2012 in review

January 2, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


It is Finished!

May 10, 2010

After I finished the blind tooling on Friday, May 7, I attached the straps to the model and officially completed the project. Byzantine bindings have anywhere from two to as many as 12 fastenings. The fastenings are always of the peg and strap type.  A metal peg was driven into the edge of the upper cover and leather straps (mostly slit braid) are attached through holes along the edge of the lower cover. Getting the straps into the holes is a very difficult process (sorry no pictures) but the final product is extremely beautiful. I wonder if the tri-partite slit-braid represented the Trinity? On real byzantine bindings many of the pegs and rings were elaborately forged.

This has been an extremely interesting and fulfilling project. In the process I have gained a much deeper understanding of the basic mechanisms of medieval bindings and an appreciation for the beauty and functionality of the byzantine codex. I hope that those of you who have followed my blog have also gained an appreciation for this fascinating historical structure.

Thanks to Chela for all her guidance!


My codex contains the Gospels in Greek from the Byzantine Majority Text



It was not customary to cover up the folded down edges of the leather.


My endband is a tad irregular because the textblock is slightly lower than the boards.


Blind tooling of upper cover.



The Final Touches

May 10, 2010

Hammering in one of the brass pegs.


I held the book in a lying press to keep it still for the hammering.

I held the book in a lying press to do the hammering.


Preparing to do the blind tooling.


I used a divider (machinist's tool) to do the initial measurements, then I used a plastic ruler and bone folder to make the lines.


Close up of tooling. The circle is executed with two different punches.


Various implements for blind tooling. The water dish is used because the leather is moistened before hand.

Covering the Boards

May 4, 2010

We covered the model with a dark-brown goatskin. Goatskin seems to have been the preferred leather to use. It’s a sturdy, tough covering. We used wheat paste as the glue, giving us several minutes of working time—which is great because it takes a bit to work the leather around the endbands. I’ll admit, Chela did most of the work since I had never done this before. Thanks Chela!

The first step is paring the leather. It's only necessary to remove a layer of leather from the outer edges so that it will adhere to the boards better.


It takes a surprising amount of pressure and a steady hand to pare leather.


After paring you apply the glue and let it soak in, then scrape off the excess .




Here I'm working the leather around the headband. Chela's model is standing there next to mine.

Sewing the Endbands

May 4, 2010

The byzantine endband is probably the most complex and unique aspect of this kind of binding. It serves to not only protect the spine edge of the textblock but also to hold the structure together. It takes a long time to sew, but it’s a beautiful thing.

After attaching the boards to the textblock, I proceeded to ad a covering of cloth, which I pasted on the spine (with wheat starch glue) and extended over part of each side. This method goes back to the earliest codices. It provides a great deal of structural integrity to Byzantine bindings.

Sewing the Textblock

April 16, 2010

After preparing the boards and attaching the bridling threads, I sewed the two halves of the text block before sewing them together in the Byzantine fashion. We cannot figure out yet, exactly why this was the practice. Perhaps it had something to do with dividing up the labor.

There are several different methods that the Byzantines used to attach the textblock to the wooden boards, but no matter what system was used,  they all seem to have drilled holes in the boards and then attached “hinging” threads through these holes so that the textblock could be secured to them at each sewing station.

When sewing the textblock a binder frequently finds him/herself without enough length of thread to complete the work. What to do? Well, the binder must attach another length of thread to the end of the previous one so that he/she can continue uninterrupted.

The images below demonstrate one popular method of doing this (I’ve had to use it a lot). I don’t know what method Byzantine binders used—the sources do not say as far as I can tell, but I imagine it was not too different.

Here's the string...

Now make Mr. P...

Now Mr. P "bows" so that the loop touches the straight part of the thread...

Now pull the straight part of the thread through the loop of Mr P...

Hold the threads down so that it looks like this...

Tighten up the loop...

Insert the old thread through the loop...

Tighten up the loop until you hear a "pop"--which means it's done. Now back to sewing!

Work on the final model finally began Tuesday.  We plowed the boards to level them and drilled our holes for the board attachment.

Chela attempts to plow the board edge first.

Chela plowing the board edge.

Then I give it a go…

After the moderate success of making the board edges level,  we used a jig to match the drill-holes in Chela’s model to mine:

Here I’m drilling the holes by hand:

I used this handy tool to make the measurements for the endband holes:

Smoke rises from the drill bit of the dremel tool. Would the Byzantines have used this? Almost certainly!

Finally, I attempt to carve the characteristic groove into the edges of the boards: