Book Restoration: Guarding signatures and a tip to help speed up the process.

If you follow us on Instagram you know that we've recently begun restoring a first edition 1561 Geneva Bible!  Which by the way is totally awesome!  However, the book needs a lot of TLC.  We have completely dis-bound the book, went through it page by page straightening and mending each page, and we just finished guarding all the signatures.  Phew, that is a lot of tedious, but very necessary work. 

To flatten dog-ears and creases we use our micro-spatula and a tacking iron set to medium or low heat, and once in a while a Q-tip moistened with pure water or alcohol.  Gently un-fold bent corners and run the taking iron over them to flatten out the paper.  

Creases with-in the page can be tricky.  Sometimes it helps to gently run a moistened Q-tip along the crease, gently straighten the page at the crease and then run your tacking iron over the straightened crease.  Use caution when using a moistened Q-tip, too much moisture could create tide lines.    

For those that might not know, "Guarding" is when you line the spine edge of the signature with Japanese tissue using archival wheat or rice paste.    

There are two main reasons why guarding may be necessary:

  1. Guarding re-attaches pages that have been torn from their signatures.
  2. Guarding re-enforces signatures that are worn along their spine, so they don't rip apart when being re-sewn.

We want to share a tip about guarding that we've learned in our years of binding and restoring books that helps speed up the process.  When you're trying to keep a business lucrative and keep lead times realistic for your customers, you have to think outside the box when it comes to hand binding and conservation.  But it's also important to make sure short cuts don't compromise quality.  

Traditionally once a signature is guarded it is laid under weight to dry; which takes a day or so.  We don't want to wait for pages to dry, and we really don't have the space it would require to lay out or stack a complete book with guarded signatures.  We use our taking iron to speed up the dry time.  

We're basically adding a step to your guarding process.  After you've guarded your signature, lay down a piece of protective scrap paper on your freshly guarded spine edge; we use parchment paper, the kind you use when you're baking cookies.  Parchment paper works perfectly because its thin, and not much sticks to it, and it's much cheaper than silicone impregnated paper.  Plus if old glue does melt to it, the glue scraps right off with your micro spatula, a small flat head screw driver, or even your finger nail.    

After you've placed your clean scrap paper over the freshly guarded spine edge, run your tacking iron set at medium or low heat over the edge a few times.  Flip over your signature and repeat this process on the flip side until you feel the guarding tissue is dry.  Make sure every time you place the scrap paper down it's clean.  The scrap paper protects the pages from being damaged from too much heat, and it protects your tacking iron from getting gross old glue all over the place!  

We love this tacking iron process not only because it saves us time, but when you work with really really old books, they're quite dirty; leaving your guarded signatures wet to dry over night actually runs the risk of moisture creeping in and creating tide lines.    

So that's it!  Have fun guarding signatures, and if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below or send us an email at

Don't have a tacking iron?  Order one online, see below: