While I love my Kindle and its practicality, there’s nothing quite like reading a physical copy of a book. Be it hardback or paperback; there’s something about picking up a hard copy of a novel that you can’t replicate with an e-reader.
But the problem with real-life books is that unlike their digital counterparts, they can easily get damaged, and eventually, they’re going to fall apart. No matter how careful you are, years of wear and tear will degrade the book binding, and there will come a day when your pages start to come loose. And as any avid reader knows, there’s nothing worse than being mid-way through a great novel to find that you’re missing a page.
But don’t worry, there is a solution. If you have a book in need of some TLC, there are a few simple solutions you can try. Here are two methods to repair book binding and save your old paperbacks and hardbacks from the trash can.
Repairing Book Binding
When you notice that a book’s pages are coming loose, you might be tempted to reach for the tape or glue to provide a temporary fix. But wait! Before you head in with the nearest sticky craft item, consider the long term effects these will have on the pages.
Regular tape, glue, and glue sticks can severely damage the pages and binding of a book. To do a good restoration job, you’ll need quality tools that are designed specifically for preserving and protecting books.
That being said, if you simply have an old beat-up paperback that you want to finish before it heads into the recycling, then, by all means, tape it up. There’s no need to go in for a professional finish if you’re not attached to the book, or it’s a cheap copy at the end of its life.
But if you have a book that is special for any reason that you’d like to preserve for years to come, then give the following at-home book binding repair methods a try.
Method #1: Repair loose pages
If the spine of your book is still relatively intact, but some of the pages have fallen out or are coming loose, then it’s time to act.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
Before you get started, gather the tools you’re going to need to repair your book binding.
- Acid free glue
Regular glue, whether it comes in a pot or in glue stick form, will often contain some kind of acid. Over time, this type of glue will damage both the paper and the spine of your book, leading it to corrode and fall apart.
You can use officially branded ‘book binding glue,’ which is, of course, acid free and designed specifically for the purpose of repairing old books. But you can also find multi purpose acid-free glue at your local craft store, which works just as well and may end up costing you less.
- A glue application tool
You’re going to need something to apply the glue with. Anything long and relatively thin will work, but a bone folder is ideal; these are designed specifically for paper crafts and leave a really crisp, clean finish. Don’t worry if you don’t have one; a knitting needle, popsicle stick, or even a set of toothpicks will do the job just fine. Look for any object that will spread the glue evenly and precisely without making a mess.
- A heavy object
Once you’ve applied the glue to the edge of the binding, you’re going to need to weigh it down so that it dries securely in place. Heavy books are the perfect tool for this, but you could also use workout weights or even cans of food from your pantry!
Step 2: Prepare Your Work Area
Make sure you have a large, clean surface area to work on. To protect your workbench or desk from getting stained by the glue, lay out a plastic sheet or cut open a plastic bag to create a barrier between the project and your surface. Avoid using newspaper, as this can end up getting stuck to the binding or the pages of the book.
Step 3: Remove the Loose Pages
Carefully remove the loose pages in your book, being sure not to tear them as you go. If pages are only partially detached from the book binding, you’ll need to evaluate how damaged the edges are before you decide to move forward. For a page that is more than one-third detached, I recommend carefully removing and following this repair method, as the problem will only get worse if it’s left alone.
As you remove the pages, make sure to keep them in the correct order. The last thing you want to do is glue them back in out of sequence! Also, be sure to keep the pages in a safe space far away from where you plan to use the glue, so they don’t get damaged.
Step 4: Apply the Glue
Open your book in the middle and apply a thin layer of the acid free glue to the inside edge of the spine, paying particular attention to the areas where the pages are missing or loose.
Then, use your glue application tool to gently and carefully spread the glue into an even layer from top to bottom.
Step 5: Reattach the Pages
First things first, make sure to wash your hands if you have any glue residue on them; you’re about to pick up your pages, and you don’t want to get sticky fingerprints all over them. Having said that, the glue will set relatively quickly, so once your hands are clean, don’t delay!
Now, making sure that the pages are in the right order, stack them into a group. The key here is to line them up perfectly so that they are all evenly set together.
Now press the grouped pages firmly into the glued side of the spine, making sure they line up with the rest of the pages in the book. Check that all the pages are touching the glued side at their edge. If not, pull the grouped pages away and apply a little extra glue to make sure they all adhere properly.
Step 6: Weigh It Down
Now it’s time to close the book and place your heavy books/weights/cans etc., on top of it. Adding this weight will make sure that the glue forms a tight seal around the edges of each page so they’re securely attached.
Leave the weights on top for a minimum of 24 hours. Once you open it up, your book should be fully repaired!
If, for any reason, there is a rouge page that hasn’t managed to stick, then follow the same steps again, but this time, apply just a thin strip of glue to the area where the missing page should be. Attach it back on, weigh it down, wait 24 hours, and voila, a newly revived book binding!
Method 2: Repair the Hinge
If the hinge (also sometimes called the joint; the inside section where the front of the cover meets the spine of the book) of your book is broken, or it looks like it is about to break, this can also result in loose or lost pages, and a destroyed book. But don’t worry, all is not lost. Here’s what to do.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
We need some different tools for this book binding repair method, so before you get started, gather together:
- Single stitch binder tape
You can get single stitch binder tape from many large craft stores, or you can order it online. It’s essentially a durable tape designed specifically for repairing books. It’s available in a variety of widths; just make sure to check it against your book and get one wide enough to provide a solid replacement hinge.
Some brands of binder tape come with a pre gummed adhesive back, which is ideal for this job as you don’t need to deal with any messy glue. But many brands require you to apply your own adhesive. If you have this type of tape, you’ll also need…
- Acid free glue
Just like in Method 1, acid free glue is the only way to go when it comes to repairing your book hinge. If you are using glue, then you will also need something to apply it to the binder tape too. A soft brush that you don’t mind throwing away afterward is perfect for the job.
- Wax paper
If you’re using glue, you’ll need a sheet of wax paper slightly bigger than your book to protect your pages as they dry.
- Some extra-large rubber bands
To push the spine against the binder tape and make sure it adheres correctly, gather some extra-large, heavy duty rubber bands. Two or three should do.
Step 2: Remove the Hinge
Even if the hinge is only partially damaged or missing, you’re going to want to remove the whole thing in order to do a neat and durable repair job.
If the hinge is tricky to take off and removing it may damage the rest of the inside cover or the text block, don’t worry. Using a craft knife, you can carefully slice down the center of the hinge, in the gap between each side, to separate both sections and leave the old binding tape or paper hinge in place underneath.
Now use a pair of scissors to trim away any excess threads, old glue, or bits of paper that might remain. Check to make sure there is no loose material on either cover; if there is, carefully apply the acid-free glue and re-adhere them flat against the cover.
Step 3: Measure and Cut the Binder Tape
Measure the height of the text block (the actual pages of the book, rather than the cover), and cut a section of single stitch binder tape to match this measurement
Step 4. Apply the Binder Tape
If your tape doesn’t already come with an adhesive backing, then use a soft brush to carefully apply a thin and even layer of the acid-free glue to one side of the binding tape.
Apply the tape along the edge of the text block, with one tab attached to the spine of the book and one tab on the front or back page of the text block.
Now smooth the tape over with clean fingers or a bone folder, if you have one. Make sure to push out any excess glue, and ensure it’s stuck down firmly to both sides of the surface.
Step 5: Let it Dry
Ideally, leave the tape to dry overnight, or at least for a few hours. You can double-check that the adhesive is fully set by running a finger lightly over the surface and feeling for any wetness.
Pre-gummed, adhesive-backed binder tape sets much quicker than using glue, and you should be able to continue to step 6 almost immediately after applying the tape.
Step 6: Insert the Waxed Paper
Place a sheet of waxed paper slightly larger than the pages of your book on top of the text block. Make sure it’s on top of the binder tape that is already glued to the page but below the binder tape that is yet to be glued.
Cut a smaller strip of waxed paper to match the size of the spine of your book, and insert this in there too, to protect it from any excess glue.
Step 7: Apply the Binder Tape
If you need to, apply the acid free glue carefully to the two remaining tabs (skip this if you have pre gummed tape). Now, slowly and gently pull the cover of the book up so that it makes contact with the sticky part of the tape, where it should naturally fit to let the book fall open and closed.
Now, close the book, and apply firm pressure against the spine using a clean finger or a bone folder. This will adhere the final exposed piece of binding tape to the inside tube. Leave the waxed paper in place for now.
Step 8: Wrap in Rubber Bands and Let Dry
Take your rubber bands and wrap them around the book to apply pressure against the spine and make sure the adhesive connects with the surface. Let it dry for at least 24 hours if possible to make sure it’s fully set before you open the book back up.
Now you can remove the rubber bands and carefully peel away the wax paper strip and sheet to reveal your newly repaired book hinge!
Just because a book’s binding is a little beat up doesn’t mean it’s ready for recycling. By following these easy methods at home, you’ll be able to bring a new lease of life to your favorite books so they can be enjoyed for years to come.
For more tips on looking after and protecting books so that they can bring joy to future generations, check out our handy guide to preserving old books in four easy steps.