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Book Repair for BookThinkers

Comb Binding Books

by Craig Stark

#136, 27 July 2009

So I bought this book last month with the intention of reselling it for a profit. It was exceptionally clean and, at first glance, minus any significant flaws:

Until I got home, opened it and heard it crack:

And it didn't just crack in one place. I turned a few pages and every one of them detached from what is termed in the biz a "perfect-bound" book. The trouble with these thermal processes is that ten or twenty or so years down the road, depending mostly on glue composition and/or storage conditions, this is an all too common a result.

In the past I'd toss a book like this - in this case about a $50 potential sale down the drain. But at some point I wised up and stopped doing that. If you've sold much local history, you know that print runs are typically small, and a book like this might not have any other online comps. A shame to toss it because there's almost certainly buyers out there who would be very interested in its content - that is, if there was some way to return it to a functional state.

You may have experimented with re-gluing bindings like this. It can be done, but it can be tricky too. To my mind, it's a lot easier to comb bind it. Local history buyers almost never care how a book like this is bound - in fact, they might prefer a comb binding because it lies flay when opened. Also, a good number of local histories are comb bound in the first place; it's a cheap, easy do-it-yourself process.

Here's how:

The first thing you'll need is a comb binding machine. Since this technology that's been around a long time, there's a huge variety of choices out there in every price range. Generally, what you buy for bigger money is speed, so unless you're going to be doing a lot of binding, it doesn't make sense to empty your wallet. For my purposes, this one - a GBC CombBind C110 has been a good choice:

I priced this unit recently at OfficeMax - $199.00 + $13.93 tax = $212.93. A few minutes Googling, however, and it turned out that Amazon had one of the more competitive online prices at $117.72 (with free shipping if you're a Prime member). So, about two or three books of the type pictured above, and the machine will pay for itself.

A few technical observations:

The C110 has three settings - letter (8 " x 11"), A-4 (297mm x 210mm) and oversized (8 " x 11 "). However, by taping a ruler on the bed of the unit flush with and perpendicular to the edge guide, you can make this work for any size page. Also, the binding element - the row of teeth that, along with a series of hooks, opens the comb and allows you to insert the pages, will accommodate up to 360 sheets (or 720 book pages). Finally, you can punch about 10 to 15 sheets at a time, depending on the composition and thickness of the paper, so there really isn't much out there that can't be re-bound.

The binding process is alarmingly simple. No surprise; there's a YouTube how-to video.

Before punching, you'll need to remove all glue remnants from the edges of the pages. Of course, you'll also need to cut the front and back covers from the spine.

Here's the final result for my book (about a 10 minute job from start to finish):

Having worked with this machine for some time, I would strongly advise you to practice with it first before going after a book. You'll need to develop a feel for the leading edge of the leaves you're punching being fully inserted. If they're off even a little, it's going to throw those pages off significantly when you bind them with the others.

If you do goof, however, there's a good fix for this. You'll need the following:

Bone folder
Gummed Japanese hinging paper (1" width)
Q-Tip
Scissors

Simply cut the hinging paper slightly longer than the page, fold it in half and crease it with the bone folder, wet the adhesive side with the Q-Tip, position the leaf, and smooth it out. Allow it to dry, trim the ends and re-punch it. This paper is especially suited for this repair because it's very thin, easy to work with (and reposition) and nearly invisible once in place.

Since I'm on the topic of local history, there have been some enterprising booksellers who have digitized histories of counties, towns, etc., that are now in the public domain for the purpose of printing and selling comb-bound copies. If you have a laser printer, this can be quite profitable, and the beauty of it is that you can print and bind copies as you sell them.

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