Repairing the Spine of your Broken Roleplaying Book

There’s a sad, sad experience that, alas, is all too familiar to gamers of any experience. Perhaps you’re at your regular game night. The lights are turned low, the story is flowing, everyone is having a good time. Around you is arrayed all the paraphernalia necessary to the pursuance of your hobby, carrying its own visceral appeal. The shine of your curiously coloured and patterned polyhedral dice. The stub of an old pencil clutched in your hand, poised to strike down the foes of your players, the stroke of its blunt graphite echoing the stroke of the character’s weapon. Snacks and drinks and character sheets litter the table, their shadows playing in the dim half light. Placing aside the graphite and wood arbiter of the destiny of NPC’s (Pencil of Doom +3 NPC bane) you pick up your rule book, briefly irked by a question from one of your players. It is pleasingly heavy, solid. Having seen heavy use it is somewhat worn on the edges, dented here and there where some angular object has been carelessly placed upon it. Perhaps there are stains on the cover, remnants of glorious late night game sessions of years gone past. You open the familiar cover, expecting the pleasing scent of a well used book

Flump. All the pages fall out.

Alas! Poor book! What was once a peak moment, a glorious instant of pleasure, has now been dashed into the pits of despair. Sadness suffuses you as you contemplate the fallen literary warrior. Although the pages still contain the wonderful words you require, instead of the pleasing experience you have always associated with this book, now you will be condemned to rifling through disordered pages, correcting how they lie, worrying about its well being. No. The book has suffered a mortal wound. You will have to scour the den of vice and villainy that is online second hand trading hoping someone is selling a copy that isn’t as bad as the one you are desultorily contemplating.

But wait! All is not lost! There are ways of bringing back your much beloved book for another 20 years of uninterrupted gaming, and you won’t need a thousand gold’s worth of powdered diamonds to do it.

Before we look at what options we have to mend the situation we need to have a look at the anatomy of a book.

Anatomy-of-a-Hardcover-bookThe pages of a book are organised into “signatures”. These are about 8 – 12 sheets of paper, folded in half. They are laid side by side, the bent edges forming the spine. In ages past these were usually stitched together with thread. In these modern days of the ubiquitous “perfect binding” this is less common, printers instead simply relying on glue to hold everything together or simply stapled in the middle if it’s a small book. If ailing book is stitched together it’s likely you’re holding a once-expensive collector’s edition. In this case I’d recommend contracting the services of a professional binder. You can usually find them somewhere near universities – university libraries frequently use the services of binders to distribute copies of theses, and graduate students use them as well. I was recently quoted sixty Australian dollars to rebind a book, but in my experience this price reaches northwards to $100 on occasion. Shop around.

These days you’ll often find the front page of the first signature glued to the front cover of the book and the last page of the final signature glued to the back cover. In other circumstances you’ll find a piece of glue infused cloth holding the signatures to the spine of the book.

Conservative solution:

Many will want to conserve the original cover and return the book to as close to its original condition as possible. This is achieved through traditional binding and gluing methods.

The simplest method is to carefully scratch off the old glue, then carefully smear new pva glue on the spine of text block and stick it back in the cover. Press with weights and leave to dry.

Slightly more complicated, but potentially more long lasting, is to take a bit more care over the spine. Being the lucky fellow I am, I work with some very clever people at a university library. When this unfortunate event happened to me a lovely librarian used a gigantic staple to staple the text block together before gluing it back in the method described briefly above. The potential problem with this method is that you have a small amount of the inner margin of the pages now dedicated to holding the signatures together. In most cases the margin is usually large enough to justify this without losing any actual text to the spinal abyss.

Alternatively, you met like to stitch the signatures together with some thread. In all these cases you should reinforce the connection of the text block to the cover with some book tape.

Radical solution:

coptic-binding-on-a-bookI was severely tempted by this one recently when one of my books fell apart. It is simply this: Coptic binding.

If you’re comfortable throwing away the old cover you can create a truly unique item for yourself using this method. Either cover 2 pieces of hard cardboard or hardboard with an interesting contact paper or go for thin pieces of wood. These should be about the same size, just slightly larger, than your pages. Drill small holes close to one edge coinciding in spacing with holes pushed through the centre of your signatures with an awl.

Next, take a needle and some thread and stitch the book together. It’s a fairly easy procedure – instead of describing it in detail I’ll just link to this video.

Personally, I can think of few things more awesome than rocking up to you game session with hand bound tomes under your arm. Next time you have a much cherished volume fall apart on you consider giving this one a try.

About Paul

Cuchulain (otherwise known as Paul) has been playing roleplaying games since he was 10 years old. Although he'll play any game under the sun, he prefers characterisation and plot over tactics and mechanics. He is never happier than when playing in or mastering a horror campaign - preferably with heavy Cthulhu Mythos overtones or theme.
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