Bookbinding terms


John Wayte


 sales@waytebinding.com     http://www.waytebinding.com




While I am trying to generate a serious and useful list of bookbinding terms for all to use I hope that the reader will allow me to sometimes indulge in a little lighthearted approach to the subject.


Many of the terms have come down over the hundreds of years that books have been made and a lot of mystique around these terms has been generated. There is also an awful lot of ambiguity in the terms used in bookbinding and the printing industry. It would be good to at least ask those persons who have knowledge to help me to generate a definitive list of terms. So, please E-mail me (john@waytebinding.com) with your comments. Who knows you may see your description included in later issues. Thanks.






Book sizes - traditional

The dimensions of books, as measured, in inches, centimetres, or millimetres, from head to tail and from spine to fore edges of the cover. The descriptions given to book sizes are based on a still currently used system that involves using the size of a leaf as a fraction of the folded sheet on which it was printed.


With reference to the printing of books, an even number of leaves always results when a sheet is folded, i.e., 2, 4, 8, 16, etc., resulting in printed pages on each side of the leaf, i.e., 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.


Except for the largest size, the FOLIO (1), the name of the size indicates the fractional part of the sheet one leaf occupies, e.g., quarto (2 folds, 4 leaves, 8 pages), ¼ of the sheet; octavo (3 folds, 8 leaves, 16 pages), 1/8 of the sheet, etc. In this system, since books are printed from different sizes of sheets (See: BOOK BASIS), the fractional designation by itself cannot denote an exact size; therefore it is a common practice to give the name of the sheet before the fractional name, e.g., royal octavo, which is an octavo 1/8 the size of a sheet 20 X 25 inches or, excluding the SQUARES, a book 10 x 6¼ inches (before trimming).


Paper is cut to so many sizes, however, that the terms crown, royal, post, etc., unless qualified, are practically meaningless. (See: SIZES OF PAPER). Untrimmed sizes for three commonly used sheet sizes are given below. The customary trim of 1/8 inch at head and tail will reduce the height of the text block by ¼ inch; however, the size of the bound book. Assuming 1/8-inch squares will make the height of the book the same as the sizes given. It should be mentioned that not all sheet sizes given are folded to produce books of the very small size indicated. All folds, following the first, are right-angle folds.

The common book-trade designation of sizes was originally related to a sheet of handmade paper measuring 19 X 25 inches, which was the common size of the papermaking mould. When folded to 8 leaves, or 16 pages, and trimmed, each was 6½ X 9¼ inches, approximately, and was the standard dimension of an 8vo. When folded to make 16 leaves, or 32 pages, it was a 16 mo. With the present great variety of paper sizes, all dimensions are by necessity only approximate. (52, 69, 140, 156, 169)


Z binding

2 books bound back to back so that they share the same rear board but have their own front boards and spines. Fantastic for novelty value.

Account binding

A very strong and distinctive style of binding. Often fitted with a Spring Back and covered in leather on the spine. Designed for the wear factor rather than its beauty.


Acid is everywhere and can be very destructive in books. It is often in paper, glue, boards, leathers etc.

If you want a book to last a reasonable time then you must specify that a good acid free paper etc must be used in the original contract. You will probably pay considerable more for the book run.

However, please don’t go into your local bookshop and demand that the book is acid free. By the time its in the bookshop its too late.


But don’t worry most new properly bound books bought by you will last a lifetime.

See Book storage


All edge gilt (gold). See also Teg

Album style binding

I don’t know how many other people use this description. At Wayte Binding we use it to describe a book with guards in the spine to accommodate the thickness of the mounted photographs. These books usually have their pages glued to the next turned edge and are not usually thread sewn.

American groove

See joint


The process during which the joint is formed in the spine.

Backing boards

Used in a lying press to hold the book during the backing stage. These boards are tapered so that as the book is being rounded by a backing hammer it is forced further into the jaws of the lying press so increasing the tightness of the book in the press.

Backing hammer

Specially designed hammer with a large head to prevent damage to the spine during the backing of the book.

Band nippers

A special pair of pliers that have long flat jaws. Used for nipping or forming the raised bands on the spine of books.

Bandolier Wrap

A strip of (usually) paper that is narrower than the book and is wrapped around the book. Can be tucked in to the end papers similar to a dust wrapper or secured to itself by Sellotape or (similar).


When checking this out with Peter @ Independent Binders he said that he didn’t know what this meant until he realised he called this  a “Belly band”. I think that that this is a much more colourful description!

Belly band

See Bandolier Wrap


A person who tears pages from books


A describer of books and other literary works


An indiscriminate collector of books


A lover of books


A person who fears books


One who throws books around

Book sizes - Modern

This bit I know is going to be thorny!

If you want to help me build this part up then please e-mail me at john@waytebinding.com. Thanks

In preparing this bit I found a very good reference at http://www.trussel.com/books/booksize.htm


On this side of the water there is a tendency for books to be refereed to as A6, A5, A4, & A3. Either portrait or landscape. Sometimes we get American A4 or quarto (280 x 215 ish).

“Paperbacks” tend to be size 178 x 110 (7” x 4¼”) but as you know from looking along the bookshelves there are many different sizes.

In our bindery we tend to deal with a lot of designers and they rarely use standard sizes!

I still get companies stating that the book is a quarto size. However the term quarto (in traditional speak) is more intended to specify the number of times that the page has been folded rather than the size of the book. For example you could therefore start out with a sheet size of B2 (500 x 707) to produce a quarto book or a SRA2 (460 x 640) for a smaller quarto size book.

In conclusion I suggest that you always specify the actual size of the book always starting with the height of the book then the width.

Book sizes - Traditional

Traditional book sizes are a direct result of the original paper size and how many times it is folded to make each section. Variations in the finished book size were caused by the different paper mills producing different sizes of paper.

In this example we are using a Crown sheet (20” x 15”)


Folio (Fo) 15” x 10” Paper folded once (4 pp sections).

Quarto (4To) 10” x 7.5” Paper folded twice (8 pp sections).

Octavo (8Vo) 7.5” x 5” Paper folded 3 times (16 pp sections).

Sixteenmo (16Mo) 5” x 3.5” paper folded 4 times (32 pp sections).

Book storage

Books and paper do not like very high or low humidity or temperatures.

Books should ideally be kept at a humidity of between 50 to 65% and a temperature of 55F (13C) and 65F (18C).

It is also quite important that to prevent bleaching and oxidising the covers that books (and paper) are kept in a darkish area and out of the sun.

Examine your books for signs of things eating them and I don’t just mean dogs (and believe it or not pet rabbits!). For some reason dogs like the animal glue on the spine. Look in particular for signs of silverfish and bookworm etc. If you see them or there tell-tell signs then get advice.





Rather a quaint Victorian fashion. Specially printed and often highly decorated bookplates were glued to (usually) the front pastedown to identify the owner of the book or as a (school) prize.


Bookplates are now a collectable item and special plates identifiable with famous people can be worth quite a lot of money!

Bound - Book

A “bound” book describes a book that has its boards attached to the book before the covering material is applied. Usually only fine leather bindings are sometimes manufactured this way.

Bound – Cased in

The book and the case are manufactured separately and only glued together as the last operation.

Bound - Full

The covering material of the case is the same all over.

Bound - Half

The spine and the corners are different to the covering of the boards. (Often in leather)

Bound - Quarter

As half bound but corners not fitted.


A book with good high quality prints that is broken to make framed pictures.

Burst binding

A technique where the spine of the sections are notched during folding so that the perfect binding glue penetrates the pages. Sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a sewn section and the much inferior burst bound book (open up book and look closely in the gutter- if you don’t see threads beware).


Open wove and thin filled cloth used for wrapping around the spine during the spine lining sequence. Extends around the edges of the spine to strengthen the hinge.

See also Mull

Canadian bound Full

The wiro is passed through the one-piece covers at the front and rear to provide a spine to a wiro bound book.

Canadian bound Half

The wiro is passed through the one-piece covers at rear only to provide a spine to a wiro bound book.

Cloth - woven

All cloth must be treated to ensure that the glue does not pass through it during the case making stage. There are two main variations:

A)     Tissue lined. This type of book binding cloth is usually more natural looking type since the “glue protection” coating is on the underside of the cloth.

B)      Coated. This type can be broken down into a number of sub divisions. Buckram is a type that has an impervious filling and the cloth threads (warp (across the roll) & wheft (down the length)) can be clearly seen. Rexine® has a surface coating and the threads cannot be easily seen from the surface.

Comb binding

Many rectangular slots are cut near the spine by a special hole punch and a plastic comb is fed through to hold the pages. Advantages are that the book opens up nearly flat, cheap to carry out in small quantities in the office or print shop but not a very permanent type of binding. Plastic can spring open and allow pages to fall out. I have also noticed that the plastic deteriorates with age and becomes brittle.

See also Spiral binding and Wiro binding.


Hemp fibres spun in various thickness cords used across the spine during the hand sewing operation.

Cut back

Another term for a perfect bound book



We do love you really but sometimes this is tempered with a certain degree of despair.

A)     Ars* hole. A technical term used to describe a very awkward person.

B)      Pratt. A person who has just left college and knows everything! Comes under the same category as “teach granny to suck eggs”.

C)      Youth. For goodness sake hire a youth while they still know everything (without careful nursing these have been known to turn into Pratt’s).

D)      Dick head. A person who is unable (or unwilling) to understand anything. See end papers.

E)       Designer. A person who has the knack of absorbing at least 90% of the project time designing the job and still gets it wrong (remember the falling teapots on “Changing rooms”!).

F)       Financial controller. A person who doesn’t care that you have sweated blood and guts to get the job ready in an impossibly short time frame but will find every way possible to hold on to the money for 1 more day. See payment excuses

G)      Piss-head. A person who is always out of the office for at least 2 hours either side of lunchtime.

H)      Swinger. A person who is always on the golf course (well what else did you think I meant!).

I)        Consultant. A person who knows more than you at any given time and usually because he has just read the book.

J)        An expert. #1. The X is an unknown quantity and the (s)pert is a small and useless jet of water.

K)      An expert. #2. Is a person who knows more and more about less and less until he knows practically everything about absolutely nothing.

L)       Bullshit. A highly technical language that can only be successfully used by a very limited number of people. All others are totally convinced that the absolute truth is being spoken at all times. This language takes years to master. Lessons given!

M)    BOF (otherwise known as Boring Old Fart) these people lurk behind trees, filing cabinets and half open doors. They have the special technique of ambushing you at the time that you are most busy. The tales that they can deliver verbatim are endless and usually involve something about the war, when they were young or some distant relative.



A “fancy” pastedown end paper. This is used to describe a special sort of end paper for a fine binding. They can be made from silk, marbled paper or leather with a highly tooled or illuminated design.

See complex end papers.

Drawn on covers

Term applies to a thread sewn book block that has a limp (150/300-gsm) cover glued directly to it. Usually hot melt glue is used. This construction is much stronger than a perfect bound book since the sections are thread sewn.

Dust wrapper

A covering that is fitted around the book.

End paper.



In every industry there is always something that appears to the experts to be very simple but becomes very complex to all others.


The Achilles heal in book-speak terms is the end papers. I have had more lengthy conversations on this subject than almost any other.


Unless the book has “self ends” then when describing the number of pages in a book only quote the actual book block or text pages. Normally end papers always are extra to the book block and are not counted with the text pages.


See below for details of End Papers.

End papers – self ends

On some cheap books the end papers are not a separate sheet of paper but are part of the main book block. This therefore reduces the price of the binding BUT the sewing holes will be visible at the internal hinge. Not as strong a construction as conventional end papers.

End papers complex

Usually only found in fine bindings and can be extremely complex in their construction. The end paper can be made up from a number of different sheets of paper, marbled papers, silk or leather laminated together. The joints are often made from leather and can incorporate doublures.

Usually sewn on the book during the sewing (by hand) operation.

End papers simple

Or should this be End papers complex! I leave that decision to you.


Having spent some 30 minutes trying to explain to a customer what an end paper is I am going to labour this point. So those that know what an end paper is I apologise


An end paper is a piece of paper that is twice the width of the book but is the same height as the book. It is folded in half to make it the size of the book. It’s the width that we are talking about and not the height of the book.


Now to make things easy we are going to fully identify the pages


So we now number the pages so that the folded bit is on the left and the open side is on the right. No, turn it round the other way!


We then have page 1 facing us, open up the end paper and we have page 2 and 3 as the spread. When you turn it over page 4 is on the back. In other words if you open the sheet out you have page 4 and 1 on one side and page 2 and 3 on the other side.


OK so far?


If we now concentrate on the front end paper, then page 1 glues to the case. This is surprisingly sometimes called the pastedown. Pages 2 & 3 are the first things you see when you open up the book. The combination of pages 3 & 4 are sometimes called the “free end paper”. Page 4 is tipped on to the front of the bookblock.


When we construct the book we tip on page 4 on to the first page of the first section of the bookblock.


Really complicated isn’t it!


Now to confuse you.


The rear end paper is the reverse of this. Page 1 is tipped on to the rear of the book block. Pages 2 & 3 are the spread and page 4 is the pastedown!


I think what the real problem is, is that since page 1 is the paste down it is hidden from view and is forgotten. So the uninitiated think that page 1 is in fact page 2 page 2 is page 3 and page 3 is 4. But how can you have 3 pages on one sheet of paper! I will leave you to work that one out.


Do I hear “help”!


This is what I was originally going to write till I had my conversation with my customer!

Usually a 4-pp construction that is tipped on to the book block. On cheap books it is sometimes the first and last page of the bookblock (self ends)


From the library of….


See also Bookplates


Free end paper. I.e. the part of the end paper that is not pasted down.

Fine binding

Describes the best quality bindings. Usually only in (full) leather with tooling decoration.


These are the highly skilled people who would take a completely leather bound book from the Forwarders and put on the gold and other decoration. I have been told that their apprenticeship would have lasted 7 years till they were considered skilled enough to work on the best quality books.

Does anyone want to add to this please?

Finishing stoves

Special heating plate (now electric but traditionally gas heated) with supports to hold finishing tools or handle sets

Flush cut

When the boards are the same size as the bookblock. Usually the book is trimmed after the case has been fitted so that you will see the edge of the board.


Either metallic or pigment. Foils are a complex make up of at least 3 layers. The clear carrier (polyester), the actual colour or metalised gold and the adhesive part. The technological design of the foils is complex since they will have different release characteristics and different adhesive properties to suit product that is being printed on.


Each will require knowledge of the actual foil used and the substrate to determine the best temperature, dwell time and pressure.


Metallic generally are the gold, silver and the bright shiny metal looking foils. These metallic foils generally give the best definition on fine lines.


Pigment foils are usually for the colours and there is a fairly good range and can be available in matt or gloss. However the actual colour range is very limited if you compare it to say the Pantone® range. Special colours can usually be produced BUT on in very large quantities. So it is better for you to select a colour from the foil swatch rather than from a Pantone® or similar reference book. Please also note that many of the pigment colours are relatively thin and that the background colour can sometimes change the foil colour.


The front of the book

Fore-edge painting

A painting (usually watercolour) on the fore-edge of the book that can only be seen when the book is fanned out. The book is usually aeg to hide the painting until the book is fanned.

Very occasionally a double fore-edge painting would be carried out and you would get a different picture when fanning the book forwards and backwards.

Good examples can considerably enhance the book value and will command premium prices.

I am told that the very highest prices for this work are those Victorian examples where the subject is naughty!


This was the skill to take the book up to the fully bound volume. Forwarders would not finish a book. This would be passed on to a Finisher. Again I have been told that this apprenticeship would have lasted 7 years till they were considered skilled enough to work on the best quality books.

Does anyone want to add to this please?

French (paring) knife

A special very sharp knife absolutely flat on one side with a curved cutting edge. Used for removing (paring) leather especially in the middle of the skin (where the leather fits over the spine). See also paring knives.

French folded

Pages bound so that the open side is bound in the spine and the folded side is on the foreedge. Japanese bindings are often bound this way.

Care should be taken when defining a book with French folded pages. It is probably best to define the number of pages in detail so that there can be no misunderstanding. Please also remember due to the complexity of the binding operations a book containing French folded sheets will always be (considerably) more expensive than a conventional binding.

Count each French folded sheet as 2 pp or 1 leaf (not a 4 pp folded wrong way).



When going through my books I came across and old book that was French folded. The book is “Flora’s Feast – A Masque of Flowers” illustrated by Walter Crane. Dated 1889. 40 pages (20 leaves). Published by Cassell & Company – In this version the pages are side singer sewn.


Has anybody got any books that are earlier than this for true French folded? Please contact me on www.waytebinding.com 


(Don’t mistake an unopened book for a French Folded book. In an un-opened book the pages would have been folded and sewn in say 16’s and the book bound without any trimming. This would have then left the head and a single foreedge as a folded section)

French folded dust wrapper

As above but this turned out to be a conventional dust wrapper with the head and tail folded under for strength. I have sometimes seen this method on early 20th C books when dust wrappers were made from paper and not laminated paper, which is often currently used.

All comments as above.

French Mount

I have had an enquiry for this type of binding and had to ask the customer what he wanted! As far as I know this term does not exist but in his case it described a turned edge construction for a conventional case for a book. This type of construction is sometimes known as “paper over board”.

In other words a customer (or designer) using fancy words for a standard operation so that he could impress someone!


If you know differently please contact me on. www.waytebinding.com

French or American groove

A crease put down the hinge of the book

See American groove


Traditionally this was made from egg white. Used to “glue” the gold to the book either for the edge gilding or the tooling. Modern substitutes now exist.

Glue - Animal

Traditional glues that are usually applied heated. This type of glue is usually reserved for the best type of work and for repair and conservation uses. It is completely reversible and it is known to last hundreds of years. When adding water to dilute ensure that the water is acid free.

Glue - open time

The length of time before the glue sets.

Hot melt for instance has a very short open time and may be set in only a few seconds.

PUR goes off quickly but takes a few hours to reach full strength.

PVA usually has a medium term (several minutes) open time but with additives can be shortened or extended to suit the application.

Whereas paste and animal glue will take several hours to go off. This is useful in say leatherwork where the leather may need to be moulded over the raised bands.

Some glue’s (inc. special PVA, self-adhesive etc) can be usable for long periods.

Glue - Paste

Starch paste (wallpaper adhesive) used in hand binding and leatherwork. Long open time

Glue - PUR

Special types of hot melt adhesive for perfect binding. More expensive than standard perfect binding glues but much stronger and more flexible.

Glue - PVA

Water based glue. Often used in production and handwork. Many different grades available dependant on its required duties.

Because bookbinding PVA is formulated to remain flexible when dry we suggest that you use this type and not a “woodworking grade” which in my experience goes brittle. If in doubt squeeze a thick strip on a scrap piece of paper then bend when fully dry.

Glue – Tape


Clear self-adhesive tape  (Horrible!)

Please don’t use.

It often leaves a brown stain and can be difficult to remove when the book needs repair.

Use an archival tape or if all else fails use a water moisenable type of tape (butterfly brand or similar). PS don’t lick the tape to moisten (acid in your mouth!) use fresh water.

Best of all send the book to your local bookbinder!

Glue pot

2 versions are normally available.

The traditional type is a double “saucepan” type. Water is place in the outer one and Animal glue in the inner. When heated by a gas or electrical stove the water maintains the temperature without scalding or burning the glue.

The “new” type is a thermostatically controlled unit


The gold that is normally used in bookbinding comes in small books containing 25 sheets of 22 carat gold size 3.5” x 3.5” and separated with tissue. Special techniques are used to transfer the very thin gold to the book. Real gold foil is also available.

Gold brush

Special flat brushes that must be kept absolutely grease free (including finger grease!) used to handle the very thin gold leaf.

Gold cushion

A special pad of leather, flesh side up, that the gold is transferred to so that it can be cut to size. The pad must be absolutely grease free (including finger grease) to work satisfactorily.

Gold foil

See foil

Gold knife

A knife with a long flat blade. Used to lift the gold and cut the gold to the required shape to minimise waste. The knife must be absolutely grease free (including finger grease) to work satisfactorily.

Gold rubber

Special latex type rubber (very soft) that is used to pick off the unwanted gold after lettering or decorating the book. 

There is a rumour that in the past the finishers would keep the rubbers and on retirement would dissolve the gold out for their pensions.

Does anyone want to add to this story please?
Please contact me on www.waytebinding.com 

Grain of paper

There is always a grain in the paper (unless the paper is hand made). This is the way that the paper fibers lay when the paper is being manufactures at the mill. Paper folds better if the fold is with the grain. All books should have the grain running head to tail. 

Fuller explanation of the problems 

Grains of paper are like people if you overfeed them they get fatter not taller! So if you introduce water into the paper (during back lining or casing-in) the grains will absorbed some of it. Now this is ok if the grains of the paper run from head to tail because the excess paper simple expands to the foreedge and is not restrained.

If however the endpapers (and definatly the pages) are cross grain then we have a problem. As the paper tries to expand it is partially restrained by the spine of the book but elsewhere the paper is free to move, the result is cockling or waving of the paper.

This fault sometimes rights itself as the paper dries and it will definatly be helped if the book is left under pressure for some time.  

It should also be noted that paper folds much better with the grain than against it. Again using people, if we pack a load of people in a room then they could move around easily but they couldn’t bend over.


A piece to paper or card fitted in the spine to bulk up the book to compensate for the thickness of photographs or other matter that may pasted to the pages


Type of rubber that was used extensively by the Victorians. Often used to assemble art type books printed on heavy weight paper. The construction of the book would have been a Cut back style rather like a paperback but case bound in boards. When new the book opened up very flat but after a short time the Gutta-percha broke down/hardened and so the pages would tend to fall out.  

This type of book is sometimes referred to as a breaker. Since the plates are usually of a good decorative nature and well printed they are often stripped out from the book and framed for wall hanging. Because this type of book is becoming increasingly rare to find intact it is worth having repaired.


The space at the spine side of the pages

Hammer - Backing

Backing hammers have a very large flat head so that the sections/paper is not damage during the rounding operation

Handle letters

Traditional method of titling books. Each letter and numeral are held in a wooden handle an applied individually to title the book. Takes great skill to apply correctly and in a straight line. Usually heated on a finishing stove. See also pattern tools, Type holder


The top of the book

Head bands

The coloured strip glued at the top and bottom of the book lying across the spine. In traditional bookbinding’s these were hand sewn and formed part of the strength of the book. These headbands can be very complex and colourful. Silk is often used.


A Spot on a printed sheet caused by dust, lint or ink imperfections.  Particularly noticeable on solids and half tones.

It has been suggested that the term may be spelt icky.

Can anyone tell how this term originated?


This is the place that the book opens. Vital part of the book that is often ignored or badly constructed. A poorly made hinge will either break down quickly of lift the end papers from the bookblock.


See Book storage


The way that the pages are orientated on a large sheet of paper for printing and subsequently folding.

Index cut

Part of the foreedge of the page is removed to expose a sequence of letters, an index or, as in address books, the alphabet. 


An index is cut into the front of the book. An address book is a typical example.


Different coloured leather patches are pared to the same thickness as the book leather and then cut into the book leather. This is the same technique as marquetry in wood. Often gold is also applied to finish the design.  On-lays and in-lays can appear on the same book

See also on-lay

Japanese binding

Special type of binding with usually 4 or 5 exposed sewing threads on the spine. Very visually effective but complex (and expensive) method of binding.


The joint of a book is absolutely vital to get correct so that the book opens correctly and has a reasonable life.

The joint is the place in the book where the boards fold. The actual design of the joint can vary depending on the type of binding that you are trying to achieve. Some of these are listed below: 

Fine binding.

The book will have been rounded and backed and the end paper hinge will be at the very edge of the spine. The boards are cut so that there is only a very minimal gap between the boards and the spine. When the covering material (usually leather) is laid on the boards there will be no visible externally

Joint. The joint will be a point contact and the covering will flex (open) over a very short distance. I.e. any wear will take place over a very narrow strip running up the hinge.

American joint

Sometimes also called a French Joint. The boards of the book are cut so that a 7/10-mm gap is left at the spine. As the book is pressed special jointing boards are used which makes a groove in the cover to press the covering material directly on to the endpaper. This then makes a distinct crease in the cover to facilitate the easy opening of the book.

Problems with joints

In any joint it is absolutely essential that the end paper comes into contact with the covering material. It doesn’t matter if there is no external joint as long as the book is rounded and the end paper is fitted correctly so that it can touch the covering.

The greatest problem caused in joints is if for some reason the end paper is held off the covering by the thickness of the board. When this happens there is a real chance that the end papers will be ripped off the book or the end paper will tear down the hinge. I have seen books so badly constructed that when you try to open the book the boards have to be held open and snap shut like a mousetrap when released.

Kentish binding

Wiro bound book fitted into a hard case.

Can be either glued to the rear of the case only or to both front and rear covers. Ideal arrangement if you require the book to open absolutely flat and to have the appearance of a conventional bound book. Also an easy way to introduce tabs into the book design.

Note maximum capacity of wiro is 28 mm (1.25”)

An alternative version is to attach a perfect bound book to the rear board only.

See also wiro binding.

Wayte Binding speciality.


Kettle stitch

Term only refers to a traditionally sewn book. This is the stitch that links one section to the next. It is found at the top and bottom of the spine and is hidden by the spine liner

Knocking down stick

A square stick made from hard wood about 15” long and weighted with lead at one end. Used to tap the sections down while in the sewing frame to make a nice tight spine.

Kraft paper

Useful and strong paper that is often used for spine lining books. Sometimes known a brown wrapping paper.

Lacing in

Only used in fine bindings. The cords are laced in holes formed in the boards. This is the strongest way to bind a book.

Laminated paper cover

Very often a printed sheet is required to cover the boards of the book. Since paper is usually too weak to withstand the wear on the hinge it is necessary to strengthen the paper around the spine. The usual method is to laminate (either gloss or matt) the paper prior to assembly.

The ideal weight of paper is in the range of 130 to 150 gsm. If the paper is too heavy it is difficult to turn in.

As an alternative we can back line the paper but this is an expensive option.


When the width of the book is greater than its height.


Only used for the more prestigious work such as fine bindings due to its expense. Many types are used including Sheep, Calf, Goat, and Pig.

Leather - Bonded

Re-constituted leather. Bonded leather is too real leather as chipboard is to wood. It is a very good substitute for real leather on new cased bindings. But don’t dream of using it on leather repairs or old books and will give you completely the wrong effect (see my comments under repairs, this is probably the %!). Can not be moulded over the spine to produce raised bands etc.

Lying press

This press is designed to very firmly hold the book in a horizontal position. The book can be either Backed or ploughed in the press. The press sits on a Tub (a stout wooden frame to hold the Lying press at a convenient height for working).


Open wove cloth used on spines to line them. Often used in hand binding operations


Different coloured leather (or materials) applied directly to the surface of the book to generate, a sometimes, very complex design. The on-lays are pared very thinly so as to make a neat appearance. Often gold is also applied to finish the design. On-lays and in-lays often appear on the same book

See also in-lay

Open time

See Glue – open time

Over sew

Pages are over-sewn for a variety of reasons and are usually only carried out on hand made books or repairs. Singer sewn or hand over-sewn are the two most common types.

Singer sewn: This is a heavy-duty sewing machine that is capable of sewing several mm of paper together to form a section out of loose or individual pages.

Over-sew by hand: A small number of pages are over sewn to form a section. This method is often neater and less obtrusive than singer sewing and you would tend to use this method when repairing books. 

These individual sections can then be conventionally sewn by hand to produce a finished book block.

Paper over board

I think this originated from the ring binder manufactures to describe an alternative to the normal welded plastic construction. It is however very adapt description in the conventional bookbinding industry to describe a printed and laminated covering for the case.


Thinning leather ready for placement on a book. Some leather will require edge paring only while additional work on the spine or even all over. The thickness that the leather is pared to will vary across the skin. See Paring knives

Paring knives

Special very sharp knives absolutely flat on one side with a straight cutting edge. Used for removing (paring) leather. Available in either left or right hand cutting angle. Since these knives have a sharp point and a straight cutting edge they are not very good for removing leather where the spine is to fit. See also French knives.

Paste down

Usually refers to the part of the end paper that is attached to the boards.

Pattern tools

Decorative tools that are heated on a finishing stove then applied to the book to create the finished effect. Often several tools are combined on the leather to create very complex patterns from a number of simple tools. Can be used either blind (no gold) or gilt (with gold) If applied with skill the effect can be stunning.

Payment excuses

I think that this is an area that that could have an interesting input from you. I will however kick it off with a few obvious excuses that have been given to us over the years. 

A)     Cheque made out but the financial controller is on holiday and can't sign.

B)      Sorry but our chequebook is with the auditors.

C)      Run out of cheques.

D)      Waiting for a big cheque to arrive so that we can pay you.

E)       Well I did post it to you when I promised but the Post office must have lost it!

F)       No signature

G)      No date etc.

H)      Did you invoice us?

I)        Have you moved? (It never ceases to amaze me but the only people who do not have the correct address after you have moved are the accounts department).

J)        Post dated cheques.

K)      When did you deliver?

L)       Dog ate the invoice!

M)    Never noticed second invoice.

N)      Sorry but your invoice wasn’t drawn out of the hat this month.

O)      The letter was in the post room and I have now rescued it and put it in the post!

P)       Query on job after 78 days!

Q)      Sorry can’t sort the payment out now. Our account dept only takes calls at 3.00 on a Wednesday so can you phone them then please.

R)      Don’t ask me my wife (or partner, or accountant, or Doris, or …………..Please fill in) does all that.

S)       Your invoice has been sent to our head office for clearance. It is then sent to the accounting division for the cheque to be made out. Meanwhile the delivery note from our Southampton division has to return the note to our head office for checking that the goods have been supplied correctly. Finally our managing director, who, at present, happens to be on holiday in the Far East, then has to sign all cheques.

T)      Sorry but I have a virus in my accounts package. We will pay you when the problem is cleared by our expert (see above – under definitions).

U)      Bl**dy computers crashed. 

Come on you lot there must be some real classics


Perfect book

In our bindery we see a large number of books and we also bind books for students, i.e. thesis or dissertations. Occasionally we get students who are paranoid about mistakes that they may have overlooked.

We even had one student who in the interest of getting everything right forgot how to spell her name!

On these occasions I get out one of my favourite books on books. (Books, Gerald Donaldson – Publisher Phaidon) and quote the following passage which was taken from William Keddie, Anecdotes Literary and Scientific: 

The Foulis’ editions of classical works were much praised by scholars and collectors in the nineteenth century. The celebrated Glasgow publishers once attempted to issue a book, which should be a perfect specimen of typographical accuracy.

Every precaution was taken to ensure the desired result.

Six experienced proof-readers were employed, who devoted hours to the reading of each page; and after it was thought to be perfect, posted it up in the hall of the university, with a notification that a reward of £50* would be paid to any person who could discover an error.

Each page was suffered to remain two weeks in the place where it was posted, before the work was printed, and the printers thought that they had attained the object for which they had been striving.

When the work was issued, it was discovered that several errors had been committed, one of which was on the first line of the first page.   

 *Remember that £50 was a very large sum of money in the 19th century- especially for a student

Perfect bound

This is the standard “paper back” book. Each leaf is individual and is only held together by hot melt glue applied to the spine. Normally used for high volume, cheap work.


A traditional hand operated device for trimming the edges of a book. A sharp flat-sided knife is held in a screw carriage and passed back and forward across the book trimming a few pages at a time as the screw is slowly turned. Predates the guillotine.


When the height of the book is greater than its width. See also landscape

Raised bands

During the traditional sewing operation the sewing threads pass around a cord held at right angles to the sections. This cord could be either sunken (grove cut in the spine to produce a smooth spine) or raised (on the surface to produce the traditional raised bands)


I have seen many repairs on books and like all bookbinders like to examine the skill with which they have been carried out. Wow, is there a span of skills in bookbinding! 

I have seen some superb examples of repairs where it is very difficult to see the repaired spine, the colour matches, the end papers and internals have been treated with sympathy and the book opens correctly. 

On the other hand I have seen    @ & % & **  well I rather not talk about the worst examples, only to say either go on recommendations or see examples of repairs before handing your family heirloom over for repair.

At Wayte Binding we always have examples of repairs and past work to show new customers. 

I am often asked, “if the book is repaired will it loose value?” 

It is impossible to answer this simply and I can only guide you to the answer. 

If a book is in such a poor state that its pages are falling out and the covers broken or detached then the book has reached a low ebb in its life. The value of the book is then at its lowest.

So, if the repairs are carried out sympathetically then the book should increase in value.

However what you have to judge carefully is, will the cost of repair exceed the value of the book? If the book is say a family heirloom or a Bible then the cost of the repair will normally far exceed the actual replacement value of the book. But you can’t replace your family heirloom or Bible and so the cost of repairs becomes unimportant. In other words non-commercial. 

When dealing with the commercial world such as Antiquarian bookshops this subject becomes easy, cost of buying book + cost of repairs = “will I make a profit?”


See repairs

Ribbon or page marker

Piece of ribbon glued (or card on a thread) on the spine and of sufficient length to lay between a page to mark the position in the book

Ring binders

There are two main construction types. Each of the groups can be fitted with a huge variation of ring types. 

A)     Welded plastic type. This variation is manufactured using a high frequency welder. Very complex designs and profiles with pockets can be produced. Pockets or “encapsulation” techniques can be built into the covers to identify the contents or the folder can be foil blocked or silk-screened.

B)      Turned edge or paper over board type. Standard bookbinding technique for board construction is used. Any material can be used on the covering from printed and laminate paper, cloth, leather etc. The folder can be foil blocked or silk-screened for identification. This type of construction usually has a neater and more sophisticated look.

Roman numerals

Example 1999 would be written MIM i.e. take away one from 2000. However this is not a good example for the more complex numbers. 1853 is MDCCLIII (3 added on to the last 50) or 28 would be XXIIX (2 taken away from the last 10).

Now you know why Romans couldn’t build computers! Sorry Julius Gates!

1 = l

V = 5

X = 10

L = 50

C = 100

D = 500

M = 1000

Round and backed

Conventional shaped book with a concave fore-edge. Spine of the book is first rounded and then backed to form a shoulder.


Through the spine.

See wire stitched or singer sewn

Section sewn

After folding the pages each section is joined to the next with a sewn thread passing down the spine. These days obviously sewn on machines but in the traditional time these were sewn by hand onto to cords (to produce a raised band) or onto tapes (smooth spine)

Sewing frame

A special frame to hold the cords or tapes in the correct vertical position while the book is being hand sewn. The sections that are being sewn lay horizontal on the bed of the frame.

The frame is usually fitted with some form of screw adjustment so that a light tension can be applied to the cords.


A mark stepped along the outside of the section to enable the binder to check the pagination of the book at a glance. Unfortunately not used very often these days! Printers and pre press take note!

Singer sewn

A heavy-duty sewing machine that is capable of sewing several mm of paper together to form a section out of loose or individual pages.

*An individual section can be saddle sewn to replace wire stitching for effect or security (as in passports).

*A small number of loose pages can be side singer sewn (say 5 to 8 mm from the spine) and a thin card cover applied to hide the sewing. Alternatively the cover can also be included in the side sewing to act as a feature of the finishing.


Warning, due to the hardness of the paper you will always get an eruption on the backside (i.e. where the needle come through). This can be minimised but not eliminate by crushing or pressing the book after sewing.


Type of book covering material

Slip cases

A slide on cover for a book or magazines. Useful to keep several volumes neatly in one place.

Sods law

If an event can happen, it will. Usually to the detriment of the person that it is happening to!

Solander boxes

Very elaborate type of box with hinged lid that fits around a precious book, valuable manuscripts etc. Box can be made to look like a book


The rear of the book

Spine lining

Covers the spine of the bookblock. Materials can include Mull, calico, crepe paper, Kraft paper, newspaper (sic) etc.

For traditional books multiple layers (of Kraft paper) are often used to stiffen the spine of the book

Spiral binding

Very similar to Wiro binding. Holes are punched near the spine and a “spring” wire is wound in from one end. Wire can be coloured. Advantages are that the book opens up completely flat and can be folded back on itself, cheap to carry out in small quantities in the office or print shop but not a very permanent type of binding. Better than comb binding since wires can not open so easily after assembly.

See also Wiro binding and Comb binding.

Spoke shave

Traditional wood working Spoke shave is used to pare the leather. Good for middle of skin (spine area) work. Some slight modifications to the Spoke shave are necessary for leatherwork.

Please note that it is the Spoke shave with the flat base that is used.

Spring back

Type of account binding where the spine is made from layers of card. This acts as a spring on the spine of the book so that when the book is opened the pages spring open and lay flat.

Do not confuse this type of binding with a spring back folder. The spring back folder simply clamps the pages along the spine

Square or flat spine

Spine support material is a firm (and flat) board. Book is not rounded.


The overlap of the boards to the edge of a book. This varies on the size of the book from say 2-mm for small book to 4/5 mm on say an A4 book.


I have seen squares much larger than this on books but usually only for a special reason. If for example we have to bind a run of magazines and the size changes over the years then we may make the case the same size as the rest but case in the book block so as to leave a much larger square at the tail.


To get the best balance for the book it is often better to gauge the size of the squares optically. Taking into account the thickness of the board, the thickness of the book and the size of the book

Stab stitch

A staple is fitted through the side of the book to hold several individual pages or sections.

Standing press

A large floor standing press used to press book in bulk.


Metal wires stapled through the spine to hold the single section together. Often used in magazines and school exercise books.

One of the many attempts by the Victorian’s to cheapen the binding process was to stitch individual sections on to a very heavy duty Mull instead of thread sewing the book. OK till the staples rusted!

See also stab stitch


Not what you think. This is a single section stapled book.

Supported French grove

Complex joint usually with a working (account style book)

Sussex binding

Flush cut book. Boards are attached to the end papers or the cover (if limp bound & PUR bookblock used) of the book prior to trimming the book to size. A small gap of say 10/20-mm is left between the spine and the boards to allow the book to hinge. Usually a cloth or laminated spine is fitted to the book and the boards can be attached either prior (4 board edges exposed) or after (3 board edges exposed) the spine covering is fitted. The boards are usually covered with a printed sheet.


Warning. While this type of binding can look very effective please ensure that you are aware of the shortcomings before using this method of binding.


A)     Since the final trim is through the grey board there is a very real tendency for the guillotine blade to be damaged by the board and cause tramlines on the edge of the paper. It is impractical to keep changing the blade and therefore a certain amount of roughness must be accepted.

B)      The spine is normally un-supported during the trimming stage and may be left slightly ragged. If cloth spine used then a few stray fibres may be visible.

C)      The board edges will be exposed unless a much more complex system is used. (boards cut to size first, then covered with the cloth or paper, then accurately fitted to the trimmed bookblock)

If C) used then a further variation is to have the boards oversize to allow an overhang (squares) as a conventional case-bound book. 

There are a number of versions of “Sussex” bindings. 

Basic “Sussex” bound: 

In this basic style we attach the spine cloth directly to the covers Perfect Bound book and then fit the grey boards front and rear. The boards can be blocked or finished in any style. The whole book is then flush cut. It is important that the boards are positioned so that there is a gap of approximately 15 mm of the spine-covering showing. This area acts as the hinge and will be far enough away from the books side glue to prevent premature detachment of the covers. Spine blocking not possible with this version. End papers are not fitted. 

Intermediate “Sussex” bound: 

Conventional end papers fitted to bookblock. Spine covering material glued to a support card then whole surface glued to bookblock. Spine covering can be blocked or left plain as desired. Front and rear board covered (if required) on surface only (edges exposed) with a paper covering. Then fitted to front and rear of bookblock with a (usually 15 / 20 mm spine gap. Head, Tail and foredge flush cut. 

Advanced “Sussex” bound: 

As intermediate but boards are usually with turned (covered) edges and (usually) have an overhang like a conventional case bound book. Feature is that since the spine is visible it falls short of the covers. 

This technique is a Wayte Binding speciality


Swiss binding

Special type of perfect binding where the book is bound with a (cloth) spine and the cover is only attached to the rear of the book


See Index cut (as in address books etc)


The bottom of the book


Used during the sewing operation (usually by hand) to strengthen the construction of the book.


Top edge gilt (gold) Fore-edge and tail are plain. See also Aeg

Thread - Sewing

Cotton, Polyester

Tight back (or fast back)

Traditional method of binding where the covering material is stuck directly on to the spine of the book

Tight joint

Joint with no groove

Time of day

These descriptions have a tendency to change depending on your viewpoint. I.e. if you are a customer then EOP means lunchtime so that he can get the goods into his customer by their EOP.

EOP = End of play (Day).

First thing = By lunchtime.

Midday = 1:00 to 1:30 When we are out to lunch! 


The finishing of the book with hand held tools to apply gold decoration. Often the build up of the tooling can be very extensive on the spine and on the boards.


A support for the plough or lying press

Type holder

A special holder for moveable type. The title of the book is set up in the holder and then placed on a finishing stove to heat up to the correct blocking/titling temperature. Supersedes the individual handle letters for titling.

Unopened book

Some books were cased in a temporary bindings and so were left un trimmed to enabled the purchaser to have the book bound by their own binder in their particular house style.

If you purchase an old book like this and you want to “open” the book use a knife that does not* have a very sharp edge! (Think carefully before carrying out this operation since the book may be more valuable if left in the original state i.e. “unopened”).

*NOTE If you don’t believe me try cutting along the fold of a folded sheet of paper with a razor blade.

Velobind binding

Trade name for a system that requires series of small holes to be punched adjacent the spine and a plastic strip with teeth is passed through to lock into a similar strip on the rear.

Wiro binding

Very similar to Spiral binding. Holes round or square are punched near the spine and a wire is fitted around the spine then clenched closed. Wire can be coloured. Advantages are that the book opens up completely flat and can be folded back on itself, cheap to carry out in small quantities in the office or print shop but not a very permanent type of binding. Better and neater than comb binding but wires can sometimes be forced open after assembly.

Note maximum capacity of wiro is 28 mm (1.25”)

See also Spiral binding, Comb binding and Kentish Binding.

Work & tumble

Printing on one side of a sheet, then turning the sheet over, retaining the same sidelay edge but reversing the front and back edges. Same plate used for both sides.

Work & turn

Printing on one side of a sheet, then turning the sheet over, retaining the same front edge but moving the sidelay edge to the other side of the press. Same plate used for both sides.

Yapp binding

Where the covering of the book extends beyond the solid boards so that when folded it partially protects the pages from dirt and grime. Often used in Bibles. Named after William Yapp a 19c bookseller.

Many of the above terms I have gleamed from a number of sources. The actual descriptions are largely my own based on my >20 years of binding books and with discussions with my many friends in the trade. If you think that I have got the descriptions wrong or could be improved then please let me know.  It is impossible to thank everyone who has had an input but the following people/organizations spring to mind as being particularly helpful. PUR-Fect finish, G F Smith, Specialblue.

I also thank Whitmar Publications who publish ”print & paper Buyer’s Handbook of Terms” for Paper Europe for the use of some of their definitions


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