Finishing Course

Wow! It’s been a while since I updated, even with my efforts to post more regularly! I think I will resign myself to accepting that this blog may not be as active as I would like it to be. I am active on Instagram (Facebook and Twitter too), if you’re interested in following what I do on a day-to-day basis!

I did a paste paper workshop in the summer, which I intended to blog about but forgot (oops), so that will be blogged hopefully soon. For now though I want to share with you the recent course I took through CBBAG.


The process of finishing in bookbinding refers to decorating the outside of a book. This can include the lettering of the spine and covers, additional tooling or gilding, and inlays and onlays.

Not sure what any of that is? Don’t worry I’ll cover terminology as we go along, but first let’s start at the beginning. Day one was an introduction to the tools we’d be using, and practice! The best thing you can do for yourself in order to produce nice finishing work is practice. Practice with the tools you’ll use on the finished product, first on paper with ink, and then on leather, before moving onto your actual book. So practice is what we did!

First we practiced on paper and then we prepared leather to practice on. We prepared several different types of leather so that we could see how tooling (the process of making marks in the leather with heated brass tools) is different on all of them.

Below is the leather we used. In the first picture, starting at the upper left corner we have: vellum, tawed goat, crome tanned (coated) split cowhide, Columbia Mills split cowhide, Cathedral Calf (from Mechling), and Kato Goat (from Mechling). The second picture from the upper left is: Chieftain J. Hewitt’s goat, Oasis goat, and Hewitt’s repair calf.

After we practiced on the paper for a bit we moved on to practicing on the leather, our goal was to do some tooling and be able to produce both a trace and a blind. A trace is when the tool leaves a mark in the leather, but there is no color change. A blind goes back over that same trace a second time to darken the leather. This is done by drawing oils from the leather up with the heat.

It’s important to practice this, because in order to do the gild work (laying down the gold) you need to have a good trace on your leather for the gold to sit in. We practiced learning how to tell when the tool was hot enough to produce a trace, or a blind, by listening to the sizzles of the tool when we took it off the heat and tapped it to a damp sea sponge.

After practicing making traces and doing blind tooling we moved on to gilding. This is done with gold leaf (very thinly pounded gold — so thin it will blow away or disappear when you touch it with your fingers). This required putting glaire (an adhesive) into the trace, and then covering the trace with a little bit of gold leaf before once more stamping the hot tool into the trace and then wiping away excess gold.

Once we got the hang of that it was time to move on to our big project — decorating a spine! For this we made a dummy spine, mapped out what we wanted to do (and practiced using the tools in ink). We also practiced on a piece of leather identical to that of our spine leather so that we could determine the appropriate heat needed to get a trace, and to do blind work and gold leaf.

I choose to use larger letters than would usually be used on such a spine, for ease of practice. I also darkened my blind lines with charcoal to let them stand out a bit more. We also put an onlay on the spine where the title would go (as is traditional). This was done using the French method of creating trace lines, fitting the leather to the trace lines and pasting it down before tooling around it.

Putting on the spine label and a work in progress shot of the spine:

Putting the title on in gold:

And then the spine was complete! I’m really happy with how it turned out. There are some things that can be improved but for my first attempt at finishing, I am quite happy with it!20181029_110231

Over the course we also learned how to do inlays and onlays (the English style), and made a little plaquette using both techniques. The first technique we did was the inlay. This involved removing leather from the plaquette, and filling it in with a different leather (usually of another color), done correctly the new leather will lie flush with the old leather.

Once the inlay was done, we added onlays. This was done by taking leather that was pasted to paper, then pasting it onto the plaquette and removing the paper. The paper helps to push the leather down when it’s being nipped, helping it lay flat on the plaquette, again making it level with everything else.

Here is the completed plaquette! Unfortunately I got a bit of tide lines in the leather, but it still serves the purpose of learning the techniques and I happy enough with it!20181029_142446

The person who I take classes with is very generous and wants us to do well and have the tools we need, so when we had extra time he helped us make gold cushions for ourselves. This is a cushion that the gold leaf sits on, it is covered with Armenian bole (clay dust).

Another thing we covered in this course, that isn’t pictured, is using gold foil. It’s also put on with hot tools, but you don’t need to do a trace first, or add glaire. You simply stamp through the gold foil onto your leather. The gold is not as nice as the gold leaf, but it’s less costly for sure!

To finish off this blog post, here is a shot of some of the tools we used. In the first picture you see a box of brass hand tools that are individual letters. In the second picture you can see a gold cushion with gold leaf and silver leaf on it. A gold knife, a brush/leather square for cleaning the tools, a sea sponge, a small jar of glaire, a tiny paint brush to paint the glaire onto the trace. Wool and cotton, to wipe away gold, along with some q-tips and a toothpick to help tidy things up!

I have a post to do on the paste paper workshop I took in August, and I still intend to do my best to post here somewhat regularly but no promises, school keeps me busy! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to keep up with some of the smaller projects I’m working on!

Until next time,


One thought on “Finishing Course

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s