I am often asked how long it takes me to make one book. It is an impossible question to answer and I often seem evasive or befuddled when I try. The first book in an edition takes a year, the second book takes a few days, the third, fourth, fifth, sixth all happen at the same time. I make a total of seventy five identical books in batches of ten to fifteen, often leaving them in mid-production for a few days. A series of a hundred small steps are all produced in batches; ten books are assembled from folded pages, ten spines are consolidated with glue, ten spine linings are cut to size and ten spine linings are applied, and so on and so on and so on. Despite the obvious sequential similarities, binding an edition is a different process than binding one book. It can take months instead of hours, and as a result, it is critical to remember every measurement and operation. This post is devoted to my Rules of Editioning.
Rule #1 Save every measurement
If you are making seventy-five identical books, there is no reason to take the same measurements seventy-five times. Taking measurements is a painstakingly slow part of binding a book. I cut extra components for each mockup that I make and set them aside just in case that mockup is successful and I’ll need to replicate the measurements. Once I determine that a mockup is working well enough to be the final version of the binding, I label and keep master components and measurements.
When it comes time to produce a round of ten or fifteen books, I use these masters to cut all of the pieces. If I were to use an unlabeled extra piece from an earlier round of binding, there would be no way to know if it was cut slightly off square, or cut to a slightly different size. Any mistakes generated by a bad round of cuts could multiply if I used another of these pieces for a subsequent round of books. This would cost me hours of work and valuable materials.
When I am finished making a round of cuts, I label any extra materials that are cut correctly to one dimension so that I can find them easily when it is time to cut components again. Below, the two larger pieces of board are cut to the right width for the short walls of the slip cases, but the narrow cuts for the depth have yet to be made. I’ve marked them and I will make those cuts at a later date.
Rule #2 Create jigs that help you do simple things faster
A jig is a simple tool that helps you repeat a measurement or a movement. Above you can see a 6mm strip of card stock that I am using to mark the joint width of the cases for Fond. By sliding this simple jig up to the spine piece and marking the edge in several places with a pin tool, I am creating a guide for the placement of the boards. Jigs can be as simple as a strip of metal or card stock, or complicated constructions to help you cover boards rapidly or do more complex actions. Below, I construct the spine pieces with some simple jigs, including a 3/4″ brass gauge from a hardware store to help me trim these spine pieces to size:
A heavy straight edge taped to my cutting mat enables me to attach the boards evenly and squarely. Having a physical stop for an action is easier and faster than using your eyes. Do you remember that first 6mm jig? The pencil marks on the spine piece below are marking the spot where I put pin marks using that jig. If I glue the boards directly onto those marks, they will be in just the right spot.
The master board for the slip case also has marks indicating the starting and ending position of the labels that will be adhered into a recessed area. I can easily transfer these marks to boards for the edition.
I keep all of these jigs as well as the master components in a safe place, separated from all of the debris of components, raw materials, and scraps that naturally pile up over the course of days of serious binding.
Rule #3 Do one step many times
No matter how many times you’ve made a spine piece, cut a recessed area for a label, attached boards or gathered your folios together, the first time you do it after a break will take a little while while your hands remember exactly what to do. Treating an edition as an assembly line speeds things up astronomically. Every small step is replicated ten times before moving on to the next small step. Your hands get familiar with what you are doing, your brain can turn off, and the work gets done quickly.
It is unrealistic to expect to complete the entire 75 copies of the edition at once, so I break into batches of ten. This allows me to see some progress being made, to finish some books and get some satisfaction. It also prevents me from making any huge mistakes. If I do something wrong ten times, I can always go back and redo it without a great loss of time and materials. If I do it wrong seventy five times, I give up and decide to work at a bank.
Rule #4 Start organized, stay organized.
Before I get started in the morning, I make sure my binding area is clean. I have all of the tools that I need (and no more than I need) set out and waiting. I have the components nearby, ready to go. I have scrap paper cut to a helpful size, I have my press boards ready, and I keep my coffee as far away as possible, often in another room.
In cases where there are two parts to the edition (a standard version and a deluxe version, for example,) I keep them separate and am careful to label them. I keep them labeled no matter where they are or at what stage of production.
I only number and sign the books once they are absolutely finished and inside their boxes. Then I check them for flaws, wrap them up carefully, and put them in a safe place where they will sit and wait to be shipped into the wide world.