There will always be a place for traditional, tangible books. Even when tablets and smartphones have made it possible to read virtually the entirety of human knowledge from a portable screen, there’s no replacement for sitting in a library, a coffee shop, or your favorite reading chair with a paperback in your hands. Gutenberg’s innovation has served us well for over 500 years, and for our most mindful reading sessions, there is simply no replacement.
But although there may be no replacement for the authentic reading experience, unfortunately, books themselves often need replacing. While digital editions can last forever, books here in the physical world have finite lifespans, just like the trees they come from and the hands that hold them. Binding agents break down, paper goes yellow as its natural acids take their toll, and the well-traveled, well-worn books in our collections become so delicate that we can no longer enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed.
However, just because a book ages and degrades does not necessarily mean that you can’t salvage it. Our physical books mean something to us. Often, they were gifts from loved ones or life-changing acquisitions in college. They accompanied us on road trips or served as reading material and good-luck talismans on cross-country flights. Even books we haven’t read since early childhood are nice to keep around—perhaps a future son or daughter will enjoy turning those same pages. So here’s how to restore your favorite old books. Whether they’re hardcover or paperback, books whose bindings break down aren’t necessarily bound for the trash. With patience, the right supplies, and a little bit of spare time, you can restore the books that are so near and dear to your heart, whether they’re canonical classics or simply sentimental favorites.
Clean Your Workspace
Before we begin, no book rebinding can take place in a dirty or dusty environment. While you don’t exactly need a medical-grade cleanroom to get to work, it does help to get any schmutz out of the way when you’re dealing with adhesives and a project that you want to last. You need only wipe down the work surface with a mild soap or detergent and give it time to dry. In addition to washing your hands, consider going the extra mile by donning a pair of thin gloves, particularly if you’re working with very old books that your family has passed down from generation to generation. This will prevent oils in your hands from affecting the newly reset binding.
Paperbacks differ from hardcovers in both the thickness of their respective cover materials and in their binding. While hardcover binding uses glue and stitching to reinforce its structural integrity, paperbacks simply rely on glue to hold the pages in place. The flippant response to one’s desire to restore a treasured paperback book would be to simply buy a new one. However, this doesn’t take into account the sentimental value of these books and the reality that many older paperback books have long since gone out of print. If you can replace them by scouring the resale market, it could end up being more expensive than repairing what you already have; plus, you have no guarantee that you’ll find another copy of the book in better condition than what you have.
So let’s work with what you do have. If pages have fallen from the binding, open the paperback to where the missing pages would go. Apply an acid-free archival glue along the binding, but use this glue sparingly, as a little goes a long way here. If the cover is separating from the book block, you’ll need more extensive repairs. Remove the cover altogether and apply archival glue or tape along the spine and reset. If you choose to use glue, weigh the book down beneath a heavier book, and give it 24 hours to set.
Hardcover books, which are more extensive in their construction, can still break down over time. When they do, they often, in turn, require extensive repairs to restore them to their original integrity. With the right process, they might even come out stronger than before. Using a sharp and precise blade, cut along the endpaper, or cover lining, to separate the text block from the cover. Using a duller blade, such as a butter knife, gently pry the block from the spine.
Here is where Chromalabel’s high-strength book binding tape comes into play. Clear vinyl BookGuard tape allows for quick and easy repairs that let original spines show through, while cloth varieties give maximum reinforcement to your most treasured hardcovers. Keeping the pages of the book block in perfect alignment, apply the book-binding tape along the spine to hold the pages in place, and restore the block to its cover.
Restoring Water-Damaged Books: What To Do?
Not all book damage arises from failing binding. Sometimes, it involves spills, basement flooding, high humidity, or other water-based forms of damage that we wish to undo. This can seem even more daunting than repairing a spine—after all, paper, inks, and water don’t mix. You’ll need to act fast before pages warp and mold begins to grow in the paper. Begin by laying down paper towels to absorb the moisture, changing them out once the water has fully saturated them. Use a basic household desiccant, such as talcum powder or corn starch, to soak up any remaining moisture in the paper.
Once you’ve dried the book as much as possible with these methods, guard against warping and wrinkling by placing the book between two heavy weights, which could be other books or simply anything with enough heft to them. After giving the book some time to set between weights, you can remove it and deploy your hair dryer on a low setting to further dry out the pages, though you should reapply the weights until you’re comfortable with the restored condition of your water-damaged book.
Turn to Chromalabel for Binding Supplies
At Chromalabel, we know your books matter to you, which is why we’re pleased to help you restore your favorite old books through insights and the necessary supplies. Whether you want to bring color to a restored book with cloth binding tape or let its original colors shine through with a vinyl alternative, you can keep your most beloved books on your shelves.