The Book Doctor Is In: Torn Paper Book Repair

book doctorNot long ago I was talking with a class of library science students and someone asked why we should repair books rather than discard damaged books and replace them.  After discussion, the students generally agreed that, due to the cost of new books and how quickly publishers seem to take them out of print, repair is often the best alternative.

Our experience at Demco bears this out as we continue to see a strong interest in learning about the techniques and tools of book repair.  And so we move on to continue our discussion of ways to repair torn paper.

In the latter part of The Book Doctor is In: Book Repair ASAP, we talked about reattaching pages that have been torn out of books and why attempting this with a pressure sensitive tape almost invariably results in a poor repair job. Using Norbond® Liquid Plastic Adhesive to reattach a page works well when the page has a flat, smooth edge that can be reinserted deep into the gutter of the book.

However, when pages have been physically torn from a book such that a neat edge no longer exists, the repair will be somewhat more complicated. Usually a portion of the page remains in the book and you may be tempted to simply use an ordinary pressure-sensitive tape to reattach the torn-out page to the remnant of the page still in the book. Don’t do it!

It is very difficult when using a sticky tape to accurately fit the two sides of the tear together perfectly and the taped area will be much less flexible than the rest of the page so a new tear will quickly develop along the edge of the tape.

The best way to reattach a page that has been completely torn out of a book and has a ragged edge is to “rebuild” that edge using a transparent tissue, such as Book Repair Tissue, and Norbond® Liquid Plastic Adhesive. As shown in the photo below (Step 1), the tissue can be torn to fit along the edge of the page and attached by brushing the Norbond onto the tissue. Cover that with waxed paper, place some weight on it, and allow it to dry overnight.

After the adhesive in the first step has dried, simply apply fresh adhesive along the edge of the tissue and insert it deeply into the gutter of the book. Be sure to place a sheet of waxed paper on each side of the repair before closing the book and allowing it to dry overnight under some weight or wrapped with rubber bands.

Step 1 – Use adhesive to attach the tissue paper

Step 2 – Carefully apply adhesive to binding edge

Step 3 – Insert page, close book and wrap book with rubber bands

Repairing Extensive Paper Tears

As we mentioned in The Book Doctor is In: Introduction to Book Repair, a great many decisions in book repair are based on judgment calls. It’s a judgment call as to whether or not the book should be repaired and returned to use and it’s a judgment call about the amount of time and materials you can devote to a repair.

When it comes to “extensive tears” and what that means to you, that’s also a judgment call. If you’re confident that you can mend a torn page and get a professional quality repair, then go for it. If the tear is very long, or ragged or zig-zaggy, then you’ll be better off taking more time to follow the procedures outlined here.

Filmoplast® P Paper Mending Tape provides the quickest and easiest repair that I have found for badly torn paper. (I don’t recommend Filmoplast® P-90 Tape for page repairs because it is opaque white and covers the print.) Filmoplast P is a very strong transparent tape that is flexible so the book paper will not fatigue and tear again. Additionally, the adhesive is not so aggressive that you can’t lift the tape a bit to make adjustments if necessary.

We said it before, but it bears repeating, make certain that the two sides of the tear are aligned and overlap correctly. Apply the tape starting at the base of the tear and carefully smooth it to the edge of the page. Wrapping 1/2″ or so of tape over to the reverse side is a good idea.

If the tear extends the full length of the page, make the repair in two steps:

  1. Start at the center of the tear and work out to one edge and repeat for the remainder of the tear.
  2. Use a plastic folder to smooth the repair and ensure the tape is secure.

Don’t have access to Filmoplast P tape? A satisfactory alternative to repair an extensive tear is to use Book Repair Tissue and Norbond® Liquid Plastic Adhesive.

  1. Tear a section of the tissue wide enough and long enough to cover the tear.
  2. Brush Norbond on one side of the tissue, make certain the two sides of the tear are aligned correctly, and gently apply the tissue over the tear.
  3. Place a clean piece of waxed paper over the tissue and then use a plastic folder to firmly smooth the repair.
  4. Place some weight on the repaired area and allow it to dry overnight.

Next up:  Parts of a Book

You’re about to graduate to the next level of book repair! From this point forward in this series, we’ll be dealing with more difficult repairs. To help you get ready to level up, next month we will review the physical parts of a book and how they all work together.  After that we’ll move on to more difficult repairs.

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.

What are your book repair questions and concerns?  Post your comments below and I’ll respond.  I may use your input in future posts to help you take the best care of your collection.


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.