I am a crazy-dedicated journal writer. I’ve been writing regularly since 2002, and every single day since May 31, 2005. I am, understandably (in my opinion, haha), a bit uppity about making sure I get an entry in every single day, and so far my doting calendar whatsit has worked pretty well.

I just finished my 38th journal. Woo! Thirty-eight books full of the stupidly mundane details of my life, starting in junior high (eeeew), and probably not getting any more interesting over the last ten years (though the hearts above my i’s did, thankfully, die). If my collection survives several hundred years, the people of the future are going to think that we were all Titanic-enthused, gel-pen-using, dolphin-stationery-loving whack jobs.

Somewhere around journal #25 I figured out how to make my own books, which was great news for size uniformity in my journal collection. Bookbinding is a super-handy rad skill to have. It never fails to impress people, and it allows you to examine other books with a knowing and pretentious sneer like the bookbinding god that you are.

As bookbinding is a process with quite a few steps, I’m going to break it up into a few entries. This one is going to look at the tools and materials you’ll need. These materials will hold true for all kinds of bookbinding, so if you’re interested in making books, I’d recommend acquiring all of these things.

Cork-backed steel ruler, at least 18”

You might like a shorter one as well, but you’ll definitely need an 18” one. The steel part is non-negotiable, as you will be using it as a cutting edge. The cork part is necessary as well, because it prevents skidding (and injuries).

Bone folder

These are available in a variety of lengths—I have a 6” and an 8”. I prefer my 6”, but that’s probably because it’s really well broken in. This is potentially the most useful tool there is; you use it for every fold and crease, and it’s responsible for every crisp crease.

White glue

Also called PVA. The pure white glue dries faster than the version mixed with paste, so I like it just for gluing out the spine.

White glue mixed with paste


Simple as can be, just white glue mixed with a simple wheat starch paste. It dries slower than pure PVA, giving you more time to work.

Super sharp exact-o knife

I like my OLFA. It’s the extra-sharp variety, and the blades snap off as needed. It’s much safer to use a sharp blade than a dull one, and much more enjoyable as well.

Paper for signatures

You’ll need this in multiple of fours. The pages should be as high as you want a page to be, and twice as wide. That way, when you fold the sheet in half you get two side-by-side pages that are joined down the centre. These pages are for the main bit of the book block, so they’re usually white or off white. Something good for writing on.

End papers

These need to be the same size as the paper in the signatures, but you’ll just need two sheets; one for the front and one for the back of the book block. Go for something decorative and fun here!

Cover board

You can buy special cover board called Eska board. It’s acid free and nice and thick. You can also glue two sheets of illustration board together. Please don’t use corrugated cardboard, it will crush down. You could use extra thin plywood if you like, but not balsa wood as it will snap and splinter.

Binding strips

You can use strips of heavier paper, but I prefer strips of fabric. I usually use bias tape. You’ll need three strips, each of equal length; the thickness of your book block plus 6cm.

Cutting mat

For your work surface.

Scrap paper

For gluing out and making messes. Avoid newsprint as it will transfer to your paper with the wetness of the flue.

Hinge cloth

You can use paper for this, but I like to use muslin or some other basic woven fabric.

Sewing needles

You can buy special bookbinding needles, but they’re basically just dull sewing needles.

Awl

You’ll need this for poking the holes in the signatures. I’ve done this job with a sewing needle before, and it’s fine for just one or two books every couple months, but if you’re going to be doing lots of books, you’ll really want an awl. An awl is really just a needle set into a wooden handle, and that wooden handle will spare your fingers and palms a lot of agony. You can get an awl for about $5, so I’d recommend it.

Binding thread

You can buy special binding cord, but a relatively good quality waxed dental floss works beautifully as well. You can also just run a relatively heavy thread through a block of beeswax, but even I consider that to be far more trouble than it’s worth.

Pencil

For making all your measurements and what not.

Ribbon

Excellent for bookmarks. You can use several if you like!

Headband

This bit is optional, but I love the way headbands look. You can buy them or make your own by folding a length of muslin over a cord and then stitching around the cord.

Cover material

I generally use some sort of pretty printed paper. You could also decorate some up and use that. Fabric is also great, as is leather. I’d recommend starting with paper, though. It’s easiest.

Glue Brushes

Just something cheap, for spreading glue. I have a 1” wide and a 3” wide, and they both have their uses. If you only want one, go for something close to 1”.

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