As I noted in my earlier post, today the bindery is often located on the premises of a printing works though traditionally it has been located elsewhere as a separate business. Anyway, wherever it is found, the bindery is a glue-sniffer’s paradise. This is because its whole purpose is to take the printed sheets and covers from the print-shop and transform them into finished books. An essential ingredient in this transformation is glue.
In itself, the book binding process is quite straightforward though the mechanics of binding can shade between automated mass-production and the handwork of a master craftsman. The sequence is:
- If it hasn’t already been done at printing, each sheet is folded into signatures (usually made up of 16 pages).
- Typically, the signature is stapled through its centre fold so as to fasten all the pages together.
- The raw book block is formed by collating the signatures. This is often done by using a mechanical hand dipping into storage bins where the signatures are stored or by fetching signatures from a rotating carousel. It is possible to have material such as a colour insert tipped in (hand inserted between two signatures) but this is very expensive.
- The gathered signatures are clamped and bound together, then fastened to the cover (if a paperback) or binding material (if hardback). Today, this is usually done by using glue. There are many different types of binding technique (see below).
- The book block (or actual book in the case of paperbacks) is trimmed to size.
- For hardbacks, the trimmed book block is fastened to the hard case.
- The finished books are made ready for shipment. Sometimes they may be shrink-wrapped (especially so if the book has loose items – like a DVD – to be safeguarded from theft or accidental loss). In all cases, the books will be packed in cartons and fastened together on a pallet.
Types of binding
Although a reasonably straightforward process, there are quite a few variations in the above sequence. These mainly occur at step 4 where, essentially, the choice is between different types of binding:
- Perfect binding (normal with paperbacks), where the folded edges of the gathered signatures are chopped off and the resulting smooth edge is then roughened and glued to the cover; or
- Sewing or stitching the signatures to backing material (and sometimes to each other), this material in turn (at step 6) fastened to end papers, then the whole package fastened to the casing material. There are lots of different wonderful names used for these techniques (saddle stitching, for instance) as well as for the materials used (e.g. head- and tail-bands, a.k.a. wibbling).
Library binding is a variation of the latter type of binding, in essence a higher-quality piece of craftsmanship using more durable binding materials. However, the squeeze on library budgets has caused some libraries to opt for cheap paperbacks instead (where these are available), the calculation being that, if the first cheap paperback falls apart, a second copy can be bought (and, later, even a third). The accumulated cost is still less than the cost of buying a book (or rebinding it) with a library binding.
Types of covering
As noted above, there are different types of covering. Normally with books, we talk about hardbacks and paperbacks but there is more variation within these two categories:
- Cloth binding, i.e. the hard case is covered with an artificial cloth material and the spine is embossed (usually in gold) with the author–title details and publisher’s logo. Often this cased book has a protective jacket/dust cover.
- Printed paper case, i.e. a lightweight printed cover is glued to the hard case.
- Semi-hardback (or super-thick paperback) using thick, flexible card over sewn or stitched signatures.
- Conventional paperback, perfect bound.
- Paperback with flaps.
In addition, the finished bound books may be enclosed with a protective slip case. This is more common with multi-volume sets (especially reference works) and for those single volumes needing to be seen as a prestigious and/or luxury product.
The last step of the binding process is of course to ship out the finished books. Some of these will go as advances to the publisher (the subject of my next post) but the bulk of the stock will be shipped to the publisher’s warehouse(s), more about that later.