The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ironing Paperback Spines

I frequently receive vintage paperbacks where the spine glue has separated from the text block (probably due to reading-wear) and then frozen/dried in a lumpy uneven way that keeps the spine from laying flat.

My usual answer to this problem (if the book is worth it) is to pull off the cover, scrape as much of the old glue away as possible and then reapply the cover with binder's adhesive. This isn't a bad method but if the glue is still hard enough you risk damaging the spine.

I was wondering if it would be possible to soften the glue with heat so you could smooth and reflatten it.

I just experimented with my iron on medium heat with a paper towel protecting the book.

I had to gradually up the heat until the glue softened and then I could mold it with my fingers and smooth it down with my bone folder.

Here was the result:

I think it was reasonably successful.

The problem with learning a technique like this is that you immediately feel guilty about all the past patients you lost that you didn't have to. I'm sure Jonas Salk felt the same way.

Warning: If you try this technique, start out on worthless books until you find the right heat level and I WOULD NOT attempt this on vintage paperbacks with laminated covers (Dell Mapbacks for instance) unless you first remove the laminate (which is probably half-peeled off anyway).

UPDATE: Turns out you an use an iron to reaffix the laminate as well (thanks to Gary Lovisi of Paperback Parade for the tip)! For laminate fixing, start at a lower temp that needed for the spine, again use a paper towel for protection, and iron from the middle to the edge of a book (or else you might iron a wrinkle in). I've done this a few times and it can greatly improve the appearance of a book.


jgodsey said...

wish i had thought that up.

TK_M said...

I used to use contact adhesive to reglue covers back on to repair the spines.

Occasionally the solvent attacked the ink and it was a failure, but it did provide such a flexible spine and permanent bond, that I used the method for making up my own books out of single sheets. Spead the glue down one side and place into a coer you have made.

Then I saw my first office binder that came with plain folders and a strip of white glue down the inside spine.

Why had I never thought of that?

Now I prefer to scrape off as much of the old glue as I can, since if it has become so brittle with age, it will probably break again. Modern hot-melt adhesives seem to be much more flexible and seem to work a treat. In my experience, the clearer the holt-melt sticks are, the softer they are for the spine. The white ones have seemed too hard and brittle that I've tried so far.

Thank you for the idea!

Nathan - Bat Country Books said...

I found a softcover book this Friday at a book sale that was completely detached from the cover. I remembered your post, and figured I'd give it a whirl with this title.

I'm happy to report that it worked flawlessly. The spine looks and feels like new..

The book is signed by an important figure from WWII, and should bring me a decent amount of money, so I'm appreciative of this tip!

BigDaddyTim said...

I have to agree with tk_m, Why had I not thought of that. It's worked great on my paperback bible. If I would've had to respine it, it would have been cheaper to buy a new bible. Did'nt want to do that because this bible is all marked with important stuff and is just now broke in good where it will lay flat open. Thanks again for the great idea.

Mark said...

I was taught a process to straighten a "spine slant" vintage paperback--it involves use of a microwave. I've gotten pretty good at it, and it makes some of my older paperbacks look much nicer. Different things bother different people in different ways, but I really hate spine slant in PBs and spine roll in comics. (I still have not found a good way to repair spine-rolled comics.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mark,. could you share your 'microwave' techniques for straightening out curved paperback spines? Thanx.