Working with Glue, part I

I thought I had written exhaustively on glue, but I can’t find evidence. I suppose I’ve thought about glue a lot because it’s hard to teach a feel for the glue and it has a way of dripping where you don’t want it. Even if I have written about it already, maybe I’ll uncover a new idea. Here I’ll cover hinge tightening and torn pages. For part 2 I’ll have a chart with tipping in and hollow spine.

Our glue is different

We use PVA*, polyvinyl acetate, available through library and art suppliers. It looks like the white glue that’s sold everywhere in the bottle with the orange top**, but it’s supposed to be more flexible and non-acidic.

*PVA: synthetic resin emulsion, phthallate, surfactant, vinyl, water

**The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for the brand with the orange cap doesn’t list ingredients. The closest I could get is “proprietary non-hazardous ingredients.”


We apply glue with a bellows glue applicator (see Bellows glue applicator), knitting needle (Fixing loose hinges) and brush. The thinness of the hollow needle in the bellows glue applicator lays a tiny line of glue right where you want it-way easier than trying to mask a page with waste paper. (A topic for another time.)

Glue is viscous

I would use it straight out of the container for loose hinges, but for tears or paper replacement, thinning with a little water or methyl cellulose* mix makes it easier to spread. With water or methyl cellulose added the glue takes longer to dry so you have longer time to adjust the paper edges. When you thin the glue, however, you don’t get that instant, confident feel of stickiness. You have to place the paper repair making sure adjacent surfaces are protected with waxed paper, weight the book and inspect in 20 minutes to half an hour. By that time you can gently handle a repaired rip to see whether it’s going to “take.”

* methyl cellulose is a white powder made from cellulose and used as an adhesive. It’s not as strong as PVA.

How much to use

When using a brush, choose the largest brush possible. For installing a hollow spine, (see Hollow spines) for example, spread the glue on the surface quickly with, say, a 1” flat brush so the spine is still wet when you finish. Keep the layer of glue thin, maybe a half a millimeter. Pay special attention to the corners. (When I inspect repairs made, the corners often are lacking glue.) Spread another thin layer on the spine. Each layer of glue will have chance to soak into its respective surface. Then to insure a good bond burnish with a bone folder and weight the glued areas.

Seeing the glue

While the glue is wet it is shiny. If you can move the book around a bit to get light to reflect from the wet spots you might see a drip that will save you grief down the line! But it’s not always possible to wave around a delicate repair, so protect repairs and adjacent pages with waxed paper.

Removing drips, overflow

A slightly damp cloth will remove extra glue- but only while it’s wet. Be sure to use waxed paper over the still damp spot while the page is drying. The waxed paper is cheap insurance, better than the awful feeling you get when the pages are stuck together.

Here’s a chart for torn pages and loose hinges. Part 2 will include hollow spine and tipping in.

torn pages small brush, miniature glue applicator (like a miniature Q-Tip) Inspect both sides of a tear-sometimes the inner paper has a wide edge to spread glue on. If it’s a really big tear I do a little at a time starting at the area last torn. Protect the page underneath with waxed paper and burnish the repair lightly with the bone folder. Insert waxed paper above and below. Close the book, add weight and check in about 20 minutes for adhesion and misplaced glue.
loose hinges knitting needle Roll the needle in the loose hinge area taking care not to apply glue in the hollow spine. Use the side of the bone folder to rub gently where the end papers crease. Some glue will probably come out the ends: use a finger or clean cloth to wipe away excess. Insert waxed paper, close the book and rub the outside of the hinges. Finally, put rubber bands (I usually use 3) on the book to hold the bamboo skewers on the hinges, then weight the book. Usually this kind of repair doesn’t need extra inspection.