The Book Doctor Is In: Rebuilding Broken Books (Part 1)

book doctor

Rebuilding Broken Books

Two Repairs That Will Make Your Books Stronger Than New

Part 1

In our discussion of book construction in Bookbinding 101, we dealt only with hardcover books with either sewn or glued signatures. These are books that form a tube between the contents and cover when opened. This type of construction is more or less regarded as today’s most common durable binding. Publishers have developed many other types of bindings, either to meet special requirements or to lower production costs.

Reinforced bindings — usually offered on children’s books — are more durable than other types of bindings and prebound paperbacks generally have a much longer useful life than standard paperbacks.

Any type of book that is bound with individual pages glued together — often referred to as perfect bound — is typically not as durable as books with signatures. These books are cheaper to produce and often use inferior adhesives. It is not uncommon for these books to require repair after one or two circulations.

All bindings which differ from those using signatures present special challenges and we will deal with them in future posts. In this issue of the Book Doctor we’ll deal with broken hinges and uncased books so this would be a good time to review the first illustration in Bookbinding 101, as we will be repairing books with the type of binding shown there.

Repairing a Broken Hinge

Book hinges will become damaged in normal use. As the book ages, frequent flexing of the hinge, along with the stress created by the weight of the text block pulling on the hinge, will often cause hinges to tear first at the top of the book. If the tearing is minor — say less than 25% of the length of the hinge — it can often be stopped by using a hinge reinforcing tape. Please refer to the section on repairing loose hinges in the Bookbinding 101 post.

If the tearing is more extensive or the hinge is fully broken (so one cover is detached from the text block) you must use Single-stitched Binder Tape. This tape is available in four widths from ¾ inch to 2 inches. For all but the largest books the ¾ inch size is suitable, so that may be all you need to stock in smaller libraries.

All Demco binder tapes are supplied with a coating of a water-soluble adhesive. Since repairs made using a water-soluble adhesive can be removed by dampening the tape, it is suitable for temporary repairs only. (You might want to make a temporary repair to a book to keep it useable until you can take it out of circulation to send it to be rebound, for instance.) In order to make a permanent repair with any pre-gummed cloth tape you must brush Norbond adhesive over the surface.

Here are the steps to repairing a broken hinge:

Step 1

If the hinge is not fully broken, cut it away so the cover separates fully from the text block. Trim off loose paper and threads in the area to be repaired. Check to see if the Super is coming loose from the spine of the text block or if the end sheet is pulling away from the inside of the cover. If so, use Norbond to re-secure them in place and let it dry before proceeding.

(NOTE: If the flyleaf is attached to the cover rather than to the text block you must remove it before making the repair. Use Hinge Tape to reattach it once the repair is completed.)

Step 2

Cut a piece of single-stitched binder tape equal to the height of the text block. Apply Norbond to one side of the tape only.


Step 3

Holding the tape by the two dry tabs, adhere one tab with Norbond to the spine of the text. Adhere the second tab to the first page of the text block. Rub these tabs firmly with a bone folder and allow the adhesive to dry thoroughly.


Step 4

After the Norbond has dried, place a sheet of waxed paper on the text block and cut a second piece of waxed paper to fit inside the spine. Fit these sheets under the unattached tabs on the binder tape. Apply Norbond to both of the unattached tabs and carefully bring the edge of the cover to fit along the stitches on the binder tape. In doing this you will be attaching one tab of the tape to the inside of the cover spine.


Step 5

Attach the free tab on the binder tape to the inside of the cover and smooth it with a bone folder.


Step 6

Leave both pieces of waxed paper in place and close the book.  Pressing a bone folder firmly along the outside of the spine will ensure that the binder tape is attached to the inside of the cover spine. Lay the folder lengthwise along the spine and place some rubber bands around the book. Allow this repair to dry overnight.


After the repair has dried completely, remove the rubber bands and waxed paper. Carefully open the book, giving it a bit of time to adjust to the repair. If you have followed the instructions carefully, I guarantee that the repaired hinge is at least as good as new.

We’ve covered a lot of detail here so take some time and try this repair. In part 2 of this post we will learn to reattach a cover that is completely detached from the book.

As always, feel free to use the link below to post any comments or questions and I’ll respond. I may use your input in future posts.

Throughout this series, we’ll be referring to two resources from Demco. The pamphlet Demco Collection Care Guide and the Demco Collection Care DVD are both available to help you through your book repair challenges.


John Ison

John Ison

John Ison retired in 2011 after working with Demco for more than 25 years, most recently as the Director of Library Relations. During that time he conducted over 300 book repair workshops, wrote the Demco Collection Care Guide, and wrote and produced the Demco Collection Care DVD.