Figuring out which glue to use for my perfect bound book projects turned out to be one of the most challenging aspects of the bookbinding process. Gluing the edges of a bunch of sheets of paper together is tricky. The glue must be strong, flexible, easy to apply, dry quickly (but not too quickly), and stand up to the abuses that paperback books are typically subjected to. Here is what I have discovered and used in my bookbinding work. I hope this helps you pick the best option for your next project.
PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate)
I’ve had a chance to experiment with a few different types of glues for my books and the most versatile and forgiving one I have come across is PVA glue, which can be found in any art supply or craft store.
PVA is easy to work with and strong. This is just a common white glue that is very flexible and can be easily brushed onto the spine of the book. PVA glues are acid free and used in libraries to repair books. The biggest problem is slow drying time. You will need to keep the pages clamped together for a while as it dries. Adding another layer of glue to the book block later and attaching the cover works fine.
Another very common glue choice is contact cement. PowerPoxy is a brand name that comes up a lot in my research and I’ve used it before, but it is hard to find these days. It is a neoprene-based contact cement and is somewhat thicker than working with PVA glue, but you can still brush it on the spine. You apply it to both the spine and cover and then let the glue ’set-up’ for a minute before pressing the spine and cover together for drying (which only takes a few minutes.)
I have successfully bound books using 5-Minute epoxy. Epoxies come in two parts which are mixed together and cure through a chemical reaction. The resulting bond is extremely strong, but not very flexible. Working with epoxy is a bit tedious because you you have to mix just enough adhesive for your spine each time. Mix too much and the excess hardens into a useless rock. If you occasionally make one or two books, epoxy works well. But, produce any more than that and the constant mixing will slow you down.
EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) Hot Glue
I have experimented with hot glues, but don’t recommend them for beginners. They are harder to work with and don’t offer any long term benefits over the cold glues I have mentioned. The drying time is faster, but I spent a considerable amount of time trying to get smooth even coverage (often resorting to using an iron to re-heat the glued book spines making the glue workable again.) I have seen people create wide flat custom nozzles for their glue guns that deposit the glue in a wider pattern, but don’t have the tools required to copy the idea. The Surebonder PRO2-100 gun has interchangable nozzles that include a wide flat one. It’s not super wide, but it is better than the standard nozzle on most glue guns.
It may be possible to create some sort of heated glue pot that keeps the glue warm enough for you to brush it on before it hardens and then quickly fold the cover over (or later run a hot iron over the cover to re-melt the glue underneath and bond it to the cover.) I have seen a demonstration by one person who used a hot plate to melt a bunch of EVA glue in a pan and then dip the book spines into the glue. He was able to make a lot of books fast, but there was a considerable amount of setup involved in the process. Another person quickly laid down a fat line of glue over a book spine and then used a metal spreader tool to distribute the glue across the book spine and press it into the paper. This approach wastes a fair amount of glue and requires working at a brisk pace. You also need a pro-grade glue gun capable of laying down a lot of glue fast.
Professional bookbinding machines use a heated glue pot that travels across the spine to deposit the glue evenly. There is also an electric binding tool that uses special covers with pre-formed strips of hot-melt glue on the inside of the spine. You place your pages in the cover, place the spine edge into the device, and wait for the heating element to melt the glue into the pages. The covers aren’t much to look at, but the bindings are strong.
My hot glue experiments were very time consuming and I wasn’t happy with the results. While I haven’t completely given up on EVA hot glues, I still recommend contact cement or PVA glues. The dry times are longer, but the results are nicer and more consistent.
PUR (PolyUrethane Reactive) Adhesive
My initial projects used Gorilla Glue to glue the pages together. It is a form of glue know as PUR (polyurethane reactive) which reacts with moisture when curing. This glue tends to soak into the paper a bit and gives a very strong (and somewhat stiff) spine, but it can also expand (like foam) as it dries which often results in lumpy spines. The thickness of the application is critical to good results. The Gorilla version is brown, and every cover I have used it on becomes discolored as the glue soaks in. I recommend using a transparent PUR glue for books.
The drying time for PUR glue is more like PVA glue, so you will have to keep the pages clamped together for a while as it sets-up. Be very careful not to leave ANY excess glue on the surface of the paper as it will expand as it dries and ‘puff up’ creating the lumpy spine I mentioned before.
You could use a PUR glue to bind the pages and then come back with contact cement to apply the covers. I’m not certain how well these to glues would bond to each other over the long term, but my guess is it would be strong enough.
HMPUR (Hot Melt PolyUrethane Reactive) Glue
Another glue that I have recently discovered is PUR polyurethane reactive hot melt glue. It is very strong and flexible and dries quickly, but comes in various formulations that have up to 75 seconds of working time before the glue sets. The hot melt version of PUR glue is less prone to foaming as it cures, but it is still a moisture cured adhesive. Commercial binderies are using this type of glue as their primary glue and claim it to be the best on the market.
There are versions of PUR hot melt glue glue on the market focused on the construction market. 3M makes a line of products called Scotch-Weld. But the required application equipment is expensive. You can sometimes find it at your local home center, but will probably have to special order it.
Franklin International makes a modestly priced kit that comes with an applicator gun (like a hot glue gun on steroids.) I have not had an opportunity to use it yet for a project, so I can’t vouch for this glue, but it looks very promising. People who use the Franklin system report that the gun itself is a little delicate, and the shelf life of the glue cartridges is only a few days once it has been opened – even if you tightly cap it between uses. But, it is much more affordable than the 3M products and the glue comes in smaller cartridges.
If you have a better glue option than those listed (or advice for applying the glues I did mention), leave a comment and share your experience.