s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Hobbies

Friday, October 28, 2005


The ideal hobby is inexpensive, time-consuming and produces something useful in the end. It has to be inexpensive, so that you can do it a lot without breaking the bank. It has to be time-consuming, because the whole point of a hobby is to take your mind off of something or to give you something to do in your spare time. It’s nice if it produces something useful – it doesn’t have to produce anything at all, really, but if it produces a lot of junk that just takes space, that’s a problem.

Most of the hobbies I’ve had have been pretty good. Cross-stitching and tatting are pretty cheap, as are knitting and crocheting, and it takes a long time to finish a project. Cross-stitching is probably the most expensive of them, as you have needles, and cloth to buy as well as floss/yarn/thread. And I think I spent about $20.00 on a sewing frame, once.

Being a musician is a little more expensive, in terms of having to acquire an instrument in the first place. Once you’ve got one, music is pretty cheap, and hard music is sometimes cheaper than easy music. Growing up, we always had a piano, so that was no big deal. Since I started learning to play the organ, finding access to an instrument is a bit harder (and actually buying one is almost out of the question).

Now that I’m interested in bookbinding, I’ve run into some problems. The materials themselves are not very expensive: Davey board, bookcloth, endpapers, text paper and glue. Most of the tools aren’t very expensive either: brushes, bone folders, teasing needles, needle and thread. But some of the equipment is pretty hard to find. A cast iron book press costs several hundred dollars, but you can use a bunch of textbooks in a pinch. A finishing press is another hundred or so, but you can also work around it. What’s really killing me is not having a board shear.

A full sized board shear costs several thousand dollars. (It’s basically a heavy-duty guillotine for cutting book board.) Even a small tabletop one costs at least $500, and then you’re limited to 15” of cutting space. And there’s really no substitute, as paper cutters and X-acto knives aren’t exactly up to the trick. I guess you could have Kinko’s cut it for you on their paper cutter, but who’s to say they’ll do an accurate enough job, and if you figure seven or eight cuts for just one book, that starts to get pretty expensive. Hollander’s will also cut your board for you, but they charge $10 per board, and book board is not supposed to be your biggest expense!

I considered volunteering at the conservation lab here at the library, but they want you to do five hours a week, and I’d really be doing it just so they’d give me access to the board shear. I think I may have found a partial solution, though.

If I do a spineless book, there isn’t as much measuring and I could probably cut my boards ahead of time. (Without having to finish my text block first, I mean.) And there’s a board shear in the HFAC that anyone can use, provided there isn’t a class there. If I buy board now and take it with me when I go home for Christmas, I can pop up to campus and cut myself maybe a year’s worth of board, provided I’m willing to stick with Coptic or link-stitch bindings. (Or accordion books, I suppose.)

And then I could make books for people. :)


At October 28, 2005 10:39 PM, Blogger Melyngoch said...

Oh, good! I'll write them, you can bind them, and pretty soon, we'll have enough money to get you your very own book shear. Maybe even your very own guillotine.

At October 29, 2005 2:39 PM, Blogger erin said...

I was wondering about that too. That shear is huge and expensive.

Why can't you make flat-backs? You could do it. You could pre-measure everything, and you'd just have to make sure your signatures were a certain size. Maybe make templates for everything. Get all your paper cut, bind the signatures together, and then take note of what size they are. You might have to make the same size book forever, but hey you could do it!

At October 29, 2005 7:42 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Pre-measuring everything implies that either (a) I'm talented enough to make my signatures and textblock the exact same size every time or (b) I don't care if my cover doesn't exactly fit my book.

I'm not talented enough to pull off (a) and I'm not willing to settle for (b), except in cutting the front and back covers ahead of time.

Of course, I've made only very small books in the past, and if I made a flat-back with a thicker spine, the difference in thickness of a signature or two wouldn't be such a big deal. Hmmm. Good point.

At November 01, 2005 11:56 AM, Blogger Th. said...


I don't know how many times I accompanied my wife to the HFAC's board shear. I've never priced them because we don't have space for that kind of equipment anyway, but several thousand dollars? Are you serious?

At November 01, 2005 3:17 PM, Blogger Katya said...

www.binderytools.com lists five John Jacques board shears for sale, from $1,800 to $4,000. I'd guess that the one in the HFAC is only worth a couple thousand, as the base board isn't even square with the shear. (And it needs sharpening.)

Dahle board cutters run from $600 to $1,500, depending on the size. They're smaller and more lightweight, but they'll do for most bookbinding needs.

At November 01, 2005 6:10 PM, Blogger Th. said...


It sure isn't square. Lady Steed learned to predict its vaguaries and turn them to her advantage, though. I suppose you did as well.


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