How do I fix a broken book spine?
It can be a frustrating search to find out how to fix a broken book spine. This is partly because the question can only be answered by more questions.
- Is the spine missing a piece?
- Is the cover detached?
- Is the hinge broken or just torn a bit?
- Is it a leather book or a book-cloth book?
I know that what you really want is to come across a photo of your exact book problem and some options for how to fix it. I know this because 25 years ago this is exactly what I wanted and I didn’t even have the internet back then. Instead, I spent those next 25 years studying book repair, book restoration and book conservation so that now I can help you with your questions.
1) This old book-cloth book needs to be re-cased. Go to the Book Repair Courses Page, click on Book Repair Basics Plus and find Course #2-201: Re-case a Book in 7 Lessons or #2-204: Re-case a 19th Century Book.
2) This old calfskin leather book has been through a fire. It needs a whole new cover. The intact parts of the leather cover could be saved as inset panels but there is nothing significant about them for this book so a new cover is appropriate. Saving the boards and end-papers could be done as well. I don’t offer any courses on creating new book covers (yet). Proper leather bookbinding is over the top complicated. Click the link so you can see what is only a part of the process. Having your book re-bound by a professional is a great way to go. For top of the line see: Richard Smart of Old English Bookbindery.
3) This book is missing part of the spine. Unfortunately it is also suffering from red rot which has rendered the leather too fragile to save. A new spine is necessary but the label can be saved. There are several courses on making new spines but I don’t have one yet specifically for this type of book which is a tight-back, tight-joint book. The closest at this time is 4-103: New Leather Spines. But honestly, I would just send this one to a professional if it is a valuable book. For a quick preservation technique though see Course #4-202: Quick Fix Preservation Re-back for Deteriorated Leather Book.
4) This book spine has curved in on itself. It requires a re-case sort of like #1 but this is a leather bible so go to Course # 7-301: Advanced Bible Repair and Re-casing.
5) This is a broken hinge and a simple preservation solution can be found at Course #2-111b: Preservation Repair for Outer Joint of a Book.
Bad Advice: Just glue the spine shut
What you don’t want is exactly what I just found when I googled “broken book spine” myself and that is BAD ADVICE. The top result for “broken book spine” took me to this website: www.illistyle.com/diy/how-to-fix-a-broken-book-spine/ (also on Pinterest) where a complete amateur tells you to glue up the spine and shut the book. This is a cardinal sin in the world of books and it is always a shock to find that it is still being taught.
Repairs for Library Books vs. Personal Library
The Book Doctor is (not) In: The next result took me to a site that is meant for public librarians. The blog called “The Book Doctor is In” is from Demco, who sells book repair materials to libraries. It is better than the last one because it doesn’t say to glue the spine shut, but it does advise you to use enormous, ugly hinges that absolutely ruin the original materials (and therefore the value) of the book. This was at: ideas.demco.com. These book repair instructions are absolutely fine for public library books but there are better, more archival solutions for privately owned books.
WikiHow (not to): Unfortunately, WikiHow does not have those archival solutions. Once again this website gives you advice that could be suitable for public library repairs. I looked at several of their book repair how-to articles and found that they are incomplete and don’t give adequate warnings about what could go wrong. They do at least warn you that using their methods could damage the value of your book and they advise getting a conservator to do it for you for valuable books, which is progress certainly.
Keep Your Book’s Value
Your book’s monetary value is tied to keeping the original materials as pristine as possible and not covering them up with non-reversible products. For more information such as step by step instructions for archival methods to repair a broken book spine (in many of the variations) you have come to the right place. Check out the (easily searchable) archival book repair courses on the DIY Book Repair page.