10 Tools to Get You Started with Handmade Books

In this post, I’ll suggest 10 tools that you can use to create handmade books and they’re things that most crafters already have in their toolbox or are readily available in big box craft stores.

You don’t need to spend money on fancy tools to get started in bookbinding.

Top 10 Bookbinding Tools

I’ve included links to buy these products at general art/craft stores but you can get them all from speciality bookbinding stores too (list below).

1. 18″ Metal Ruler

You can see how beaten up my ruler is in the photo – I use it a lot. It’s a simple 18″ metal ruler for measuring book board and paper.

Tip: when buying a new ruler, choose one where the measurements start right at the edge of the ruler rather than 1/16″ or 1/8″ in the from the edge. Your measurements and cut will be more accurate.

Buying recommendation: Blick Aluminum Non-Slip Ruler

2. Glue Brush

I’ll be honest – I don’t use fancy glue brushes to make books. I use cheap brushes from my local hardware store in a variety of sizes (1″, 1.5″ and 2″) depending on the size of the project. They cost a couple of dollars each and last 2-3 months.

3. Awl

I use this tool to pierce holes in paper signatures and book board before sewing. I use a lightweight awl for 90% of my books and occasionally a heavy duty one for working with leather.

Tip: when you’re buying an awl, choose one with a straight metal shaft to create uniform sized holes. If you buy one with a tapered shaft, the size of your holes and stitching will be uneven.

Buying recommendation: Lineco Light Duty Paper Awl

4. Bone Folder

I can’t live without my bone folder! It’s a dull edged tool that is used to crease signatures before binding and scoring lines before folding. Bone folders come in a variety of sizes but if you’re just starting out a simple 6″ bone folder is perfect. And yes, they’re made of animal bones and if this bothers you, look for a teflon folder instead.

Buying recommendation: Small Bone Folder

5. Scissors

We’ve all got several pairs of scissors in our tool box already, but I always keep one pair especially for cutting thread and ribbon and nothing else. This keeps them sharp longer – there’s nothing worse than trying to thread a needle with a piece of ragged thread that’s been cut with blunt scissors.

Buying recommendation: Fiskars Performance Softgrip Titanium Scissors

6. Pencil

You’re going to need a pencil to make marks on paper and board prior to cutting. If your pencil is blunt, the measurements won’t be accurate. And as you know, cutting paper and boards accurately is super important in bookmaking. So, I always use a mechanical pencil because it has a nice sharp tip.

Buying recommendation: Alvin Draft/Matic Pencil

7. Utility Knife

I use a small utility knife by Olfa to cut through book board and large sheets of paper. A regular Xacto knife will cut through book board eventually but it’s difficult and you’ll go through a lot of blades. I like this type of utility knife because of the snap-off blades and sturdy handle. It’s available in larger sizes if you need to cut thick boards.

Tip: Create a sharps container – cut a hole in the lid of an empty sour cream container and use it to store your discarded blades.

Buying recommendation: Olfa Utility Knife

8. Emery Boards

Before covering book board with paper or book cloth, I gently smooth off the edges with an emery board. You can use a fine grit sand paper too, but nail files are easy to find and store. And who doesn’t have a few nail files around the house?

9. Bees Wax

I use bees wax to coat thread before sewing. It stops the thread fraying, reduces knots and makes sewing easier. Often I’ll use pre-waxed thread to sew books, but sometimes I want to use an unwaxed thread or colored embroidery floss. In that case, I’ll swipe the thread over the wax several times to coat it in a thin layer of wax.

Tip: if you have trouble finding it in the craft store, look in the quilting section.

Buying recommendation: Lineco Bees Wax

10. Needles

For bookbinding you need strong needles and an eye large enough for your thread. Many needles you buy in the sewing store are thin with small eyes and are only suitable for very fine thread. If you can’t find special book binding needles, use crewel or darning needles.

Buying recommendation: Dritz Crewel Hand Needles

If you’d like to browse some specialty online book binding stores, here are my favorite three sites. Be warned –  your credit card is in danger 🙂

John Neal Bookseller

What are you favorite tools for making books? I’d love to know – leave me a comment.




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3 Thoughts on “10 Tools to Get You Started with Handmade Books

  1. Trish Johnston on March 15, 2015 at 12:24 pm said:

    You are right AIi: no need to spend a fortune to start making books. But getting serious about making books is worth a little investment. Three things I find invaluable are (1) a teflon folder, as it does not leave marks on some papers the way a bone folder does, (2) a Japanese paper punch, and (3) a sewing cradle (in my case, made by my wood-turning DH). I like your list of sites and would add Japanese Paper Place (they have an excellent online catalog and, for really fine paper for books, prints and other art, Twinrocker Handmade Paper.

  2. Thanks for this. I was going to msg you on fb to ask you where you get all of your book binding supplies and then here it was. I just signed up for your newsletter, too. I love making books but I’ve put off really learning how to do it correctly. I decided 2015 was the year of the book albeit a quarter late. Really trying to pare down my all over the place art endeavors to a few things. 😉

  3. So glad you sent an email about this, Ali! What is most surprising to me is how relatively inexpensive the tools are!

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