Board Book Tutorial

I haven’t seen many instructions around for making a board book. So I thought I’d share mine.

Some things to consider before starting:

  • I usually use 4-ply museum board when making board books. Illustration board, matboard, chipboard or any thin, stiff and lightweight support can also be used.
  • The paper you use for your pages will form the hinge between your boards, so it should be strong enough to withstand lots of bending. As with most books, the grain of both the boards and paper should run parallel to the spine.
  • It is important to cut your boards accurately and squared. Take your time when you cut.

Making the Board Book Pages

To get straight page spreads that are joined together evenly, you need to line up your boards against a straight edge. This needs to be anchored down either with removable tape, or by putting it against something that won’t move, such as a brick or other weight. I prefer tape. [Note: many “removable” tapes will cure after a few days and become more permanent. I discovered this the hard way after leaving an acrylic quilting ruler taped down for a week.]

carpenter's square used to align boards
You don’t have to use a square–a simple straight edge will do. But accurate alignment is important.

At any rate, tape your straight edge to your work surface with drafting or artists’ tape. I prefer to use a flat L-square — it gives you two sides to line your pages against. [Edit: I later devised an improved jig setup for this. See note at the end for a link to it.]

Also make sure you have something close at hand for wiping your glue-covered fingers. As all bookbinders know, glue-covered fingers are the Devil’s friend.

To begin, you’ll need to have your boards cut to the size you’d like your book to be. Your page spreads should not be trimmed exactly to size before mounting. It’s easier to trim a little excess off of the pages once they are glued than to try to match paper and boards exactly when gluing.

The example instructions are assuming you have 8 boards, which will make a 14 page book (7 page spreads) and a cover.

  • Take two of your boards and line them up against your straight edge. When making board books, you don’t need a large space between your boards. When working with museum board, I use a single board thickness.

  • Place one of your page papers on your scrap paper and carefully put a thin, even coating of PVA on the back. Carefully position your glued paper onto your boards. It can be tricky to do this without your boards moving — it gets easier with practice. If the paper I’m mounting has to be positioned exactly (ie to line up text or pictures exactly on the page), I’ll trim off a side — one that will fit against the straight edge–and leave the others untrimmed. [Note: if your finished book is wobbly, you likely have gaps in the glue near the spine. Be sure that you have evenly glued the entire board.]

    Lining up one edge, saving the others to trim later.
  • Immediately after gluing, quickly wipe the glue off your fingers. Using your bone folder or a hard brayer, carefully smooth down your paper-covered boards. Put your joined pair of boards aside (preferably under weight) to dry. When they are dry, trim off the extra paper around the edges.

    I actually find a brayer easier to use here than a bone folder. Either will do.
  • Make three other pairs the same way.
  • Now take two joined pairs and line them up on the straight edge, closed, side by side, with spine edges facing each other. Check that the tops of the pages are in the right place. Join these with a paper page the same way you joined the single boards.
Two pairs lined up.
  • Join the other pairs the same way. Ideally you will end in the middle of the book with the last remaining page spread, with an equal number of pages on either side. If, however, your book does not come out with an even number of pages on each side, prop spare boards under the shorter side until the height is equal. Then you can glue your paper on them without distortion.
  • After the book block is dry, you can go back and brush a thin even layer of glue over the spine and then let it dry before proceeding. You want to ensure that there are no gaps at the spine that will make the book wobbly.

Making the Drop Spine Cover

  • Place your book face down (front down with edges facing the edge) on the left end of your cover paper, allowing a little bit of extra room on the side to trim off later. Where the spine begins, (keeping in mind the paper “hinges” that stick out a little bit between the boards–roughly half a board width extra), carefully mark in pencil. Draw a line. Measure the thickness with of the spine with dividers (or fold a scrap paper over the spine to determine the width) and transfer this marking to the appropriate place on the cover paper. (Or, if you’re feeling lazy, tip the book onto its spine, carefully lined up with the mark you made where the spine begins, and mark the width on the other side of the spine with a pencil.)  Score both spine edges.
Tilting book on spine.
  • Now on the back cover side, to the right of the spine width you just marked, repeat the same measurement as the spine width to the right of the spine. Mark and score this third line.

  • Turn the cover right side up. Make mountain folds for the spine, and a valley fold at the extra score. Smooth well with bone folder. Then lightly straighten the valley fold (don’t bone).

    Checking cover fit.
  • Wrap cover around the book to check the fit. If it looks ok, place your cover on scrap paper, wrong side up, and place a thin even layer of glue everywhere except between your first and last score lines. Neither the spine nor the extra space next to the spine should have any glue. I find it helps to mask the area you won’t be gluing with a scrap paper.

  • Carefully fit your book into the cover, smoothing the glued portions onto the front and back boards. Wipe glue from your fingers. Smooth the glued parts with your bone folder or roller. Put waxed paper between the pages and press under weight until dry.
  • When dry, trim off excess paper around the edges.

When There’s a Specific Page Order

It’s possible to attach each page spread in the order it will be in the finished book (ie begin with pages 1 and 2, then 3 and 4 . . . ). However, this is awkward.

A better way is to determine your page order beforehand and make all of the 2-page spreads first, followed by joining those pairs together with the remaining page spreads (the same way we made our prototype). The only hitch is that we need to figure out ahead of time which pages are going to be the 2-page single spreads and which will be the pages that will be joining the separate pairs together.

To do this, you need to make a mockup before beginning. You can just use little scraps of paper folded in half to stand in visually for your page spreads. Place them in the order of your book, piled one on top of the other (not like a pamphlet), making note of which pages represent the ones in your final book. By looking at this, you can determine which spreads will be “pairs” (the single spreads you made) and which will be “coupler” pages that will link the pairs together.

When you’ve figured this out, make a chart or list for quick reference.

An example of pages mapped out for a board book I’m working on. (This particular board book will include a 3-page spread and a pull-out, so not all of the details apply to our example.)
An example of pages mapped out for a board book I’m working on. (This particular board book will include a 3-page spread and a pull-out, so not all of the details apply to our example.)

Now you can go ahead and make your single pairs first, then join them with the “coupler” pages in an order that will make the book easier to assemble.

If you want rounded corners, you can trace a round object, such as a coin, that’s the right size and trim. Or you can use a corner rounder or punch that will go through board. If you become obsessed with board books and other structures with rounded corners, you might even invest in a more durable corner rounder…

Corner lust–this will cut through 6 museum boards at a time.
The finished example, showing the drop spine on the back cover.

[Edit: I later added another post with more info on making a gluing jig for board books. This might make the process easier.]

Other Resources for Learning to Make Board Books


21 thoughts on “Board Book Tutorial”

  1. Thanks for putting this together Ellen. It looks very thorough, and although I don’t have any plans to make a board book at the moment, it is always good to read about these things and store them away in the recesses of the mind (dark and dusty as they are) for future reference.

    • Thanks Amanda. I know just what you mean. I like reading about all kinds of art and bookmaking techniques, even when I know I’m not likely to actually do the thing in question. I think of it as sort of feeding the bin.

  2. Thanks for the tutorial. I tried a similar method before but wasn’t satisfied with my result at all and gave it up again. Now I want to try once more. I already have a project for the kids waiting on my desk. Now I just need to find the time to start.

    And I envy you for your corner cutter. It looks terrific!

    • Time…? (She laughs hysterically.) A different sort of time management issue, but I’ve been feeling so frustrated because I have not yet been able to put any time into assembling my big board book project–my edition for Book Art Object.

      The corner rounder was my birthday present to myself some months ago. I’d been lusting for one for a long time. Now lots of things are getting rounded corners…even things that don’t need them.

      Let me know if you do make a board book. :-)

  3. Please suggest safe glue if giving board book to one year olds. Thanks
    Great instructions… Hope to build and compose soon. emm

    • Interesting question. If you wanted to avoid any possibility that your child could ingest PVA, paste is an option. You can make this from any starch–wheat, rice (sold at bookbinding supply places) or even corn starch (I include a recipe in this post. I’m glad my instructions are helpful to you!

      • PS It occurred to me that you should make sure that any starch you use, if toxicity is your concern, is nothing but starch and is food grade. Some wheat starches, especially ones meant to be used for wallpaper or such, can include nasty additives to inhibit mold.

        I must admit that I usually only use paste for applications with thinner papers, so I’m not entirely sure how well it would work for a heavier-duty purpose such as this. But it’s worth considering if you are looking for a low-toxicity adhesive.

      • Do you think PVA is toxic, or harmful in a different way? I would think that, since it dries water resistant, it couldn’t be absorbed by the body. And only small amounts go into the book anyway and don’t sit on the surface. I would be more concerned about toxicity of the print and the colors used there, than the glue… As far as I know toner is carcinogenic, and I don’t know about the dyes used for inkjet printers.

        Please note: I am not saying it is harmless to eat PVA, I am only making guesses here!

        • Thanks Hilke. I was thinking about that–that the paper and ink were probably more of a concern. But if the pages were laminated…? Or if one were binding a child’s paintings made with kid-“safe” paint? I really don’t know. But one does seem rather young.

          I should stress that my intended audience was grown-up bookmakers and users (or at least older children). I’m no expert when it comes to the safety of books as ingested substances! And am definitely not an expert in what is safe for use by toddlers. I am not specifically recommending a low-toxic way to make a book for a very small child. I was only thinking of artists’ books here when I wrote the post. Since I was asked about adhesives, that’s what my short attention span focused on. But you are very right–it is not the only thing to consider. So, Emm, use your best judgement and be careful about all of the materials you use.

  4. I’ve been looking all over the web for a corner rounder such as you’ve pictured. Can’t find it!. Where should I be looking?


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