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About Me

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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!).



Monday, August 27, 2012

We can be cool, too. (At least sometimes.)

 There's not too much in binding and conservation that would make us popular at parties.  Well, hardly anything actually.

But there is one thing that would, at least temporarily, make us part of the cool crowd:  paper splitting.

Basically paper splitting is taking a sheet of paper and splitting it in half.  Not tearing it in half, but splitting it in half so that a piece of reinforcing japanese paper can be inserted to strengthen the paper and make it usable again.  Needless to say it's pretty intrusive, and can be a bit nerve wracking, but under the right circumstances, and where there really isn't any other option it's fantastic in its utter amazingness.

This is a sheet of paper from a book of mine that I started working on about seven years ago.  I repaired it and resewed it, but the paper was so brittle that just touching the edges of the paper resulted in pieces breaking off resulting in a wave of anguish and despair.  The answer was (can you guess?) to split the pages and I've finally gotten to it.

Here is a page in the "before" state.  If you enlarge it I think you can see how fragile it is, especially along the fold where the sewing had been.  Really, I think if you look really hard at the page it'll break, and I think you should try that now.  It might take a few minutes, I'll wait.

The first step is to use a water soluble, heat activated  glue to attach two sheets of paper on either side of the bad paper.  I've been using kraft paper and hide glue.  It is preferable to use gelatin, actually, but I have a pot of hide glue sitting around so that's what I've been using.  First I glue out the page itself and lay it on the kraft paper, then I glue out the second side of the page and lay a second piece of kraft paper on top making a sandwich, where kraft paper is the bread and the page is the filling.

The key is to thin out the hide glue so that it doesn't tear the paper when it is brushed on.  You  need to work pretty quickly, and try to keep it off your fingers.  Or else your fingers will end up sticking to everything you touch.

After that step you put this sandwich in a press for a few hours.  Some say it should dry completely, but I have found with this that it's ready to go in three or four hours in the press.  I think a bit of moisture helps the paper to split, at least it's seemed that way.

You start at one corner and pull the kraft papers apart from each other and it starts doing this:

You just keep pulling and it ends up with what you see in the next two pictures.  You can see the text on the left side - except you are looking from the inside of the paper so the text would appear reversed. Most often one side comes off a bit more than the other, but not always and it doesn't matter if it does.

Again, you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.  Here is what a compete split looks like.  The kraft paper extends beyond the page on one end and acts like a hinge so that they will line up exactly right when they are reattached.  Again on the left is one side of the paper, the other on the right.  There obviously is a bit more of the page on the right side, since you can't see the text on that side.  No big whoop.

A piece of thin Japanese paper is then inserted between the pages, using paste.  This is a special paper I bought some time ago from Hiromi which I used, well, because I had it around and I thought it would work well.  And I think it does.  The key is that it doesn't really need to be all that heavy of a paper in order to make a significant difference in the final result.  (I think was about 15 g per sq. meter.)

Here is the page after the Japanese paper has been inserted.  You can see it extends beyond the page, it'll get trimmed later.

Next I'll remove the excess.  Not all of it because I can't see the page I'm splitting but I  get pretty close.

The last step is to remove the kraft paper.  Remember it was a heat activated, water soluble glue that I used to attach the kraft paper.  So I boil some water and pour it into a tray. Then I pour in more water so that it is a bit cooler (I shoot for around 140 - 150 degrees, measuring it with my infared thermometer). Then I put the sandwich in and within two or three seconds the hide glue releases leaving just the page with the japanese paper inside.  

I take it out and press it under some weights, since it is likely that the paste will be a bit softened and I want to make sure it stays adhered.

It ends up looking pretty much like it did at the start of the process, except it is infinitely stronger.

There actually is a long history of doing this.  Bookbinding manuals from around 1900 describe the process, and the East Europeans did it a lot probably because so much of their paper was so bad it was the only way to preserve it.  There are also machines which completely automate the process but what's the fun of that?

I was shown it by Per Cullhed.  I don't think he used it to pick up women, but he could have.

It really would be a great parlor trick and could have completely transformed my experience in high school by making me, at least for a few minutes, one of the cool crowd.  Oh well, when I do this in the barn these days I'm sure the rabbits and other wildlife outside are really, really impressed.  I think I even heard an appreciative rattle after one particularly nice split.  And you know what?  It was nice to hear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dust making 101

We had another really fun week at the bindery.  Though the class was held during the day I can't resist posting this photo of the bindery taken during open studio night this week.  Pretty amazing sky, in spite of the lack of clouds.

The class was on making a half leather binding.  Working with leather is one of the most fun things to do in binding.  Whether you want to make modern fine bindings or historic models, knowing how to work with leather is an essential skill.  This class was an introduction to working with this wonderful material.

But, I was a little unsure how to do the class, frankly.  My idea was to give the students the option of making a book using either a spokeshave or a paring machine to make their book.  However, I wasn't sure at all how long it would take students to get good enough at either of them to make a successful binding.


Leather comes too thick to be used on bindings.  That means that it needs to be pared down.  There are a few ways of doing that, but the most common are to use a paring machine (like a Brockman or a Scharf-fix, see picture below) or to use a spokeshave.  Neither of them is exactly a walk in the park, but not the most difficult thing you'll do in your life either.  

So, you could say the class wasn't a leather binding class, it was a leather dust creation class.

Eventually I decided to show the students both methods and see if they couldn't do two bindings in a week.  It could not have gone better.  The first day of the class they forwarded two books (sewed, rounded and backed, and sewed end bands on them).  On Tuesday we spend the day paring leather using the Brockman paring machine.  

It works really, really well and the students hit it out of the park.  We had that book done by Wednesday.  Before we had finished that book we had moved onto spokeshaving leather.  Using a spokeshave on leather can be a bit intimidating, but it is only a difficult thing to do if you spokeshave isn't extremely sharp.  First, the spokeshave needs to be modified, both the handle and the blade.  But that just takes time and a bit of knowledge.  

Then the blade needs to be sharpened.  So sharp that if you drop the blade it sinks 4 inches into concrete.  So sharp that when you run around the room with it you hear atoms splitting.  You get the idea.

I had a 4000 grit Japanese water stone wheel that fit on my Tormek grinder and it did a stunning job finishing off the edge of one student's spokeshave.  Stunning is probably an understatement.  Really, spokeshaving is as much about sharpening as paring.  

You can buy it already sharp and modified from Jeff Peachey.  Here is his:

It's fantastic that Jeff offers these ready to go, but you still have to know how to sharpen blades is you are going to use it.  Like everything else in binding, you can't avoid learning the fundamentals.  Like sharpening.

They both took to the spokeshave with surprising ease and success.  That meant that they were able to easily finish two books by Friday.  Which I wasn't at all sure was possible.  In fact, they were well on their way to their third and fourth books by the time the class ended.

As part of the class, we also blind tooled the spine and covers.  Here is Camille tooling the spine:

And Camille's third book from the class:

In the class we also pared leather to make a label for the books, using the Kwikprint to stamp a title.  Then we used our French knives to pare the edges, which is really, really fun to do. You have to pare the edges without reducing the overall size of the label.  I really enjoy it, and I hope that rubbed off on the students.  I think it did.  Sort of.

Here are the two books I made during the class.  The top one I pared with the spokeshave. (I forget to photograph the student's books, unfortunately.)

Needless to say it was an extremely gratifying and fun class and I look forward to teaching it again, probably early next year.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

You know, I don't really think I'm working for you

Books have been, and are, such a constant presence in our lives.  I don't think I have known anyone who didn't have at least one book, and I have known many people who have had hundreds and hundreds of them.

As a binder, what has surprised me is that none of them have any idea how books function, or how they are made.  I suppose that's because it's not a common subject, and they didn't know they were interested in bookbinding until they met a binder or saw a bindery.

I firmly believe that people, in general, know more about how cars function than they know how books are intended to work. Consider how much more complicated cars are than books!  How many more parts make up a car!

I would also say that they have no idea of how books are repaired, or even what a good or bad repair is.

That was certainly true of myself.  I was working in an archives, mainly working in a darkroom copying and duplicating glass place negatives, when I was asked if I would fix a couple of books.  Not valuable books, of course.  They gave me a manual by Jane Greenfield, and my boss walked me through a repair.

I was left with a repair I felt was horrible, but I had no idea what a good repair was.  It actually kept me awake at night, I felt so bad for the books.  Even though the bindings had no value before the repair, and all I was doing was helping to preserve the content, I couldn't live with myself repairing books that way.

At that point I wanted to learn how to do it right, whatever that was.  After calling around I found out about the North Bennet Street school.  (How did I find them? I called the Massachusetts Department of Vocational Education!  They had one listing for bookbinding!)  I visited the school and the instructor at the time showed me a book he had fixed.  A light went off.

Almost immediately I made plans to quit that job and go to school.  I had to.

The point of this, though, is that people have brought me books to repair for about 20 years now and few of them really know what they want, or what to expect.  Will the book look new?  Will be it function again but still look it's age and show its use?  How long will the repair last?  I suspect many have these questions somewhere in their head, but lurking in their subconscious.  Few ask.

That leads them, at times, to ask for repairs which are ethical and proper to do, but not really the best thing for the book.  Explaining that to them can be difficult, and cost is very often a limiting factor.  Of course.  There are so many ways to approach a book repair.

After I graduated from NBSS and started repairing books at home, moonlighting from my job fixing books at Washington, I struggled a bit with how to proceed with these kinds of book repair. What was the right thing to do with them?

I decided my mantra would be that I would do the work the current owner's grandchildren would wish that I had done.  Whether the client is paying for that level of work or not.  (Hopefully they are.)

So the first question I ask myself when presented with a broken book is just that.  And it's been very helpful in sorting out treatment options to present to the clients.  What's great is that it answers every question.  Should I clean off this tomato stain, or coffee cup ring on the cover?  What should I do with these totally destroyed cover boards?

The answer lies in this:  would the grandchild of the client find any of that helpful in understanding either the book or their ancestors?  The wear of a cover can often say a lot about how the book was used, how often it was used, etc.  Book archeology!

The beauty of this question is that it's completely comprehensible to the clients.  It gives them a perspective from which they can make the right decisions.

Assessing  books when working for collectors or book dealers is  completely different.  The latter want their books detailed in the same way one would detail a used car for sale.  Hopefully not quite as superficially as is done with cars, but often the work is just that.  For collectors it's a completely different esthetic.

But for everyday folks with their favorite books, just imagine their grandchildren in forty or fifty years and ask them.   They'll know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fixor feedback

When I made the large batch of the homemade fixor a few months ago I sent some bottles out to a few friends for them to try.  Though the bottles looked cool in my fridge, it made more sense to pass them around and find out what others thought of the stuff, and whether we all could just not have to buy the weird Fixor that Talas is currently selling.

Today I heard back from Mark Esser, who has finally had a chance to try it.  His comments are:

"I wanted to let you know that I've tried your homemade shellac glair and it works beautifully!

I tooled three side-by-side lines. One was real Fixor diluted 1:3, which is what I've found works best for me (that's 1 part Fixor to 3 parts water). The second line was your glair used straight and the third was your glair diluted 1:1. I regret not trying this experiment before I began tooling my current fine binding. I had anticipated that the best possible result would be equivalence between the commercial Fixor and the homemade, but I actually prefer yours, especially when diluted 1:1. It really is better!"

Mark's "real Fixor" was the liquid, normal Fixor not the gel Fixor I received from them.

This homemade fixor works well for me, but I wanted to know how it was working for others before I was going to be completely confident in the stuff.  When you are from Seattle and see how the Mariners current players don't play anywhere near as well as they did on their previous team, and how their former players tear up the league, it creates a life outlook that is always searching for confirmation and certainty.  Now I think I have it.

Now we can discuss Chone Figgins.  Tino Martinez.  Steve Balboni.  Or not.

Once again, it is worth noting that it is because of  Peter Garrity that we know this recipe.

The recipe and the story behind this episode are in the blog postings listed below.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The perfect baby gift

When three of my nieces and nephews were going to have children very close together we had to decide what to give them as a baby gifts.  To me the key phrase in that sentence is "baby gift."  A gift for the baby.  As opposed to a gift for the new parents.  It always seemed to me that giving baby clothes was a gift for the parents, which is fine - there's nothing wrong with giving gifts to new parents, but then call it a parent gift, not a baby gift.

My idea, and Diane agreed, was to give each child a drop spine box like this one, with their name on the cover:

Inside we filled it:

In each box was a New York Times and a Seattle Times, from their birthday, along with eight or so magazines that were on the news stands when the child was born.  We picked magazines which would cover culture, fashion, sports, computers, technology, news, music and others we thought would be of interest.  I think Diane put an architecture magazine in one of them!  We tried to think of magazines that would evidence the greatest change over the next fifty, or hundred, years.

What I particularly like about it is this:  it's kind of worthless now, it's just a bunch of magazines.  But in thirty years it'll start being kind of interesting.  In fifty years it'll be pretty cool, and in a hundred years it'll be amazing.

At least we hope!

To make the box I made a drop spine box the size of the newspapers and then infilled the lower part of it so that the magazines wouldn't jostle around too much.  And that's the important thing here, the box can't allow the movement of the magazines or newspapers.  And it needs to be made of proper, acid-free and durable, materials.  You can see the structure in these pictures, and in the picture above:

On the inside of  the other tray is a letter from Diane and myself explaining why we did this.  Diane wrote it, so it is prose that reads as poetry.  

What struck me after we had done a couple of these (this is the third one) is that even having a newspaper will be interesting in a few decades.  News of the Picayune going to three days a week is pretty hard to hear for someone like me who loves newspapers. Especially Sunday newspapers.  You also have to wonder how long printed magazines will last as well.

I often get asked what I think of Kindles and Nooks, with the expectation of I'll start screaming or yelling about how they are the end of civilization and decency.  But really, the main thing I think we lose with electronic books is the loss of cultural history.  You won't be able to pass down grandma's Kindle in the same way you can save her cookbook.  And the stains on the pages of the cookbook, even more than the words on the page, say a lot about grandma, what she liked to cook, and even how careful of a cook she was!  Same for Bibles, or favorite children's books.

Sometime you should leaf through the pages of Copernicus' books, and see all his marginalia.  Reading his notes means you can see his thoughts as he read a section of the text.  His unguarded thoughts.  Sure todays' Copernicus can make notes on his or her Kindles, but you won't be able to read anything off a fifty year old model.

Maybe that's why I like this gift so much.  It's saving a bit of culture in a way that will allow it to be experienced a century from now.  In that way, it's perhaps more of a gift to Phoebe's grandchildren than it is for her.

Of course part of the key to it, I suppose, will be to keep it out of their hands until they are old enough to  understand what it is.  And hope they find it interesting enough to take care of and save.  We'll see...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Trofast is Swedish for happiness!

I started binding at home just after I graduated from North Bennet Street School in 1992 and moved back to Seattle for a job at the University of Washington.  Twenty years ago today!

I started off with my bench, Kutrimmer, Kwikprint, combination press, and small book press crammed into my bedroom where I began to work through the curriculum from NBSS.  I wanted to do it all again just be sure I understood what I had been taught.  It was an incredibly helpful and productive time.

But I also began to get calls for book repair which was both a good way to continue to learn and grow but it also gave me the financial means to buy more tools and equipment.

One problem was that I needed a way to store all the pieces and parts of books I was working on.  Working in such a small space (the next year I moved to another apartment in that building which gave me a whole bedroom to use as a bindery!  What luxury!) made that an important issue.  Having no place to put things aside, or even much storage space at all, my only choice was to be very careful.

When I would pick up new eyeglasses I was drool a bit over the trays that the glasses and paperwork were stored in. The problem was that they were too small for books.

One day I was wandering around IKEA and I heard choirs singing and rays of sun pouring through windows.  Then I turned the corner to see why and saw these:

They are called Trofast and are a toy storage system.  You know, to store toys in!  They were the perfect size for books.  Not every book, of course, but 96.23% of books.  Maybe a bit more.

When I get a job I put the name of the client outside the box using blue tape.  I think it has to be blue tape, I tried brown and they caught fire.  (If you don't know that's a joke you probably should be reading something else.)  Then I put the book and the paperwork for the  project inside.  Then it gets slid into the rack.  There is a top to keep dust out, which is very helpful working in the desert.

When I'm working on that book the box comes out onto the bench and when I take it apart I put the pieces inside (sometimes inside an envelope if they're very small).  I've found how necessary that is, because sometimes clients will come into the bindery and not realize that little piece of book is extremely important and suddenly it gets brushed onto the floor, or pushed aside, or other bad things.

Fortunately I've never lost significant parts of book, but this makes it much easier to keep that  up.  They come in several colors and depths, but I've stuck with white because I'm boring.  Or traditional.  Well, boring.

I have a second rack for books I've finished and are waiting to be sent off or picked up.

Like all good things it makes life simpler and better.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If I wanted exercise I'd just lift weights

I've been reading a paperback book, which I really like.  Well, I like the content anyway.

The problem is that the book doesn't open very easily, so after reading for several minutes my arms start getting tired and I put the book down.  Here is a picture of how the book opens on its own:

It's probably very clear to everyone that books should open more easily than that.  In fact they should just lay flat, not stay rigid and upright like this one does.  Why does this book not open?  

The paper, mainly.  Not to get too technical but the grain of the paper is going in the wrong direction so it doesn't drape.  In addition the gutter margin is too small, so it really has to be forced open to read the whole page.  Here's the gutter margin, when I'm reading the book my inclination isn't to force it open this wide so I end up twisting the book to real all the lines.

To take this picture I put a three pound weight on it so it would open enough.

Some might say it doesn't function correctly because it's an adhesive binding, but that's not really true.  I've read adhesive bindings recently that were not the hurculean struggle this one is.  Like any binding, the proper materials and structure are necessary for a happy book reading experience.

The source of this is no doubt due to people running publishing houses who know nothing about books.  They're making widgets in the shape of a book, and as long as they look like a book then they are happy.  It's only the readers who end up being unhappy.

And all I can think about this is to wonder if Nooks are winning over books because physical books are such crap these days.  Imagine if the competition for transportation was between a Yugo and something new and functional.  Not quite the same fight as between a Mercedes and the next new thing.

Yes, this book is a Yugo as are most mass produced books these days.

Here his how a book should open.  Easier to do on a sewn binding like this, but any book can be made to open properly.  The real issue is that you have to have a bit of knowledge and a bit of care, along with a bit of respect for the reader.

The one good thing about this book is that if I keep reading it (and I will) eventually my forearms are going to look like this:

Maybe that's what the publisher is going for, after all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day Five!

Yesterday we had the last day of the cloth binding class.  Here are Francine and Judy working away!

It was a delightful class, mostly because the students were all such nice and interesting people.  It almost always seems to be that way, perhaps because folks who want to learn binding must be interesting and delightful people, perhaps?  These folks certainly were, it was a pleasure spending time with them.

We spent a day and a half on making fatback bindings, two and a half days on rounded and backed bindings and then the last day on serial bindings.  These bindings were used on binding of serials, like Time magazine.  It works on those serials which were folded in half and stapled together. They are quick, fun and have pedagogical value!

The students were talking about how that binding was a nice way to finish the class, since it's a bit easier than the rounded and backed binding.

What makes them so beautiful is the marbled paper.  The papers we used in this class all came from Chena River Marblers, our in Western Massachusetts.  Beautiful stuff!  I used to have lunch with them when they came by the school to teach and it was always really nice talking to them.  Again, nice people doing interesting work!

It can't all be about work, though.  There was, fortunately, time for this important task as well:

At the end of the day, as I was downloading the pictures I took I saw this, and thought it a nice conclusion to this post.  And a good descriptor of how I felt about the class:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day four of cloth binding class.

We've finished the fourth session of the cloth binding class.  At this point they've made a flat back and a rounded and backed book.  They're the two most typical kinds of books.  This is the class I wanted when I was trying to learn binding, and so it's nice to be able to offer it.

The class covers traditional bookbinding techniques and materials. When I decided I needed to learn binding I bought Edith Deihl's manual of bookbinding and it made no sense to me at all.  One really needs to have someone show them the basics in order to be able to comprehend the good manuals.  Of course there are manuals aimed at those with no knowledge of binding but they generally don't cover bindings like these.  

Here is one of the students, Dana, working on the spine linings of her rounded and backed book.

Students in this class will do at lease one flat back, one rounded and backed binding (the books with the rounded spine) and one serial binding. But here is part of what Dana has done:

In all my classes students are encouraged to take materials home to work on between sessions. This class is held on five Saturdays so it was not difficult to find time to sew more books between sessions.  But I have had students during the Monday - Friday courses work on books in the evenings at home, or in their hotel rooms.  These classes can be a bit tiring ( they run from 8:30 - 4:30), so not everyone is up to putting in a few more hours in the evenings and that's fine as well.

For that reason in some ways it's easier, perhaps, to get more work done in the Saturday classes.  As with all skills like this, the more the students do the more they are able to learn.  I suppose it's because the more they do, the more mistakes they make and learn from.  Another benefit of longer classes, I think.

Here are two books Dana has finished.  In addition to these she has finished a full cloth flat back binding as well.

In the last session we'll finish up the unfinished text blocks and make a serial binding or two. It's been a fun class.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rebinding a limp leather book

The world is full of these types of books.  

They are called by bookbinders a "limp leather" binding, and they are most commonly used in religious books.  They are not really limp, more flexible than limp.People like them because they feel good in your hands either when reading them or carrying them around.  

However, they often have serious problems.  Many of them are made with bonded leather, which is leather particles put into a plasticizer and then impressed with a grain pattern.  They end up sort of looking like leather, and smelling like leather but it isn't really leather.  Much like MDF is not really wood, but wood dust solidified through the exciting use of chemicals and plastic.

Bonded leather books tend to break along the hinge -- the point where the cover meets the spine of the book.  It's a bit ironic, perhaps, because bonded leather is flexible to a point, but doesn't like to be bent very much (if one can call opening a book bending the bonded leather, but hopefully you get the point).  People like them because they are pretty durable, at least until the break along the joint and the spine falls off.  Publisher like bonded leather because it's cheap.  Sort of back to the widget issue of a few posts ago.

However, some limp leather books are actually made with leather.  Like this one:

In this case the binding failed because the leather was so thin it had no strength left.  I'll say this quickly so that you can skip over it without any guilt:  leather has several layers and if you thin leather to the point where only the skin surface is left it will not be durable and will not survive.  

You can see where the cover had torn and how the edges were worn away.  Not good, because eventually the wear gets to the point where the cover is no longer protecting the pages of the book.  And really the pages are what the book is all about.  

As a binder, of course it pains me to even think those words, let along write them.  

In this book, though, the damage has extended to the inside of the cover as well:

This is a large book, and the attachment of the textblock (really the book block, but let's not dwell on that, ok?) to the cover was not strong enough.  Again, it is almost always the case in mass produced books that the attachment is not strong enough.  It goes back to the fact that factories often have only one method of binding books and so can't vary the construction very much between a small, light, thin book and a large, fat, heavy book.  And, so this happens.

I cleaned off the spine of the textblock and saw that a couple of silk bookmarks used to be on the book, so I added them.  Then I sewed on new endsheets and an airplane linen hinge.  The end sheets are pretty heavy and the airplane linen is pretty strong so I'm confident the attachment of the cover and textblock is more than strong enough.

I made the cover using Hewit Chieftan goatskin.  Yes, real leather.  NOT bonded leather.  I think it will last longer and certainly feels better in one's hands.

It ended up looking like this:

The thing to notice is all the stamping on the spine.  I need to be in the right mood to do this, because one mistake trashes the cover and I'd need to start over again.

I learned, though experience (that is a euphemism for disastrous mistakes) that is is very, very easy to not pay attention to every detail and use a G for a C, an O for a 0, reverse a p and q (thus minding your p's and q's!) or something that like. And it's not easy, or not possible, to fix that mistake.  Or to put a letter in the wrong order. Or, and this is the worst, to assume that the spelling is what I think it should be rather than what it actually is.  I don't have quite enough power in this world yet to change spelling of words.  Hard to believe, but true.

My trick, if you can call it that, is to always stamp the word on a piece of blotter paper and look carefully at it.  Sometimes I read the letters backwards to make sure I'm seeing what is there rather than just glancing and assuming.  I read somewhere that copy editors do that, but I'm totally sure that's true.

This spine had more lines on it than any other spine I have stamped and I've been stamping titles on books for more than 20 years.

I picked a time when I would not be interrupted and went at it, took my time and gave it my full concentration.  That's another lesson -- to learn when I'm not able to give something my full concentration and to then put it aside for another time and do something else.  Sometimes in the middle of doing something meticulous I notice my mind wandering.  I learned years ago to just stop at that point and move on to another project, or part of the project.  That can save hours and hours and hours of working correcting a mistake.

I suppose this might make it sound like I am always making mistakes.  In fact, I'd say that I make a surprisingly few mistakes because I've learned when I need to move on to something else.

Here is that book from another angle.  

I've done several of these limp bindings in the past year.  The first one took a few attempts to get it right, since the client wanted it to be as flexible as possible. And limp leather bindings, traditionally, were not all that flexible.  And doing them the traditional way had all kinds of issues when trying to make one of these.  But I figured it out after a week, and four attempts, and this the third one I've done using the technique I developed.  And it works pretty well, and I'm grateful for that.

Few books seem to mean as much to  folks as their Bibles, for good reason. And it's nice to take something that was so beat up and make it look as good as I think this one does.  It was a fun project and I'm grateful the owner let me work on it for him.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book festival aftermath

Led Zeppelin.  I survived because of Led Zeppelin.

In 1977 I saw Zeppelin at the Kingdome.  Back in those days all concerts were "festival seating" meaning no assigned seats.  Clearly this was before The Who and Cincinnati.  The Kingdome was a huge concrete dome and the sound was going to horrible, the only hope was to be down front.  So I got there in the morning of the show and waited all day for them to let us in.

The point here is that when I got there everyone was having a great time.  I got my spot in line and sat down. When the line moved I went with them and sat down. When they let us in I ran down on the field and as close to the front as I could, and sat down.  By the time the concert started I was probably 30 yards from the stage.  And folks were dropping like flies from having been standing for over 12 hours.  A few songs in I was ten yards from the stage.

This scan shows the stub, just to prove I'm not lying here:

I should mention that it was so loud that I couldn't discern what songs they were playing until half an hour in when I think my ears got so numb that I could figure out what they were.  Still it was fun and I have great memories of that show.

The point is that I learned success is dependent on sitting as much as you can, I think in every aspect of life.  Unless you're a marathoner, then that might be difficult.  Maybe I need to revise the lesson.  Anyway, I did sit as much as I could this weekend and it was a good thing.

Here is a shot of the festival from the Arizona Daily Star:

They estimate that over 100,000 people attended.  I had the same booth I had last year and had a great time.  I pushed classes and repairs, and got a good response to both of them.  The strange thing is that I really won't know how successful it was until a few months.

I also had some stuff I made around Christmas when I got curious about how many jigs I could use and how I could organize the work more effectively.  More an exercise than anything else.  Still I sold several things, which was a bonus.

Here is a shot of the booth.  The weather was mid-70s each day.  Perfect.

In this picture are our friends Jim and Lynne Owens, owners of Thorn Books. They're pretending to be customers.  I'm pretending to help them.  Hopefully a casting director will read this blog and hire me for blockbuster movie role.  Notice how into character I am here, my "essence" is just pouring out of my pores, but not in an artificial or contrived way.  Just like Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud or the guy who played Greg Brady on the television show.

Diane came by to bring me lunch, which was a nice improvement over last year.  I think you can see the difference between Diane and myself, she's playing a role where I fully inhabit a character. Can you see it?

A few folks brought damaged books by, which is always pretty fun.  But mainly it was a chance to talk about to people about books, which is always fun.

It was pretty smashed on Saturday, but slower on Sunday - especially Sunday morning.  Still, even though there were less people on Sunday, I ended up talking to about the same amount of people both days.  Gave out lots of brochures, cards and class schedules.  Really had a nice time.

It did occur to me that I should keep records during this, like count how many of each thing I handed out just to gauge interest from year to year.  I do think I gave out many more than last year, but have no statistical proof of that.  Doesn't matter on some level, but I'm kind of curious.  And I like statistics.  But the only stat that matters is how many people follow up.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Festival of Books

This weekend I'm going to be at the Festival of Books here in Tucson.  It's the fourth year of the Festival and I heard that it has become the third or fourth largest gathering of its type in the country.  They expect around 100,000 people.

I did it last year and it was really fun.  It's always nice to talk to people who are interested in what I do.  Last year was the first time I did it and so I had no idea what to expect, what people would be interested in, how many people I'd actually talk to.  As a result I used one table where I set up examples of repairs (because most people have no idea what a good book repair is) and brought some models of historic bindings.

One thing I find fascinating about books is how few people understand how they are made, or how they are intended to function.  I truly believe that most people know more about how their car works, how the internal combustion engine works, than they know how their books function.  I suppose I believe that because it explains why the public is to willing to buy incredibly poorly made books just because the cover is pretty, or because they like the content.   Commercial bindings have become the Yugos of manufacturing, and that's a sad, sad thing.

But, with all these things, I think it creates a renaissance of hand made, quality books that a segment of the public appreciates and understands.  I think most people would understand if it could be explained to them.  Still, it's sad that the Kindles of the world are replacing awful bindings, instead of replacing well made bindings.  It just doesn't feel like a fair fight.

A book from 1508 I repaired.

So that's what I try to do at the Festival.  Show people how books were made, and how they should be made today.  I'm avoiding my rant here about how books can be sewn by machine for less than a penny per section and less than a second per section. That means that the typical book could be manufactured in a sewn binding for less than 25 cents per book.  (See how restrained I am about this, by not putting that last sentence in italics and underlining it?)  Of course a sewn book on good paper will last centuries. Centuries.

A sewn book.

When I was at Washington students would come in with engineering textbooks which had fallen apart in a few weeks because they were glued bindings.  For which they had paid over 75 dollars!  Irony, eh?  They obviously replaced them, but not doubt it just happened again.  If they're going to produce crap then why not give up and run to the Nook?  After all it feels like publishers (at least the large ones) aren't really producing books any more, they are just producing widgets that have the appearance of books.

The book in the picture just above was less than a month old and broke.  Why?  Because the people manufacturing the book had no idea how to make a book of that weight and heft strong enough to last longer than that.  It was just a widget to them.

I spent the past two days getting my things together.  It felt like packing for a trip where you just want to get on the plane because then there isn't anything more that can be done.  It'll be nice to get set up on Saturday morning.  I'll have some historical models, some new stuff to sell and information on upcoming classes.

Should be beautiful weather.  And thousands of nice, book loving people.  Now I just need to show them the exciting world of binding.  And not rant too much.

I'm at booth 110, the same as last year.  Stop by if you're there and say hi.