Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Taking a Look at Glue

With all the adhesives and glues on the market today, it can be difficult to know what to use for the application of bookbinding, particularly if you’re new to the art. We’ll take a basic look at the different glues experienced bookbinders recommend.

When I first started tinkering with bookbinding, I had no one to mentor me and was just learning from experience. I certainly learned what NOT to do!! I got a book on simple bookbinding and they recommended using glue stick for their step-by-step projects. Lesson one—DON’T use glue stick! It may be quick and easy to use, but over time the glue hardens and cracks, causing the paper to pull away from the book board, ruining all your lovely work. Someone recently recommended Tombo’s glue stick to me, which reportedly does not do that, but I have been unable to find it to give it a try.

Noted bookbinder Peter Goodwin recommends SuperFlex PVA glue by Fuller in his YouTube video, appropriately titled “Glue”. This very basic tutorial shows the technique he uses to apply his glue and some helpful tips.

Cindy from The Paper Studio also recommends a PVA glue and demonstrates the technique of gluing for book covers in this YouTube video, “How to Glue for Bookbinding".

Another product on the market is YES paste found at most craft stores. It won’t wrinkle delicate papers and is water based making for easy clean up, which is important to me because I invariably end up with most of it on my fingers and transfer to everything I touch! I don’t recommend YES paste for use with heavy weight papers though; it doesn’t seem strong enough to hold it and I’ve had the paper pull away from the board when it dries.

There are many recipes for wheat paste, a glue used in traditional bookbinding. Here’s one from Solar Cooking. has a video tutorial on making wheat paste.

I’ve been experimenting recently with Zip Dry paper glue for little touch up areas and gluing down corners. It claims to be acid free but is quite smelly. I made the mistake of saving up all my gluing to do at once. I didn’t realize how stinky it had become in my studio until I left the room and returned 30 minutes later. I had to open a window it was so bad!

What have been your experiences? Please share them with us so we can all master the craft of gluing!


Cliff Landis said...

I use a half-and-half mix of methyl cellulose and PVA for a lighter, flexible glue (for doing paper to board, just in case I need to reposition). For heavier work I use straight PVA.

Elissa said...

My understanding about Yes stikflat glue is that even though it claims to be acid-free, it will darken paper over time.

Folks on the Book Arts Web listserv frown upon its use.


Rhonda said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this Beth! I use straight PVA for most small requirements.

For more involved projects, I will use wheat paste - either straight or mixed 50/50 with the PVA.

I've tried some different paste recipies and I think my favorite is made with wheat starch. But white rice flour seems to make a nice paste too.

Shannon said...

I use straight PVA if I don't anticipate having to reposition, or a 2:1 PVA/methyl cellulose mixture. For consolidating spines I use straight PVA. I have noticed that not all PVA is created equally. Hollander's brand is thicker and I almost always need to thin it with methyl cellulose for gluing paper to board.

I like wheat starch, but I'm lazy--and I usually don't get to do enough binding work in one shot to use the batch up before it goes off.

Anna said...

I use the PVA from Hollander's and I think it works nicely. It is really thick though and I usually just mix it with a little water when I'm using it. I've used the glue from Paper Source and it was pretty good too.

I tried Yes glue when I first started bookbinding and I didn't like it. Once I switched to another glue, I liked it a lot better.

Jenny said...

Has anyone ever tried Scotch PMA "Positionable Mounting Adhesive"? Keith Smith recommends PMA in his book "Quick Leather Bindings". It comes on a roll and can get rather expensive, but I love it for things that I'd rather not get wet. . . especially leather!!

Rhonda said...

jenny, i've used PMA too - and sometimes it is the perfect solution! although it is so expensive that I use it sparingly

UberArt said...

Elissa, that's interesting about Yes glue, and good to know. I actually had a bookbinder recommend it to me, but I find I don't like it much.

Kiley said...

I'm a PVA girl as well, from what I've used so far Talas Jade is my favorite.
I've never YES because I've heard so many other people who don't like it. One of the ladies in my book binding group loves Sobo wheat paste, I don't know what they add to it to stabilize the shelf life but it's almost just like using wheat paste.

I think we should look at brushes next. I'm always on the hunt for a good glue brush, I can't seem to find one that makes me happy.

Ruth said...

I use Lineco PVA glue, but watch out, it can get moldy (even if you are very careful not to dip your brush in it) - I learned this the hard way after spending $55 on a gallon jug, refilling my glue bottle just once from it, resealing it and then noticing the mold a month later! Now I buy in smaller quantities and keep it in the fridge when not in use.

I also use lineco wheat starch to make a jelly paste - I like it a lot better than trying to find pastry flour to make my own paste, and I know it's archival. I use wheatstarch paste for endpapers and sometimes for the cover if it's something delicate. I make it in really small batches, like one teaspoon of starch to 3 teaspoons of water, and that usually lasts for about 2 books.

eb said...

Methyl cellulose and PVA from Talas handle most all my needs when building a book. My current pva is the Jade 711 (low odor formula). Vary the amount of mc according to the flexibility of the application. Board to board gets straight pva. Cloth to board gets 2:1 pva to mc. Paper to paper can go as high as straight mc, but the adhesion will be low. MC also slows drying time which allows for repositioning parts before the adhesive sets up. When new to using mc use the ratios that are found in pva/paste recipes and substitute the paste with mc. I would highly recommend using mc over adding water to "thin" the glue. At a point, the water will disperse the glue too thinly and affect the long term stability of the glue film.

Happy gluing.


Eric Cannon said...

I love Yes glue. It works great on light weight paper. I have used it in pieces I made in college ( Eeeak 15 years ago!) and they have held up fine with no discoloration.

Anonymous said...


Does anyone know if the Super PVA from Fuller is PH Neutral and safe for paper? I use Linco PVA currently but need something a little stronger for an unusual paper project. If anyone has used the Fuller and knows about if it is PH Neutral and safe for paper (or not) I would appreciate any help and info.


Cassandra Playa said...

I only do very basic sewn binding books, but have used YES glue with cloth/paper/cardboard configurations in binding, construction, and mail art & love it's performance, except that it can be tacky for a good while. Great stickflat, won't wrinkle adhered materials, water thinable and clean-upable. Pricey but goes a long long way. Gonna experiment with paste now..

105 Day Countdown said...

I use acid free photo mount spray glue. Am I crazy? No one seems to have the same idea. I only mount fine papers to bookboard, different thicknesses. I'm not sure of the longevity though.