Fixing an old repair

Years and years ago, we used a gummed linen tape to attach a book to its covers. The tape has hard, sharp edges and it’s much stronger than the paper, so the book pulls away somewhere else. Sometimes the page tears away at the tape edge (although not in this case).

The tape peeled away pretty easily with a slight dampening, but a residue was left.  I soaked the edge of the page in water. Looking back on it now I think I should have soaked the whole page to avoid any edge stain. And I might have washed it after, but I always think I’m going to remember! (You can see why I’m not working with costly books.) I used tap water, but distilled is probably the correct choice for a valuable book.

Next I used absorbent unprinted newsprint pieces (recycled from packing) and weights to remove moisture, changing out the paper until dry. Then I had a flat page that I could tip-in.

Glue,barely visible at edge of page

Glue, barely visible at edge of page

What is it?

What is it?

You might think this is a tool that only a tool freak would need,
or as unnecessary as a winter coat in June (unless you’re in the
Southern Hemisphere), but I have used it a lot in a previous
life as a landscape designer. I also used it for my work
as a technical illustrator.

In the olden days before computer assisted design I really needed it.
Yes, that is an eraser in the tip. And there’s a plug and cord, too. It’s an electric eraser! The little metal card-shaped thing is an erasing shield.

If you think about how hard it is to erase something at the edge of a page, you can see that holding the shield over the area to be erased will hold the paper down. The shield will also protect areas you don’t want to erase.

You can buy cylinders of different eraser refills: abrasive, pink, vinyl and more. The ones I’ve used are around 6″ long and you just advance the eraser as it gets used up.

Most fiction is printed on a porous tender paper. It takes some practice to use an electric eraser-it would be easy to sand right through the paper. Right now, I would use an electric eraser to remove pencil marks if there were a lot of them, but for some reason most people who have to write in library books write in ink or use highlighters. I am unable to use anything other than a softish pencil with a light touch-on my OWN books.

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.

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