A fellow artist talked me into attending an estate sale, that had bookbinding tools, one rainy weekday a few years ago. When we arrived early in the morning, the line into the home was an hour wait time. But it was worth it. The inhabitants who had lived there were very craft oriented. As I was walking into the living room which was set up as a checkout station, I saw a gentleman buying the plough unit to a Dryad Leicester Combination Press. Even though I was disappointed not to score the plough unit, I hopefully scanned the house for the other part of the Dryad Press and found it buried under several other handmade presses in a backyard shed. I immediately snatched it up when I saw it going for a mere $60. I picked up 6 wood carving tools for around $10 and a pair of pressing boards with the metal edge for about $2. The Dryad is a combination Plough and Finishing Press. Made of heavy beech, it is an absolute workhorse for bookbinding as it can be used for so many binding functions.
To extend it’s function, I designed a “tub” stand to use with the Dryad. My husband being fairly handy with woodworking tools constructed the tub stand from my sketch. We had enough leftover oak-veneer plywood from previous project to construct the tub according to the sketch. The tub allows space for the book block to hang straight and square under the press while the binder is working on the top side of the press.
The versatility of the press for the binder is it’s strength. In the above photo, the Dryad press with the finishing (angled) side up holds a pair of backing irons with a text block between them. This setup facilitates the backing of a book’s spine after the sewing the signatures together.
I can also use this side to hold the binding when I am sewing headbands or lining the spine. The tub elevates the book, making the work easier on the binder’s back.
Then flip the Dryad Press to the plough side. This side is flat with a depressed track for the plough unit with a sharp blade to fit into and glide along as it trims the book edges. The Dryad press enables the ploughing of the text block, as well as sanding and painting the edges. Note, because I don’t have the plough unit to the Dryad, I use a very sharp, honed Jeff Peachy knife. By manually gliding the flat side of the knife over the rails of the press, it cuts the text block clean and flat. The ribbons of cut paper fall to the inside of the tub stand. This is a horizontal plough that can hold larger book blocks than a compact vertical plough. The horizontal plough is also an advantage when working a book block with a sewn-on-cord binding. The binding can be easily aligned square for edge ploughing, which is difficult to achieve on a vertical plough.
Bookbinders extend a tool’s effectiveness with handmade supports whether found and adapted or bought. At one of the Guild’s conferences, Jana Pullman demonstrated her gold tool finishing technique. One of her clever tool supports was a nice holder that held her brass finishing tools on the burner as they heated up – it prevented the handles from getting burnt or the tools rolling off the hotplate and getting damaged. I thought I would create one for my brass tools and hotplate unit. It started with a sketch for my husband to adapt and construct from scrap wood.
He used velcro to attach metal L-brackets to the holder. This arrangement accommodates either fewer larger or additional smaller handles to be positioned on the holder. As is seen in the photo above, the holders keep the finishing tools steady on the hotplate as they heat up without burning the wooden handles. Once the brass tools are hot enough they are applied to the prepared surface for gilding or foil finishing. In this case, the foil is overlaid on a text block with painted edges and the heated brass tool applied – again using the same Dryad press on the finishing side.
In a small binding studio, having tools with multiple purposes helps maximize the working space and your time on a project. Keeping your eye out for used equipment that can have another life in your studio makes it easy on your budget. A tool doesn’t have to be new to be of service. And tool adaptors can easily be constructed from scrap materials with some forethought and watching other binder’s techniques.