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Bookbinding 101: Adhesives

For most of our bookmaking involving glue, we use Jade 403 PVA (poly-vinyl acetate). 

(To be clear, not all our books are made with glue.)

Jade 403 PVA

  • Thick—can be thinned to desired consistency

  • Dries Fast, but . . .

  • . . . Can be mixed with wheat paste or methyl cellulose to create a slower drying time

  • Does not yellow over time

  • Strong

  • pH neutral, acid free

  • Can be heat activated, so it can be heated after it dries to make it tacky again

  • Water soluble when wet, permanent when dry

  • Transparent

  • Flexible

This can't be shipped during cold weather because it's ruined if it freezes. So stock up in the late summer or early autumn. We usually get ours from Hollander's.

You can also use standard bookbinding PVA sold through many different brands and stores. However, the high archival characteristics of Jade 403 have been well tested for, and that's why it's highly used. I've found that standard PVA glues are thinner than Jade 403. Not that the standard PVA's are bad, and I certainly am not recommending against using them, but I like the more sure longevity Jade 403 has due to the testing it has received, and I also like the thickness of it. Hollander's also has a thicker version of the standard PVA.

Wheat Starch Paste 

Great for backing cloth with paper, gluing material to book board covers (paper, book cloth or leather), and for gluing thin papers together. If I were gluing two pieces of tissue paper together, I'd use wheat paste instead of PVA, being both thinner and more gel-like rather than watery, and watery is what thinned/watered down PVA would be like.  Also available at Hollander's.

  • Very thin (if mixed thick it would not spread well)

  • Dries slowly allowing for repositioning or longer working time

  • Strong bond 

  • Acidic, not pH neutral but sodium carbonate can be added for buffering

  • Comes in powder form which you add distilled water to, then cook—there's also a non-cooking kind

  • Can be stored for many years in it's dry powder form. Make only enough to use for the project on hand. 

  • Once mixed, it can be stored in refrigerator for a few days. Although, best to use when freshly mixed.

Rice Starch Paste is great too. I haven't really used this but other binder's seem to like it just as much as wheat paste.

Methyl Cellulose

Often used by book conservationists, sometimes to fix a break in a book. Being somewhat weak, it is preferred that the book would break in the same place rather than another place, which would be more likely if using a stronger adhesive.

  • Can also be used to clean off old glue from books. I don't know how, but have read it can be.

  • Not very strong on it's own so it's helpful in book repair or for gluing things that you don't want to have a strong bond.

  • Not best to use on its own if you want a strong bond

  • Dries Clear

  • Reversible in cold water

  • Acid Free and pH neutral

EVA Emulsion (not hot glue sticks but emulsion which is used sort of like PVA)

We have not tried EVA emulsion but there is an article on the Book Arts List Serv written by David Amstell on this type of glue and it seems to work quite well for many bookbinders.

You can read more about EVA here.

The Do-Nots:   Elmer's glue, glue sticks, spray adhesive
Why not? Even though Elmer's glue is a form of PVA (there are different kinds of PVA), it takes forever to dry, yellows when it ages, and can sometimes be brittle when dry. Same with glue sticks. Spray adhesive is often not pH neutral, it's brittle when dry and can create air bubbles in paper, and sometimes does not stick nicely with book board.