All right! CCLaP's first paper book is finally available for purchase! And to mark the occasion, I'm doing a four-part photo essay here at the website this week, showing in obsessive detail each and every step involved with the process of actually making and shipping one. Yesterday I covered the printing, cutting and folding of the manuscript itself, plus preparing the material that will make up the covers; today, then, is dedicated solely to the process of actually gluing the covers together, a much more complex series of steps than it might seem at first.
To start with, here's just a shot of the work environment I put together for gluing covers; if it looks familiar, it's because this is the same area where yesterday I cut manuscripts and tomorrow will stitch them together, in that it's a small apartment so I must multitask the space much like how Europeans do things. That's "PVA" glue I'm using, which is essentially a fancy version of regular Elmer's white glue, which like my other bookmaking-specific supplies I buy in bulk volume from Hollander's in Ann Arbor, Michigan via mail order.
I use a total of three different brushes during this process, starting with this wide one whose long bristles I have cut down with scissors; I use this for quickly getting a thin coat of glue across the back of the heavy cloth that covers the exterior of the front and back covers. There is a fine art, I've discovered, to learning exactly how much glue to apply to get things to adhere but not spill past the folds, just one of those things you only truly master by making dozens and dozens of books.
Once the glue's on, then, you simply pop a board on top of it, then make sure to do a smoothing-out of all the little bumps and bubbles. Much like the actual gluing, this is also an activity that takes a surprising amount of finesse, and that you only truly master through tons and tons of practice.
After that, I take my little homemade jig and cut off the corners of the overlapping cloth, so that when I fold them under in the next step, I won't have this big giant bunch-up of material at the corners. The crucial measurement in this jig is that tiny little space the arrow is pointing to, which should be almost exactly 1.5 times the thickness of your board, just enough to cover the corner but not enough to bunch up.
Now it's time for my second brush, rounded like before but smaller for better control. This is essentially a repeat of the earlier gluing step, only doing so on all four side-flaps that now exist.
A little trick I learned from my teachers, when I was taking a beginning bookmaking class at Lillstreet Art Center this winter; after gluing the top and bottom flaps, place the folded edge on your tabletop, then roll the entire cover over and down to effectively squeeze out every air bubble. Then take your bone folder (the bookbinder's best friend, and what will eventually become your sixth finger if you get serious about it all) and give everything yet another rubdown. Remember, you're assembling a book that you hope will last a century, so it's worth it to take the extra ten seconds per step to really achieve a good glue adherence.
The side flaps, then, are done almost exactly the same; except right before it's time to roll the edges over, first you take your fingers and manually bunch up that tiny little extra bit of cloth there on either edge. This gives the corners a nice little uniform geometric shape, once all the cloth has been fully rolled over and tamped down. Once again, it's the little details like these that are the whole reason apprenticeships were created; you simply won't get good at this until you've done dozens and dozens of them.
And a mere ten minutes later, we're finally finished with one half of one book cover! Sigh! Make no mistake, the reason CCLaP's books look so nice is that they take freaking forever to actually assemble; right now, for example, I'm only averaging two books per day, which is why this option is really only viable for tiny publishers like myself who weren't expecting to sell a lot of copies in the first place, and whose main distribution is through their online electronic versions. Although the profit margin is good, it's absolutely a labor of love, and it's important to know that a few spare hours on the weekends simply won't cut it, if you expect to make any more than a hundred of these in an entire year. (Of course, if you're doing this for hobbyist or fine-art purposes, then a few spare hours on the weekends will be perfect.)
And then here's the third brush I use during this process, with flat linear bristles for the more delicate surface of decorative endpapers, the last piece to be glued together to make these covers. This works just like the cloth, only having to be a lot more careful; you essentially apply a thin layer to the entire surface, place it centered on the non-cloth side of the cover, then tamp down with your bone folder (and of course with a piece of scrap paper on top of the decorative one, so that you're not rubbing directly on it).
And then finally today, a small but crucial step that a lot of small and basement publishers simply don't make the time for, to their detriment; namely, since we live in an age where almost all of these materials are made from organic compounds like trees that have natural fibers, it's incredibly important to take at least a few days to heavily press these finished pieces into flattened submission, to basically "train" these fibers to lay in a certain way forever after, so that they'll look a lot nicer on bookshelves and last a lot longer too. More professional bookbinders will of course have big industrial presses in which to squeeze the book parts together; but given how expensive they are ($200 just for the smallest version on the market, and going up to the tens of thousands), as a basement publisher I have to make do instead with giant vertical stacks of books and a spare unused corner of my apartment. Finally, something productive to do with all those ARCs I'm always receiving!
And why, you might be asking, do I glue on top of a big pane of mirrored glass? Well, because when you're done, you can simply take it to the sink and wash the whole thing off, a much more elegant solution than mounds of smudgy, sticky newspaper.
So that's it for today; but make sure to come back tomorrow if you can, when I'll be tackling the most complicated and headache-inducing part of this process, the actual stitching of that exposed Coptic spine you see in the finished pictures. And don't forget to order yourself a copy of one of these books if you haven't yet!