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

 

Superstition

A bit of old news for a few of you, but I’ve joined the international collective Book Art Object for their next edition. It’s rather ambitious this time around. Last I heard, about 50 people have signed up. We are being placed in groups of 8 each.

Each Book Art Object edition uses a literary piece as a starting point. The inspiration for Edition 4 is Sarah Bodman’s artist’s book An Exercise for Kurt Johannessen. More is explained at the BAO site and by Sarah, but the gist is that Johannessen, in his artist’s book Exercises, had suggested a task: write 100 short stories and bury them in a forest. So Sarah did. All that remains are the titles of her stories. Using this as our starting point, we each chose one for our own artist’s book. I chose title #87–Superstition.

We will each make an edition of at least 10 books–one for each in our group, plus one for Sarah Bodman, and an extra (or more, if we desire) for exhibiting.

My good luck charm Larry. He always sleeps with me.

I picked Superstition because the line “One should not dance around ladders nor sleep with black cats” popped into my head as I was looking at the list of titles. I thought it might have potential. After I signed up, it occurred to me that black cats are actually good luck in the UK, where at least one of these books is going to wind up. And I had no idea what sort of luck they are in Australia or Norway, where some of the others will be headed. Hmmm . . .

I posed this question on the BAO blog, and my fellow bookies have offered input. It turns out they are indeed bad luck in Norway (if one crosses your path, you should quickly spit 3 times to ward off the bad luck). But the opinions from Australia seem to be a bit ambivalent. Theoretically, I think they’re supposed to be good luck in Australia, but I’ve been told that traditionally they are known to be bad luck as well. So… either this will turn into a treatise on the nature of black cats and the fortunes they bring depending upon country of origin, or I’ll have to come up with something else. I suspect I’d better come up with something else. I’m still jotting down ideas in my sketchbook.

At any rate, seeing as we recently survived a Friday 13th, this seemed like an appropriate time to mention Superstition. I hope you all had a relatively lucky 13th. Mine was mostly peaceful, aside from a large van backing into my car while I was sitting in it (fortunately, and surprisingly, no damage to me or the car). Perhaps the two black cats waiting for me at home have distant British relations, thus bringing me good luck and improving the outcome.

My other good luck charm, Lila.

Spinner Cards for the New Year

I recently took part in a Christmas/Winter Season card exchange with the North Redwoods Book Arts Guild. I felt like playing with spinners, and so concocted a New Year’s card: spin the wheel, then peek inside to find your suggested bookbinding-related resolution. (Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

I’ve personally been finding it hard to feel good about 2012. So I made a more general card for friends here in the US:

Politics aside, I do wish all my friends here, no matter where in the world, a happy New Year!

PS If you were wondering, the arrows came from Alpha Stamps. I put a small nylon washer between card and arrow to keep the metal from scraping the ink. The card was done as a tri-fold, using 3M 415 double-sided tape to hold the front part, including the brad holding the arrow, in place.

 

A Board Book for Bored Children


As I explained in the legal disclaimer on the back, my Board Book for Bored Children isn’t really meant for kids. It’s a spoof on the genre of little kiddie picture books featuring photos of familiar objects, in this case, household items.

I’d never made a board book of this sort before. I figured it out partly from directions in an old edition of The Bonefolder, and partly from adapting what I did know about making stiff-leaf books. I wanted the pages to be laminated to protect the inkjet printouts from getting scratched. But also, this being a gag on children’s board books, I wanted the pages to have the plastic-coated feel of the real thing. How to go about that?

Again, I sheepishly admit to owning and using a scrapbookers’ kind of gizmo, a 5″ Xyron. One of the cartridges available has adhesive on one side, and a matte laminate on the other. Presto! Fortunately, it is a small-ish book, so I can squeeze a few copies out of each cartridge.

It has a drop spine, as seen on this children’s book here, and also described in the Bonefolder instructions mentioned above. I like the effect, and think I’ll be using it again.

I described the concept of A Board Book for Bored Children to a friend who’s an on-again/off-again empty nester. She seemed almost a bit . . . too excited by the idea. She enthusiastically suggested dangerous things I hadn’t even contemplated. Poisonous berries? Abandoned wells? And did I know that Calla Lilies are poisonous?

Oh dear.

Shark Restoration

I finished this piece a while back. Then I got this idea in my head to “improve” it, alas. I proceeded to fill in too much of the bottom area. I didn’t like what I’d done after it was too late and I’d done it.

While preparing pieces for Saturday’s opening, I decided to restore Be Careful What You Take to Bed With You to its original, more balanced state. I’m glad I did.

Layering Transparencies and Altering Design Plans

Some projects turn out to be a bit more challenging than others. I originally conceived this as a long accordion book. Each page is composed of a thick paper base that is then layered with three different transparencies. Dry mount adhesive between each layer holds them all together.

But then I discovered that layering transparencies with dry adhesive can be, shall we say, a bit of a challenge. I decided, actually, I didn’t really want to make that many pages. I also was going through a fair number of transparencies, and they are not all that cheap. And so plans for the book changed.

I discovered, much to my surprise, that these built-up, thick plastic pages could actually be bent. I mounted metallic silver paper on the back of each and then folded it around an accordion pleat. I decided I liked this effect.

 
 
 
 

Along the way during construction, I managed to drop my scalpel. Twice. Once on the finished cover, putting a large slash through the hinge. Then, after making a new cover, on my finger. Fortunately, the flow was stopped without medical intervention and nothing dripped on the book. But it was annoying.

I wish the pictures could convey how tactile this book is. The pages lie flat, and turn with a satisfying movement. Overall, I’m pleased with the way it came out. The title is Radio Waves and Birdsong. It was meant to be a visual interpretation of . . . well, radio waves and birdsong.


Petri Dish Books

Tip of the day: if one has difficulties with concentration, one should not watch TV while gluing together pages of a book. One might discover, after the books have dried, that some of them are missing pages. Just sayin’.

I’ve finally almost assembled (reassembled?) an edition of 15 petri dish books. The title is Mysophobia: Mainstream Culture. The pages are individual circles that were scored and glued together at the side.

I’ve discovered that scrapbooking toys have their uses. My 3″ circle punch is now my friend. And… I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the Internet… the Martha Stewart score thingie. I remember seeing this very item in a store a while back and sneering. Then came the need to score lots of circular book pages. I could’ve done it with a ruler or a jig. But then I read this blog post from Ginger Burrell. I have to agree; it’s a nifty tool. Who’d have thought…?

The book is about modern germ paranoia. The “cultures” are paste paint and acrylic paintings that I manipulated in Photoshop. I find it fascinating how behavior that is now seen as normal would’ve, not long ago, been seen as compulsive and disordered. I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, but here in the US–at least where I live–every big store now seems to have disinfectant wipes at the door. Anti-bacterial soaps are big business. Yet, do we actually get fewer communicable illnesses these days? I doubt it. Outside of a health care context, all this disinfectant wiping and dousing comes across as some sort of quaint evil-repelling ritual.

Of course, ironically, all the evidence suggests this germ phobia is only creating more antibiotic-resistant germs.

   

And the cat will climb down by the tips of his claws.

I think this is the longest I’ve ever disappeared from the blog. I’m still around. I’ve even been mildly productive, I am happy to report.

The Handbook of Model-making for Set Designers, a recent discovery, is filled with all kinds of fun tips and suggestions for making small stuff with card stock and paper. I’d originally been making a staircase out of book board (something I’m still working on), but wound up suddenly deciding to fashion a tree out of wire and cover it in lokta paper, giving rise to this little book object. I also had some tiny polymer clay eggs sitting around from some previous thing, and so added a nest.

The text in back is, more or less, a stream-of-conscious bit of nonsense that mentions, among other things, a cat climbing a tree. It ends with “And the cat will climb down by the tips of his claws.”

This was inspired by seeing my cat Dominic climb a redwood the other day. He’d spied a bird way high up (redwoods, you might remember, are tall), and decided to go up after it. He made it to the first limb — still impressively high off the ground — which creaked precariously under him as the bird watched safely from above. I don’t know what the cat was thinking — that the bird would hop down onto the branch with him?

At any rate, I had fun putting together this little book object. Nothing like a little productivity to lift one’s mood!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can one not like a book that has pages on scalpels and knives? It even has a sidebar (not shown) outlining the history of X-Actos in the U.S. and scalpels in the U.K. (it’s a British book).