Bookmaking Part 3: Preparing text blocks

[Part of a series on my bookmaking internship at the Kyujanggak conservation lab.]

As a Westerner I am so accustomed to using a guillotine, board shear, or Kutrimmer for cutting large stacks of paper, especially for text blocks. When we got out a thick stack of hanji and went to cut down my text blocks I was surprised that the only tools we used were straight edges/rulers, weights, a cutting mat, a knife, and an awl (for marking where to make the cuts).

cutting down textblock2

2016-03-17 10.38.36
This was the knife we used, from Japan. (Though we kind of struggled with it and ended up switching to a snap blade.)

After the paper was cut down and each sheet folded in half, we prepped some of the text blocks for side-stitch or stab binding (선장). We made cords out of paper and used an awl to make holes for the inner binding. I liked this simple method of making just two holes, one for each small length of cord.

paper cord
Twisted paper cord
making holes
Hammering two holes with a metal awl. Both hammer and awl were made in Japan.

Once I shoved the cord through the hole,  I trimmed the cord on both sides of the text block, opened up the cord, smashed it flat with a hammer, and then fixed it with a tiny bit of paste.

inner binding unflattened
Holes bound with paper cords, which are trimmed
inner binding
After opening up the paper cord and smashing flat with the hammer

This inner binding is an important step in stab binding. It keeps the text block together so that once the outer covers get sewn on, the entire book is much more secure. Even if the outer covers fall off or the thread breaks, the text block will still stay together.

To prepare the text blocks for the butterfly bindings (호접장), the text block is bound at the folded edge with approximately 2mm of paste.

text block prep

We used these nifty box jigs made of thick plexiglas to square up the text blocks:

We did most of the text block preparation in between other tasks, like waiting for things to dry. Once the text blocks were ready, it was just a matter of prepping and attaching the covers, which was the next step.


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