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Book Repair for BookThinkers

How to "Repair Warped Boards

by Craig Stark

#137 31 August 2009

I put the word "repair" in quotation marks because this technique is probably better described as a trick than a repair.

Back in the Stone Age, I wrote an article for another publication that detailed a clamping method that would restore a warped board to its original shape without damaging the hinges/joints, and that method is fine if you both want to take the trouble to do it and have the necessary tools, not to mention a few days, to play with. Also, if you have access to a book press, this might help some as well - and I emphasize "might." But you might want to try something far simpler first.

Oversized books are especially prone to warping, and here's a good example:

In this case only the back board was warped, and the convex side of the warp was on the pastedown. With heat gun in hand set on high - a blow dryer works as well - I simply waved it evenly over the pastedown for less than a minute (perhaps 4" to 6" away from the cover), and here was the result:

What this does is dry out the fibers on one side of the board, shrinking them slowly, and gently tugs on the fibers on the other side of the board, elongating them until its original shape is restored.

In this case one treatment did the trick, and this is usually the case for me. In some cases, however, the treated board may partially return to its former shape and it may be necessary to do a second or third treatment.

Now, I have to issue the familiar disclaimer to practice on books you can afford to throw away first. If you hold the gun too close to the book for too long, scorching is possible - and who knows what else. Also, if the board is covered in fabric that has begun to detach from the board and the convex side of the warp is on the outer cover, there's a possibility that a bubble will be created when the board returns to flat because the fabric has likely been permanently stretched out of shape over time. Bubbling can be repaired, but it's time consuming.

Finally, please don't attempt this on a valuable book. Instead consult a conservator. We perform tricks here, not miracles.

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