The worst has happened! Okay, maybe not the worst, but a pretty bad thing has happened: your beloved book is damaged. You didn’t mean to! It was an accident! A moment of carelessness! A beloved pet’s pointy misstep or chewy miscalculation. Or, worst of all: one of the above, but it happened when a friend was borrowing your book. Now, you’re left to pick up the pieces—literally—and try your hand at some book repair.
First, you’re going to need the right supplies. If you’re a crafty person, you might already have some of these things at home, but if not, you buy any number of book repair or bookbinding kits, like this one or this one.
Book Repair 101: How to Repair a Broken Book
What You’ll Need for Book Repair
- fine paint brush
- acid-free glue
- bone folder
- wax paper
You want a glue that dries clear and is flexible when dried. Elmer’s Glue works just fine, but PVA craft glue is a better bet if you want your book repair to last.
You’ll actually probably want a few different tapes for different jobs. For torn pages, you’ll want something like this document repair tape. For loose bindings, you’ll want binding repair tape. If you want a budget option, plain masking tape is okay, too, but make sure it’s acid-free.
To Repair a Ripped Page or Jacket
Oh no. You’ve ripped a page in your book. Never fear! You already stocked your book repair kit!
You’ll need your fine paint brush, glue, wax paper, and bone folder. This also works for a torn book jacket.
1: Place a piece of wax paper underneath the ripped page.
2: Using your fine brush and just a tiny amount of glue, paint the glue over the tear.
3: Place another piece of wax paper over the tear, and press the bone folder over the tear to make sure the glue gets good contact and to get rid of any bubbles.
4: This is optional, and will make the tear more noticeable, but you can put a tiny bit of tape over the edge of the page to reinforce it and make sure the tear isn’t re-opened. You’ll want to rip the tape gently, rather than cut it, so that the feathered edge of the tape blends into the page.
To Repair a Sagging Book Block/Loose Spine or Missing Pages
Does the inside of your book seem to want to throw off its clothing and run free? This is an easy fix. You’ll need binding repair tape. If the pages of your book are coming out in one whole chunk (that whole chunk is called a book block) or in individual pages, this is what you want to do. You’ll want binding tape and a bone folder.
- Measure the height of your book, and trim two pieces of binding tape to the appropriate length.
- Fold the piece of tape in half longwise (hotdog, not hamburger).
- Put the crease of the tape that you just created into the crease of the book.
- Use a bone folder to smooth the tape.
To Repair a Broken Cover
Has your cover completely fallen apart, or do you fear it may soon? You’ll want to get out your book binding repair tape. This isn’t pretty, but it will keep your book in your collection for a while. Transparent binding tape means you’ll still be able to see the title or spine decoration.
- Brace the book with weights so that the spine is horizontal to the table. (You want to be able to work on the length of the spine.)
- Cut a piece of tape the length of the book.
- Center your tape on the spine if your book and gently wrap it over the spine.
- For additional support, follow the above instructions for repairing a sagging book block above.
To Reattach a Book Spine
This typically only happens with older books, but it happens to the older books on my shelves quite often. I have a baggy full of spines just waiting to be reattached to their books. You’ll need binding tape, a bone folder, glue and paint, and something soft to wrap the book in, like a T-shirt or a non-adhesive bandage or wrap.
- Brace the book with weights on either side so that the spine is horizontal to the table.
- Measure a piece of tape and cut it to be just slightly shorter than the length of your book.
- Fold the piece of tape in half lengthwise (hotdog, not hamburger).
- Before peeling off the backing, use a bit of your PVA glue to glue the tape together so that you’ve made archival-quality double-sided tape.
- Once the glue has dried, remove the backing from your tape and lay it down the length of your spine.
- Lay the broken piece of spine down over the tape and use a bone folder to smooth.
- Wrap the book with a T-shirt or bandage to make sure the tape holds. The book should be ready to be used in a few hours.
How to Protect Your Books
Now, the very best thing you can do to repair your books is to prevent them from getting damaged in the first place, but if I had led with that, you’d have closed the tab and hated me forever, and I’d have deserved it. But I can’t let you leave without some tips for how to protect your books.
A Book Buddy
These cushioned slipcovers prevent your books from being dinged up when you throw them in your purse or tote bag.
Cover the jackets of your hardcovers (especially antiques) in acid-free, UV-blocking covers.
Acrylic Cookbook Stand
While using cookbooks, gardening books, or other reference books on potentially messy topics, put them in an acrylic cookbook stand like this one with a splash guard.
Stake Your Claim
If you want to try to ensure you see your books again, you should mark your books as yours in some way. You can use an Ex Libris sticker or an embossing tool, or, if you just hate to mark up your books, you might consider lightly writing your name in pencil. This can be erased when the book returns safely home to you.
For more tips on protecting your books, check out these Book Riot articles:
Thanks to the YouTube channel from the Bodleian Social Sciences Library at Oxford University. Their book repair videos were invaluable in researching this post.