Cutting it

Cutting it

Posted by Viktor (Bookbinder) on Nov 19th 2016

Bookbinding involves a lot of cutting. In fact, our good friend David told us that the first six months of his bookbinding apprenticeship (back in the days when you could still apprentice) was entirely devoted to learning how to sharpen knifes and keeping them sharp. 

We have lots of cutting tools here at the bindery, from large to small.Our album and journal pages paper comes in 38x26 inch sized parent sheets that we cut using our 1926 Chandler and Price guillotine cutter. The knife on the cutter is 26" long and sharp as a razor blade. We have three knives, so we always have a sharp one on hand while one may be out being sharpened. 

Our book board is about 1/10" thick and very dense. While I could cut it on our cutter, we're having our board cut by folks who have large hydraulic cutters (and don't mind getting their knives dulled.) We cut small batches and custom sizes on our 1890's 33" board Hughes & Kimber board shear. This shear is designed for cutting heavy material and works like a large pair of scissors (weighing about 800 lbs..) The shear will equally cut the finest and thinnest tissue paper - I keep the blade sharp with my diamond honing stone. 

Working with leather also requires extremely sharp knives - cutting the leather is easy enough, but we also pare the edges to thin the leather to make it as thin as paper. If my knife can easily shave the hairs off my arm it is sharp enough to pare leather - and I hone it on our leather strop every few minutes to keep it sharp. 

Our latest addition is also the smallest knife we ever use - a tiny scalpel with a blade of obsidian glass. Obsidian shards are many times sharper than even the sharpest surgical steel. I use it to make the finest adjustments and cuts. Obsidian (being glass) is very brittle and I have to be very careful not to apply lateral pressure (that's also the reason it's not approved for human surgery - no one likes to have glass shards in their wound..)

We have a lot more cutting instruments in our bindery - from simple scissors to mat cutters, X-acto knives and utility knives. or cuts (usually under a strong loupe.) 

For all the cutting we do, we maintain a healthy respect for our tools and have so far avoided any accidents.