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Restore Your Valuable Documents- or Make Your Own Book 2016-05-13

This article was triggered by Ian Roger's article, Ye Old Spectrum Part Two, where he describes using PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) adhesive to renovate the cardboard box for one of his collection of Spectrum computers, which suffered flood damage.


No doubt, engineering types treasure their manuals and books that may be falling apart, are damaged, or simply worn and grubby.

Recently, I bought a camera, lens, and flash, and while the user manuals were comprehensive they suffered from two problems. They were ridiculously thick because they contained duplicate instructions in every language under the sun and they had about twenty pages of safety and legalize boilerplate, also in every language. The other problem, which is common with many glossy manuals, is that the pages started detaching from the spine.

The resolution was to re-glue the loose pages and remove the foreign language and boiler plate pages. The manuals are now much easier to read and they fit in the camera bag and still leave room for the camera.

I have done bookbinding since the late 1960s: this article outlines some simple techniques that you can use to repair damaged documents. In fact, you can even make your own books from scratch. Only basic bookbinding is described, but if you get the bug you may find yourself making some beautiful books. All the materials are available on the internet.


Broadly speaking, there are two types of binding, 'traditional' and 'perfect'.

Traditional book binding is the real deal with hard covers, cloth spine and sewn leaves. The covers can be lavish: covered in leather and inlaid with gold leaf. Traditional binding requires great skill and patience but, for a basic bind, it is not that difficult. It is very expensive to manufacture though.

Perfect binding is common these days. It is the method used for paperbacks and, in modified form, for mid-priced hardbacks. In essence, perfect binding is done by clamping the pages together and applying a suitable adhesive to the page edges where the spine is required. When the glue sets, a cover of thin cardboard is then folded in two places and glued along the entire area of the spine.

(3) GLUE

Many glues are used for book binding: traditional animal glue to special compliant glue, to PVA.

PVA is widely available and convenient to use. Theoretically, acid-free PVA should be specified for book binding to prevent paper discoloration/decomposition, but unless you are repairing a particularly important document, ordinary PVA will be sufficient. I have 46 year-old books that show no discolouration, yet.

PVA is common white glue which comes in water solvent and water resistant versions. Unless you are planning on reversing your work, always use the latter, even though it is more expensive. PVA is water based and can be thinned with water to any consistency. It can also be washed off by water before it sets. On paper, use a lightly damped cloth to wipe off any unwanted PVA.

Glues are graded according to strength and environment. The craft PVAs are best avoided, but any PVA intended for wood joints will be adequate. The best PVA is industrial grade D4 or D5 (this nomenclature is changing though).


(4.1) Scissors

(4.2) Sharp razor blade

(4.3) Scalpel or small sharp craft knife

(4.4) Pak of wooden tooth picks

(4.5) Fine sandpaper block

(4.6) Straight edge

(4.7) Clamp or heavy weight with a footprint larger than the height of the book cover. If you are going to do a lot of bookbinding it would be worth while to buy a clamp or make one yourself.

(4.8) Hard flat surface big enough for the open book.

(4.9) Two sheets of thin plastic sheet slightly bigger than a book page. Non-stick plastic is ideal

(4.10) Glue brush medium

(4.11) Artists brush small


(5.1) Water resistant PVA glue

(5.2) Sheet of scrim (loosely woven cloth)

(5.3) Strong cotton thread (Tkt. 40 | dtex 750/2)


(6.1) Tears

Cut a patch of thin paper, matching the colour of the torn page, sufficient to cover the tear and extend over the edge of the page if relevant. You can often remove one blank page from most books to use for repairs. Put a plastic sheet under the page. Apply PVA to one side of the patch and press the patch on the page to cover the tear and extend over the edge of the page if relevant. Place another plastic sheet over the page and place a heavy flat weight on the whole of the patch.

If the tear covers text which you need to read there are two options: join the tear in the area of the text by edge gluing and continue with a patch where there is no text or note the text and patch over the tear. When the patch has dried, write the text in with a fine pen.

Leave to dry in a warm environment for 24 hours. Remove the weight and plastic sheets. Close the book and, holding the book firmly closed, trim off any protruding part of the patch with a razor blade.

(6.2) Loose Pages

The sooner you can catch a page coming loose the better. Open the book to expose the root of the page (at spine). Dip the end of a toothpick into some PVA and carefully force PVA into the root of the page by a firm stroking action. You will need to repeatedly dip the toothpick in the PVA. It is most important not to use too much PVA and also avoid getting PVA on other parts of the book.

Close the book and put it on a hard flat surface. Put a heavy weight on the book biased towards the spine. Leave for 24 hours.

(6.3) Spine and Cover

As the cover is thicker a tear can often be repaired simply by putting PVA along both edges of the tear and using the plastic sheets clamping for 24 hours.

Where the cover has come away from the spine simply clean up the area and reglue and clamp for 24 hours.

Where the cover in the spine area is too badly damaged for repair you can make a new cover and glue that to the spine or use the cover from another scrap book. I have often bought books from charity shops just for the cover.

(6.4) Stabilization

Paper can weaken and loose its strength, especially if it was poor quality in the first place. Paper can also deteriorate by exposed to sunlight, if it is stored at a high temperature, or in humid conditions, or even in too dry conditions. For this reason libraries of valuable books have comprehensive air conditioning.

Pages that have deteriorated in this way can often be stabilised by applying a wash of a weak solution of PVA to both sides of the page, the objective being to ensure that the PVA solution soaks into the structure of the paper. Once again it is important not to use too much stabilising solution. Make sure that the page is reasonably dry then place plastic sheets both sides before closing the book. Place weights on the book to ensure the page dries flat. Remove the weights no sooner than 24 hours.

(6.5) Grubby Document

You can greatly improve the appearance of a grubby document by simply sanding the edges of the pages with a sanding block. The pages need to be held together while sanding.

Blotches and stains can either be bleached out or covered with correction fluid.

Tatty blank front and back pages especially can be simply removed or removed and replaced by a new page.


You can bind a book at home: with a bit of practice it is not that difficult using perfect binding.

(7.1) Basic Bind
Collate the pages and line then up by banging the edges of the heap on a flat surface. Clamp along the page stack adjacent to the spine. Paint the spine with PVA and leave for 24 Hours. You can put a strip of scrim along the spine for improved page retention and to greatly strengthen the spine. If the page edges are not perfectly aligned trim any excessively protruding page edges with a razor blade and then sand the edges of the page stack with a fine sanding block.

Glue on the cover along the spine.

(7.2) Strong Bind

As its name suggests, the strong bind attaches the pages more strongly to the spine.
The stack of pages must have a blank page at the front and back.

Follow the same procedure as the Basic Bind except before putting the spine glue on, cross cut the spine face every 8mm with a junior hacksaw to a depth of 1mm. Then lay lengths of cotton threads into the cross cuts leaving 30mm excess thread at each face.

After the cover has been glued to the spine, the threads are extended out across the inside of the front and back covers.

The inside of the front and back pages is then covered in glue and the front and back blank pages respectively are glued to the inside of the covers.


The above may sound difficult and fiddly. It is not. The big secret is to be sparing with the glue and don't get even a drop on the book by accident. If you do, wipe it off immediately with a damp cloth and allow to dry before closing the book or you may never see that page again. Once you get the hang of it, book binding and repair is fairly straight forward and gives a great deal of satisfaction, especially if you love books as I do.
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