Big Jump Press

Divide my heart, an ode to my favorite tool


I found a gem at a car boot sale last weekend. Just look a those beauties! Only £6! What a score! And here is our topic today, ladies and gentlemen: Do you know what these are?  (If your answer is yes, you may go to another corner of the internet.)

I ask because just this summer I was hanging out with some high power book arts ladies (you know who you are) and it came to my attention that out of the four of us I was the only person to have a set. I was shocked. I don’t mean in a “you wore that to dinner with the queen?” or “you use that word in public?” or “she said what to who?” kind of way. I was honestly shocked, as in my mouth was open for a while, as in it took me a few minutes to really wrap my mind around it, I could not believe what I was hearing, I must have misunderstood, but no, no, this is real, they really don’t use dividers, but how? But what?

Dividers. If I were to compose a poem about dividers, it would be an epic poem. If I were to write a song, it would be a monster ballad. If I were to write a blog post, this would be it.

I advanced toward that set of dividers like a bull, barreling past older gentleman as I hurtled toward the tool table. As those startled bystanders picked themselves up off the ground and dusted off their clothes, they probably never imagined that I already had five pairs.


Do you see the new set? Third from the right? Look how dainty they are, how delicate. I am a dividers aficionado, a hoarder, a devotee. I use dividers every single day. Until that car boot sale, my go-to set was that beauty second from the left, but I’m taking the new pair out for a ride because they fit into my tool box like a dream.

You don’t use them? Shhhhh, stop talking. Go here.  Here are some cheap ones in the UK. Starrett are my favorite, but any set will do in a pinch. Don’t think. Just buy. Wait by your mailbox. . . and now keep reading.

The first and most obvious reason to have a pair of dividers is to take a measurement quickly. Say you needed to measure the thickness of 114 sheets of drafting film.


Not only can I get this measure, but I can store it by piercing my dividers onto a scrap of paper:


And quickly pick up that measurement whenever I need it just by adjusting the dividers back to that set of holes. Life is full of measurements:


Those scraps of paper soon start to look like this:


When I am working on a project (or three) there are sheets like this hanging on lines where I can get at them quickly. See, look, here’s another one:


Oh, but that’s not all. Let’s say you want to center a label on a board. You can break out your ruler like a dweeb, or you can simply make quick adjustments to your dividers until you find the same amount on either side, like so:



And then, and here’s the kicker, score a beautiful and reliable straight line by hooking one side of the dividers on the board edge and putting a little pressure on the other side.


Pure dividers satisfaction. Do you see? Do you see why I was shocked about those ladies? I do this about a hundred times a day, and you can’t do it without dividers! You just can’t. Look, here I’m doing it again:


Sometimes, because I have so many pairs, I keep them all at different settings that I need for a project Like this:


Then I don’t need to measure anything at all. It’s just score, score, score. Do I sound hysterical? Good. I’m glad. That is how SERIOUS I AM.

I could go on, I really could. I could tell you how you can also use dividers to, yes, divide a board into five pieces. I could tell you how I even use them for letterpress, for god’s sake, by scoring a line where I know I want a baseline of type. Keep those dividers on your feedboard and you can score the same baseline over and over and over again. PUT THE PICA RULER DOWN! It’s as if someone designed a tool just for me, just for all the things I like to do. A tool that does a dozen things I need to do every day. It’s like that.

I’m getting a little too worked up. I am teaching at West Dean College this week and this is what it looks like here:


I’m out of sync with my environment and I think I need to take a few deep breaths and calm down. But I just had to get all that off my chest. Thanks, everyone.

UPDATE: Jeff Peachey posted a photo on his blog that puts my collection to shame. Have a look at his ridiculous collection of dividers.

30 comments on “Divide my heart, an ode to my favorite tool

  1. Emm
    September 30, 2014

    You get the BEST finds! Hurray for tool love x

  2. Celia
    September 30, 2014

    Thank you! I have an inherited pair – now I know what to do with them!

    • Big Jump Press
      October 1, 2014

      Celia, that is so exciting!! I hope you spend the day with them, you will fall in love!

  3. Bob Bryant
    September 30, 2014

    I have dividers. Somewhere in my basement. Couldn’t throw them away.

  4. Kat Bryant
    September 30, 2014

    << Pica pole user for life. (It's a journalist thing.) ❤

    • Big Jump Press
      October 1, 2014

      I’m glad we have picas in common! I wonder if a journalist has any use for a set of dividers. There must be a reason.

  5. alex brooks
    September 30, 2014

    Traditional binders in the UK all use dividers – Maureen Duke (not too far away from you) definitely made us all get multiple pairs!

    • Big Jump Press
      October 1, 2014

      Hi Alex, I must say the UK has been such a great place for tools! Since I moved here I find the most exciting and useful things at car boot sales and junk shops. I found this tiny, homemade (somewhat rustic) finishing press in Lewes last year and I use it all the time. And that tool table in Suffolk had a whole BOX full of dividers. Not to mention that English butter knives are my all time favorite tearing knives. Hurrah!

  6. Jody
    September 30, 2014

    I share your enthusiasm for dividers. I just learned about them and how to use them last summer. They moved to the top of the list as my fav tool. I love them for making picture windows on the front of books; something I didn’t even dare to try before. Perfect for making a base line for stitching holes, Japanese stab stitch. They’ve really changed my life.
    According to a retired biologist I know they are what she used for plotting distances across a map. Just in case you get lost 🙂

    • Big Jump Press
      October 1, 2014

      Hi Jody! Yet another reason to carry them always! I bought those dividerless friends a set and they are converted to our way of thinking.

  7. OK, you convinced me, I’m going to get some too!

    • Big Jump Press
      October 1, 2014

      Yesssss! Join me!!!! Soon you will be alarming people by talking all about your dividers for an hour and doing impromptu demonstrations of their greatness!

  8. Eileen
    October 1, 2014

    I love this post! I can’t believe there are bookbinders that don’t use dividers every day – thanks for spreading the word. I am going to share this post with all of my students so they know I am not alone in my divider devotion! Long live Starrett!

  9. Big Jump Press
    October 2, 2014

    Hi Eileen! Thanks so much! I know, it was a completely strange moment. I always assumed that everyone relied on them as heavily as I do. Starrett 4eva!

  10. Saira
    October 2, 2014

    Yasmeen once told me that a book conservator is defined by her dividers, and I’ve totally taken that to heart. I’m still in the market for a good pair of dividers, and am intensely jealous of your car boot sale find 😉

  11. Abigail Bainbridge
    October 3, 2014

    Are you still here (at WD) today?? Come by & see the books department if you want!

    • Big Jump Press
      October 3, 2014

      Hi Abigail, Yes! I am still at West Dean andI would love to come look at the conservation department! I’m teaching in the main workshop today until we wrap up at three. Where do I go? (I am still new to WD, this is the second visit for me.)

      I hope I see you before I load up the car!
      Best wishes,
      Sarah Bryant

  12. As you know, you have changed my life. A little surprise delight recently: I was re-organizing a bunch of stuff that came with the C and P at work and WOW–I found three pair of dividers! Fortunately I know now what they are!

    • Big Jump Press
      October 3, 2014

      Katie Baldwin, what luck that you found those dividers AFTER you developed a deep and sincere appreciation for them! In an (evil) alternate universe you picked them up and looked at them quizzically, then threw them in a box and forgot about them. Thank god we don’t live there, but instead in this universe where we love our dividers and would never discard them or look at them funny.

  13. sappling
    October 7, 2014

    Thank you for a spectacular laugh this morning! I use dividers to make sure my squares are even when I attach covers to a book, but you have a lots of uses for them that I never thought of. Thank you! That is a fantastic idea about saving measurements by piercing paper, and how you score labels for a cover is pretty good, too.

  14. Stepan Chizhov
    October 31, 2014

    Sarah, hi!

    Thanks for your inspiring publication =)

    Would it be fine if I translate your text into Russian for

    • Big Jump Press
      October 31, 2014

      Hi Stepan, Thanks so much for reading, and I would LOVE to be translated into Russian! Will you send me a link when it is done? Best wishes and thanks,

      • Stepan Chizhov
        October 31, 2014

        Of course I will send you a link =)

        Thanks a lot!

        I suppose I will make the translation on Sunday or early next week.

      • Stepan Chizhov
        November 10, 2014

        Sarah, hi!

        I took some more to make the Russian translation. I had to prepare a workshop last week and your rich language made me to use the dictionary quite intensively =)

        But now it’s online:

        Thanks once again!


      • Big Jump Press
        November 12, 2014

        Thanks again Stepan! So exciting to see my post in Russian! Best wishes and thank YOU!

  15. Papierfrau
    November 6, 2014

    To the very small dividers … ( in Germany we call it: Stechzirkel)) I envy you! I have two in constant use, and thus work like you.
    Gruß Papierfrau

    • Big Jump Press
      November 10, 2014

      Stechzirkel! I will try to use the German every now and then. Best wishes to you and to your Stechzirkel,

  16. Fergus Pearson
    December 3, 2018

    This post is great. My brother gave me a set of dividers a few years ago when I began to try to bind my old books. But I’ve never quite known what to do with them. You’ve inspired me! Now I know! I’ve always thought measuring with a ruler was a bit hit and miss. Now I know the answer.

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2014 by in Bookbinding, How I do things. and tagged , .
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