What does a craft bookbinder do?
Craft bookbinders work by hand, using traditional materials, such as cloth or leather, to cover and bind books.
Tasks would typically include:
- hand-binding small numbers of books, such as family histories or books for libraries, museums and special collections
- using specialist hand tools to make bindings for books and to sew pages
- adding decoration, such as gold lettering and edging, or marbled end-papers
This role may also involve restoring and repairing antique books, cleaning discoloured pages or using leathers and papers to match those originally used.
You could work for a book-binding company, be employed by a museum or archive, or work as a self-employed bookbinder.
- technical skills
- the ability to work well with your hands
- attention to detail
- the ability to work on your own and as part of a team
- patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
If you are dealing with the public, you also need to have customer service skills. If you are creating bespoke pieces, you need to be able to explain your creative ideas to customers.
If you're self-employed, you need business skills too, so you can market your goods and services, deal with finances and develop your business.
Career path and progression
With experience, you could work for a specialist bookbinders or develop your own business.
How do I become a craft bookbinder?
You could do an art and design foundation degree or a degree in:
- design crafts
- fine art printmaking
- art conservation and restoration
You'll need to check that your chosen course covers methods used in bookbinding.
You'll usually need:
- at least 1 A level for a foundation degree
- 2 to 3 A levels for a degree
You may be able to get into this type of work through an apprenticeship scheme. The range of apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local job market and the types of skills employers need.
You'll usually need:
- some GCSEs, usually including English and maths, for an intermediate apprenticeship
- 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths, for an advanced apprenticeship
You could apply directly to become a bookbinder. Employers will expect you to have some relevant experience in the printing trade.
You may find it useful to have GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent qualifications.
You could take short specialist courses in craft binding and finishing. These are offered by universities and colleges across the UK or be done through organisations like the Society of Bookbinders and Designer Bookbinders.
Find Out More:
Gavin Rookledge is a bookbinder and owner of Rook’s Books, where he has been creating books and other leather-bound artefacts for over 30 years. Gavin says:
‘Since an early age I have always loved the process of making things with my hands. It seemed perfectly natural to combine this desire with my love for books.
Initially most of the books I made were to put my own work in (I trained to postgraduate level as both a fine artist and an outdoor sports instructor) and, despite a career during which I have made many thousands of books for other people, I still, on average, make at least one book every fortnight just for myself.
I am surrounded every day by hundreds and hundreds of books that I have both made and filled with writing, drawing and all sorts of different kinds of pasted in ephemera.
Almost all the books that I make are bound in leather; though only from the skins of animals that have been killed commercially for food (I do not work with ‘exotic' skins). These days, many of the books I make for myself are made from leather I have recycled from personal items such as bags, shoes, furniture and clothes that I have used myself.
Generally speaking my books have a very old, somewhat Gothic, feel to them. My company, which has been trading since 1987, most certainly has a ‘house style’. The books I produce do not conform to any historical style from an actual period of history. They are a response to my own idea of ‘bookishness’. It is important to me that my work is actually used and interacted with by the people who buy it and also that it is robust and will endure: ideally passing down through many, many pairs of hands over several generations.
I do not do book restoration work (repairing the work of other bookbinders); nor do I do rebinding of dissertations or many of the other similar, staple sources of revenue for other bookbinders. All the books I make are handmade, one-off items for specific clients that I have designed myself in keeping with the sort of ‘look’ I am drawn to when I envisage beautiful books.’
All images c. James Balston