to those who have computers and an Internet connection. For bookbinders and conservators that means that we can order and use the best materials from across the globe regardless of where they originate and wherever we are.

I'm grateful that I can order from Colophon Book Arts Supply and have it appear on my doorstep. It's wonderful. Same for Chena River Marblers, Hiromi, Hollander’s, Ernest Schaeffer, Talas and others. This is how it’s possible to make a living binding and conserving books while living on the backside of a desert mountain range.

But I think that we sometimes forget the benefits of buying directly from sources across the pond.

Both Harmatan and Hewit sell directly to customers in the States. I think most of us know this but don’t take advantage of it as often as we should. Most of us know Harmatan and Hewit from Standards, or various other venues around the country. Marc Lamb is at Harmatan and David Lanning is at Hewit.

Harmatan sells goatskins in a wide range of colors and in nine finishes. Hewit sells calf, goat, alum tawed, pigskins, and vellum plus equipment and supplies. Go to their sites and look around.  Have your credit card handy—you’ll want to use it.

None of this is new, or unknown, of course.  Everyone knows both companies make great skins.  I think that most of the skins I’ve used since I started this about 26 years ago has come from those two companies.  We also all know that Marc and David are great people.  And we know we can buy direct, but many don’t. 

It seems clear that Brexit has done a number on them, well, all of the UK.  Who knew that shooting yourself in the foot might not be the best idea?? Gee, maybe you google it before you vote.  Maybe?

But it also has done something for us, in the stronger dollar next to the pound.  It’s like Brexit put everything in England on sale.  Funny thing is that even with the “sale” situation it benefits them if we buy from them even at our reduced price.

I think what discourages people from ordering directly is concern about shipping charges. But last week I ordered one yard of book cloth from Talas and the charges were $21.50 for the cloth and $18.47 for shipping. I'm not saying that Talas isn't justified to charge so much to ship one yard of cloth—they need to stay in business.  What I’m saying is that you can't look at shipping charges from England and assume the charges within the States will be much less.  You’re going to be stunned when you see how much it costs to ship a bone folder across a dozen states.

David says, "Shipping rates to the United States are very competitive, so should not come as too much of a shock to the wallet." Maybe I should order a yard of book cloth from Hewit and see what it would be. Harman’s rates for leathers are also reasonable and fair. Marc says he recently sent a 12-skin order over here for $90.

To me there are two main advantages from buying directly.

 Available stock. How many green Harmatan Fine Leather skins do you think a domestic distributor has in stock? Or how many red Hewit Chieftan skins? The selection is going to be much better at the factory. If you want a fire engine red Chieftan of a certain size, the folks in Scotland will be able to look through more skins, probably from differently dye lots too, to find the color you're looking for.  Skins come in different sizes so more choices can help there as well. Here's a picture from Harmatan showing what they had around when the class stopped by for a visit several years ago. Enough to make you either drool, or plunge into a life of crime.

Secondly, they both offer the ability to modify or select the thickness of the skins. Why not just get skins the thickness you want without having to buy them and then send them off to a splitter? Hewit will shave skins down as requested. Harmatan will split them.

Both companies sell a variety of skins for a variety of purposes. They also make it very easy to buy across currencies. Did I already mentioning that with the current political situation in England the pound is really low, so it’s almost like everything over there is on sale. Take advantage!

Hewit also sells all kinds of other stuff as well, including leather dye. The Hewit leather dye is fantastic, light-stable, and easy to use. I talked with the author of a study of leather dyes who said that Hewit dyes are the best ones available in the States.  (The way I use it is shown in this YouTube video:  ) 

 Hewit also sells finishing tools, glaire, paper, cloth, other tools and equipment, really everything you’d need to do binding. It’s a great resource.

Harmattan has chosen to stick only to leathers, but what a selection. 

Of course it will take a bit longer to get your order from the UK unless you choose the fast, expensive option. We in the Guild would love it if you would buy directly from them is to buy from them at Standards. It's in Charleston in a few weeks and in Tacoma in 2017.

Heck, Hewit will sell you leather for your bagpipes. I bet if you buy enough of them they’ll send you a kilt for free. Or at least a can of Haggis.

Their sites are:

And, finally, probably the new British national anthem:  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Title stamping with a Kensol

As I posted earlier I bought my Kensol through an auction for around $275.

It was easy enough to die stamp, using the honeycomb chase that came with it. But when I started looking into doing multi-line stamping I was a bit shocked. It was going to cost me about four times the price of the machine to do some titling on books. I wasn’t interested.

To my understanding the method is to place type in these pallets:

These pallets are then placed into a chase:

I believe this is to allow for proper centering and alignment. But it also allowed for spending too much money, which didn’t interest me. You’d need one pallet for each line and then the chase to put them in. The ability to do five lines would be a bit over 750 bucks with shipping. And that would be for one font size. You’d really need a set for every size of type, to my understanding.

I’d stick with my Kwikprint for titling. It worked perfectly fine.

Then I started thinking about what they had used in Sweden. I looked through my pictures, but had never photographed their method for putting type in a chase. Still, it gave me an idea.

A block of aluminum isn’t all that expensive. I went to Grainger and found aluminum that would be the right size, and it was well under a hundred dollars. Around that time a friend came by and we were talking about it. He’s this insanely nice guy who seems to think that my problems are his problems.

He said he’d take some scrap aluminum he had and would mill it down to whatever dimensions I wanted. I wanted it the size of my dovetail mount, so about 5 x 8 inches.

This is what I ended up with. All I had to do was drill out and tap in a couple of screws to attach it to the dovetail.

To allow for full use, my friend milled the corners like this:

Then I went back to Grainger and bought aluminum to use as spacers and fillers, which I cut to size.

When it’s set up it looks like this. The key is to have enough spacers to even out the lengths of the lines. It also helps to put strips of paper along each line to even out any microscopic differences in the sizes of the type. If you don’t do that, letters will fall out. Lastly, you need to put pretty good pressure on the type or it will fall out. But not like Superman pressure. More like Lois Lane pressure.

I center the lines using a ruler, which seems like it would take forever but goes pretty quickly.

I have two thicknesses of spacers.

The thin one is .4 mm and I’ll often double or triple up on it and still not equal the thickness of the thicker spacer which is 1.6 mm.  

Obviously, you can line up the titling any way you want. There are many ways to do it. If I’m only doing one or two books, I’ll make up a piece of binder’s board and place it on the book where I want it. Then I’ll push the book until it just touches it on two sides, clamp the book down, and stamp. Works great, and is really quick.

This is aligning the type. It might look harder than it is.

I’m sure there are other ways to stamp multiple lines on a Kensol that don’t involve buying a dozen or so backbone pallets and a chase or two, but this way worked for me and for only a bit over $200 or so. A machinist could do this easily and for not much money, so that shouldn’t scare you off.

But, for me, figuring this out showed me that it’s nice to have friends. And Grainger.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Our neighbor was a big time photographer with more than 500 magazine covers in his career. He was hired regularly to shoot corporate officers and other images for annual reports at ridiculously high daily rates. Well, he was very, very good at what he did so it was worth it to them! The NFL also hired him and he photographed the first 30 Super Bowls.  He was the first to put a camera in a hockey goal during a game, running the shutter release under the ice to the penalty box where he sat.  He did a television commercial.  He did it all. He has amazing stories, to say the least.

He had a thriving career and then digital photography came along. His expectation was that the business would peter out over a period of years but instead it plunged and he was done. He moved to Arizona and onto his favorite thing in the world—rattlesnakes. During his time here he has written several books on them, photographs them, studies them, and loves them. He’s the one who catches them when we spot one and takes them safely away.

But the point is this: When digital photography came around anyone could take or create a decent picture. No longer was proper lighting essential. The image could be lightened in Photoshop. Composition could be altered later. Heck, even the pyramids could be moved if they needed to be closer.  Technology replaced knowledge and skill.

Being a one-person shop, I do the conservation, binding, and teaching. I love the diversity. I’m also the accountant, the guy who answers the phone, and the shipping department. I really enjoy it all.

But I’m also the web site programmer. Funny, because I’m a bookbinder and all I know about coding is that it uses 1 and 0.

When I started out I used iWeb, Apple’s web program. It was really the best of Apple in that it took a rather complicated task and made it amazingly simple. Drag and drop, resize on the screen, move stuff around, add page links, and it would write the code for it all. I still think it was the best thing Apple ever did—taking a complicated task and simplifying it to a seemingly impossible degree.

After a few years, though, Apple announced they were going to stop developing it. I suppose because there were other options out in the world. Though folks are still using iWeb today, it didn’t make sense to stick with it because without updates one could never be sure it would continue to be compatible with newer operating systems.

I moved on to a program called Freeway. It was a bit harder to wade through, but it was also drag and drop, WYSIWYG. Though more complicated than iWeb, Freeway had more features and allowed me to make a site with more useful pages. Folks could sign up for my email list. I could sell t-shirts, and other stuff. I liked it very much.

And then those damn iPhones came along.

Then websites needed to be responsive.

Responsive means that sites need to resize and reorient themselves to fit the size and shape of each device. It is a great thing because it doesn't make sense to use an iPhone to look at a site that built for a screen ten times the size.

This complicated things with Freeway. One could make a site where each chunk of information took up x percentage of the screen, so that the chunks would shrink with smaller screens. But then things might do crazy things like move to places you didn’t want them. I remember spending a few hours trying to get my footer to stay in place at the bottom of a screen to keep my icons in the proper location and properly orientated to each other. (The icons were to my Facebook page, this blog, email and my YouTube channel.) Hours.  Other had a much easier time, for me it was enough just keeping my head above water.

But still I liked Freeway in spite of all the frustrations. Maybe it was the satisfaction of having solved problems after fighting it for a spell of time.  But the interface was pretty confusing to me, or not as clear or intuitive as one expects a program for a Mac to be.

One curious thing was that while the basic program was pretty limited, users (who could program) would write “actions,” which were free, to make Freeway do things that seemed pretty essential.  And most of the support was from a gracious group of users who answered questions on a discussion board.  They did most of the support and teaching and without any compensation.  And, it turns out, many of them didn't use Freeway any more because it was too limited for them, or they just used parts of it and did their own programming for the majority of their work.  The program didn't satisfy the iWeb refugees, because it was a bit too complicated, or the folks who were fairly advanced, because it was too limited in what it could do.  Looking back these issues were a bit of a problem.

But still Freeway served me well.

Until in early July, when I was in Seattle. Freeway announced they were going out of business. As with iWeb, the program would still work, of course. But when Apple releases a new operating system this Fall, it seems likely that parts of the site will break and there will be no one to release patches and updates to keep it running.

My web site is my only advertising. It needs to work.

Looking around I tried a few programs and decided on Sparkle.

It’s fantastic—and so much easier than Freeway. Perhaps easier than iWeb was, but with many, many more features. I wonder if I don’t feel like a recently freed North Korean citizen who found himself in Seoul. They loved their country until they saw something else that was almost unimaginably better for them.   That might be their biggest challenge.

I loved Freeway, but this is better for me.  Freeway could make almost any site. Sparkle can do almost all of what Freeway Pro could do but with 10% of the effort and time.

Sparkle is just so much more intuitive and more than flexible enough for me. There are some limitations with it, like ecommerce is done through external pages, but I haven't found much more lacking than that. I mean, it wouldn't work for a bank web site but I think for 95% of web site builders out there this is the perfect solution.

Making the site is literally as simple as using Pages, or Word.  Drag and drop, WYSIWYG, links are easy, adding video and audio files are a breeze.  One can do incredible things with it without breaking a sweat.

What sold me on the program was that it wasn't dependent on templates, though they have several free templates available.  I know what I wanted each page to look like and was able to do it without having to contort to fit into someone else's idea or design.  And it wasn't built on piecing together blocks of elements to make a page.  I wanted the freedom that Sparkle gave me.

Now my site is pretty simple by design. It’s a place for potential clients to understand what I do and why I do it. Most don’t really know much about repair and are a hesitant-to-uncertain how to approach the idea of having someone go at their family heirloom Bible.  As a result I have a 60 page site where folks can learn all they want about binding, repair and conservation.

And that problem I had with my footer in Freeway that took hours?  It took about ten minutes with Sparkle.

Though a simple site it still has a bit of bling!  Sparkle makes is insanely simple to add animation to text and images, which I've done when I want to be sure folks see something on a page.  Still, my site is pretty much text and pictures and videos. But I’ve seen sites done with Sparkle that would make Vegas proud. It can do so much more than how I use it. They have links to some amazing sites on Sparkle's homepage. Go look at them. []

You can also see lots of how-to videos on YouTube, including the best ones which are here:

But I doubt you'll need to see many of them if you've done anything in Pages or Word.  I used one to make a sticky header, so that took probably five minutes to figure out how to do.  And then one minute to actually do it.  It's crazy, in a great way.

There were two things I had problems with during the couple of weeks it took to transfer it over. One of them was because I was using a Freeway mindset and way over complicated things. The other was something that was unfamiliar to me.  I'd email the guy there and hear back very quickly with the simple answers to my questions. I think he's in Florence, probably going to all the sites where they filmed "A Room With A View."  I would if I was there.  Instead, though, he's sitting by his computer answering questions from users.  Quickly and clearly.

Another reason I like it is that it's a freestanding program so I don't have to use their hosting service which is the case for many simple web programs.  I want more control than that.  And many of them seem template driven.  Believe me I looked all over the place before jumping into Sparkle.

When I would go back to Freeway after not touching it for several months it would take me several minutes to figure out what to do again. That always kind of surprised me. Granted the documentation was great but just to change a photo I had to go through a process of “How do I do this again?”  I'd pull out their documentation, read, remember what I did and then go do it.  Not intuitive enough for an an iWeb refugee it seems.

Well, not any more. I highly recommend Sparkle. Very highly.

Thinking about our neighbor and the demise of needing to know something about photography to create a beautiful photograph, it must be hard to be a web developer these days if programs like this are around where you don't need to know how to program to make a great web site. We live in a world where bookbinders can make pretty much make any web site they can imagine without any real help, and without any knowledge of coding or other technical issues. Image what someone from a less Luddite-friendly field could do! Progress for us. Not so much fun for developers. But perhaps their field has shrunk and morphed into complicated sites, which might be a good thing for them. More interesting and probably better-paying.

But for me, it’s amazing to have programs like Sparkle that make things so simple and easy. I’d probably like it even more if I was more aware of all the work and knowledge it was freeing me from having to learn.

To learn more:

A follow up post is here: