The Projector

Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski

Types of Book-Binding: An Introduction


German Woodcut Depicting Book Production: Papermaking, Printing, Bookbinding


Building on what I’ve called the Right PATH method (Performance/Production, Aesthetic, Theory, History), I wanted to add a little supplemental guide to types of binding we will cover in my History of Paper course.  By addressing different types of book binding, we also consider how the design affects the “reading” of the book for the Arts & Humanities majors and how that design also affects financial, business, and legal concerns (for the students studying Accounting, Business Management, and Pre-Law).  Here, it becomes clear how this course is so much more than a typical History course . . . or rather illuminates how history–and the Humanities–works in and with other university disciplines and professions.  The workshops have been a great asset in producing this sensibility.  The Arts and Humanities were never more practical . . .


Types of Binding

There are many types of book bindings–too many to list here or to review in a single class session.  For a course so wide in scope (like the History of Paper), I’m perfectly content with students’ ability to identify key differences between commercial press, small press, and fine press titles and to consider how the type of binding affects aesthetic, reading, production, cost, etc.

Originally, my idea for teaching book binding was very ambitious–too grandiose to conduct without the aid of an outside expert, more time than we have allotted, and some financial support.

The idea was to purchase a few badly damaged or worn antiquarian books and (1) review the anatomy of a book, (2) to assess the damages, and (3) to witness and contribute to some element of its restoration.

You can see how this project could make up an entire class (rather than one session) and my need to scale back.

While we will briefly cover a wide range of bindings, for our workshop, we will focus on non-adhesive bindings.  Therefore, for this quick guide on types of bindings, it is best to organize the bindings by adhesive and non-adhesive.

Some major categories of bookbinding include the following:

  • Case Bound
  • Perfect Bound
  • Saddle Stitched
  • Pamphlet Stitched
  • Stab Stitched
  • Tape Bound
  • Screw Bound
  • Coil / Wire Bound


Signature – A signature is a set of papers folded one time.
Book block – A book block is a set of sewn signatures or a stack of glued single sheets that make out the inside of the book.
Endpapers – Endpapers are sheets of papers, folded once, attached with a little bit of glue at the spine-side at the front or the back of the book block.
Headband – A headband is a band made out of thread looped around a rope or strip of leather. Headbands can be machinemade and glued at the head and tale of the spine of a book. They can also be handmade by sewing them onto the signatures.
Hinge – The hinge of a book is the place near the spine of the book where the cover folds open.
Rib – A rib is a thickening on the spine of a book. This thickening is created because there are ropes below the cover material. Sometimes fake ribs are created by placing strips of cardboard below the cover material.
Slot – A slot is a cut in the paper, creating a place for the glue to adhere to or the thread to go through.

Non-adhesive Bindings

(1)  The Pamphlet Stitch

A little nicer, aesthetically, than the saddle-stitch (folded pages stapled through the fold line), the pamphlet stitch can be used to bind single signatures into pamphlet.  Some type of thread is sewn through an odd number of pierced holes in the fold of the signature.  Both ends of the string always end up in the middle, tied into a single knot.

(2)  Stab Binding (or Japanese Binding)

Stab bindings can be used to bind single (not folded) sheets into a book.  Stab-bound books will not be able to lay flat when opened in the middle.

In Japan, these bindings have been used for centuries. 4 major sewing patterns are (1) the Noble binding; (2) the Tortoise-shell binding; (3) the Hemp-leaf binding; and (4) the 4-hole binding.  Covers of stab bindings can be sewn together with the rest of the papers, or they can folded over or around the book block, making the binding invisible before opening the front cover.  This approach is related to screw binding, in which pages are held together using book screws instead of thread.

(3)  Medieval Limp Binding

This method is a quick sewing method that binds the signatures and cover together with the same single thread.  The thread will go in and out of the cover, and in and out of the signatures.  Variations of this method include the following:  the buttonhole stitch; the link stitch; and sewing cords / ropes.

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(4)  Coptic binding

Coptic bindings (or chain bindings) expose the sewing at the book spine.  They bind individual signature boards rather than wrap around the entire work.  Pages will open up flat and you’ll have a much more flexible book.

Adhesive Bindings

(1)  Perfect Binding (or Paperback Books)

A book bound with a perfect binding generally consists of a stack of papers hot-glued on one side, with a cover then folded and glued around the stack / spine.  Although perfect bindings are typically created by machines, they can be made by hand using regular bookbinding glue.

(2)  Case bindings (or case wrapped books, hardcover books)

Case binding is generally synonymous with what we call hardcover books today.  The word “case” is a standard term because the book block and the cover are created separately.  The cover is then attached to the book block by “encasing it.”  Case bindings can be covered with paper, cloth, leather, etc.  They can have either flat or round spines. They can have headbands, bookmarks, and other decorative elements.

Special Types of Case-bound Bindings:

  • German bindings (or Bradel binding / Bonnet binding)
  • French bindings
  • English bindings (or Classic binding / Gothic binding)
  • Springback bindings (or Ledger binding)


Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, A Descriptive Terminology, Matt T Roberts and Don Etherington, with drawings by Margaret Brown

The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf

The Bonefolder: e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist

Bookbinders Museum

Beauty for Commerce, Publishers Bindings, 1830-1910, University of Rochester

British Library Database of Bookbindings

Judging a Book by its Cover, Columbia University



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