How to Repair Books: A hierarchical approach

A hierarchical approach to learn how to repair books.

This is the hierarchy I developed to help you learn how to repair books yourself. While it looks like a list to follow, it is only meant to be a guideline. Every book repair needs to be examined separately and the process may change for each. Just consider each point on the lists to see if they are needed.

Remember, Always Test First! Practice on unimportant books before tackling your collection. Don't work on rare, valuable books. Consider sending them out to a professional.


This first part is to help you approach book repair.

Sophia’s Book Repair Hierarchy

  1. CLEAN (See the cleaning hierarchy) Test first! Be gentle. Don’t use harsh chemicals because they might make the colors run or destroy the foil stamping.
  2. COLOR (Colored pencils or acrylic paint mainly) Less is more! Color in the lines. No halos! Try to only color new materials or areas where the color is damaged.
  3. CORRECT (Line it up) The text-block and cover need to be square and the pages lined up.  Nothing should be upside down.
  4. PASTE or Glue. There is a difference!)Paste is very wet and dries hard. Glue is dryer and dries flexible. (Good quality glue that is.) Glue frayed areas or separated layers or whatever you are adding to the book.
  5. PROTECT (Maybe use wax or an archival polyester film cover ore a fixitive. Whatever will keep your repair from deteriorating)

Why is there a hierarchy at all? If you color first you can’t clean without endangering that color. If you glue or apply any protective sealant first, then the color can’t soak into the fibers.  If you glue things in place before you straighten them up they will stay crooked.  There are always exceptions. Be sure to test in an inconspicuous location such as the rear turn-in.

This part is to help you with book cleaning.

Sophia's Book Cleaning Hierarchy

For Cloth books mainly. Leather books have some additional points.

  1. DRY: Eraser, Knife, Sandpaper. Use an eraser, work in small circles with light pressure. If more is needed you can use something sharper. The micro-spatula can be used to scrape the cloth. Sandpaper can also be useful in some instances. Test an inconspicuous area. All of these methods may remove some of the color. The scraped areas can be re-touched using colored pencils or acrylics. This is definitely something to try on a practice book.
  2. WET: Use a simple humidified cloth. If you squeeze the cloth, no water should drip out.
  3. CHEMICAL: Simply add some (10-20%) isopropyl alcohol to some water and then humidify a cloth. Chemicals wiped onto book-cloth can just get stuck in the fibers and may degrade the cloth over time. The exception is coated cloth that has a plastic element to it. Plastic, of course, can be wiped with your standard kitchen cleaners.

Here are some examples of how this might be applied:

Inner Hinge Repair

  1. Clean: Remove things such as previous repairs, fragments of paper or bits of hard glue.
  2. Color: Color the Japanese tissue or other materials as needed.
  3. Correct: Line up the pages and text block.
  4. Paste: Solidify anything that was askew, then attach any new materials such as tissues using paste or glue or a mix.
  5. Protect: Dry thoroughly before closing the book. Keep waxed paper in the shut hinge awhile or at least rub the area through waxed paper carefully.

Torn Pages

  1. Clean: Erase gently
  2. Color: If needed, color (tint with colored pencils) a piece of Japanese tissue before applying the tissue to the tear.
  3. Correct: Line up the scarf edges of the tear so it is correct with the recto bits on the recto side and the verso bits on the verso side.
  4. Paste: First tear the tissue to the right shape. Use paste not glue on pages. It is ok to use glue right along the inner 1/8th margin to re-attach pages.
  5. Protect: Dry thoroughly and rub with wax paper a bit.

Don’t use tape. Even archival tapes can be hard to remove.  Don’t create a repair stronger than the paper you are repairing.

Remove Writing on Page

  1. Clean: Eraser, knife, sand paper. Be sure to have a flat clean board slipped under the page you are working on.
  2. Color: Re-color scraped area if needed or color tissue and apply over the area with paste
  3. Correct: Really there shouldn't be anything to align in this application.
  4. Paste: Re-attach bits as necessary with paste then dry
  5. Protect: Rub area with wax paper to flatten out the fibers.

Don’t get rid of important marks that indicate provenance.

Cleaning Book Cloth Covers

  1. Clean:  It depends on the type of cloth: Try Eraser or Damp cloth wiping then Knife scraping if necessary. Test first!
  2. Color:  Less is more! Use acrylics or color pencil. Touch up black lines with archival pens. 
  3. Correct: There may not be anything to align in this application. Maybe a folded over book-cloth area.
  4. Paste or glue any frayed places as needed.
  5. Protect: Add “Mylar” polyester film covers that are .oo5 mm thick. Or possibly apply an archival sealant such as Micro-crystalline Wax or possibly an archival spray fixative if you used coloring to keep the colors from smearing.

Don’t use harsh chemicals because they might make the colors run or destroy the foil stamping.

Leather Treatments


  1. Clean: Dry-clean with gentle eraser If needed. Microfiber cloths are also good for this. Gentle scrub with humidified cloth
  2. Color: Before coloring scuffed leather, apply Klucel-G aka Cellugel(brand) to keep it from absorbing too much moisture.
  3. Correct: Probably nothing needs to be aligned if the leather is undamaged.
  4. Paste: Carefully! Too much moisture and pressure can damage the leather. Probably use Glue rather than Paste if anything needs attaching.
  5. Protect: Hewit’s leather dressing which is an archival esther wax that looks like milk. Don’t use actual milk, hand lotion or any oil-based products. Test first. This may not work well on Goatskin.



Note the change. I added Clean/Protect to the beginning.

  1. Clean/Protect: Don’t use regular methods. It will only make things worse. Moisture will turn it black and make it crispy.  Possibly scrape off icky bits with the knife and then use Klucel-G to seal the area (possibly the whole cover). Undamaged leather can be cleaned with a white polymer eraser such as Staedtler Mars.
  2. Color: Only after Klucel-G application. Only on the damaged areas. Less is more.
  3. Correct: Line up the pages and text block as needed.
  4. Paste: Paste is frequently the wrong thing to use for repairing damaged leather because paste is too wet. Use Glue instead as dry as possible.
  5. Protect: SC6000, which is a thick pasty archival wax, is good for sealing really rough areas. Hewit’s Leather Dressing which is an archival anionically stabilized emulsion of hard ester wax. This is good for undamaged leather. Test first always. Don't use anything that is wet on damaged leather or suede.

Not Repairable in General or Really Expensive to Have Done

  • Foxing: Learn to love it. To get rid of it, aqueous sun bleaching is the only conservator recommended safe method and is time consuming and expensive.
  • Water stains: Sometimes just bathing the page in warm water will do the trick. It has to be separated from the book.
  • Mold: If you really just can’t throw it away: Brush mold off outside. Don’t breathe it in! Wear a mask. Wipe area with 99% Isopropyl alcohol. Wax it if possible. Keep it away from all other books and be sure it is in an environmentally controlled area or the mold will just grow again.
  • Ink stains: Send it to a conservation lab where they can use a suction table and chemicals to remove it.

Common Repair Mistakes

  • Glue the flyleaf to the paste-down. Flyleaves are typically only attached with a thin strip of glue and are not sewn in so they will just pop off and not fix the problem.
  • Tape to repair hinges
  • Gluing the spine shut or hinge areas
  • Erasing important signatures or other marks
  • Treating leather with oils rather than archival waxes
  • Use of shellac or other harsh sealing products
  • Use of harsh cleaning products
  • Coloring poorly, adding halos
  • Post-it notes, paper clips, and acidic ephemera left in books


Color Touch-up on Book Spine

This is one way to do color touch up on book spines. Another way is to use an acrylic paint wash. Both have their benefits. Note how an eraser doesn't clean off the brown stains at all and that it really needs the scraping action to even out the color effectively.



Newton’s Principia 1846 Initial Discussion

Newton's Principia 1846

This book has provided a great example of 19th century book-cloth restoration. Newton's Principia 1846 came into my shop with the request to take good care of it. I knew that this meant keeping the original appearance as much as possible while strengthening it so that the new owner would not be scared to open the book and actually read it. These old science books are very collectible and frequently are used to do research.

Become a member to see the actual restoration in a two hour video in two parts.

The lengthy how-to video (in two parts) is my most comprehensive to date. I show every step and the commentary reveals even more potential problems that are avoided.

It demonstrates a basic re-casing of a 19th century book-cloth book with a lot of subtle "niceties" that take it from repair to restoration. Anyone can watch this video and learn a lot about the structure of 19th century cloth books and what needs to be done to protect them.

The video is intended to teach students with little or no equipment. Hopefully the skills would be practised on books of relatively little value before taking on a book of this caliber. Mistakes are part of the learning process and while recovery is possible for many mistakes. Sometimes the cost is not worth the experience. 19th century book-cloth books are known for their extreme fragility.

Part one takes us from the initial discussion of the state of the book through the restoration of the case or cover of the book. This includes using Japanese tissue to strengthen the head and tail area and lifting the inner paste-down edge.

Part two will take us into the restoration of the text-block and the re-integration into the cover or re-casing. This includes repairing the end-bands and creating new hinges.

Quick Leather Repair

Occasionally, a leather bound book is discovered with an intact cover but has separated in the inner hinges. This video only shows the discussion of the solution for such books. Here is an explanation of the solution. You will have to become a member to see how it turned out.

This solution only requires a bit of patience and a steady hand to prevent further damage as well as some Japanese tissue, a lifting knife, some pva glue and some mull.

Starting, as always with damaged leather,  by using Klucel-G on the leather to avoid darkening it when adhesives are applied we quickly move on to lifting the inner board edges and removing the old paper lining.

Not shown (even in the more extensive video) is removing the old text-block spine liners and animal glue. This was done by propping the book up in a press and applying paste to soften the old animal glue. Then scraping it all off to have a clean spine. Along the way we saved the original end-bands.

When the spine is completely clean we re-applied the end-bands and then with PVA added mull (that open-weave fabric you see on book spines) that extended a bit side to side (to be trimmed later). Then we made a typical two on - two off hollow. This just means a roll of paper that winds up as a flattened tube connected to the text-spine at first and then this gets glued to the case-spine later. It is crucial to the functioning of the book to have this hollow area so the case-spine won't collapse as you open the book. There is another video showing how to make such a hollow.

After attaching the case-spine to the text-spine we trimmed the mull and let it be attached to the inner edge of the board. PVA is so strong that this is all that was necessary for full attachment.

As you can see, the title: quick repair for leather book with intact cover is an accurate description for this easy method.

How to Open Uncut Pages

Open Uncut Pages.

Remove Stickers from Dust Jacket with Heat

Remove stickers

Everything you need to remove stickers from dust jackets.

Remove stickers: This is sometimes easier said than done. Using heat to remove stickers is only effective if the sticker's adhesive is white glue (poly-vinyl acetate) or petroleum-based. Other forms of adhesives are water-based and may be more easily removed with moisture. Be careful not to burn or warp the dust jacket itself. Less is more.

Iron's that have holes where water or steam can come out are dangerous because sometimes the water will pour out of it even if you don't mean it to. The only safe irons have no water or holes. Keep the temperature low because there is no recovering from burnt paper. Always use baking parchment paper also known as silicone release paper between the iron and your book or sticker or anything.

Tacking Irons from Talas are high quality. You can get cheaper ones from hobby stores but I went through three of them burning them out in a short amount of time before choosing a more expensive one that has lasted me years so far and has been the easiest of all the heat sources to use to remove stickers.

If the sticker cools down in the middle of pulling it off try not to put the sticker back down. Just iron the part that is still stuck.

Other heating methods to remove stickers:

Blow dryers just take a little longer to heat up the adhesive. Some people use heat guns but I would caution against this because it is really easy to burn whatever you are heating.

Those little heating pads you can get in outdoor stores to warm your feet or hands could also be used but that seems like a very expensive way to go. Basically anything that can heat up the glue will work.

Good luck! Go slowly and Be careful. The knife shown here works the best but you could also try a micro-spatula or fingernails or a plastic putty knife or even a paring knife. Be sure whatever you are using doesn't have a rough edge!


How to Deodorize Smelly Books.

How to Deodorize Smelly Books and do it Safely.

This is simply the best product I have found so far to deodorize smelly books. It is cleaner than cat litter, baking soda and charcoal and less dangerous than freezing or microwaving your books. Any of the zeolite-based deodorizers can work well and you don't need to immerse your book into them for it to work. Wikipedia on zeolites: "Zeolites are the aluminosilicate members of the family of microporous solids known as "molecular sieves." The largest single use for zeolite is the global laundry detergent market. Non-clumping cat litter is often made of zeolite. " However, cat litter or other granular materials that you set the book into can get caught up between the pages and cause tearing or staining and sometimes they have added fragrances you don't want to add to your book. The technical stuff: How Smelleze Works

deodorize smelly books

Smelleze: Book Deodorizer

Baking soda

Baking soda, while slowly effective, has a ph of about 8 (alkaline). Typically people pour it onto the pages and no matter how much you brush and wipe it never really all comes out again. Because of the alkaline nature, the un-evenness of the distribution means that eventually the pages will age with a very mottled look. Setting the book on top of baking soda with a spun polyester fabric between them should be just fine. Still, baking soda may be messy but it is easily available. Better for a quick fix than waiting a week for your Smelleze order to arrive.


Charcoal is an ingredient in some book deodorizers and can be effective over time but on its own is again messy. No one is talking about charcoal briquettes by the way. Don't use those to deodorize books especially the ones that have chemicals infused to make them easier to light!

Freezing or Microwaving

Freezing your books can ruin the glue attachment if it is a white PVA (poly vinyl acetate) glue. Microwaving can do the same thing. Heat re-activates the glue and this may be ok but you have to watch that the book doesn't shift or the glue may dry in a different position and make the book crooked.

How to deodorize your smelly book

To start deodorizing your smelly books first get a plastic tub that can be closed. A picnic cooler works very well. (Be sure it is clean). Some books open easily so that both boards of the cover will be flat on the bottom of the tub as shown in this video. Others will not open fully and will need to be placed only on one side and then propped open. Both methods work fine.

Be sure the book is completely dry before using this method or you may be helping mold to grow! If there is any sign of mold, after it is dry, wipe the moldy area with Isopropyl Alcohol. 99% is the best to use because you don't want to introduce moisture again. Using sunshine to help it dry is good because of the ultra-violet rays helping kill the mold but it will also drain color from books so be cautious.

How to Deodorize Smelly Books:

Note Sewing when Deconstructing a Book

When you are deconstructing a book and you know you are going to re-sew it in the traditional manner with needle and thread. Make notes on a piece of paper that will help you remember what you discover while you are taking it apart. That way it will be easier to re-sew it according to the way it was done originally. This is typically only needed for more rare books and only if the client is willing to foot the extra expense. Other sewing options include Kerf sewing which destroys some of the inner margin, or there is a sort of tacking together sewing that is possible where you line the spine and then sew through it only for the loose signatures.


Color Touch up for Leather Books

Removing ex-library marks from leather spines is tricky. After gently scraping there are a few options. Here are two that are good when the damage to the leather is minimal but obvious. Color touch up for leather books can be simple.


Don’t Do This! Scraping a book spine towards yourself

Sebastian is trying to take a shortcut that I feel is too dangerous. I mean really, the very first rule of any bindery is don't bleed on the books!