Saturday, October 28, 2023

Disbinding Bradel, Part 3: Binding your Pappband, aka ur-Bradel

In this [final] installment I will walk through the steps of constructing the ur-Bradel, in German "Pappband" as it would have been bound at the turn of the 18th, very early 19th century. Binding. With a little planning you can make your binding as a cut-away as I did during the workshop these images were for. The images were taken from the multiple models I prepared for the workshop. I mention this in case anyone notices differences between images.

To Disbinding Bradel, Part 2: A walk through the German bookbinding literature, in which I will focus on the evolution of that which defines this structure – the spine piece and board attachment. 

Make endpapers:

Endpapers at this time were most often plain and very similar to the text paper. The most common construction was one of the "hooked" variants that were sewn along with the first and last signatures. 

Fritz Otto inspecting the hooked end sheet in this 1825 imprint.

Below, two endpaper constructions to choose from for this binding model. These were some of the more common at the time. I chose one of each.

These endpapers would have been "hooked" around the first and last signatures, then sewn.
From "Vorsätze im Buch", Archiv für Buchbinderei,
Vol 13, 1913. Pp 66-71. English translation at HathiTrust

From Blaser, Linda, "Development of Endpapers",
the Guild of Book Workers Journal, Vol 32, Nr. 1.
Also in AIC’s Wiki.

The end leaves can be left longer at the fore-edge, and trimmed back later. Common to these are the guards and/or waste sheets to the outside. After sewing and backing, the cover would be built up on these guards.


These books would have been sewn on sawed-in or untwisted cords. Later, tapes would also have been used. For our binding, we will untwist 3 sets of 4 or 6 "cord", one for each sewing station. The untwisted cords will be laid next to each other flat, the width used for punching holes as if sewing on 3 tapes. 

Make a template and pre-punch the sewing holes from the inside out using a sewing needle. A “sewing gauge” for spacing buttons makes this easy.

Using the "sewing gauge".

Alternatively, take a piece of paper the height of the text block, mark kettle stitches at ca 1 cm from ends, taking into consideration the final trim size, fold in half, then half agains. This evenly divides the spine into 3 sewing stations plus kettles without math. For our template, make marks to either side of the three "folds" in the middle (not the kettle stitches). 

Template for punching sewing holes.

We sewed on the untwisted cords rather than regular twisted cords due to a lack of sewing frames at the workshop venue. Sewing on untwisted cords allowed all to easily compact the signatures as with tapes. Transfer the marks from measuring to a folded piece of scrap paper or thin card like from file folders to make your template for pre-punching, or sawing-in as would have been done in the past.

After punching all your holes, make sure they all align and using a pencil, make some marks across the width of the spine at one end to serve as a visual guide, especially if alignment of the sewing holes is slightly off-center.


Begin sewing the first signature, leaving out the cords. When you get to the end, insert the cords under the threads, and tape the ends to the edge of your bench. This is in lieu of a sewing frame, and how I sew on tapes or vellum slips.

While sewing, ensure that this is even and taut. Use your folder to rub down sections as you go. This will help create a more solid text block.

Apply narrow bead of adhesive at fold of 2nd and 2nd to last (the “text” sections), but make sure not to go beyond that hooked guard. Then make sure all is aligned and the folds line up, and rub down. Trim end leaves at foredge using adjacent text section as guide.
Holding on to one end of the cords, pull on the other to ensure that there is no bunching up under the sewing.

Glue up spine between cords and at ends. Make sure text block is square and signatures line up. Let dry.

Sewn and glued up text block.
Note marks across spine at right side
to ensure signature orientation.

Round and back text block:

Round and back to ca 45 degrees, with the base of the shoulder ca. two board thicknesses from top of the shoulder. The thread should provide enough swell for this to happen organically, but gentle backing helps define the shoulder.


Shaping the spine with the Kashiereisen, also known as a grattoir/frottoir
For more, go to this postThe one used was made by Jeff Peachey..

Smoothing the spine with the other end. 

Height of shoulder relative to board thickness.

Fraying out the cords:

Next, we will fray out the cords and adhere to the guards. Tease apart the individual fibers of the cords using a needle. Then use an Aufschabeblech (fray shield) and a flat blade to thin the cords and work out knots… To view this tool being used go to. IF you don’t have a fray shield, lay a piece of smooth/hard cardstock or board under the cords to be frayed instead. Jeff Peachey sells a very nice fray shield. If sewn on tapes, adhere the tapes to the guards at this time.

The cords after fraying out with the fray shield.
After teasing the fibers of the cord apart, they are slipped into
the notch, and a bookbinders' knife is used to finish and make
them silky smooth.

Apply glue to guard, paste to cords, and fan out cords on guards, smoothing with folder as Fritz Otto demonstrates.

Fanning out the frayed-out cords on the guard.

The finished result. He Fritz Otto could have done a better job
on the one at left, but still better than not fraying at all...

This part very typical of German bindings. The same process can be used with Ramieband, and German-style sewing tapes, resulting in the sewing support being far less visible, if at all under the endpapers.

Endbands and spine lining:

Hand-sewn endbands would have been rare on bindings using this structure, so in lieu of weaving them, we will make very simple stuck-on ones out of cotton muslin. Glue/paste out the cord, twist tighter, and roll back and forth on wastepaper until smooth and round. Taking a piece of scrap board, make a cut on each side and stretch cord across, using the tight fit of the cuts to hold cord taut. Glue out fabric slip underneath, fold over, and pull taut around cord with folder.

The cord stretched and held taut with the fabric before and after.

Finally, line spine with robust paper.

The gebrochener Rücken:

The gebrochener Rücken is the essence of this binding style.

During the time of our model, this was constructed from a single piece of heavier card as above. Sixty+ years later, it began to be made from strong paper and a piece of card just the width of the spine as shown in the images below from Adam, Paul. Die praktischen Arbeiten des Buchbinders (1898) and Practical Bookbinding (1903).

"Gebrochener Pappbandrücken" (1898) at left,
translated as "spring back" (1903) at right.

To make our spine piece, cut a strip of heavy paper (e.g. Cave Paper heavy weight or Iowa PC4 if you can find some) that is taller than the text block and wider than the spine by 3 - 4 cm on each side. Measure the spine at the widest point (over cords) using a strip of paper. Transfer the marking for the width of the spine, centered to the top and bottom of the strip. 

Measuring the spine.

Next, Using a rule and sharp bone folder (or metal folder) crease from top to bottom, and fold. Next flip strip over and using same method crease two lines ca 4mm to outside of the first line and fold. Finally, round gently (to match round of text block) on edge of your bench or with a folder. 

Creased, folded and rounded to fit.

Then, edge pare the long sides so that the step under the pastedown will be less pronounced.

Paring the edge of the long sides.

Finally, round and attach the spine piece, aka the "gebrochener Rücken" to the text block. 

"Gebrochener Rücken" attached to the text block.

There are two methods of doing this.
  1. Adhesive is applied from the innermost crease outward so that the spine piece is connected to the text block from the fold at the top of the shoulder on.
  2. Adhesive is applied from the outermost crease outward so that the spine piece is connected to the text block from the base of the shoulder outwards.
Both methods are described in the literature, but the first is more common, especially in later manuals. 

As the structure evolved from a single piece to the modern version with a spine stiffener cut to the width of the spine that is adhered to a strong piece of paper the first became the rule.

On the left, the "ur-Bradel" one-piece spine, on the right the later
2-piece. The image at right is from the first book structure I learned,
and was bound during my 1984 internship in Nuremberg.

Adhering from the top of the should onwards provides for a better text block to cover connection and reduces what I would describe as premature shaken/loose hinges in the context of book repair. With the heavier paper used for this one-piece spine piece, openability will be a little stiffer, but when joints are set with modern bindings this is not an issue.


First, let's make the boards so that they have a chance to dry. Laminate 3 or more plys (to equal height of shoulder) each of a heavy water color paper like Khadi, Cave Paper, or similar to make the boards. For this model I used 640gsm "rough" Khadi. [Note: I usually make these as one of the first steps so they are dry, flat, and ready for use at this stage]

The board layers on the completed cut-away model.

Rough cut the sheets you'll be making the boards from so that they are oversized all around. We'll trim later. Glue out the outer layers and adhere to the inner layer to make sure the pull is even. Put in press, crank, take out after 1 minute, put between binders’ board/blotter, and under weight to dry. 

Next, attach the boards (still oversized) to the spine piece, aligning just to the outside of the crease at the base of the shoulder. Put in press and give good nip. Note, in addition to paper, this structure was also used for bindings in cloth, leather, and parchment. Depending on the thickness of the covering material adjust the placement of the board outwards. For leather, the material was generally not worked into the groove as it would be for paper, cloth, or parchment.
View of board attachment from inside with layers.

Both boards are attached.

Trimming boards and spine:

Next, trim the boards to the final size. To do this traditionally, the German binder would have used an edge-trimming rule that was made with raised “lips” (Kantenlineal) that came in various widths that represented the typical squares that would have been used.

Cutting the squares using a Kantenlineal.

An alternative is to tape/glue together strips of board so the thickness of the 2 layers equals the desired square. Place this flat against the edge of the text block to mark your squares, then use a regular straight-edge to trim.

Alternatively, mark the squares slightly taller than the endbands all around, and using a rule and sharp knife (box cutter recommended) trim the boards all around. Finally, use scissors to cut spine stiffener to height. A board shear would be cheating...


Open the book, spine down, on the bench and carefully slit the guard where it is attached to the spine at top and bottom (like a hollow) so that the turn-ins can be made. Also tear away any excess from the guard or waste sheet.

Slit for turn-ins on completed model.

Cut the covering paper to size so that there is 2 cm turn-in all around.

Glue/paste out the entire covering paper. Next, position the text block on the paper so that the turn-ins are even at top, bottom, and foredge.

Flip over at edge of table, smooth out and carefully work into groove (A clean piece of paper between covering paper and folder will help protect covering. Next rub down on spine, flip over again, work into groove and then smooth across other board.

Next, turn-in starting with top/bottom edges, then foredge. When dry, trim out so that the squares are even.

Turned-in and trimmed out.

Glue/paste out the doublure and put down. Insert thin cards between board and fly leaves and give nip in press, allow to dry under weight.

The completed model.
Note the cutaway in the center and the untrimmed board sections,
including at the tail of the book.

All the models bound during the workshop.
The day was filled with lots of "do as I say, not as I do" moments...
Fritz Otto for scale.

To Disbinding Bradel, Part 2: A walk through the German bookbinding literature, in which I will focus on the evolution of that which defines this structure – the spine piece and board attachment. 

Hands-on instructions for modern variants:

As always, I welcome questions, references to additional sources, and other thoughts via the comments. Just remember to cite those sources. Thank you 

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