Traditional Wooden Bookbinding Equipment

Among the different types of wooden bookbinding equipment you would encounter as a binder, are such items as The Finishing Press. The Lying Press. The Sewing Frame and The Plough.
As the name implies, the finishing press is used to hold books whilst carrying out the gold finishing. Most finishing presses are less than 2 feet (610mm) in length and the cheeks of one side of the finishing press are chamfered to better enable gold finishing to be carried out. One of the best woods for this type of wooden bookbinding equipment to be made of is good kiln dried beech, a stable hardwood.

The lying press of olden times was a very large item indeed, the one I used was over 4 feet (1220mm) in length. There is only one maker of such a massive lying press today, a chap in New Zealand whose press’s are a work of art, though costly, plus it costs a lot to ship the press’s to the west.

The modern lying press is smaller about 32 inches, though some are smaller. The lying press is used for several of the operations encountered in craft bookbinding, such as gilding the edges of a book, or rounding and backing…forming the shoulders of a book.

The sewing frame as the name suggest, is used to sew the individual sections of a book together, they have not changed in appearance since ancient times, generally they come in two sizes, for small/medium and large books. Some people think that the sewing frame is redundant, and that books can be sewn off of the sewing frame, but this view is erroneous as there is a sewing operation called “”knocking down”” which is done while a book is on the sewing frame, it is done to consolidate the sections, which otherwise can be somewhat loose.

The last item of wooden bookbinding equipment you may encounter is the plough. This piece of equipment is used in conjunction with the lying press to trim the edges of books. The book is clamped in the lying press and the plough fits in runners on the press, the plough is then slid backwards and forwards, each time turning a wooden screw which forces the cutting blade across the edge of the book.

Wooden bookbinding equipment of the traditional sort is quite costly, so it is just as well to know the quality of what you are buying.
Look for equipment made of a hardwood, some finishing presses are made from pine which is too soft for a piece of working equipment.

The diameter of the wooden screw used matters a lot, the advantages of a larger diameter thread are several, the press will be capable of greater pressure, the reason for greater pressure being obtained is due to the larger surface area. It also affects the wear and stability of the thread.

Most wooden bookbinding equipment uses a 1 or 1 .25 inch diameter thread, but there is one maker of very good wooden equipment that uses a 1.5 inch diameter thread.
Also important is that the cheeks of the press be threaded; once again this enables greater pressure to be achieved and also increases the life of the press by spreading the pressure across the thread.

Most bookbinding equipment does not feature this important factor, rather the cheek is threaded on a thin dowel, which with hard use and over only a few years may well break and render the press useless.
So, to sum up.

Look for wooden bookbinding equipment that is made from a seasoned hardwood.
If buying a press, ask what diameter thread is used.
Lastly if buying a press ask if the cheeks are fully threaded.
By Richard Norman