Margaret knows all about repairing old books with inexpensive craft glue and rubber bands.
How to Fix a Cracked Book Spine or a Book With Pages Falling Out
A page is coming loose from one of your paperback, trade paperback, or hardcover books. Perhaps an entire section of pages has detached itself from the glue-bound spine. Maybe a significant crack in the glue binding has formed, and it seems that fully separated pages are just around the corner. What to do?
The book is in reasonable condition otherwise, and you certainly aren't motivated to spend the money it would take to replace it. You could quietly tuck the pages back inside, close the book and tiptoe away in an attempt to ignore the dilemma . . .
Or you might read the following article on how to repair a book with craft glue and cheer up immediately! The materials you will need are fairly common household items that you may already have on hand. Rest assured that even in the event of a complete supply run, this project does not need to cost more than $10, and you will be left with enough supplies to repair hundreds of glue-bound hardcovers, trade paperbacks, or mass-market paperbacks with the surplus should you so choose.
- Acid-free polyvinyl acetate glue (a.k.a white craft glue such as Elmer's)
- Fine tipped paintbrush
- A small cup or bowl for water
- A small amount of warm water
- Paper towels or napkins
- Bone knife, ruler, or similar straight-edged tool
- Wax paper
- Good lighting
- A handful of sturdy rubber bands
Assemble and Prepare Your Supplies
Spread some paper towels, cardboard or newspaper over the surface on which you will be working to prevent a mess. Set a few paper towels to the side for damp blotting of glue mistakes, should you need them. Fill your cup or bowl with warm water and place it within easy reach. Make sure your paintbrush is clean and set it next to your water. Your glue bottle and rubber bands should also be nearby.
You may choose to forego the use of a paintbrush. If you do, then you will definitely want some wax paper strips and a straight edge tool such as a bone folder/ knife or ruler handy. It’s best to prep your wax paper strips in advance. The height of the strips is irrelevant as long as they meet or exceed the height of your book. The width should be about four inches, but there’s no need to be exact.
Fold your wax paper strips in half lengthwise, making a sturdy crease and set them to the side. For every loose or detached page in your book prepare two wax strips. You may not use them all but being well situated in advance is the key to a smooth repair operation.
Thoroughly Examine Your Book
Every book repair is slightly different and should be regarded thoughtfully before taking any action. A book is not just an assembly of parts—pages, leaves, boards, etc. A book is a system. If two pages are glued together at a spinal weak point without consideration for the stresses which the book must endure as a whole you will find that what could have been a single repair will turn into a series of repairs. The more repairs are made to a volume the more obvious your patching and gluing are likely to be.
Inventory any potentially weak spots in addition to the actual defect or defects with which you are most concerned. If there are parts of your book which will require a repair beyond that which can be fixed with glue, fully consider the order in which the repairs will be made before picking up that bottle!
Although it is usually best to start with any necessary glue repairs you will want to be certain that you are proceeding in a logical and efficient way in order to end with the cleanest mend possible. Make sure you do as much research as you can before initiating a multiple point repair!
Scenario 1: A Single Detached Page
If a single page has fallen out of your book and the binding is otherwise tight it will mean a quick and easy fix. (The binding is tight if there is no crack or glue backing visible where the page fell out.)
- Set your book open and flat at the proper page joint. If the book will not stay easily open try weighting either side down with whatever is available. You will need both of your hands free for the repair!
- Only open the nozzle on your glue bottle halfway so as to better control the flow during application. Bead a fine line of glue along the spine side edge of the separated page. Don’t apply enough to drip, drop or run. You will need only the tiniest amount!
- Next, turn the glue edge downward and carefully insert the page while holding it by its top and bottom edges. You will have a few seconds to slide the page up or down for a completely flush fit. Also make sure to slide it down toward the spine as far as you are able. When done correctly this is a completely invisible repair!
- Shut the volume and adjust the spine so that it is not seated at a tilt. Use rubber bands to secure the position once you are satisfied with it. Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours before examination.
Scenario 2: A Crack in the Glue Binding With Loose Pages
Examine the pages around the split. You will want to glue several pages in front of and behind the split at their spine joints. This is a preventative measure taken in the interest of long term reinforcement. Gluing the split without reinforcing adjacent spine joints may result in further, progressively uglier splits nearby. The number of spine joints you choose to glue will vary from repair to repair.
Two factors will increase the number of pages you should consider reinforcing. The first is the thickness of the volume, and the second is the how closely the split occurs to the vertical center of the spine. Always reinforce symmetrically—if three pages are glued in front then glue three behind the split as well. If the pages around the split seem secure, reinforce fewer pages. If they seem less so reinforce as many as you deem likely to do the trick.
- Glue your reinforcing pages first and finish the job by gluing the actual split line. Using either your paintbrush or your half open glue nozzle, bead the adhesive lightly into the first joint. A tiny bit goes a very long way! A paintbrush will create an even application, eliminating the need for wax paper.
- If you are simply using the nozzle to bead the glue into the joint, finish by wedging a piece of wax paper lightly into the joint over the glue. This will prevent any blobbing from bonding the pages together over text. (Ack! Unreadable text trumps a split binding for repair complexity any day!)
- Turn to the next page and smooth over the glue with a straight edge tool for an even and flat dried surface. Repeat until you are finished reinforcing the pages around the split.
- Next, apply glue in the same manner to the split itself and carefully close the book, repositioning the alignment to ensure a flush set volume.
- Finally, secure the book with rubber bands and allow it to set for at least 48 hours. Consider placing a few heavy books or flat weighted objects on top of it while it dries. Take care to not allow any tilting of the spine as it rests!
Scenario 3: Several Adjacent Loose or Detached Pages
- Open the book and let it lie flat at the point of distress. Weight down either side if the book will not remain flat on its own.
- Follow the directions above (Scenario 2) for reinforcing the pages to either side of a split. You should treat the loose pages last. When it comes time to fix half detached pages, bear in mind that it is easier to glue a completely detached page neatly than it is to try to mend a loose or half loose page. If any pages are loose, ease them out of the binding entirely before gluing them down!
- Using either your brush or half-open glue nozzle, set a bead of glue down along the spine joint of the page behind the loose one.
- Position your first detached page very carefully and smooth it over with a straight edge tool once it is in place. If glue blobs out from the page sides, quickly clean by blotting with a damp paper towel and fanning the pages in as much as it is possible to do so.
- Next, bead a tiny bit of glue along the spine seam on the dry side of the page. If the next page is loose, repeat this process.
- Once you have reached the page that is tight in the binding, carefully align your volume edges and close the book on the glue line. Smooth and straighten the spine if necessary.
Gluing multiple pages in close succession may create a tiny bit of warping or buckling on those pages. This is especially true if you are keeping your paintbrush too wet or if you have applied adhesive disproportionately. It happens!
In order to help minimize this, once the book is secured with rubber bands, be sure to weigh it down heavily and evenly. Leave the bond to set for a day or two before examining your handiwork.
Scenario 4: A Detached Segment of Pages
- First, examine the segment to be sure that its pages are not loose and that you are in effect dealing with a double split. If there are loose pages, mend them following the advice in Scenario 3 of this article, but treat the separated section as its own project until the glue has set. This extra measure will help to minimize buckling.
- If you are satisfied that the section is secure in and of itself, hold it spine side up and apply a medium bead of glue along its length.
- Next, gently set the glued edge in the center of its former place in the volume. Carefully align the pages of the section vertically so that they will remain flush with the rest of the book. Do not glue anything further until this has had a chance to set. Make sure the spine is smooth and not tilted.
- Rubber band the book securely and rest it on its spine edge or, in the case of a rounded spine, the outside edge with the spine facing upward.
- Leave it pressed firmly between two bookends or the weight of other books seated vertically on a shelf while it dries.
- In 24 to 48 hours, open the volume and treat either side of the recently glued section as a separate split if cracks in the binding are obvious. Sometimes, a bit of glue will well up on either side from underneath, and no further repair is needed. If it is, however, just follow the instructions either in Scenario 2 or 5 as you see fit to mend these two splits.
Scenario 5: A Partial Break in the Glue Binding
A partial break in the glue binding of your book will typically occur as an accidental result of reading it. Thick trade paperbacks are notorious for this. It won't be obvious that pages are either loose or separating, but the binding feels broken, and the original glue may be easily seen. The book isn’t exactly falling apart, but if you don’t repair it now, it very well could be. It might even rip through an exterior paper binding and leave you with a book that's split entirely in two!
- To fix this, begin by simply beading a light line of glue as close to the spine seam or joint as possible. Use a paintbrush to apply it with precision if you choose. If not, tuck a folded piece of wax paper into the split, lightly covering the glue line.
- Then close the book with care, making sure that all edges are flush and that the spine remains smooth. Use rubber bands to secure the book while it dries. (Once dry, consider taping the outside of the spine with clear packing tape if your book is a paperback or trade paperback.)
It may be necessary to reinforce a page on either side of the split before gluing the partial break. For instance, it is typically a good idea to do this with volumes exceeding 1.5" in spine width. Definitely reinforce the mend if the partial break occurs near the center of the book, no matter how thick it is!
Repairing Your Books Is Worth the Effort
Maintaining and repairing your own books doesn't need to be overwhelming, expensive, or time-consuming. Pace yourself and think before you take any action. Be prepared by having all supplies at hand before beginning a project.
Finally, don't forget that if you are ever intimidated by the repair of a book professional restoration experts offer assurance of repair quality and may be found for hire online. If you are in need of further advice, don't hesitate to pay a visit to your local public library and ask to speak with someone who does in-house book mending for a fresh perspective or a one-on-one demonstration.
Mickie Gee on October 27, 2018:
Disappointed on May 21, 2014:
Way too verbose. Cut the deadwood and get to the point. You don't have to be Shakespeare when giving directions.
hitesh patel from india on December 07, 2012:
i have many old books...your article will help me to make them new.
Mickie’s Little Red Wagon from The South on April 25, 2012:
I love your comment about each book repair is different and one should closely examine the book you want to fix. I am not a fan of Elmer's glue for book repairs, but since most people have some on hand and it is relatively inexpensive, I am ok with you recommending it.
I have found your instructions nicely written and I am going to put a link to it on a few of my own articles on the web about book repair (here on Hubpages and on Squidoo, too).
Luis Salazar on April 19, 2012:
Thanls! I just accidentally tore a single page in my Bible, and your article really helped me out! Looks like there was never an incident!