You Will Need
- Top slab
- Plastic dividers or plastic wrap
- Die punch
- Paper punch
- Box cutter
- X-Acto knife
You will also need the shop tools. See the Supplies page for more information on all these items.
Stage 1: Prepping the book for magnets.
Step 1: Remove the dust jacket.
Set it aside for now; you'll put it back on later.
Now take a look at your front endpaper. This sheet of extra thick paper is glued to the cover (on the left side) and the front of the pages (on the right) and it holds the book together. The endpaper in this book is black, but in most books it's plain white.
You'll need the endpaper to re-assemble the book after you've cut out the cavity, so it must be kept in good condition.
In most books, you'll have one regular page glued to the endpaper, known as the "first sheet". This page is NOT necessary, and will get in the way later, so if your book has one (and most do, and some books have more than one) you'll start by...
Step 2: Cut off the first sheet, if it's glued to the endpaper.
Use scissors and remove the first sheet. If multiple pages are glued to the endpaper, cut them all off.
You don't have to be super neat about this; you just want to get rid of this page so it's not in the way when you re-assemble the book.
Step 3: Mark out the cavity.
On the next page, measure and draw a rectangle where your cavity will be. For larger books, the walls should be about an inch thick. For smaller books, it can be more like 3/4 of an inch.
Step 4: Mark the location of the bottom magnets.
Two holes for magnets have to be punched in the outside wall. These holes will hold the bottom magnets embedded in the book.
The exact placement is optional, but I like to place the holes in the middle of the wall, 1.5 inches from the top and bottom. Two magnets are usually sufficient, but you can do three if you're using a very large book.
Step 5: Gather a stack of pages the height of a magnet.
Pinch a stack of pages that feel about as thick as a single magnet. Push them back and place a magnet next to them. Press your thumb across the magnet, and the stack of pages next to it, to make sure they're the same height. Add or remove pages as necessary until the stack is the right size.
If you can't find the exact number of pages, err on the side of the stack being too thick, rather than too thin. You want the magnets to fit entirely into the holes you're going to punch in the stack.
Step 6: Punch holes for the bottom magnets.
Use the 1/8 inch paper punch, and put holes in the pages at the marks you made in Step 4. Keep the pages straight when you punch; crooked pages make a crooked hole.
If the paper is too tough to punch all at once, punch half of the stack, then put the pages together again and punch through the holes to go through the rest of the pages.
Stage 2: Gluing the outside
Step 7: Separate the pages with plastic sheets or plastic wrap.
You'll be gluing the outside of the pages, but you don't want to glue them to anything else in the process. I use flexible translucent plastic sheets between the pages and the covers, but you can also use plastic wrap.
Insert the bottom plastic between the back cover and the bottom page.
Place the front plastic between the front endpaper and the rest of the pages. You want your front endpaper protected so that it's NOT glued to the page block.
Step 8: Paint the sides of the pages with glue.
This should be a thin but complete layer, covering all three exposed sides of the pages. This glue will keep the pages together when you remove them and cut them.
Make sure to run the brush up against the plastic dividers, so the glue goes all the way to the edge.
Step 9: Straighten the page block as much as possible.
This is one of the most important steps. You want the page block to be straight on all sides with everything squared up. A tilted or twisted page block now will ruin your book later.
See this tilt? This is what you want to avoid.
Step 10: Place the top slab onto the book and weigh it down.
Place a flat, sturdy slab on top of the book. Since I'm using acrylic plates, and the glue won't stick to them, I can remove the top plastic divider; if your top slab might stick to glue, leave the plastic in place.
Place a heavy weight on the top slab. Use something between 25 and 40 pounds depending on the size of the book.
Step 11: Do a final quality check, then let it dry.
You want to make sure, one last time, that everything is straight and that there aren't any glue drips on the sides. Dried glue drips can be sanded off later with a Dremmel tool, but it's best to avoid them in the first place.
Leave your setup to dry. I like to give it 24 hours, but you may need more or less time depending on temperature and humidity. It's always better to err on the side of a longer drying time; taking the weight off too early can allow the pages to warp.
Stage 3: Cut out the page block and prep for sawing.
Step 12: Remove the book from the setup.
Take the weight off, and remove the top slab and the plastic dividers. If you're using plastic sheets, or plan on re-using your plastic wrap, now's a good time to clean them off, peeling off the bigger blobs of dried glue.
You now have a book with a loose front endpaper, followed by a solid block of pages. Time to cut that page block out.
Step 13: Cut through the back endpaper.
Take an X-Acto knife and carefully slice the endpaper between the page block and the back cover. You want to cut the endpaper ONLY, and not the cover behind it.
It should look like this when done.
Step 14: Cut away the cover's spine.
In smaller and cheaper books, Step 13 is all you need to do, but larger and higher-quality books often have layers of materials and glue attaching the page block to the cover spine. You will need to cut through this, very slowly and carefully, to free the page block without cutting the cover.
The final product can look messy, but this will all be hidden in the end.
Step 15: Cut out the page block at the front.
This step is difficult: cutting the page block free WITHOUT cutting the front endpaper. Flip the back cover around and hold it against the front cover to isolate the area.
Figure out the best angle to insert the X-Acto blade between the front endpaper and the page block. Work slowly and carefully, slicing through the entire length of the book without nicking the endpaper.
Step 16: Trim the excess glue off the edges.
Run a blade along all the edges of the page block to trim off protruding dried glue. You don't want this extra glue showing when you re-assemble the book.
I use a box cutter for this, as I can get a better grip, and the wider blade makes it easier to hold parallel against the page block, so I don't cut into the paper by accident.
Step 17: Cut the cavity top with a box cutter.
Take a ruler and a box cutter and cut out the rectangle you drew in Step 3.
Start and end cuts about 1/4 of an inch outside of the rectangle to make sure the paper is cut all the way through. Press hard and keep the blade straight down: an angled cut will mess you up later.
The red highlights show where your cuts should start and end.
Step 18: Remove all the pages that are completely cut out.
Peel out all the paper that's been cut clean through on all 4 sides. This may be only a dozen or so sheets. Any paper still attached to the book can stay where it is.
Why do this cutting by hand, when you're taking the page block over to the scroll saw next? Well, it's notoriously hard to cut straight on a scroll saw. The rectangle you've just cut out will provide a guide that's more accurate and easier to follow than drawn lines.
Stage 4: Drilling and Sawing
Step 19: Drill a pilot hole through the page block.
If you don't have a drill press, lay the page block on a scrap piece of wood. Position the hole near the edge of the cavity but not touching it.
Put something stiff on top of the page block (a thick piece of scrap chipboard, colored yellow, is shown in the photo) and press it down hard with your free hand while drilling. This downward pressure will keep the paper from bunching up around the drill bit, and keep the pages from bulging out in both directions.
Step 20: Set up your scroll saw.
Thread the blade through the hole and load it into the saw. (See the Supplies page for tips on scroll saw blades and where to get good ones.) Adjust the saw's hold-down clamp to apply a bit of pressure: you want to keep the page block from jumping up and down during sawing, but you also want to move it around easily.
Note to experienced scroll saw-ers: you can skim the following instructions, as they're made mostly for scroll saw neophytes. You probably already know how to turn a corner.
Step 21: Saw out of the pilot hole and into the first side.
Turn the saw on. Gently push the page block against the blade to cut towards the outside edge.
The sawing speed will vary greatly depending on the thickness of the book, paper type, and blade sharpness. Large books with thin, dense pages may move one millimeter at a time, but thinner books or books with light, fluffy pages will cut like butter.
When the blade gets close to the wall, start turning the book so that the cut gradually curves around to start running along the first side. Because the blade is large, you can't make very tight curves (forcing the blade to turn too sharply can break it) so give yourself some space to make the turn.
Step 22: Saw down the first side.
Start cutting the first side of the cavity. Rather than following a drawn line, follow the walls of the rectangle you made with the box cutter.
Keep the cut straight by keeping the side of the blade exactly at the edge of the rectangle! (See the photo on the left.)
Move the page block in whatever way necessary to keep the blade aligned at the inside of the pre-cut rectangle. This way, the blade will complete the cut that the box cutter started, and leave a perfectly straight and smooth cavity wall in its wake.
Tip: Keep in mind that scroll saws DO NOT CUT STRAIGHT!!!
Scroll saws cut at an angle, and to compensate, you have to feed the book into the blade at an opposite angle in order to create a straight cut in the work. The angle of the scroll saw's cut, and thus the angle you have to push the book in, is never the same, and is always changing based on the wear of the blade and the invisible grain of the paper.
Like trying to drive straight in a car with badly aligned wheels, cutting straight on a scroll saw requires constant corrections and fine-tuning to keep the final product on track. Learning how to make a good cut can take lots of practice.
Tip: If you're going to go off track, err on the side of cutting inwards, instead of outside.
The "mistake" cut on this photo has been exaggerated for effect, but the point is that extra cutting inside the cavity can be "sanded" off later, but a cut outside the rectangle, towards the edge of the book, is harder to fix.
Tip: Let the blade take the wheel from time to time.
Don't force the blade to bend by inadvertently pushing the book to the left or right. Every now and then, take pressure off the page block and let the blade pull it back towards the center.
Step 23: Make the first corner.
Saw straight until the blade touches first corner, then back up (keeping the saw running at all times) and saw a new path around the corner, heading into the next side. You'll come back and cut out the rest of that corner later.
Step 24: Saw the rest of the sides.
Repeat Steps 22 and 23 around the rest of the page block, sawing straight down the sides and turning around the corners. If any pages on the top come loose in the process of sawing, go ahead and remove them.
Once you arrive back at the first cut, the inside of the page block will be free.
Step 25: Remove the cut pages.
Turn off the saw, pull out the cut pages, and shop vac away the extra dust if you want to. You now have a rough cavity, but it needs cleaning up.
Step 26: Cut out the corners.
Turn the page block around and saw off those hanging corners. Once again, keep the side of the blade exactly at the edge of the box cutter-made rectangle.
You'll know you've finished cutting the corner when the hanging paper bits fly off like confetti.
Step 27: "Sand" off any bumps or bulges.
Look straight down at sides and compare the scroll saw cut with the box cutter cut along the top. This makes it easy to see any areas that are rough or uneven.
In this photo, the exaggerated "mistake" from earlier can be seen on the right, and a rough bump from the first cut can be seen on the left. Both need to be "sanded" off.
Your scroll saw now doubles as a sander. Gently run the bumps or rough patches against the blade to grind them off. As with cutting, getting good at this will take practice.
Step 28: Take the page block off the saw and clean up.
All done with sawing! Take out the blade, remove your cut page block, and take a shop vac to your work space. Now it's time to head back to the glue.
Tip: How long does it take to saw a page block?
It usually takes me anywhere from 15 minutes to a full hour. Use new, sharp blades for the tough books, and older, duller blades to keep work slow and controlled on easy books.
Stage 4: Putting the book back together
Step 29: Trace the cavity on the back dust jacket flap.
First, put the dust jacket back onto the book. We want the back flap to be visible on the outside, but not inside the cavity, so we have to cut out a piece of it.
Place the page block back down where it used to be, lining up the bottom edges to the back endpaper. Trace the inside of the cavity onto the flap only. (Don't mark the back endpaper!)
Step 30: Cut the traced ractangle from the dust jacket flap.
Take the scissors and cut outside the line by 1/4 inch or so. This doesn't have to be neat or precise; you just want to make sure the flap won't be visible in the final product.
Step 31: Glue down the back dust jacket flap.
Brush glue on the back cover, underneath the area where the back dust jacket flap goes. Press the flap down, making sure it's straight and aligned with the book .
Step 32: Glue the page block onto the back cover.
Take the page block and coat the entire bottom with a thin layer of glue.
Put the page block down where it used to be, lining up the bottom edges against the back cover's endpaper.
Close the cover to make sure that the book will close evenly when it's done. If necessary, nudge the page block so that the top cover can close directly over the bottom one.
Step 33: Paint glue over the inside of the cavity.
Take your time on this step. Paint glue around the sides of the cavity, and then run the brush over the bottom and sides multiple times to make sure the entire inside is evenly coated. (The wedge brush is good for working extra glue out of the corners and bottom edges.)
The glue should be a solid coat, but not so thick that it runs down the sides or pools at the bottom.
Step 34: Weight it down again and let it dry.
Put the top slab onto the book stack again. Weigh it down again, and let it dry for another 24 hours.
Check in on it, after 15 minutes or so, to make sure the glue doesn't have drips or unsightly bubbles.
Stage 5: Adding the magnets and finishing the book
Step 35: Trim the inside glue.
After the inside glue has dried, take the weight and the top slab off.
Use a box cutter or X-Acto knife to trim the protruding dry glue off the inside of the cavity. You want a nice smooth edge on all sides.
Step 36: Insert the bottom magnets.
Put a small blob of glue over both holes, then insert the two bottom magnets. Press them in and make sure they're flush with the surface of the page block, and not protruding above it.
Step 37: Glue down the front endpaper.
Brush a thin layer of glue around the top surface of the page block. Make sure there's no blobs of glue stuck in the corners.
Lay the endpaper down onto the pages, lining it up to the edges. Press it down and smooth it out by hand.
Step 38: Weigh it down and let it dry again.
Put the top slab and the weight back onto the page block for another 24 hour period.
Step 39: Mark the magnet placement on the top cover.
Place two magnets on top of the now-hidden bottom magnets. Just dropping them in the vicity of the bottom magnet should make them snap into place.
Color the top of each magnet with Sharpie (or another permanent marker).
Quickly close the cover down onto the magnet.
There's now two dots in the exact places where the top magnets will go.
You may have to repeat this step multiple times if you don't get a clear impression on the first try.
Step 40: Punch magnet holes in the top cover.
Take the die punch, with the top and bottom 1/8 inch bits loaded. Line up the bit exactly over the dot, and then punch through the cover.
Punch the second hole the same way.
Afterwards, close the cover and make sure the holes line up with the magnets. If a hole is off, you can punch again, not to make a new hole, but to widen the hole in the direction it needs to be.
Tip: Don't want to buy a die punch?
You might be able to use a drill. I haven't done this, so I'm not in a position to offer tips for doing it, but it should be possible. The main benefit of the die punch is that it makes holes that are exactly the same size as the magnets.
Step 41: Insert the top magnets.
Put the magnet (inked side up) on your finger and push it up into the hole. Make sure the bottom of the magnet is flush with the inside of the cover; you want the top and bottom magnets to be as close as possible to each other when the book is finished.
Here's the magnet inserted into the hole. The magnet isn't as thick as the cover, so it appears to be inset.
Step 42: Glue the top dust jacket flap.
Dab two small blobs of glue over the magnets, then brush glue all over the entire flap.
Paint glue all the way to the edges on all sides.
Fold the dust jacket flap over the cover. Make sure it's straight and lined up correctly.
Step 43: Weight it down and let it dry one last time.
Insert a piece of plastic between the cover and the page block to keep errant glue from fusing the book together.
Close the book and weight it down. This time, it only has to dry for a few hours.
Step 44: Cut out the top endpaper.
Since the sides and corners are hidden under the endpaper, you have to explore a bit to find the first side.
Insert the blade near a corner, and then carefully slide it towards the outside. Once you've found a side of the cavity, run the blade along that side until it stops in the corner.
Once you've found that corner, you can start there to cut out the next side. Repeat this process around the cavity.
Clean up the corners with an X-Acto knife. Do a final inspection to make sure the entire book looks good.
Do a final inspection to make sure the entire book looks good. And you're done! Nice, isn't it?
FAQ: How long does this process take?
It looks like a lot, but since I make multiple books at the same time, I end up spending between an hour and a half to two hours of labor to make each one.