I’m too tired to be funny. Here’s how to make a damn book:

Get your girlfriend to fold all of the pages.

Terrify your dog.

After all the sets are folded, weigh them down for awhile. It will help you when you start gluing.

You’re going to need to keep the pages flush while they are being glued. I used some plywood scraps I had lying around. I made a neat little press when I glue bound some books years ago, but I don’t have time for stuff like that anymore. I’m a fucking man.

You’re also going to need some weight to keep these books down. You don’t want to use anything too heavy because the glue won’t get through the pages. I’ve also found that if the spine is too compact the book is not as sturdy. The pages will fall out. It’s a fine line between a Post-It note pad and a sturdy book.

I use Dap Weldwood contact cement for the glue binding. Why? because Andy Runton told me that’s what he used back in 2002 when I saw his first glue bound Owly book. I tried a few different glues over the years and they seem to work, but DAP is by far the strongest and most flexible glue around. The fumes are pretty serious, and will probably leave your future children with flippers for hands. But you’re trying trying save some money here, right? Note: Flipper baby children cannot fold photocopies as fast as fingered children, so the savings might cancel out.

I use a piece of upholstery foam to spread the glue with. You’re going to need something like this. The glue will quickly ruin a brush, and a paper towel or rag is just worthless. I took a larger chunk and cut it into sections about 3 inches wide, 4 inches long, and 1 inch deep. Cutting the foam 1 inch deep is important because the book’s spine is about that wide and the glue is much easier to spread if the sponge is about the same size. Note: This photo is of the sponge that I was using when I was doing the endpapers, so I was holding it the other way.

Now, when you start gluing you will end up using more glue than you need. I still use too much glue and I’ve done this over 100 times. So go easy on the glue. Run a small amount over the spine once, let it dry for about 15 minutes, and then run a small amount over again.
The contact cement will loosen when you add the second layer, but it will then dry and leave you with a nice hold. Note: This picture should come before the last two. The close up in the picture above shows the spine with some paper towel on it. Paper towel?

Yep, paper towel. After the first gluing, I let the books dry for at least a day. Then I go back and add a piece of paper towel to the spine so the pages have something extra to hold on to. This is a new “feature” for me, since this was my first time doing a hardbound book. If you’re doing a soft cover then the flexible paper cover does this job for you.

While the book guts are at different stages of gluing you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands, which is good, because you will be cutting 1/8 inch chip board like an asshole for the next 3 hours. I did about half the covers this way, because I didn’t feel confident enough in the exact size of each book to have someone else cut them down. After the first few I had it figured out, and only had to cut the spines by hand. One thing you also need is a copy of Rashy Rabbit to look at while you work. If you’re like me you’ll look at it every 5 minutes to keep yourself motivated. Oh, I almost forgot. I got this chip board from Utrecht for 5 dollars. I could have gone with the thinner board, but the thick stuff just felt right. This stuff is also a pain in the ass for the people who work at the store to cut, so If you’re like me they will screw it up and give you a giant sheet for free.

I made the mistake of having my book cut after gluing instead of before folding, because I didn’t want any page numbers on the book, but also didn’t trust myself to not screw up the folding with out page numbers. My books were all slightly different depths and heights due to the cutter squishing some slightly and some being trimmed a little too much or too little. Just to make sure each book looked right I cut each spine to the exact size of the book. It actually wasn’t that bad, and I will probably do it next time now that I have a better sense of how it all fits together. After your spines and covers are cut, you’ll need to glue on the cloth and cover paper. This part all depends on how you want the book to look. I did save a lot of time by making little guides out of scrap chip board. These helped me quickly size up the amount of space to leave between the cloth and the cover, the right amount of cloth leave showing, and a few other little things that I would screw up if I had to remember actual measurements.

For this part of the project I used good ol’ Elmers glue. It really works the best. I did try the Weldwood for this and it did work, but it left too much tackiness around any time the glue got somewhere it shouldn’t. It also left some stains on the cloth when I tried it.

After the cloth is glued into place, the cover paper needs to go on. Getting the paper straight and folded up over the edge was pretty tricky. You have to leave a small gap between the first fold and the cover so that cover will make it over the edge without looking too puffy, and most importantly so the corners of the book can round off. It’s kind of hard to explain so just look at it:

Probably not the best example of a bad job. But what can I say? I fixed that shit during beta testing. Let’s move on..

The cover is now done. These took exactly 20 minutes to do from start to finish. I know because I was watching episodes of Roseanne on Netflix while I did them. An episode of Roseanne is exactly 21 minutes long, so I’m making that a hard rule: YOU MUST WATCH ROSEANNE WHILE YOU MAKE COVERS FOR YOUR BOOKS!

This is the point where shit gets real. I tried just gluing the book guts right to the spine, but since the hard spine was not flexible like a cardstock spine I decided that the spine was going to need some help. And that help would come in the form of these bands. This material was actually what I was going to use for the cover at one point. That was only a few weeks ago and I have no idea what I was thinking. Bullet dodged.

After the bands dry the books are finally ready to be glued into the covers. This part was a little tricky. In order for the bands to get glued in tight enough the book also needs to be glued to the spine. Or at least that was my solution. I made a test copy of each trying the different methods, and while the end papers did a fine job in keeping the cover attached to the guts, the book still moved around a little too much for me. So the book is designed to have the spine “break” at some point. I wouldn’t recommend trying to break it, but when/if it does the book will be even better than it was before.

This is how the books dry. Having some little clamps helps out a lot. I used them a couple of different times through this process. They’re probably worth the money if you’re going to do this. After this step all that’s left is to put in the end papers. This was the trickiest and messiest part for me. I was difficult to cut each end paper down to the correct size and glue it into place without having it be crooked. I have no good advice on how to do this, other than start with the the cover and then glue the facing page down into the space between the two as far as possible. I felt like I did this part different all 25 times and never found the right way.

When it did work out well it still wasn’t perfectly smooth, which was kind of a bummer. I know it’s handmade and all that, but I wanted it to be as slick as possible, dammit. Once you’re at this step all you have to do is run a small amount of glue on the end paper to attach it to the title page. You have to use Weldwood for this part. The Elmers wrinkles the the paper a bit too much, and just doesn’t have the tackiness. Here is what it looks like when it’s in place.

And here it is with the cover image and “wax stamp” attached.

So that’s how I did it. I’m sure there are better ways to do it, but this is the best I could do within a reasonable amount of time. The book itself didn’t cost much to make; actually it cost way less than any POD service I could find. I left out a few steps (like having a good pal layup the massive PDF for you) but if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer them!

-Brad

Oh, and If you want to buy a copy you can go here.