Children’s Board Book, Part 1

Okay, we’re moving one step closer to the big reveal. The next step is learning the basic children’s-board-book structure

I think making your own children’s board books is a great way to give your child something extra special and unique for them. You don’t have to be a great author or illustrator to do it, either, just fill it full of pictures, simple words, shapes, stamps, stickers, or punched paper. You can do teaching books, story books, or a mini album about your child’s life; whatever you decide, it will sure to be a treasure that your child will want to share with their children.

Here’s how we’re going to do it. The basic book structure is a stiff-leaf binding, which I modified from the one I learned from this fabulous book. If you are a book binder, you are probably already familiar with the Penland Book of Handmade Books, but if not, it is a must-read (note: it is not really a how-to book suited for beginners; I look at it more as inspiration rather than basic instructions). Before we get started, here are a few things basic book-binding terms you need to know:


  • Board shear (if you’re lucky enough to have one, these things are EXPENSIVE, see here to see what I mean) or heavy-duty xacto-knife (the “box-cutter” variety)
  • Board
    You can use mat board if you want colored backgrounds,  binders board (if you’re planning on covering the whole thing with paper, since it just looks like cardboard), or illustration board (which I will be using in this demonstration). Just know that your final “page” thickness will be twice the thickness of whatever kind of board you choose, so keep that in mind.
  • Book cloth
    You can buy this from most art-supply stores or online art stores. You can also make your own, and there are tutorials available online if you search for “how to make book cloth.” I personally haven’t tried any of these methods, though, so I don’t know which to recommend. My teacher used the heat-n-bond method with Japanese paper, but feel free to find the method that works for you. Making your own book cloth certainly expands your design options. For this project, the book cloth will be used primarily as the hinging element, and only one portion will be exposed (the spine), so you could choose a basic black for the hinge, and a decorative print for the exposed portion. I will be using a basic linen book cloth.
  • Glue and glue brush
    I use PVA, but any kind of permanent, acid-free glue will probably be fine. Paste generally isn’t strong enough to bond boards to boards, but you can use it to bond paper to your boards before or after you build your structure. Any stiff-bristle brush will work. If you’re covering  a large surface, you will want a big brush.
  • Metal ruler
    Plastic or wood won’t do. You will be cutting against this edge, so it needs to be metal. I have wrecked the edge of many plastic rulers trying to cut against them, and I say just avoid the trouble and go with a metal ruler.
  • Cutting board or self-healing mat
  • Bone folder
  • Book press, weights, or heavy books

Prep Work and Set up

  1. Decide on the size and layout (# of pages, etc.) of your book. For this demonstration, I am making a mock-up, which I recommend for the first time you make this book so you get the idea of how to do it before you start gluing up pages that you’ve worked hard on.
  2. Find the grain of your board. You’ll do this by pressing one hand down on your board about 6 inches from it’s edge and tugging up on the edge with your other hand. Do this again on the perpendicular side. The grain runs parallel to the side on which it was easier to tug up. You may want to mark the board on the back in pencil with arrows marking which direction the grain runs. It is very important for the grain to be facing the same direction on each page, parallel to the spine.
  3. Cut the “leaves” (see diagram above) out of the board. Each leaf will be two pieces of board glued together, so double the number of leaves you want and cut that many pieces out (you must have an even number of pieces). You will want to cut the pages so that the grain runs parallel to the spine.   If you are making a mock-up, you can leave the pages blank. But if you are going to decorate the pages, you will want to do that before you decide to put the book together. If you do have designs on the pages, make sure to number the backs so you know which order they go in.
  4. (Optional) Cut out your covers. If you want to use a different type of board to make your cover, cut these out. I am going to cover pieces of binders board with paste paper to use as my covers. You can use the same kind of board you used for the pages, if you want, but be sure to cut two more pieces in addition to the number you need to make your signatures.
  5. Cut your strips of book cloth. (a) Start by cutting a long strip that is the same height as your spine. (b) Then cut the long strip into individual strips for each signature. You will want the individual strips to be the height of your spine × (1 inch + 2 board thicknesses). Determine 2 board thicknesses by stacking 2 pieces of your board on top of each other and measuring the thickness. Err on the side of a little too much rather than a little too little. If you have glued pictures or paper to your pages, you may want to include the thickness of these add-ons in the total thickness so that you don’t experience page swell. Do this by placing the enhanced pages face to face and measuring their combined thickness.
  6. Make a jig. (a) Cut 3 strips of board the height of your spine × 1/2 inch. (b) Glue 2 of the strips together so now you have a single strip and a doubled strip (if you have pictures or other paper glued to you r pages, you may want to add this thickness by gluing a couple strips of paper cut the same size as the board strips to your doubled strip to accommodate the extra page thickness). (c) Glue the end of the double strip to the center (yes, I know mine is off center; I wasn’t paying attention) of the other strip to form a “T.” You will use this jig to help you glue your signatures together without having to remeasure each one, so don’t skip this step.
  7. (Optional) If you want your book to have corners like many children’s board books, round the corners. (a) Trace a coin around the top and bottom corner of the fore edge of your book. I used a dime because my book is small, but you may want to use a nickel or quarter if your book is bigger. (b) Using your xacto knife or a pair of heavy-duty scissors, cut along the traced line. (c) Sand the corners smooth (you will be sanding this more later to make the pages flush, so this step is just to get the general shape correct).
  8. Cut a groove on the back of your page for the cloth to lie in. (a) Measure about a half-inch from the spine edge of the BACK of your board. (b) Run your blade over this line with medium pressure. You only want to cut into the board about 1/3 of the way down. Make sure to use even pressure all the way across. (c) At the bottom spine corner of the back of your board, peel up about 1/3 of the layers of the board.

    This step is important to the final look of your book. You are creating room to inlay the book cloth so that it is flush with the surface of the board. If you do not do this, the two layers of book cloth between each page will cause the spine to swell. Sometimes this spine swell is good, but in this book structure, the swell will cause your pages to not fit together well. You may want to practice this step on some scrap board before cutting into your pages.

Binding Your Book

Once all these steps are complete, you can move on to the binding portion. It may seem like a lot of set up, and it is, but once you get the hang of it, it will go faster. Book binding is all about taking care of the details so the big picture falls into place. Make a habit of fine tuning the details and your end result will come out great every time.

  1. Glue your signatures together. Start by brushing glue on one “groove” on the back of one page. (a) Lay your book cloth face up or face down in the glued groove (depending on which side you prefer to have show in the joint) and press down with the bone folder. (b) Flip your page over so it is face up. Place your jig over your page so that the page is snug in one side of the “T” and the book cloth lies underneath to the other side of the “T.” (c) Brush glue on the “groove” of another page, and place this page, groove-side down into the other side of the “T,” over the book cloth, and press firmly down. (d) Remove the jig and flip the joined signature over and press the book cloth into the groove. If the cloth overlaps the edge of the groove, trim with an xacto knife and press so the cloth is flush with the top of the board. Wipe off any excess glue and trim the book cloth so that it is flush with the head and tail of the the boards. Repeat these steps for all of your signatures.
  2. Press your signatures. Lay the signatures open on top of each other with the right-sides facing each other, and press them in a book press, under a board with some weights on it, or under some heavy books (my heaviest books are always my art books and my husbands computer engineering textbooks). Leave to press  for 30 minutes.
  3. Glue your signatures together to form your book. (a) Take your signatures out of the press and fold them in half with right-sides facing each other. Run your bone folder along the spine to get a good fold. (b) Stack your folded signatures together; this is the thickness of your book. Take the first two signatures and lay them flat with their spines facing each other. (c) Brush glue over the back of one signature from the fore edge to about 1 mm from the spine.

    (d) Take the other signature and lay it on top of the glued signature so that the spines and fore edges line up. Press them firmly in your hands. Make sure all the edges line up as best as possible. You may want to open the signatures and press directly on the pages that have the glue in between. If you use a bone folder to press, put a piece of paper down over your pages first so you don’t score your pages. (e) Lay the two signatures down flat and place another signature next to it so that the spines face each other. Repeat steps 3c–3e until all the signatures have been glued together into one book. If you are using the same materials for your cover, go ahead and attach these to the outside of the first and last signature. If not, wait til Part 2 of this tutorial to see how I did my covers.
  4. Press your book. Put your glued book in the press and leave overnight.
  5. Sand the corners and trim edges as needed. (a) Remove the book from the press and hold in your hand with the spine inward. (Doesn’t this feel good, holding your own little handmade book. I love the feeling of first holding my books after they have been bound.) Take some sand paper (I usually sandwich a piece of board in between my sand paper to give it some support, but you can use a sanding block if you have one; I don’t) in your other hand and gently sand the corners of the fore edge so they are uniformly round. (b) If you are like me, and you don’t have a board shear, your pages that were glued to each other may not line up exactly and little strips of the back show on the edges. You can trim these with an xacto knife, or sand it lightly to make all the edges flush. This is just a perfectionist step, but don’t worry about it too much; you’re not going for a “machine made” look anyways.

We’re done. With this part of the book at least. I know this was a lot of steps, but it really will get easier the more you do it, so practice pracitce. (Hint: It’s never too early to start on those handmade Christmas presents!)  A few things I learned while doing this project:

  • It is really hard to take pictures of steps that require both hands.
  • I need to get a new self-healing mat (did you notice how many unhealed wounds it had?)

Stay tuned to see how I finish my book and what I put inside.


7 thoughts on “Children’s Board Book, Part 1

  1. Hey Rebecca! I love your new blog! Are you still in Utah? Where do you get your waxed linen thread? I tried finding some today for a book I’m making, but no luck so I guess I’ll need to order it from somewhere. Any suggestions? Hope you’re doing well! 🙂

    • Whitney:
      Yes, we’re still in Utah for a little while longer. Not sure where we’ll go after that. I love seeing the new paintings you’ve been working on, especially the “Words of Isaiah” one. I have just been using the leftover waxed linen thread that I had from the class. I’m not sure where to get any, but I’ll keep a look-out for it.

  2. If you’re in Utah you can get a card in the family history area of the HBLL that works just like a signature card and they accept that at the stockroom.

  3. Pingback: Children’s Board Book, Part 2 « There Is Beauty All Around

  4. Pingback: A Year in the Making: The Color Book « There Is Beauty All Around

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