Visit a 19th century bindery and it is likely the only two
bookbinding adhesives you would see in use would be animal glue
and a paste made from bread flour.
Binders managed very well for many centuries using these two
But now things are more complicated, man made bookbinding
adhesives are now used. And glues and pastes have been refined
Let’s start with animal glue.
Animal glue is an
adhesive that is created by prolonged boiling of animal
These protein colloid glues are formed through hydrolysis of
the collagen from skins, bones, tendons, and other tissues,
similar to gelatine. The word "collagen" itself derives from
kolla, glue. These proteins form a strong molecular bond
with the glued object.
Excellent for many uses such as bookbinding, conservation,
and various other applications. Used in particular for gluing
up the backs in antiquarian book restoration.
I know of many bookbinders who make use of animal glue, more
people are rediscovering its merits as it is a reversible
adhesive. Comes in flake, granules or powder form.
Recipe for making animal glue.
To prepare for use, add 1 part of glue to 1.5 parts cold water
Leave to soak for approximately 1 hour, and then dissolve by
At no time during the dissolving period (or in use) should the
temperature exceed 140°F (60°C) or serious loss of adhesion
properties may occur.
General purpose bookbinding adhesives for use on paper,
binder’s board and leather.
Suitable for paper-to-paper adhesion such as bookplates,
hinging, repairing torn pages and corners.
Can also be mixed with PVA bookbinding adhesives or methyl
Wheat Paste Recipe
Prepare 1 cup of very hot water.
Make a thin mixture of 3 tablespoons (45 mg) of strong white
flour (bread flour) and cold water (just enough to wet all the
flour and make it liquid enough to pour).
Pour the cold mixture slowly into the hot water while
stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. When it thickens, allow
After using a portion, reheat the remaining in a covered jar
or container to sterilize it for storage or keep refrigerated.
If wheat flour is not available, other flours will work which
will produce adhesives with different qualities, for example
potato starch makes a very sticky paste.
There are also highly refined wheat starches, unmodified
food grade starches, possessing the unique character of wheat
starches. These starch's are exceptionally white in colour,
gelatinize at low cooking temperatures and forms cooled pastes
which are delicate and smooth in texture, used in paper
For the same applications as wheat starch. Forms a transparent
film. Unmodified, requires cooking. Has an excellent water
General purpose PVA.
Polyvinyl acetate is a
component of a widely-used type of glue, referred to
variously as wood glue, white glue, carpenter's glue,
school glue or PVA glue.
Commonly used bookbinding adhesives and for box making
applications, adhering paper to paper, cloth to wood, leather,
filling in cracks in art canvases and repairing ceramic
objects. Holds firmly to plastic materials.
Acid Free PVA
There are acid free PVA
bookbinding adhesives. For all bookbinding and general use
applications. Excellent adhesion for paper, fabric, board,
canvas, leather and film.
There also includes a water reversible formulation, also
acid free, these archival bookbinding adhesives provides a very
strong bond similar to that of the acid free adhesives, with
the added advantage of being reversible with water after it has
dried. Ideal for conservation work where reversibility is
I use a 50/50 mixture of PVA and wheat starch paste when
covering books in leather. The PVA gives the adhesion I look
for, and paste prolongs the drying time, so that I can work
with the leather.
Methyl Cellulose (methylcellulose) is an adhesive with a
wide variety of applications. Commonly used as a bookbinding
adhesive for paper, as well as sizing papers and fabrics,
thickening water baths for marbling paper, used to loosen and
clean off old glue from spines and book boards, or added to
Hot Melt Adhesives
Hot melt adhesive (HMA), also known as
hot glue, is a form of thermoplastic adhesive that is commonly
supplied in solid cylindrical sticks of various diameters,
designed to be melted in an electric hot glue gun. The gun uses
a continuous-duty heating element to melt the plastic glue,
which may be pushed through the gun by a mechanical trigger
mechanism, or directly by the user. The glue is tacky when hot,
and hardens in anywhere from a few seconds to one minute.
We used slow setting hot melt glue in the form of glue sticks
applied through a hand squeezed glue gun, when constructing
boxes, later to be covered in papers. The bond formed was quite
strong and aided rapid assembly.
Another kind of hot melt adhesive is used in the
construction of pulp paper books. Indeed, a proportion of
paperback books find their way into a binders hand because of
the type of hot melt adhesive used.
Such bookbinding adhesives are applied when the glue is hot
and liquid, upon setting some of these adhesives dry hard and
brittle, so brittle that some brand new books simply break in
two because of the pressure applied when opening and the
inflexible nature of the adhesive used on the spine
This is ironic when you consider that the name given to this
form of paper back binding is known as “Perfect Binding?”
So, there we are. A closer look at some of the adhesives you
may encounter in hand bookbinding.
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