Book healer

Woodland book healer is in with the old, out with the new

Created:   12/30/2012 08:41:07 PM PST

(photo: Deo Ferrer/Democrat)

It was a disaster.

When a Woodland family reunited with their heirloom Bible after 40 years – a volume of ancestral history passed down to the eldest daughter since the mid-1800s – they worried it was ruined for good.

The hardbound covers were detached, pages were torn and loose and debris and keepsakes such as locks of hair lined the spine or were lying loose among the pages, some salvageable, some not.

Enter book whisperer Tracy Warrington, who repairs books out of her Woodland home.

Warrington, whose business name is The Book Healer, reattached loose pages, repaired tears, replaced the detached cardboard covers with leather covers and painstakingly brushed 1,500-plus pages free of debris before handing the treasure back the family. Like new.

“It’s wonderful they’ll be able to have it. It makes me pretty happy,” said Warrington. “I think most people would look at the things and think that they can’t be fixed.”

Warrington, a Woodland resident for 13 years, became “hooked on the thrill of restoring books,” as she describes, two years ago after joining the Woodland Public Library’s Spinetinglers group.

Spinetinglers are a group of dedicated library volunteers who donate their time, skills and patience to the cleaning and repair of books and materials in the library collection. The small coalition meets twice per month to repair pages, hinges, spines and covers to lengthen the life span of materials under the tutelage of Marcia Cary.

“I don’t know why some things spark you. And (book repair) sparked me,” Warrington said. “It’s the bringing something back that you would think was ruined.”

Over the summer, Warrington volunteered to assist the Yolo Hospice Bereavement Services in expanding and preserving their 700-plus title library. Duties included putting vinyl on paperbacks, Mylar on hard covers, tightening hinges or repairing small tears.

“I love the repair work maintenance,” Warrington said. “There’s work that can be done that prevents damage happening to your books in the first place.”

It was during this time that Warrington, who had recently stopped homeschooling her two children full-time, decided to start her own book repair business.

Since going live in October, The Book Healer has been steady, repairing archaeology reference materials at Woodland United Fellowship’s library, reinforcing bagpipe music books and vintage cookbooks, for example.

She continues to see family Bibles for repair, some from Jerusalem with covers of Cypress wood.

“People can really customize what they want,” said Warrington, who describes herself as a perfectionist.

Clients may choose covers, leather corners, end paper, dedication plate inserts and more. At this time, Warrington doesn’t do engraving. Warrington charges $40 per hour for her services, plus the cost of materials used. Replacing hinges might take five minutes, she said, while restoring an entire antique Bible might take two weeks. Each project varies.

With Kindles and Nooks and eReaders popping up all over the place, some question why Warrington decided to open a business dedicated to print materials.

“It’s going to make it more important to preserve the books they do have,” she responds. “I understand the advantages of our technologies, but I hope the day never comes when there’s no more books.”

Contact The Book Healer by calling 908-7600, emailing or visiting

Follow Elizabeth Kalfsbeek at

Knife skills

We use a small knife with a very sharp blade (Xacto is a familiar brand name). I’ve been using these blades for a really long time, but sometimes volunteers need help with knife skills. And I need the reminders, too.

We don’t cut everything with a blade. Occasionally, we need a torn hinge because it has a softer edge. On inspecting old repairs we see cut hinges tearing the pages.

Good knife position, hands a little white- knuckled- suggesting too much pressure

Good knife position, hands a little white- knuckled- suggesting too much pressure

Safety rules

1. No running or gesticulating.

2. Know where your fingers are at all times

3. Put the knife away. Don’t let it get buried under things.

Use a sharp blade. Notice how it “grabs” the cutting mat. A dull blade runs over the paper denting it and or cutting unevenly. When your blade isn’t sharp it tears rather than cuts. And you need to exert too much pressure.

Discard old blades in a container for blades or somewhere safe. (At home I have a glass container that I will eventually bring to metal recycling.) And don’t try to save money on blades. Change. Change Change.

A little tricky: when cutting hold the blade perpendicular to the cutting surface and against a metal straightedge (ruler). The handle won’t be perpendicular The grip is pretty much like a pencil grip. You use relaxed pressure to cut paper.

With your other hand, your left hand for you righties, you will apply pressure with stretched thumb and forefinger to the metal straightedge.

(Metal because the edge won’t get nicked when you accidentally veer into the blade.) This is the time when your check that your splayed fingers are positioned on the ruler so that you won’t injure yourself.

Here’s where the safety of a sharp blade comes in: you won’t need a lot of pressure to cut through the paper so you have a lot of control-no death grip on the knife.

Cut away from the area to be saved. For example, if you are trimming a spine label before you glue it on to a new spine, line up where you want to cut (that might be another post!) and position the ruler over the protected area. Cut on the waste side and if your ruler slips!!! you have not ruined the spine. On the last spine I forgot. Fortunately, I checked my hand in time and gave myself a mental dope slap. (See rule #1.)

Trimming spine. Hands look relaxed, blade not quite perpendicular

Trimming spine. Hands look relaxed, blade not quite perpendicular

A little free library

I saw this beautiful house last week in the next town over, but today I had a camera with me! The label on the roof says, “Little Free Library, Take a Book, Return a Book, Donated by Friends of the Give It Forward Team (GIFT). To participate see:”

I would have taken a book, but I have so many unread at home.

Little free library

Other posts on this topic:

Fixing loose hinges

loose hinge

Loose hinge: one of the first places a book starts to fall apart and the first repair we teach. Sometimes the glue hasn’t been applied well for some reason and the endsheet (the long sheet at the opening) pulls apart easily from the book boards.

How to fix: coat a knitting needle with PVA. Put it in the loose spot and twirl the needle around all sides of hinge area. Coat the additional loose spot, too, while you’re at it.

Use the side of a bone folder with light pressure in the ditch (hinge). As you feel contact with the bookboard you can increase pressure. Friction and pressure produce contact. Pay attention to any glue that seeps out the end so that you can wipe it away with a finger or cloth. Figuring out how much glue to use is hard and takes time.

Next, insert a piece of waxed paper for insurance against stray blobs of glue. Use the bone folder again on the outside of the book in the channel created by the hinge. Wrap rubber bands around the book and insert a bamboo skewer in the channel. Put a weight on top to reinforce the newly glued contact. You’ll be able to carefully inspect the hinge in about an hour. It might not be fully dried, but you can get feedback about your work.

Here’s a video

Lining the spine

torn endsheets

I was working on this new book. Had someone thrown it across the room in a Keith Richards moment of wild abandon ?

At the same time I (randomly) opened Conservation Book Repair to page 81 and found the information about spine liner malfunction. As she points out if you’re going to go through all the trouble to rebuild the book, you might as well give the spine a little help in distributing the weight more evenly so you don’t end up with the dreaded V-shape.

You can download Conservation Book Repair from  It’s free! I have a copy at home and one at the library.

Until the glue is dry the spine liner feels cool to the touch.

spine liner malfunction, p. 81

Comb binding #2

Not too long ago we were celebrating our success with fixing a spiral binding. Our reward is that several more have crept in to the fixit pile!

Tonight I found this article:Spiral Bindings in a Hard Cover: An Alternative to Rebinding – by William Minter.  You can find the article at,  Archival Products NEWS Volume 5, No.1, page three.

This article would not have changed how we fixed our problem book, but it may be a way to protect the books we already have. I’m going to have to study the diagram when I have more brain space.

spiral binding helper