Instructions: Drum Leaf Binding

A student brought in the book Book + Art: Handcrafting Artists' Books last semester, and as I flipped through it (best for its aesthetic and lovely pictures) I found a reference and some general directions for the drum leaf binding, a binding that has only come to my attention recently, even after nearly thirty years making books. This version is a mash-up of three book structures (these are in Making Handmade Books): perfect binding (61); the Japanese album accordion (62); and the flutterbook (62). Drum Leaf is an adhesive-based structure that allows for full page spreads; a book that opens pretty flat; and no stitching through the center folds, very much like a child's board book. Since I have not been able to find satisfactory instructions, I'm writing and posting my version for a softcover book here. The original version was developed by Tim Ely, and from what I have seen, there are several variations. I hope you will find these instructions satisfactory.

Before you begin, you may want to paint and/or stencil a larger sheet of Stonehenge paper with acrylic inks (I recommend FW in USA, Matisse in Oz—techniques in Painted Paper) and cut it to size. Just keep in mind that the page edges will be the color of the paper you started with. Stonehenge comes in a variety of whites, grays, fawn, "Kraft," pale blue, and black and takes the ink very well. Of course, you don't have to use all one kind or color of paper for this structure, although using all the same weight of paper is a good idea. I had just seen the Clarion Alley murals, so I am sure my painting was influenced by them. I had this green mural, below, in mind when I started, although my final painting looks nothing like it.

Please note that although it appears simple, this is a very exacting binding. For best results, make sure you have brand new knife blades and a metal ruler and/or a metal right triangle that you can use to cut against for a guide. If you have access to a guillotine-style paper cutter that is used for cutting stacks of paper, the project will be even easier to make (and you will not need the knife and cutting mat), but it is not necessary.

This book has seven openings, or page spreads. I recommend using the first for the title (if you don't put it on the cover) and the last for the colophon or as endpapers.

Tools: bone folder (regular one is needed, Teflon kind is optional); scrap boards cut to 4 3/4 x 7" (121 x 178 mm) (these are not part of the binding) two small clamps (such as the smallest Irwin Quick-Grip clamps); metal ruler; X-Acto knife and new blades; cutting mat; pencil; waxed paper; small metal right triangle; PVA; small glue brush or piece of board; magazines for scrap paper; a weight or heavy book
Materials: 7 pieces of heavyweight paper (such as printmaking paper like Stonehenge), 10 x 7" (254 x 178 mm) grained short; 1 piece of heavyweight paper for the cover, 10 3/8 x 7" (262 x 178 mm), grained short; Note: if you use different paper, your spine will likely need to be a different thickness. Wait to cut the cover paper if you are unsure. Cover should be the size of the open pages, plus the depth.
Example: 5w x 7h x 3/8"d (127 x 178 x 9 mm) book, trimmed to approximately 4 7/8 x 6 3/4" (124 x 270 mm)

1. Fold the 7 shorter pieces of paper in half, widthwise.

2. Knock up (yes, that's a technical term) the folded edges against your work surface to get them straight. Stack the book block with the scrap boards on the top and bottom, boards aligned with the open edges.
3. Clamp the board "sandwich"  closest to the folded side.

4. Apply glue to the folded edges.
5. Pinch the book/board sandwich in the center if it looks like you can see space between the pages. Hold as long as you can. Let dry.
6. Unclamp. Remove the boards. 

7. Place the book in front of you and open to the last page.
8. Put a piece of scrap paper to cover this page and turn to the back of the second-to-the-last page. Apply about a one-inch stripe (25 mm) of glue at the spine edge.
9. Apply about a one-inch stripe (25 mm) of glue at the fore edge.

10. Remove the scrap paper and replace it with waxed paper.
11. Press the backs of the pages down and together.
12. Repeat the addition of scrap paper, applying the stripes of glue, replacing the scrap paper with waxed paper and pressing down as you work from the back of the book to the front.
13. Smooth down with a bone folder. A Teflon bone folder is nice for this step because it does not leave any shiny spots. (It has taken me decades to finally get one. It was $20 from Talas, but it is worth it!)
14. Place the book block under a weight while you prepare the cover.

15. Place the cover paper in front of you, horizontally. Use the pencil and ruler to measure 5" (127 mm) from both the right and left edges. Make marks at the top and bottom of the paper.
16. Score the paper by using a regular (not Teflon, it is too soft; the tip of mine broke doing this) bone folder to press into the paper and to connect the parallel marks.
17. Measure the spine (should be 3/8" or 9 mm) and measure this same amount from the rightmost score. Mark the paper at the top and bottom.
18. Make another score at these two marks. Fold valley folds on the inside at the two spine scores and a mountain fold at the extra score. (Three scores, total.) 

Supervision by a neighbor cat is optional. (This is Hazel.)
19. Fit a brand new blade into your knife holder. Use the metal triangle or the metal ruler as a guide and trim the head, tail, and fore edge of the book block. I recommend standing while you cut and making multiple strokes. I also recommend trimming from the folded edge toward the fore edge when you trim head and tail. You will trim approximately 1/16" or 2 mm) on these three sides (head, tail, fore edge). Do not trim the folded spine edge!
20. Open the cover. Fit the book block into it to check for size. Mark the cover where you will need to trim for a perfect fit.

21. Trim the cover.
22. Put a piece of scrap paper under the back cover. Apply glue to a one-inch stripe (25 mm) from the extra score outward. (Do not put glue on the spine.)

23. Apply glue to a one-inch stripe (25 mm) at the fore edge.
24. Remove the scrap paper and replace with waxed paper. Align the book block and press into place, making sure the spine is perpendicular to the back cover.
25. Put a piece of scrap paper under the front cover. Apply glue to a one-inch stripe at the spine. (Do not put glue on the spine itself.)
26. Apply a one-inch stripe (25 mm) of glue to the fore edge.
27. Remove the scrap paper and replace with waxed paper. Press the cover down onto the book block. Put under a weight to dry. 

I'm remembering a few people this time of year, so I'm dedicating this book, We Find Them There, to their memories: Ezra (1997-July 2003), Miss Peter Leone McCormick (1943-July 2011), and Margaret Kilgallen, whose work I admire, but who I did not know, (1967-June 2001). The title refers to the gaps between the stones in Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Wall."


Barbara L. said…
I think this will be an interesting book for our bookbinding group to explore. Thanks for the tutorial, Alisa. We refer to your books often.
Alisa said…
Thanks for writing, Barbara.
Let us know how it goes!
Thanks much for this. I've looked for good instructions for a drum leaf binding, and these are the clearest instructions I've come across.

I'm also working on some board books at the moment with this type of spine with the extra score. I'm curious--would you always make the space for the unglued part on the back the same width as the spine? Even if the book has a relatively thick spine?
Alisa said…
Hi Ellen,
Very good to hear!
Re: the spine
The spine has to flex and that extra fold/gap is what allows it to lie flat when open. My guess is that yes, you would need to make the space equal to the spine thickness. But that is a guess. I haven't spent much time with this binding yet; making the model is the only way to find out. One of us will have to come back and share the answer…
Just to get back to you on this... I've been looking at a lot of commercial board books lately. It seems that the gap is usually the same thickness as the spine, but occasionally I've found some where this is not the case. The biggest size difference I've come across is a gap that's a quarter of an inch smaller than a 1.125" spine (still pretty close). To my eye, on handmade books of this sort, I've decided I prefer the measurements to match. It will open and lie flat if the gap is a little smaller, but when it folds out, at least with the sorts of printmaking-style papers I've been using for covers, it doesn't look as tidy as when the measurements are the same. It looks best when the gap in the cover forms a square (looked at from the end) when the book is fully open. When the measurements are different, it forms more of an angle and is a tighter fit around the pages. This appears to be less of a problem with the heavy stock used in commercial books, but softer printmaking papers flop a bit, at least in my experience.
Alisa said…
Excellent. Sounds like same measurement works best for our purposes. Thanks, Ellen!
Your instructions are very detailed and clear. I actually made a book with a drum leaf binding without knowing it. I had 3 double-page spreads which I wanted to combine into a book for an exhibit called "in your dreams". This was the only way I could figure out how to do it, just using logic and experimentation. I only found out later that it was an actual binding method! Here is a link in case you want to see what I did:
Viki said…
So in the first few steps I noticed that there are blank pages from where we folded the papers in half... Then you go through from back to front and glue in wax paper... in which step did you add the additional colorful pages and trim the wax paper down to size?
I am a beginner so I feel like there might be some direction missing that would be more obvious if I were more experienced?
Alisa said…
HI Viki,
Thanks for reading. The blank pages that you are seeing are the backs of the larger paper that was painted on one side only. The wax paper is only there so that you don't end up gluing the pages together: they are placed between pages that have already been glued together. Trimming the wax paper is only needed if you can't see where you are gluing. You remove the wax paper sheets once the book is dry. I hope that helps! And you can find more detailed info on bookmaking in general in Making Handmade Books (the book). Good luck!