Our guillotine is a large metal machine, about 3 feet wide, that runs on electricity (and does not look too different from the one above). The sides of the cutting section are both flat and squared with the back, another straight piece of metal. Paper, when placed flush against a side and back, will be cut perfectly straight and square.
The back piece of the guillotine cutter is not flat like the sides, but has large grooves in it in order to cut stacks of paper that may not have perfectly straight backs, such as text blocks, which are trimmed on the guillotine before a book is cased in. This is particularly useful for the text blocks of books with raised-cords, as seen right, where a flat back would either crush the text block or make cutting uneven.
Once the stack of paper or text block is placed in the guillotine, the machine has a manual handle used to gently pull the back forward, to set the depth of the cut. Once the paper is lined up with the blade, a clamp is screwed down (with a rotary handle on the top of the machine) to keep the paper stack from slipping under the force of the blade. After the paper is flush, lined up, and securely pressed down, two handles are pulled and a large steel blade slices through the stack of paper. As the machine itself is large and heavy, the paper stays steady and produces clean and straight cuts, even through thick stacks of heavy-weight paper.
The Center for Book Arts is lucky enough to have our own guillotine, which can be used by artists and students that rent the space. In order to use the guillotine, one must be trained in a short class and then certified by the Center for safety measure. Training sessions are given often by the excellent CBA staff and are definitely worth it for both letterpress artists and bookbinders!
The guillotine is another one of the tools still used in the mass-production of bound books today. Though the machines used by commercial binderies are significantly larger and more high tech than the ones used for hand bookbinding, those clean edges on the sides of your favorite novels come from the very same place!
Do you have any stories about how you have used a guillotine cutter before? What was it like being trained by the excellent CBA staff? Want to give us suggestions or comments? Just want to say hi? Comment on this post, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit us on Facebook (/centerforbookarts) or follow us on Twitter (@center4bookarts). Can't wait to see you there!