First of all, it's pretty rare for a paperback to be worth much of anything,
doubly so if it's in bad shape. So I don't know if you're expecting some
great treasure at the end, but don't get your hopes up... If it is by
chance somewhat valuable, you might want to contact a bookbindery about
fixing it. Your local library probably can give you a lead on that.
Anyway, all sorts of glues have been used for bookbinding in the past, with
all sorts of results. "Perfect bound" paperbacks usually use a flexible
hot melt glue. You can actually use a typical glue gun with adequate
results. It helps to rough up the edges of the paper a little first to
give something for the glue to grip on. A flexible contact cement can
also work - glue the binding, glue the paper edges, wait, and press
together. There are even white glues that are suitable - not the typical
Elmer's glue, which becomes brittle when dry, but ones that stay flexible.
If you do decide to try it yourself, practice first, of course!
If you think its valuable, contact a dealer in rare books first. If it
is worth anything you'll destroy its value if you repair it. Doesn't
anyone watch "Antiques Roadshow"?
The following presumes the book isn't worth anything but you still
want to repair it.
Been there, done that. Don't do it. Hot glue is not flexible when it
sets and it will crack very easily.
That's true if you do it the right way (below) too.
No. Most contact cements won't dry properly. Don't do it.
Now you've got it. You need to go to an achival store. One that
specializes in selling supplies to libraries and bookbinders and
schools. (IIRC the one I contacted was Taos (or Laos, or something
like that) in NYC) They'll sell you a half pint or so of a special
white glue that's used for perfect binding. You cut the old spine off
the book (about 1/16 of an inch--requires a guillotine, try Staples)
or remove it with a Surform and then put it in a vice with just the
back showing and cut alternating cross lines with a hacksaw about 1/16
deep. Then apply a coat of the glue, follow with either fiberglass
tape (not the sticky stuff although I have used drywall mesh tape
without an apparent problem; I suppose you could used carbon filament
too) and then another coat of glue. Wait for it to dry and then cut
off the surplus. If you want a nice spine you can do a reasonable job
on the computer, cut to size and then glue with the same bookbinding
I've done a fair few computer manuals this way.
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