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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.


  1. I love this...thanks!

  2. Mark,
    Amazing. Very interesting to read and invaluable I'm sure in preserving aging texts. Thanks for sharing.

    Kurt Taylor

  3. Thanks Mark. Good to hear anew about an old technique and concerning your comment about me I would say that meeting over splitting never was a good idea
    Best wishes

  4. just looking at it worked for me, so i don't think i'll mess with all that hide glue stuff....

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