Wooden Book Boards

Our friend Jeff Peachey was just in Boston teaching his sharpening workshop to the students at North Bennet Street School.  Jeff mentioned that there is still space in his upcoming workshop on wooden boards.  It is obviously NOT in New England, but it looks like well worth the trip!

From the description on Jeff Peachey’s blog:

Los Angles, California. (November 8-12, 2010). Week long wooden board workshop at the Huntington. Description Below, contact Justin Johnson for details- jjohnson(at) huntington (dot) org.


Until around 1500, most books were bound in wooden boards. Books with wooden boards lie somewhat outside the routine treatments book conservators are normally tasked with. Split, and splitting wood boards are a tremendous problem in many institutions–they put many other aspects of a binding, especially intact covering materials, at risk of further damage if not stabilized or otherwise treated. This five day master class will focus on the fundamentals of the treatment of wooden book boards: the basics of using hand tools to shape wood accurately, easily and efficiently; the making a sample set of woods commonly used for wood boards; the examining of historic techniques for fabrication; and the making a sample set of common treatments for split boards. Choosing, tuning, using, sharpening and maintaining woodworking tools will also be taught. Exploring some of the complexities of wood technology and how this impacts treatment, storage and handling options for conservation treatments will also be covered. No previous woodworking experience is necessary. Five days.


  1. Learn how to evaluate, use and maintain basic hand wood working tools.
  2. Construct a sample set of reference wood commonly encountered in historic book boards.
  3. Construct a specialized jig to plane thin wood boards.
  4. Reproduce historic board shapes, channels, tunnels, chamfering and learn to recognize the tools used to make them.
  5. Construct samples of currently used techniques to repair split and splitting boards, and discuss their applicability in various real world situations.
  6. Make one sample board from a log, by hand, to understand the historic hand technologies– using a maul, froe, and broad axe.
  7. Begin to appreciate some of the complexities of wood technology and how this impacts treatment, storage and handling options for real world books.
  8. Discuss in depth the results of a recent article by Alexis Hagadorn and  Jeffrey S. Peachey  “The use of parchment to reinforce split wooden bookboards, with preliminary observations into the effects of RH cycling on these repairs” Journal of the Institute of Conservation, Volume 33, Issue 1 March 2010 (pp 41 – 63)
  9. Consider storage, housing and display issues unique to wooden board bindings.
  10. Discuss treatment considerations based on documentation that participants supply.

Garage Annex School in December

Our friends at GAS sent the following reminder regarding an interesting workshop in December with Pam Spitzmueller:

Please join us at the Garage Annex School in Easthampton, MA, U.S.A., for the workshop Wooden-Leaf Books. You may view a gallery of images by going to Wooden-Leaf Books. Please register on our site using your MasterCard or Visa, or if you send a check email us to let us know. We’ll save you a spot. We hope you see you here!
December 5-6
Tuition: $225 plus materials: $40
Utilitarian book formats of multiple wooden leaves have been used throughout history as reusable tablets for notes, perpetual calendars, craftsmen pattern books, or permanent containers for writing.
Thin slices of wood are bound along one edge forming pocket-sized books. They are durable, portable, and ready to be consulted at a moment’s notice. These historical styles are ripe for interpretation by book artists.
Our first model will be the wax tablet codex. The Roman multi-leaf wax tablets have sunken panels containing darkened wax. A stylus, a metal writing tool, was used to scratch letters into the soft wax as well as to erase them with the stylus’s blunt end. These multi-leaf books range in size from 2 to 10 leaves. Sometimes a recess was cut into the board to hold the stylus.
There are variations from the Far East of the multi-leaf tablet that use wax, no recess, and a glued-on spine. We will make a sample of this as well.
Medieval craftsman’s pattern books as well as medieval perpetual calendars—both of multiple leaves—were spine edge stitched allowing these books to open 180 degrees. Traditionally, patterns or calendars were carved into the sturdy wooden surface. These durable books were always at hand and were consulted readily. Sometimes they were further protected by closure with a fore-edge clasp.
Energetic workshop participants are welcome to bring to class their own designs that they may paint or draw on the leaves. Or, you may adhere to historic images for your calendar.
In addition to the structures described above, we will study other wooden books from various cultures—such as a 4th century C.E. Egyptian example.
You can expect to make three structures: (1) the roman tablet, (2) the Far East glued spine, and (3) the medieval multi-leaf—and optionally, you may apply historic content by scribing wax and carving, pasting on or stenciling images copied from medieval examples.

The Plane on the Bindery Floor


The Bookbinder by Jost Amman
The Bookbinder by Jost Amman

The Plane on the Bindery Floor

Woodworking Tools in Jost Amman’s Woodcut of “The Bookbinder” (1568)
Lecture/Demonstration by Tom Conroy
March 10, 2009.  6 PM
North Bennet Street School
Boston, MA

In the first known drawing of a binder’s studio, half the tools are for working wood. Making the wooden boards of a Medieval or Renaissance book took a great deal of skill and time, but this aspect of historical binding technique is often glossed over. In this talk the tools shown in Jost Amman’s drawing will be demonstrated and discussed, with emphasis on the tools used for working wood, the marks they leave, how they differ from modern tools, and related topics like the advantages and disadvantages of wooden boards and how modern sawmill practice results in inferior boards for books. 

The New England Chapter is proud to co-sponsor this event with North Bennet Street School.  For planning purposes RSVP to Jourdan Abel at 617-227-0155 extension 102, or by email at workshop@nbss.org

About the Presenter
Tom Conroy is a book restorer, binding historian, fine binder, and toolmaker specializing in the making and repair of wooden presses. His main benchwork training, after two decades as a self-taught amateur binder, was with Anne and Theodore Kahle at Capricornus from 1981 to 1988. He holds an MLIS from the University of California at Berkeley, and did work there toward and MS in Wood Science and Technology. He has published extensively on the history, materials, tools, and techniques of bookbinding and book conservation, and he has taught workshops all over the country. He is currently affiliated with the Museum of the American Bookbinder  in San Francisco, where he describes his position as “one of the exhibits.”

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