Tutorial: Repair/replace a broken hardcover


New Member
Apr 11, 2016
Greetings folks!

Recently, a work collegue came up to me and asked if I could repair an old book which had a lot of emotional value for his girlfriend. I said "Sure!" and thought this might help some of our forum members, as this damage is quite common for old books, so I documented the process and will try to share it as best as possible.

The current state was horrible. The spine was completely missing, the front and back cover both were hanging on for dear life, the linen cover was dirty and mostly ripped on the corners. It was a mess...

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Sooo, lets get to work!

The hardcover was so badly damaged, there was no way around a full replacement. I seperated the front and back cover from the book block with a sharp knife. The first and last pages of the book were already ripped out, so took them out too, and cleaned them up with the knife. I took measure from the old covers, so the new one would have the exact dimensions, while I had to take a guess on the size and form of the spine.


These are the prepared bookbinders boards. Note how the board for the spine is only 1 mm thick, while the front and back covers are 3 mm. This way, the spine can be formed round like the book block. Also, the difference in thickness makes a subtle feel of quality, when the book feels nice and soft in your hands, not like a sharp edged box.


The, the bookbinder boards had to be prepared. The spine should have a round form so it wraps nicely around the book block. There are two ways to achieve this. The easy way is forming the spine by hand, gently bending it into form. The downside of this is the look of the result. The curve is not even from top to bottom and you might even bend to heavy and leave a sharp edge on the spine.

The more difficult technique is water forming. I had no experience in this process, but the spine is such a crucial part of the visual look of the finished book that I wanted it to be flawless. I dipped a large brush into clean water and began applying it into the board, bringing more water to the center of the spine than the edges. Once the spine had soaked just enough (but not too much!) water, I went full Mac Gyver and formed the part with regular household items. A large shampoo bottle was used as form, while a linen thread wrapped the wet board around the bottle.


And the result, quite good actually!

The board is now fully dry and will stay in this form.


The preparation of the front and back cover features a little trick I saw from a professional bookbinder: When you use thick bookbinder board, there will be really sharp edges. These edges will stay sharp even when wrapped with cloth. To make the book a charm in your hands, you need to get rid of these edges.

Just take small grain sandpaper and gently round up the edges. You don't want to get fully round edges, just sand them a little bit.

Below I tried to get a picture of the difference (top is sanded, below is unprepared), not sure if this is visable, but it will be noticeable for sure in the end!


Now you can bring the boards and the bookbinders cloth together:


And the finished result. Look how the spine has a nice and even curve from top to bottom!
(Also, you might have noticed the large gap above between the covers and the spine. You will later see why this is important.)



New Member
Apr 11, 2016
Now that the cover is ready, we need to prepare the book block.

Usually, a repair would mean removing the whole binding glue from the signatures and re-doing the binding. In this case, the binding itself was in a really good condition. Glue tends to break when getting old, but this binding was still really strong and flexible, so I decided to not tamper with a pretty perfect binding.

First, I added thick endpapers to the seperated pages and glue them back into the book block with a thin stripe of glue right at the binding

Then, I removed part of the cover paper from the binding, so I could attach a new cotton gauze. This is a a really fine but strong mesh, which helps to attach the book block to the book cover. The old mesh was ripped from the covers, but still holds the signatures and is left in its place.

To make sure the book block doesn't warp because of the glue, I used screw clamps to hold everything in place and flat.


The next step is sadly missing in pictures, but essentially, you place the spine of the book block onto the spine of the hardcover and then glue the endpapers to the gauze and the hardcover. This way, the gauze (and therefor the book block) is attached to the hardcover.

And this was the final result:

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Remember how I wrote about the large gap in the hardcover, between the spine and front and back covers? This is later heavily scored with a folding bone, so spine has the same thickness of the book, including the cover boards. This way, the book lays flat on the table and fits nicely into your bookshelf.

I hope this was interesting or helpful, if you have any questions feel free to ask.
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Aug 1, 2009
WOW! This is some nice work! My grandparents had several cupboards full of Reader's Digest books. They barely read them and thought the books were a beautiful decoration. :)
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