|The curved spine of a book after rounding and backing|
|A backing hammer|
The first part of rounding and backing takes place in how you sew your signatures. Usually, signatures are sewn together as tightly as possible, with thread held taught in order to create a strong text block with no strange gaps between pages. If you plan on rounding and backing a book, however, the outermost signatures can be sewn more loosely than the center ones in order to help the book to curve. To aid this, bookbinders may place a piece of scrap board between the signatures (usually the first and last 2) when sewing them, leaving the necessary gap.
|"Backing" a book|
|A rounded and backed book|
Once the text block is placed snugly in the backing boards (so that nothing will wiggle out), the backing hammer is struck across the block, one side at a time, along the desired angle. Using the correct amount of force at the right angle is the most important part of backing a book (and a skill that takes a lot of practice!). Hitting the block on too steep of an angle will appear more like a triangle than a curve, and hitting the pages directly does nothing more than smash your signatures together. However, once you train yourself to back properly, the process is relatively easy and fun. Plus, it gives a very special, even classic, feel to the book you finish making.
Not many mass-produced books are rounded and backed anymore, though you can definitely find some of your shelves. They're particularly beautiful and for those even mildly interested in bookbinding, it's something you should definitely try your hands on at least once! You'll be pleasantly surprised with the results—I know I was!
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