Book binding

For DIY book makers – Taking care of your bone folder

As any book binder would know, enthusiast, amateur, professional or otherwise, a bone folder is a staple tool of this craft.

Bone folder

The first time I heard about a bone folder, and that I should buy a bone folder to fold my signatures for my books, I had no idea what it was. A “bone folder”? What? What in the world is that? Searching on Amazon showed quite a few options, including many made of plastic – and I couldn’t quite tell if that was a good or bad thing.

Some googling suggested that bone folders help burnish folds of paper, without leaving any residue on the paper. Per Wikipedia, “a bone folder is a dull edged hand tool, used to fold and crease materials in crafts such as book binding, cardmaking, origami and paper crafts that require a sharp crease or fold. The tool was also used when correspondence by letter writing was more formal and an art.”

Reading the article further on Wikipedia, turns out that a good quality bone folder is actually made of animal bone!! “They are often made of leg bone of a cow, deer, or similar animal, or ivory. When made from bone, they are less likely to leave a residue on the workpiece.”

The name “bone folder” was finally starting to make sense.

When I first got mine, I didn’t quite know what I should and should not do with it. Could I wash it with water? Could I wash it with soap? Should I try and keep it sharp? What should I do if its edges got chipped? How could I keep it smooth and supple for a long time?

A recent read of the seminal “How to make books” by Esther K. Smith, sheds light on this.

When you first get a bone folder, wash it in soapy water and scrub well. Then dry it and soak it in cooking oil overnight to make it more supple. Wipe it off and let it dry so that it absorbs the oil. The first time you use your bone folder, try it on cheap paper to be sure it is dry. Keep some fine emery paper on hand to sand your bone folder if it chips. Always burnish your folds with a bone folder, protecting your book with a clean piece of scrap paper.

From How to Make Books by Esther K Smith

Ok, that is definitely helpful and I wish I’d known this when I first got my bone folder. I pretty much started using it as-is, and generally only wiped it with a damp cloth. But after reading the above, I’ve started the oil soaking regimen for my bone folder to keep it supple and make sure it lasts me a long time 🙂

On an unrelated note, as it turns out, bone folders aren’t always made of bone! Quite a few different materials have been used over the years to manufacture bone folders:

  1. Wood such as bamboo
  2. Plastic
  3. Genuine bone
  4. Teflon
  5. Metal

It seems Teflon bone folders are even better than “regular bone” bone folders, in that they don’t mar the surface in the same way that a regular bone folder sometimes can (more on this topic in this post on Talas website). It’s slightly more expensive, but maybe worth it as you go deeper in your craft, The fact that my bone folder is made of “bone” does make me a bit uncomfortable, and I’m considering switching to a Teflon one.

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