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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!).



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.