ROUNDING & BACKING ~ a post especially for Beth

Why are the spines of many older and hand bound books rounded?  How is it done?
Backing irons in finishing press photo
I’ll briefly explain Rounding, and Backing and why it’s done, then link here some videos of binders I admire who can show you the various processes in action.
(no point reinventing the wheel – these binders really know their stuff)
Why round?
If you look at an old overloved or abused paperback, you’ll see what NOT rounding results in – A concaved, overbent, overworn, haggered spine that bends back on itself.  Especially if the book is thicker than about an inch, the constant opening and closing will eventually push the pages at the spine out of straight alignment, whether you like it or not. 
With sewn folded pages, it’s even more important, since the folded page groups (‘signatures‘) are thicker at the fold (spine edge), so the group of signatures together in the completed set, naked, before the cover is put on (‘textblock‘) is much thicker at the spine than the fore-edge, making the overall book a wedge shape. This makes pressing the book difficult, as well as final storage on the shelf,  stacking with other books, etc, and affects the wearing over time. Rounding offsets the swell and keeps everything sitting, turning and wearing just nicely for a looooong time.
Flatbacks have their place, but rounded adds strength, flexibility and ease of use,
not to mention being darn good-looking.
Whats the difference between Rounding and Backing?
Some binders use these terms interchangeably, but in short…
Rounding is done to a textblock that will have a hollowback casing (you’ll see in the videos), where the cover is made separately from the text and put on afterwards, held to the text by only the cloth spine lining and endpapers. There are several methods, but all involve working the shape of the spine of the textblock with a hammer once the spine glue is past tacky, but not totally hard dry. It is done flat on a bench, not in a press.
 It is the simplest of the two, and doesn’t require special tools. (My first hammer years ago for this was a meat tenderising mallet from the kitchen – ‘beggars can’t be choosers!’)
In my photo at the top, these are the two middle books.
Though there are many little quirks in method that binders develop through their own practice and experience (eg. whether you ‘fan’ the book pages or just press on the fore edge with your thumb), the basics are the same. Here’s a Rounding demonstration by Sage Reynolds.
It shows making cloth headbands as well (a handy skill). You can check out his many talents at:

Backing is done to a textblock vertically in a purpose-built press (called a backing press or a laying press) with a hammer, to make a rounded spine into a mushroom shape, into which will sit laced-on covers. It is a more advanced technique, and is most often seen on leather covered books where the cords or tapes can be seen raised along the spine.
In the photo at the top, these are the two outer books (made by my binder uncle and recently reconditioned by me)
Here’s a classic demonstration from Amanda Buck. You can check out her website at:

..and here’s another from Bookbinding Chronicles that shows the difference nicely..

I am sure there are many other great examples. I used these because I have checked out their work and trust these binders as professionals. Take a dive into Google or youTUBE yourself though, using the search term  ’rounding and backing the spine’ and see what pops..

So Beth, does that help with your questions about Rounding and Backing?   x

4 thoughts on “ROUNDING & BACKING ~ a post especially for Beth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s