Photo: Erik Kwakkel

Photo: Erik Kwakkel

Just as we are familiar with different grades of board (cardboard) for book binding* so apparently there are different grades of wooden board. Wooden boards, usually oak, are what used to be used in bookbinding way back in the benighted Middle Ages, and are of course much superior to our modern substitute. But even then there were shortcuts as the cutting diagram below illustrates.








This illustration shows the difference in cutting pattern of quarter sawn boards and plain sawn boards. The quarter boards maximize the amount of the grain (the growth rings) at right angles to the surface of the board. The Fitzwilliam Museum’s website shows photos of the warping a plain sawn board will undergo as opposed to the almost rigid quarter sawn ones.

In medieval times manuscript books tended to be bound in what’s described as the Gothic style. In this style the wooden boards were tapered at the spine edge so that the sewn sections swelled around them forming a natural round, rather than the forced round which gets bashed into them nowadays (if indeed any attention is now given to that feature). They were secured to the book by cords, or as in this photo, leather strips which were inserted into holes drilled through the edge of the board and were attached to the book block by sewing.


Of course comparison of gothic binding and what we supply today in terms of case binding is somewhat ridiculous, but I did think the board cutting techniques might be of interest. If anyone is thinking of building oak bookshelves from that tree they just cut down, this could be invaluable information.


* Binders board is the standard used for binding (quality) hardback books nowadays. The alternative, basically bits of thin cardboard laminated together, goes by the name pasted board, though in my time I have heard it referred to as chipboard, and strawboard. Binders board is basically a really thick sheet of paper, and as the fibers cohere more tightly it will not delaminate as a pasted board will when bashed on the corner. (The Etherington & Roberts Dictionary at the Print Glossaries tab above, has a clear definition.)