The traditional Japanese four-hole stab bookbinding technique has a simple, contemporary appeal and it’s excellent for beginners. There’s no gluing or folding involved, so you can get a beautiful hand-crafted result with very little effort. Let’s get started.
- Bone folder
- Three sheets of 18in x 24in (approx 46cm x 61cm) drawing paper or sketchbook paper
- Sheet of thick handmade paper or card stock
- Waxed linen thread
- Bookbinding needle
- Triangle (or set square)
- X-Acto knife (or craft knife)
1. Determine Paper Grain
Before we start, you’ll need to learn about the grain direction of your paper. Machine-made papers have grain that runs in a certain direction based on how it was cut and dried. A paper is termed ’short grain’ when the grain moves parallel to its short side. Similarly, ’long-grain’ paper has a grain that moves parallel to the long side. It’s very important to have the paper grain move parallel to the spine of the book so that it opens flat. To test the grain direction, take a piece of paper and gently begin to bend it one way.
Then turn it and try to bend it in the other direction.
When you fold parallel to the grain, it will be easier. When you fold against the grain, you will feel more resistance. For this tutorial, the paper will be cut long-grain so that the direction of the grain is parallel to the longest edge of the paper. For example, if a sheet of paper is cut to 13cm x 15cm long-grain, the grain should be parallel to the 15cm side and should be easier to fold length-wise. Always determine the grain of your materials before cutting.
2. Prepare Your Materials
Cut the three sheets of drawing paper into 5in x 6in (approx 13cm x 15cm) long-grain sheets. These will make your text block. Cut an extra sheet and set it aside.
Cut the sheet of handmade paper into two 5in x 6in (approx 13cm x 15cm) long-grain sheets. These sheets will make the book cover.
3. Make Your Punch Guide
A punch guide will help make your binding look clean and professional. Without a guide, your stitches might turn out crooked or uneven.
Take the extra sheet of drawing paper and place the ruler 1/2in (approx 1cm) away from one of the long sides.
Punch four holes against the ruler at 3/4in, 2 1/4in, 3 3/4in, and 5 1/4in (approx 1.5cm, 5.5cm, 9.5cm, and 13.5cm).
4. Punch Holes in the Cover and Text Block
Take your guide and line it up flush with a sheet from your text block. Punch through the four holes using your awl.
Repeat this step with all pages of the text block and the two cover sheets. You can try to punch two or three sheets together to speed things up, but you’ll have to be very careful to keep the pages lined up. If your punches are not identical on each page, it will show.
As they are, the holes you punched will not be wide enough for the needle and thread to sew through. So take each page in the book and push the awl through each hole.
5. Bind the Book
Cut an arm’s length of linen thread. Hold the book up with the spine facing you. For the purpose of this tutorial, the four holes will be numbered 1 to 4, starting from the left. Sew the thread up through hole number 3.
Leave a tail of at least 5cm sticking out.
Sew up through hole number 3 once more to make a loop around the spine.
Pull the stitch tight.
Stitch down through hole number 2.
Stitch down through hole number 2 a second time to make a loop.
Sew up through hole number 1.
Make that loop by stitching up through hole number 1 again.
At the end of the binding, you will want to make a second loop to secure the pages. Sew up through hole number 1 one last time and position the loop so that it lines up with the four holes.
Sew down through hole number 2.
Then sew up through hole number 3.
Sew down through hole number 4 and make a loop by sewing down again through the same hole.
Make that second loop at the end of the binding by sewing down through hole number 4 one last time.
Now take a look at the back of the book where the tail end of your thread is sticking out.
Sew around the tail, moving the needle underneath the two surrounding stitches.
Tie a knot with the two ends of your thread.
Cut the excess thread and burnish the knot with your bone folder. This will help keep the knot from untying.
Pat Yourself on the Back!
Great job on your stab binding! Now that you’ve learned this basic technique, you can go on to learn more advanced bindings or even invent your own.
Is this your first time binding a book? Are you a seasoned book binder with tips to share? We would love to read your questions or comments in the section below!