Bookbinding Basics: Terminology

Here’s some bookbinding terminology, in case you found any words confusing in the Coptic sketchbook tutorial or the board book tutorials (part 1, part 2).

  • Covers: The exterior covering of a book; these may be made of lots of things, from the traditional wood or cardboard boards, leather or velum, to handmade paper, aluminum, or anything else you can think of.
  • End Band: The decorative roll of cord or paper, or silk thread twisted along a paper or leather core, that is often found at the top and head and tail of the spine of the text block. Besides adding a nice finishing touch to the book, the end bands were meant to prevent dust from accumulating in the spine.

  • End paper: The first and last pages of a book, often decorative, that are generally both sewn into the text block and pasted to the inside of the cover. End papers that are not attached to the text block but glued to the cover are usually called paste downs.
  • Fore edge: The open end of the a signature or book.
  • Grain: In bookbinding, this refers to the direction the paper fibers have been laid out in. You always want to have all elements of a book with the grain in the same direction: parallel to the spine. This is essential in making your book open easily, lie flat, and look nice in general. To determine the grain, take your paper and fold over one side and gently press down. Now do the same with the side perpendicular to the side you tested, being sure to fold over the same amount of paper to make the comparison fair. The grain runs parallel to whichever side is easier to press down on when it is folded over.

    Another way to determine grain is to tear the edge of the paper in both directions; the grain runs in the direction of whichever way tore more neatly.Finally, a third way to determine grain is to tear a small rectangle out of the corner of your paper (like 2 × 3 inches) and gently mist one side with a spray bottle. The paper will curl in the direction the grain runs. A note about finding grain of boards: Tug up on the long and short sides; the grain runs parallel to whichever side is easiest to tug up. Once you have determined the direction of the grain, you may want to draw light pencil lines in the direction of the grain all along the board so that when you have cut smaller pieces of the board, you will still know which way the grain runs (because trying to determine grain on a 4×4 inch board is nearly impossible!).
  • Head: The top edge of a book.
  • Leaf: A piece of paper folded in half is called a leaf.
  • Spine: This refers to the folded edge of a signature, or the bound edge of a book. In bookbinding, you will always want your grain to run parallel to the spine (seriously can’t emphasize this enough).
  • Signature: Several pieces of paper folded together form a signature.
  • Tail: The bottom edge of a book.
  • Text block: The “guts” of a book, made up of one or more signatures.
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