My Story of Bookbinding Presses and a New Book

I’d like to introduce you to all of the bookbinding presses I have in the workshop. Each has a special place, a special purpose and use for the various stages in book crafting.

I’ve acquired my presses from a variety of places such as:

  1. Bookbinding Supplies:
  2. Bovenwerk Bookbinding:
  3. Olive and Oak:

Presses in bookbinding are just one of the tools that remain mostly unchanged for the last 500 and more years. They are the backbone of any bindery and serve many purposes, come in all sorts of shapes and are incredibly useful for producing a beautiful and functional book.

I remember in the beginning, when I didn’t have a press, I just used some boards with weights on top to apply pressure to a book. This is still a viable method if you need to apply low pressure but it’s not the most comfortable way of doing other, more complex procedures.

At one point I set out to order a press from a local carpenter. As bookbinding in Bulgaria is quite the rare craft, they didn’t exactly understand the purpose of this contraption. In the end, it was considered a waste of time and the project rejected. It was the time to set out and try to make my own.

At a hardware store, I found on sale a couple of defective solid beech table legs. They seemed like a good enough shape and along with some metal screws and the helping hand of a friend, my first amateur laying press was made.

Never did I imagine that this first try would prove so useful in time and I happily continue to use it even now. It’s not pretty but it’s sturdy and gets the job done. I like to use it especially when I’m sewing on endbands.

As you can imagine now, this certainly wasn’t enough. I quickly saw how this construction lacks many features needed to help me produce my particular vision of a book. This time I decided to entrust myself to a professional and ordered a finishing press and a sewing frame from a dutch master carpenter. Before that I was sewing on a very sad self-made frame and was happy to make this change finally.

The new press had a larger surface, a nice angle to help with work and pegs for tying up. I realized how important it was for a tool to be touched by a master who knows what he’s doing not only with his own particular craft but beautifully relating it to bookbinding at the same time.

This press is invaluable for the later processes such as tying up when the leather has been applied, other general work on the book spine or just to apply some pressure when a part of the book is drying.

The tragedy in my mind was that I had this beautiful finishing press but was still using boards and weights for bigger books. Once again we set out with a friend to try to construct something and the first nipping press was born some time later.

It did a marvelous job at first. But we soon realized how we didn’t calculate how much pressure the books need and how the frame wasn’t built to take such pressure. It began to crack in its joints and at one point it was evident a replacement was needed. That’s when I saved up some money and purchased this ROBERTBUILT nipping press.

A beautiful piece of equipment, with a proper screw and nice working surface. I can apply just the right amount of pressure without worrying of damage being done to it. I also use to do some linoprints from time to time.

I still use the old one. However, only for light pressure jobs. I don’t want to destroy it.

You might ask – what ELSE would you need? Aren’t these presses enough? Well…

For a very long time I was smoothing the edges of my books only with sandpaper. It produced an interesting finish but I wanted something quicker, less messy and producing a smoother surface. In short, I wanted a laying press with a plough, or plane as some call it. It consists of two devices, one being the press and the other holding a curved blade. You compress the blade into the book while cutting in both directions. Page after page, until you get a nice, leveled and smooth edge.

I got a very large press from great carpenters, specializing in bookbinding equipment from England. It’s size helps me work on much larger book formats and its very sturdy. Almost hard to work with due to it’s size and weight but I’m quite fond of it.

I happily used this press even for my smaller books until I got a offer for a smaller, similar press. But this time with one screw and raised on a platform. I was enchanted by the beautiful combination of mahogany and oak, the one screw that helps me keep one hand free to manipulate the book and it’s additional boards that extend its uses even further.

As of now, this press as well as the nipping press are my most used pieces of wooden equipment. They just cover a vast amount of uses but that doesn’t mean that my other ones remain forgotten. Every new book goes through almost all of them and I would feel quite the loss if any of them weren’t available by my side.

This story may seem short and rapid but in truth this collection of presses took me around 7 years to complete. Proper equipment is usually expensive and for good reason. It’s a big investment but with proper care, it’s an investment made for life and maybe even beyond. Who knows, maybe my grandchildren will be leaving a few books to dry overnight some decades down the line.


  • June 9, 2020


    How much did the Robertbuilt press cost? I can’t seem to find him online anywhere. Do you have his website address?


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