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How-to The Fan-gluing Press Fan-gluing instructions - video

Fan-Gluing Basics 

[New as of 1/10 there is a video to complement this article]

©1997 by Peter Jermann  (rev. 12/8/99)

Fan-gluing is a simple bookbinding technique for securing individual pages to one another at the spine using an elastic and flexible adhesive. Fan-glued books are durable and open well. The following is a basic introduction to fan-gluing for those who already have some knowledge of bookbinding but may be unfamiliar with fan-gluing as a technique for leaf attachment. These instructions are for use with the Fan-gluing Press.*

Though I have tried to include tips and precautions based on my more than ten years experience doing tens of thousands of fan-glued bindings, the instructions herein are meant to be a starting point for experimentation. As with traditional sewn bindings there is no substitute for experience gained through trial and error. My own experience, however, has brought me to the conclusion that fan-gluing, properly used and executed, rivals many sewn books in durability and far exceeds sewing in production efficiencies.

Materials required

Flexible PVA Glue

• Not all PVA glues are flexible. Some, like Elmer's white glue, dry brittle and are unsuitable for fan gluing. Fan gluing requires a PVA that is both flexible and elastic when dry. A glue that leaves a fairly heavy film when dry is preferable to a glue that leaves a very thin film. PVA used for fan-gluing a spine should not be thinned but should be used full strength.

• When in doubt a glue can be tested as follows. Brush out a test patch of glue on the left side of a piece of card stock (an index card will do). On the right side drip a bead of glue several inches long. Do not spread this glue out. Leave it as is and let the sample card dry overnight. Once the glue is thoroughly dry, flex, bend and even fold the card across the brushed and beaded glue. If the glue cracks, then it is probably not suitable for fan gluing. If the glue bends freely without cracking it is probably acceptable.

Spine liner/super

• Fan gluing requires a breathable, strong, thin cloth with a high thread count. Gauze-like supers are not acceptable. The spine liner should breathe sufficiently that air or glue bubbles do not form when the liner is applied. Kraft paper liners are not required on a fan-glued binding. Their use only serves to stiffen the spine and hinder the desirable flat opening characteristic of a fan-glued binding.


• A basic fan-glued binding requires only a simple endsheet composed of a folded sheet of paper. No reinforcement is required at the folded edge.

Fan gluing press.

• Successful fan-gluing requires that the spine edge of the loose leaves be perfectly aligned and secured before gluing. Loose and unattached pages are the direct result of imperfect alignment.

* The Fan-gluing Press is designed and produced by Pete Jermann through TeMPeR Productions, 117 South 14th St., Olean, NY 14778.


A diagram of a fan-gluing press

The Process

1. Align textblock and endsheets

• Remove clamp and place endsheets and single leaves onto the press bed with the spine edge against the aligning block. One endsheet should be on the bottom of the text block and one should be on the top. Make sure that the folded edge of the endsheet is against the aligning block. Use the right angled edge of the aligning block to line up the tail edge of the loose leaves.

• NOTE: The Fan Gluing Press comes with an alignment block and two similar sized spacers. The aligning block has a clear plastic face and a right angle aligning gauge. The spacing blocks are simply wood blocks the same length and width as the alignment block and are used to move the aligning block forward for smaller books that would fail to extend under the clamp without the adjustmen


Fan-gluing Press in open position

2. Clamp textblock into Fan Gluing Press

• Raise the spin-down fasteners such that the clamp (which is currently hanging on cords from the front of the press) can be placed on top of the textblock (the combined single leaves and endsheets). Place the clamp firmly against the threaded posts and spin the fasteners down to secure the clamp.

• The clamp should be secured evenly on both sides. Initial enthusiasm with the spin down fasteners can cause one side of the clamp to be pushed down such that the clamp will angle up. If this happens the textblock will tend to get pinched on one edge rather than secured along its length. This is both hard on the clamp and precarious for the textblock which may tend to drop on the opposite edge when it is rotated upward for gluing. The best guard against improper fastening of the clamp is simply an understanding and awareness of the problem.


Fan-gluing Press in clamped position

• CAUTION: Do not overtighten the clamp. The threaded posts have a relatively fine thread compared to many bookbinding presses. This fine thread gives you a great mechanical advantage. The spin-down fasteners can usually be adequately snugged down with one hand. Severe overtightening may damage the clamp.

• CAUTION: The spin-down fasteners are weighted and should be approached cautiously when they are spinning. DO NOT put fingers under the spin-downs.


3. Rotate the press

• Once the clamp is secured, grab one or both handles and pull forward and down to bring the spine up into the gluing position.

• At this time check to ensure that the leaves and the endsheets are properly aligned. Misalignment is very difficult to correct once glue has been applied. If alignment is off redo the previous step.

• Make sure that you are looking at the spine edge rather than the foredge (it happens).


Fan-gluing Press in up position

4. Fan and Glue

• Fan the leaves by pushing the extended portion of the textblock to one side. The degree to which the pages will bend and fan out is determined by thickness of the textblock, type of paper and how much the textblock extends from the clamp (as spacers are added behind the aligning block, the amount of textblock extending from the clamp will decrease). It is not necessary to bend the textblock all the way down to the clamp. Push it as far as it will easily go without using overbearing force.

• The textblock can be pushed over and held with your spread hand or you can use a stiff straight edge. A couple of

strips of binder's board laminated together makes a good straight edge and one that can be easily discarded and replaced as it becomes coated with glue.

• With the textblock fanned out, apply a generous coat of PVA glue with a glue brush. The brush strokes can run from the head to the tail of the spine or downward across the spine in the direction the leaves are fanned out. In addition to brushing the spine, lay a coat of glue on the first 1/2" to 1" of the endsheet that is facing up. This will allow the super to be secured across the spine and partially onto the endsheets.

• Fan the textblock in the opposite direction and repeat the previous step.


Fan-gluing Press with book fanned

5. Apply super

• The super is placed on the spine and onto the endsheets right after the glue is applied. The super should extend completely from the head to the tail of the book. Proper application of the super will consolidate the leaves and allow the book to be removed from the press before the glue is dry.

• In applying the super your goal is to draw the individual leaves together tight enough to remove gaps between the pages but not tight enough to leave the spine in a state of compression. A tightly compressed spine creates a source of continuing stress and can contribute to its eventual deformation. A properly finished spine should be square and of the same thickness as the remainder of the textblock. The spine should

neither be pinched across its width nor rounded at its shoulders. A square and even spine can be readily achieved with most papers. Fan-gluing some heavily coated papers may, however, leave a slight swelling of the spine.

Fan-gluing press showing book glued with super applied

• The following technique is suggested for applying the super. Lay the super centered on the spine from top to bottom and left to right. The super should be large enough to extend at least an inch on each side of the spine (1 1/2" is better). Stand at one end of the press such that you are looking down the length of the spine from head to tail (or tail to head). Starting at the end of the spine farthest from you, grab the two sides of the super between the thumb and index finger of each hand such that your thumbs are on top of the super and your fingers below. With your thumbs opposed to each other across the spine, push the spine together. This should create some slack in the super across the spine. Pull the slack out and down, tacking it slightly to the glued edge of the endsheet. Move your hands slightly toward you and repeat this pattern of pressing the spine and removing the slack. Continue doing this until you have reached the end of the spine. You will obtain the best results by making several passes up and down the spine rather than trying to consolidate the spine in a single pass. Be careful not to tack the super fully to the endsheets until the spine is fully consolidated as this will hinder further tightening of the super across the spine. Once the spine is consolidated, smooth the super firmly onto spine and onto the glued portion of the endsheets. It is important to work quickly as the super must be fully applied before the glue begins to dry, otherwise, it will not properly tack down.

• The above technique takes practice. Once you have mastered it though it should take no more that 10 or 15 seconds to complete. Remember that the action is to press the spine then pull out the slack. Consolidating the spine simply by pulling the super tight across the spine will frequently result in a rounding of the spine's corners. Remember also, that you do not need to pull the super real tight. You are simply removing the gaps between the pages, not pulling them into a state of compression.

• NOTE: The super pictured in the illustration on the previous page resembles a cheesecloth super only because of the limited abilities of the draftsman (yours truly) and is not to be taken as a suggestion that such a super is acceptable. Use a super as described in the materials section found earlier in this document.


6. Removing the glued textblock from the press

• Once the super is applied the textblock should be stable enough to remove from the press. This can be done in several different ways.

• Option 1: The easiest way to remove the book is to rotate the press back into the down position, remove the clamp and remove the book. The problem is that there may be glue that has seeped through the super that will transfer to the press bed or aligning block. This can be ameliorated by a) using exactly the right amount of glue or b) moving the alignment block out of harms way before returning the press to the down position.

• Option 2: A second and more challenging technique is to remove the textblock while the press is in the vertical position. This technique is quicker and eliminates the possibility of glue contaminating the press bed. It does, however, require coordination, a little dexterity and some practice (which I would suggest take place with fully bound paperback book rather than a freshly glued textblock). The technique is as follows: Hold the clamp in the center by its extension and push the clamp tightly against the textblock. While holding the clamp tightly against the textblock, loosen one of the fasteners and give it a good spin to release the tension on one side of the clamp. At this point don't forget that the pressure you are putting on the clamp is the sole means of support for the trapped textblock. Should your diligence fail you the textblock will plummet to the floor. Fully aware of your responsibility, now grab the textblock firmly with the hand you just used to release the spin-down fastener, stop pushing on the clamp and remove the book from the press. At this point, with the book in one hand and the clamp in the other, simply use the clamp to push the press back into the horizontal position. You should now be free to attend to the glued book with both hands.

• CAUTION: Once a book is glued and the super is applied it must be handled carefully. It is still fragile, and every precaution should be taken to see that it maintains its shape as it is moved to a location where it can fully dry. Do not try to open a freshly glued book. Freshly glued pages that shift out of alignment are very difficult to realign.

7. Drying

• Once the book is removed from the press it can either be laid flat or placed spine down, supported on both sides, such that the weight of the book maintains page alignment at the spine. In either case it is important that the book be square, otherwise it will tend to take the skewed shape in which it dries.

• If the book is small and lightweight, little is to be gained by drying with the spine down as the weight of the book will be insufficient to drop the pages into alignment. These books will do just as well laid on their sides.

• Very large and heavy books, however, tend to shift a bit when the glue is wet. The best way to ensure that the pages stay in line while drying is to set the book spine down for an initial drying period. The spine must be placed on a flat surface and the textblock must be supported such that it is perpendicular to the surface the spine rests on. The position need only be maintained for the first half hour or so while the glue initially sets. After this initial period the textblock can be laid flat such that the spine will be exposed to the air for a more thorough drying.

• Generally, a book fan-glued with PVA can be opened after several hours. It is best, however, to let the glue dry completely overnight.

8. Casing-in and other matters

• Once dry a fan-glued textblock can be cased in like a sewn and lined textblock. A flat-backed case more closely suits the fan-glued textblock than a rounded-back case design.

• A fan-glued book can be rounded and shaped like a sewn book, however, to do so would be to affect a style that is forced and, certainly not a logical extension of the fan-gluing technique. If you choose to round and shape, glue up the spine as you normally would, only use a stretch super in place of the standard lining cloth. When the glue has set, round and shape the spine as you would a sewn book. Because there is little natural swell in the spine the effect will probably be less than you would normally obtain with a sewn book of similar size. Protect the round in spine by adding a second layer of spine lining cloth (non-stretching) to the rounded spine. This line should extend head to tail and shoulder to shoulder and should not extend over the joints.


©1997 by Peter Jermann  (rev. 12/8/99)

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