To anyone outside the craft of bookbinding, the boards of a well bound book are an unknown, hidden from view; something must lie under the cover, but quite what?
What I am not, is a bookbinding material called “strawboard”. Yellow in colour, it is made from chopped straw, and full of what is called lignin, a plant acid. It may also have impurities in the form of fine particles of sand or earth within it.
In the medium to long term the acids present in the structure of strawboard, migrate into the books covering material, and also into the paste down of the book, the paste down being the first page on the left you see when opening the book.
These acids cause covering materials to rot, and the edges of the paste down to become yellow and brittle. Strawboard sees little use these days, and is most likely to be found in old books. It was used quite a lot in the mid to late 19th century.
I could be a modern material called “greyboard”, a pale grey in colour; this rather soft bookbinding board is usually made from re-cycled waste paper. General quality greyboard is used in the mass production of modern hard back books, though there is a greyboard that is acid free and of better quality than the general variety.
Greyboard is a somewhat soft bookbinding board, but I could be made stiffer by applying a Kraft paper lining.
A well bound book does not have to be a bookbinding in fine Morocco and be dripping with gold leaf decoration, providing the sewing of the book has integrity, and all else uses quality materials and good bookbinding technique, it is quite possible to bind an excellent book using greyboard covered with simple, though very durable, library book cloth.
If I were an American, I could be what is called “Davy board”. This is a dense board, much harder and denser than greyboard, though still made from re-cycled waste paper. It also comes in an acid free finish with a Ph of above 7. This is a very good bookbinding board, suitable for fine leather bindings, and for conservation quality library work.
Being European I could be what is called “mill board”. This is another dense material, probably made from waste paper; it is grey to pale brown in colour and comes in a range of thicknesses.
There is a general quality mill board, which is not acid free, and a conservation grade board which has an alkaline calcium carbonate buffer introduced, which effectively neutralises atmospheric acids.
I could also be an antique, in the 19th century a type of mill board was used that was made from waste rope; the board was finished by being passed through heated metal rollers. It is a very dense bookbinding board, held together by a strong network of rope fibres, which has admirably withstood the passage of time. Sadly no longer made.
So here you have seen the types of bookbinding board that may lie under the cover of your book.
I may be one of several types of board; greyboard or mill board, and if I am used I will be certain to be able to say.
I am the boards in a well bound book.
By Richard Norman
Eden Workshops - A Bookbinding Resource.
At the Eden Workshops we are devoted to craft bookbinding. Here you will find free bookbinding tutorials, learn at home DVD's and equipment and materials.