How to Make a Hardcover Book

Posted: October 1, 2013 in Books

I found this great tutorial on how to do a case bound book. The tutorial is originally here: and i’m reproducing it here

While cleaning-up the house, I came across a stack of old papers with which I could not decide what to do; as much as I would like to throw-out the stuff, I wanted to keep it for its sentimental value, a situation in which I am sure many of you can relate to.  And if that situation involves many, many sheets of paper, binding everything permanently into a hardcover book is a great way to organize and store your paper items unobtrusively, in addition to preserving the memories.  I have decided to do just that with a stack of daily notices from my old high school; in addition, I also intend to bind a collection of newsletters and artwork from elementary school later.

Using materials from local dollars stores and leftovers from art projects, I was able to make a hardcover book that was both attractive in appearance and functional in organizing loose sheets of paper.  The techniques described here can be used bind a variety of printed material.  If you collect a particular newsletter, bookbinding is a great way to organize your collection.  If you have a favorite eBook, why not give it the respect it deserves?  Or if you are a librarian, the following techniques may be used to keep books in circulation longer.  I have documented the project, should you wish to do your own bookbinding.  Procedures are linked below.

1. Building the Text Block

The pages of a hardcover book are usually formed by stacking and sewing together, individual booklets composed of six (6) to eight (8) sheets (up to 16 sheets or more if ultra thin paper is used) folded into groups of 12 to 16 page units called signatures (some magazines and soft cover books, such as academic journals are designed with provisions for hardcover binding and thus have pages arranged into signatures). Signatures are then sewn together into a single unit called a text block. Therefore, the text block, consisting of the pages (leaves) of the book, forms the main body of the book.

When binding a book, the first step is to build the text block. If you are rebinding or restoring an old hardcover book, the text block has already been built for you, though in some cases, re-sewing may be necessary. Because this project involves binding of loose leaves, I used a different approach in building the text block; therefore most of the techniques discussed here do not apply if you are restoring/rebinding an existing book or binding/building a new text block composed of signatures (refer to the “Links” section for more information).

End sheets (the papers between the inside of the covers and the text block, with one side glued to the covers) are generally not part of the text block. However, in this case, the text block included part of the end sheets as well as an adhesive strip used to attach the unit to the cover boards (explained later). I used colored cloth tape (previously used in another project) for the adhesive strip.binder01 binder02 binder03


The strips of tape were then carefully cut from the paper (below) and trimmed to the same height as that of the sheets to be bound.  In this case, legal size (8.5” x 14”) sheets were being bound; therefore, each strip was trimmed to 14”.  The corners should be as square as possible.


Loose leaves were checked to ensure that every sheet was in order.  Along the left side of the top sheet (first page), a line was drawn down the page from top to bottom at a distance of 1/8” from the edge (below right).  A point was marked at every inch along the line, plus another point at half an inch from the top and bottom of the page (15 dots in total).  Pages to be bound were then stacked as neatly and evenly as possible and clamped (use a book press if you have one).  A hole was drilled at every marked point along the line using a 1/16” drill bit (protect the table as you drill through!).

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Two end sheets of the same size as the pages (8.5” x 14”) were then made using colored poster board paper (below left).  I added an extra blank page to the bottom and top of the stack.  Mark the end sheets and tape like above and punch holes with a thumbtack.  Enlarge with drill bit if necessary.


With holes aligned, components were stacked symmetrically in the following order from top to bottom: tape (protective backing facing up), end sheet, blank page (optional), stack of loose leaves, blank page (optional) end sheet, tape (protective backing facing down).

The text block is now ready for sewing. I used an upholstery/carpet/tent sewing needle. The length of the thread should be several inches longer than two times the number of holes times the thickness of the stack plus twice the height of the text block or ([2 x number of holes] x thickness) + (2 x height) + several inches. Of course, you’ll be using twice as much tread from the spool since the thread will be folded at the center and tied at the ends after it has been threaded through the needle.

Begin by threading though a terminal hole on either end of the line, leaving two inches of tail (you may tape it down if you wish). Thread through the next hole, and continue in an under-over fashion to the last hole, then weave back to the first hole. The ends of the thread should be on opposite sides of the text block. Thread back one hole. The ends of the thread should emerge from the same side of the text block from adjacent holes and can be tied down. This completes the text block.


2. Building the Cover

Once the text block was complete, the next step was to build the covers.  This began with two cover boards of the same size; one for the front cover and another or the back.  A good thickness for the boards is about 1/8” thick.  You can use wood or solid cardboard (I do not recommend corrugated or foam boards).  I used 1/16” thick cardboard, cut to size and glued to desired thickness (1/8” thick).


When a cover board is placed on top of a text block, there should be 1/8” of overhang on three sides (top, bottom and right) and ¼” of shortage along the left side (the side with the stitching).  Therefore, the size of the boards should be 1/4” taller than the text block and 1/8” narrower.

I used legal size sheets (8.5” x 14”) for the text block, thus the cover boards measured 8.375” by 14.25”.  Because I used 1/16” thick cardboard, four (4) boards were needed to make two (2) 1/8” thick covers.  A carpenter’s square was used to ensure perfect right angle corners (above).  I used spray-on adhesive to glue the boards together.  Rough edges of the boards were then sanded.



I used leftover poster board material for the spine (above).  Using white Elmer’s glue, two pieces of poster board strips were glued together for double thickness.  When the glue has dried, the spine was trimmed to size.  The height of the spine should be same as that of the cover boards, and width should be the thickness of the text block plus the thickness of the front and back cover boards (thickness of text block plus ¼”).  Use only non-acidic glue, such as PVA glue (i.e. Elmer’s white glue).  Carpenter’s yellow glue is acidic, and can cause paper to become hard and brittle over time.

3. Covering the Cover

To make the book cover, boards and spine needed to be assembled into a single unit.  The cover pieces were aligned with a square (below left), and gaps between the spine and the boards should be somewhere between two (2) to three (3) cover thickness wide.  Temporary masking tape was used to hold the pieces in place.


A covering material was then selected for the cover.  You can use wallpaper, vinyl wrapping sheets, gift wrapping paper, decorative scrapbook paper, etc.  Instead of using one material for the entire cover, I used cloth from an old tea towel (purchased at a Salvation Army thrift store) for the spine and part of the cover close to the spine, and a different material for the rest of the cover.  I wanted to use old-fashioned marbled paper, but the process of making it is rather messy, so I opted for a marble print vinyl wrapping sheet.  I do not recommend binding in leather if this is your first bookbinding project.  Trust me.

If you are covering the cover with one type of material, you will need to cut a sheet large enough to cover the entire unit pictured above with 1” of overhang around the entire unit.  If you are binding with more than one material, begin with the spine, leaving 1” of tail on the top and bottom (below left).  If the covering material isn’t already self adhesive, use PVA paste (i.e. white glue) to glue it down.  Spread glue evenly on one side of the spine and area of cover board onto which you’re gluing.  Be sure to check with a carpenter’s square to ensure the boards are still in alignment and remove temporary masking tape when glue has dried.  Fold tails over and glue (blow right).

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The rest of the boards were covered after the text block was attached, as this would allow marking with pencil, the border of the area to be covered with the text block.

4. Labeling and Shaping the Spine


After drying the glue, the blank spine (above) was ready for decorating.  If you are rebinding a book for a library, a Tattle strip (magnetic alarm tag) can now be attached on the inside of the spine.  If you wish to have a title or some other labeling on the spine, it should be added before attaching the text block, while the cover is still flat.  You may wish to send the cover to a professional bindery for title stamping, or if you want to do it yourself, check out Hugh Sparks’ website for suggestions.

I did the labeling on a decorative paper mache patch on the spine (rather than directly on the spine).  Pieces of gift wrapping tissue paper, three to four layers thick were cut to desired size (below left).  The area to be glued was marked with masking tape, and PVA glue was applied (below center) and evenly spread.  The patch was then placed on top of the glued area (below right), four layers at the same time, applying ONLY vertical pressure.  Several minutes later, the first two layers were peeled off and discarded and the process was repeated once more when the glue was almost dry.

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After gluing and drying the patch, the tape was removed and a decorative gold border was adding using a Pilot metallic paint pen (below).


Title was applied using scratch-on lettering (below), a method which I do not recommend as you can tell by the mess.  Varnish was applied to keep the lettering intact.  I intend to redo the labeling someday.


The spine was then rounded by pressing it against a section of pipe (below).


5. Attaching the Cover to the Text Block

Once the spine was finished, the cover was ready for attachment to the text block. On the inside of the covers, a line 1/8” from the edges was drawn along the sides (along the top, bottom, and outer edge), marking the area to be covered by the text block (see third picture in Step 6).

On the adhesive strip of the text block, a line at a distance of 1/8” from the stitch line (1/4″ from the edge) was drawn, indicating where the inner edge of the cover board will be positioned. Because you will not be able to see the line when backing is peeled, masking tape flags should be used to mark the end points of the line (below)



With the cover open, outside facing down, protective backing was removed from one of the strips of tape on one side of the text block, exposing the adhesive (be careful when ripping through the stitching). The text block was then held with the exposed adhesive facing down and using the pencil lines (drawn around the outer edge of the inside of cover boards) as a guide, with stitched side towards spine, the text block was set down and positioned such that an imaginary line connecting the masking tape flags line-up with the inner edge (“spine side”) of the cover board (practice positioning the text block several times before peeling the backing). If all goes well, the top, bottom and non-stitched side of the text block should line-up reasonably well with the pencil lines on the cover (of course, it is not possible to line up perfectly, even if the book is machine-made). I was satisfied with the positioning, so pressure was applied along the adhesive (on the outside of the cover).

While the half-finished book was open, the remaining protective backing peeled. With the exposed adhesive facing up, the cover was carefully closed and positioned so that once again, the inner edge of the cover board lined-up with an imaginary line connecting the masking tape flags.


Once the text block was attached (above), the rest board was ready to be covered.

6. Finishing Up

Before covering the rest of the board with a marble-print vinyl sheet, a decorative corner of matching cloth was added.  The areas to be covered (near the four corner) were marked in pencil at 45 degrees (below left), and four triangular corner covers were cut from the cloth, each with enough area to cover a marked corner area plus a 1” wide bit of extra cloth extending over the edge (below right).  The cloth covers were then glued with white glue (PVA glue) to the corners

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When the glue was dried, the corners of the cloth pieces were trimmed at a 45 degree angle (below), leaving 1/4” (or two board thickness) of cloth between the corner of the board and the trim lime.  Note the border line along the side from the previous step, used to position the text block.



The tops were folded over and glued, followed by the sides.

From a roll of vinyl covering material, two sheets of the same size were cut-out for use on the covers. As with the cloth, there should be 1” of extra material extending over the edges (as you can see from the “graffiti” in the photo below, an extra inch at the top and bottom brought the height of the sheet of 16.25”). This covering material should cover the trimmed edges of the cloth, and not vice versa, in order to protect it from fraying. The inner border (“spine side”) of the area being covered was then marked with masking tape (below).



Corners were trimmed from the vinyl sheets and covering was set in place using the self-adhesive on the back. Edges were then folded over.

Finally, the other halves of the end sheets were glued to the insides of the front and back covers. End leaves for the covers were made from the same post board paper used for those of the text block. The height was the same as the text block (14” for this project), while the width was 0.5” narrower than width of the sheets (8” x 14” for a 8.5”x 14” stack of sheets). Adhesive was sprayed onto the one side of one of the end sheets, and with the book cover open, the sheet was place on top of the text block, glue side up. Top, bottom and outside edges were carefully aligned; then cover was closed. Procedure was repeated for the other side.



Above:  The end leaves attached to the inside cover.  The end leaves of this project differ from those of many hardcover books in that this book has separate sheets covering the text block (and forms a part of the text block) and inside cover.  In many books, and end leaf covering the cover and text block is composed of one continuous folded sheet.  However, books designed for rough frequent usage and/or made with provisions for future rebinding/repair do, in fact, use separate end sheets between the cover and text block.


Above:  Body weight was applied to ensure a tight adhesive bond.  Distribute the force as evenly as possible, and be sure to protect your work from damage!