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Bookbinding Fundamentals: How to Determine Grain Direction


Do you need to know the grain direction of your paper but are unsure about how to find it? Does your project require a piece of "short-grain" binder’s board, but you haven’t a clue where to start? This tutorial will explain what grain direction is, its significance in the art of bookbinding, as well as some handy grain-related paper terms.


what youll need
  • Sheet of machine-made paper (e.g. printer paper, drawing paper, card stock, etc.)
  • Pencil
  • Table or hard, flat surface (optional)

Handmade papers do not typically have a grain direction because all the fibers that make up the paper lay in all different directions when it is dried. This is why it can be difficult to get crisp folds, and sometimes the paper can crack when folded. If you are unsure how your paper was made, try this tutorial. If it does not work, your paper is most likely handmade.

What is Grain Direction?

Grain direction is a pattern of fibers, similar to wood grain, that align in a specific orientation. When broken, these fibers can crack and split. Picture a piece of celery. If you were to split it down the center, the long stringy fibers part pretty easily. However, if you tried breaking the celery stick across, those stringy fibers snap and splinter. The grain direction in paper products works the same way.

Why is Grain Direction Important to Know?

Here are just a few reasons why grain direction is crucial in bookbinding and other paper crafts:

  • Folding or bending your materials with the grain will create crisp, even folds and prevent cracking.
  • When the grain direction for all of the materials used in a book, (e.g. the binder’s board, cover paper, book cloth, lining paper, text paper, etc.) is parallel to the book’s spine, the book will lay flat and will not warp or crack as easily.
  • When the grain direction for all the materials of a book box is parallel to its hinges, it will open flat with the grain and last a great deal longer.
Book Box

What Is Long Grain and Short Grain?

Long grain and short grain are terms given to a material depending on how it was cut in relation to its grain direction. For example, a sheet of paper is labelled short grain when the grain direction moves parallel to its short side.

On the other hand, another sheet of paper would be labeled long grain if the grain direction is parallel to the long side. Another way to think about this is to remember that if the grain direction is as long as the length of the whole piece of paper, then it is a long grain sheet.

1. Determine the Grain Direction

Step 1

Hold your sheet of paper or lay it onto the table.

Hold your sheet of paper

Step 2

Bend the paper one way.

Take your piece of paper and very gently begin to bend it in half length-wise, just so that it curls loosely. Take note of any tension that you feel while doing this.

Fold your paper lengthwise

Step 3

Bend your paper the other way.

Turn the paper around and gently begin to bend it in half width-wise in the other direction, perpendicular to Step 1. Again, take note of any tension in the bend.

Fold your paper width-wise

Step 4

Decide which direction was easier to bend.

If it is easier to bend the paper length-wise, then the paper has a long grain and it’s grain direction moves parallel to the length of the paper.

Was it easier to bend the paper in half width-wise? In that case, your paper has a short grain with a grain direction that moves parallel to the paper’s short side.

Step 5

Write that down!

Mark or take note of the direction grain. One way to do this is to draw faint lines in the direction of the grain on the backside of the material.

Draw faint lines in the direction of the grain on the backside of the material

A project can be done a lot faster when the grain direction is already marked on the materials. If that is not an option, you can jot the grain direction down on a piece of paper.

If you use specific brands of material frequently, it might be a good idea to make a chart that you can refer to in the future.

Determining the grain direction of your materials

Grain Direction Detection Achieved!

This tutorial walked through the definition of grain direction, its significance to bookbinders, and the best way to identify it in your own paper materials.

Did you find this tutorial helpful? Do you prefer a different method to finding the grain direction of a material? Please post your questions and comments in the section below.

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