Big Jump Press

Oh my god I’m out of glue.


How did it come to this? Last week I decided to get down to business in the tiny bindery and put in some hours on old projects, but when I opened my container of glue I found the above. An eighth of an inch of glue residue, settled depressingly at the bottom of the tub. Rookie mistake. There was even a hair sitting in it, accusingly. That was the end of my binding ambition for the day, and effectively put work in the bindery on hold for three weeks since I am off to Michigan on Saturday for the Paper and Book Intensive. But I’ve taken steps.


Five, count ’em five, kilos of (fragile?) PVA arrived yesterday from Ratchford and I am back in the game. If you are a bookbinder who runs out of glue without warning, you are a bookbinder who needs a new system. I took this opportunity to invest in some matching, translucent tubs which will replace my haphazard jumble of leftover vessels.


Benefits of new system:
*Clip on tops instead of screw tops so that the tubs won’t get glued shut
*Multiple small tubs, perfect for taking to workshops
*Best of all, a new round-tub/square-tub system makes it easy to distinguish between PVA and mix

Half of you are nodding to yourselves and saying “hmm, yes, mix. Of course.” and the other half of you are perhaps thinking “mix? mix of what? what are you even talking about?” High power bookbinding friends, feel free to skip this little foray into adhesives 101, but don’t give up on this post! I promise to include a photo of something gruesome I discovered today on my walk home. To those of you who may not know what mix is, here is a brief explanation:

Adhesive Basics: Bookbinders generally use one of two adhesives; Paste, which is made from starch, is a high-moisture adhesive that dries very slowly. Glue, which historically was made out of animal hides in smelly pots but has thankfully been replaced by Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA), dries very quickly and introduces less moisture. PVA is a handy adhesive and takes a lot less time to use than paste, but the quick drying time makes it difficult or impossible to use for many processes. A mix of PVA and something that will slow down its drying time is much easier to work with. Many people simply mix paste into their PVA. Bookbinding suppliers like Ratchfords and Shepherds Falkiners here in the UK sell a paste/PVA mix. There is a lot more to say about paste and PVA but I want to talk about methyl cellulose now.

I prefer to mix methyl cellulose into my PVA. The paste/PVA mix is just a bit too fluffy and stiff for my taste, probably because I trained as a bookbinder with loose, wet methyl/PVA mix. What on earth is methyl cellulose? If you’ve ever had a McDonald’s milkshake, you’ve eaten it. Often used as a food thickener, methyl cellulose is a white powder that becomes a translucent gel when dispersed in water.

IMG_8130Here is a huge bag of it that I bought from Talas ages ago. I expect it to last me a hundred years. After my enormous 5 kilo tub of Fragile PVA arrived, I realized that I had also run out of my supply of made methyl cellulose. So it was time to get out the kettle and the whisk.

Here is the recipe for making methyl cellulose as I learned it from Anna Embree at the University of Alabama:
Methyl Cellulose is combined with water in a 3% solution: 970mL of water to 30g of methyl, (for methyl cellulose from Talas, 30g works out to roughly 4 1/2 tablespoons.) Boil a third of the water. Add the methyl and whisk. Add the rest of the (cool) water and keep whisking, stopping when the solution starts to thicken. Walk away and occupy yourself elsewhere (perhaps by writing your blog) and return to stir the solution 4 or 5 times over the course of the next hour. The solution should become gloopy and a bit revolting, the way you might imagine ectoplasm to look. (Now think about a McDonalds milk shake. This is why they don’t melt.)

While I wait for my methyl to thicken up, I must digress and say that about an hour of my day was spent looking for a whisk. I know I have a whisk because I have made methyl here before. I also have a distinct memory of making meringues about a year ago, (which were awesome, by the way.) But the whisk was nowhere to be found today and so I had to venture out into the world again to look for one. I dare you to find a whisk in the photo below:

IMG_8128Am I crazy? No, right? There is not a whisk to be seen. In fact, there is not even a hole where a whisk should be! I checked. It took me ages to find a shop with a whisk, so long that I feel it necessary to mention it to you now. And on the way to Tesco, where I finally located one, I spotted an ill omen:

IMG_8129Anyway, here is the whisk. I couldn’t even find a metal one.

IMG_8131Ahh the methyl is ready now: IMG_8153Delicious. I mix my methyl in a (very) rough 1:3 ratio with PVA and then stir with a glue brush for several minutes to make sure that it won’t separate.


And there you have it. A total adhesives makeover. Before:


And after:


25 comments on “Oh my god I’m out of glue.

  1. sjdonaldson
    May 8, 2013

    excellent stuff…. I was just deliberating over a PVA/starch mix (I MUST get into making mode)…but now I’ll use methyl cellulose…a much better idea (and I can get some locally to go with my craft glue PVA from Tesco’s kids department (don’t judge, I love far from decent shops).

    Thanks for the tip. Sorry about the bird head, but it made me giggle.

    • Big Jump Press
      May 9, 2013

      Thanks! I hope it is helpful. Just in case: I must note that I am not using food grade methyl here, but bookbinding methyl from Talas; You can also order methyl from Ratchfords here in the uk both in made up form and in powder form, they are up in Manchester. Here is the link:

      Anyway happy Binding! The bird head was shocking, but I like the mystery of it. So clean. Just sitting there on the sidewalk, no sign of a struggle!

      • sjdonaldson
        May 9, 2013

        oooh dear, I have to order something from Shepherds and now Ratchfords…tis a slippery slope I tell ya!

        Perhaps it was an interdimensional bird head from a place where bodies are not required… and he got a shock when he landed here 😉

      • Big Jump Press
        May 9, 2013

        It is SUCH a slippery slope. I have to make an order soon from Talas for a course I am running in the states later this summer, and I am terrified of the damage I might do. . .

        And as far as the pigeon goes, He did look shocked, that is for sure.

      • sjdonaldson
        May 9, 2013

        Better booky shopping than any other type…at least its creative and has a purpose…

        …well that’s what I tell my husband 😉

  2. Ward Maxwell
    May 8, 2013

    thanks, I’m always up to learn more about glue. very helpful.

    • Big Jump Press
      May 9, 2013

      Thanks Ward! Boy oh boy I just love talking about adhesives, so it is a relief to hear that you are up for learning more. (Good luck with your twelve books!)

      • Ward Maxwell
        May 9, 2013

        Thank you Sarah, I’m going to do my best to pull 12 rabbits out of … etc.
        I learnt bookbinding from the head conservator at the Robarts Library, U of T, attending night courses offered by the Toronto School Board. I will never forget how Emrys would say “gluing.” Living in Toronto I have heard a LOT of accents, but I had never heard one like this 🙂
        I did learn how to make basic books. I have continued (fitfully) since. As my intent was always to make poetic books — inspired by Blake (to tell the truth).
        So, it is great to read your blog and learn (without living the dream and the associated heartache).
        And I really love learning about glue! Cheers!

  3. Roger
    May 8, 2013

    Very nicely written, Sarah, and together with the photos, it makes for a great read.

    We also have thought about exchanging our inexpensive round containers for the more expensive stylish ones with convenient closures. However, through normal workshop use, adhesive containers get glue hardened around the inner walls, and around the lid, and it is just convenient to throw them away between fill-ups and start afresh. Moreover, occasionally, our EVA mix goes mouldy if we haven’t added enough fungicide (we use a Tea Tree Oil), and that is when you definitely need a clean container. So the cheapies for us are desirable from this point of view.

    In our early morning walk today, we spotted a dead possum, which had fallen from the electric wires above. Possums use the electric wires to get around the houses and along the street. They sleep in roof spaces of houses if they can get under the tiles. They are quite manually dexterous and they are smart critters! I think he was the guy we eyeballed the other day on our roof, with his mother looking on. His time was up.


    • Big Jump Press
      May 9, 2013

      Hi Roger, Thanks so much, I am so glad you enjoyed the post. I like to think your possum and my decapitated pigeon are somewhere now having a chat about the perils of urban life.

      Duly noted on the glue pot front, we’ll have to see how these guys hold up! I took them on their first workshop outing last night and it was a relief to have a nice little system at last. If they dry up and become more trouble that they are worth, I may do as you suggest and invest in some disposable containers. Thanks for the tip about the tea tree oil, as well.

      Best wishes and thank you for writing,


  4. judyrobbinsart
    May 8, 2013

    For a minute there I thought you were going to say you added the bird head to the mix as a hide substitute. Whew! Have a great time in Michigan – hope to see the results.

  5. Nancy Akerly
    May 9, 2013

    Interesting post! I use a mix of methylcel and PVA also. Have you any idea the length of time the methlcel is still viable? Have fun in Michigan!

    • Big Jump Press
      May 10, 2013

      Hi Nancy! Methyl Cellulose lasts ages; months and months. I’ve never had any go bad, I’ve just used it up. It can get moldy if the spoon you use to stir it or the container you use to keep it is dirty, but left to its own devices it is long lived. Thanks!

  6. txtilegrl
    May 21, 2013

    I was wondering how long this glue mix lasts, before going mouldy?.oops I just read the May 10th post, so now I know…. I usually use paste or EVA, but this mix sounds really useful, thanks for the great post

    • Big Jump Press
      May 24, 2013

      Hi there! Glad you got the answer you needed! I love this mix, particularly for how much looser it is. Good luck!

  7. Laura.
    May 23, 2013

    are you at ox-bow?! my new friend bonnie is there taking a class, but papermaking, i think. you would like her. she would like you. kind of like everyone/everywhere you go.

    • Big Jump Press
      May 24, 2013

      Hey Laura! Yes, I was, and yes, I met Bonnie! She took my pressure printing class, which was a lot more stressful than the one we had at MCBA. We talked all about you. Congrats on your show!

      • Laura.
        May 27, 2013

        YAY! i love bonnie. and i still look back fondly on our sweet little weekend of pressure printing with mc and george and the zombies. . . .
        thank you! i am excited to get back to the u.p. this week.

  8. Paul Thomson
    September 26, 2014

    A fantastic tutorial! Thanks for taking the time to create it. I’ve added your site onto our page ‘Book Binding Tutorial: Glues – Tips, Techniques, Types & Recipes’ –

    I hope our post will draw in some more visitors to your site.

    Keep up the good work and again, many thanks for taking the time to write this!

    Have a good rest of the day,

    • Big Jump Press
      October 1, 2014

      Hi Paul, thanks so much! What a great resource you are building! I will link to you on my resource page and point students in your direction. Thanks for linking to me!
      Best wishes,

  9. asd
    October 21, 2014

    I want to know if this above mentioned glue will work perfectly for adheting paper labels to plastic bottles? If no, then kindly suggest me a one I can make at home that sticks paper easily with no stain and paper doesn’t fall off from bottle. Plus in which ratio PVC is mixed with methyl cellulose? PVC is home made solution too or it is bought ready to use?

    • Big Jump Press
      October 31, 2014

      Hi there,
      Sorry I have absolutely no idea about putting paper labels on plastic bottles, but good luck. The PVA:methyl ratio changes depending on a lot of factors. I start with 1 methyl to 3 pva, but often add methyl or pva if my glue is drying too slow/fast.

    • DaveK
      May 5, 2019

      I know this is a very late reply, but the best adhesive I’ve found for gluing paper to glass (in an easily removable way, that is) would be to simply use gelatin glue. Dissolve a package of Knox gelatin in an appropriate amount of hot water, and use it to glue the paper onto the glass. It will stay adhered practically forever, but if you need to remove the label, a short soak in warm water will allow it to slip right off.

      Gluing to plastic would be about the same, I think, though if the bottle is meant to flex, the bond will eventually break.

      Gelatin glue is pretty amazing stuff, and is often overlooked. Unlike other glues and adhesives, you can unglue and redo a gelatin glue joint quite easily without removing base material.

  10. heronpress
    May 13, 2015

    Reblogged this on heather page and commented:
    Okay, so it’s two years later, but still VERY helpful. Thanks, Sarah!

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2013 by in Bookbinding, How I do things., Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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