Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bookbinding 101 - Making Paste

I've had a few people ask me about paste so here is what I know about it. I often use wheat or wheat starch paste when I'm making books. For a long time, I used wheat starch exclusively since I was able to get the starch at a local health food store for a very reasonable price; but, they don't carry it any more. Perhaps I was the only person buying it. I have seen it at the art supply store too, but for some reason the price triples when it becomes an art supply. I could extract the starch from the flour, but that's a messy process. So now I just use wheat flour. It is my understanding that paste made from wheat starch is a slightly weaker adhesive than paste made with flour; but, paste made with starch is more archival than paste made with flour.

So here is how I make paste. It's really easy. For a small batch of paste, you need:

2/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons wheat starch or flour

For everyone who has switched to metric, that translates to:
160 ml water
30 ml flour

Some people recommend distilled water. Let the water saturate the starch for a few minutes and then whisk it until you have eliminated all the lumps.

Now put it into a pot and cook it. If you cook it on direct heat, it is important to be whisking or stirring constantly to prevent the paste from burning to the bottom of your pot.

To reduce the difficulties, I use a double-boiler to cook paste. When using a double-boiler, the paste is far less likely to burn (maybe impossible?) and it isn't necessary to stir constantly, just frequently.

Cook it for about 10 minutes. When it's hot it will be thick and runny like...glue! Let it cool completely. When it cools, it will be more gelatinous. So, since it becomes a gelatinous blob, just mix it and mash it up to make it smooth when you're ready to use it, so that you can spread it without lumps.

This kind of paste has a short shelf life - it will likely start to get watery and moldy within a week. It might live a bit longer if you keep it refrigerated and you can add a bit of water to your paste container - the water will just sit on top and create a seal to help delay the onset of mold. Just pour off the water when you're ready to use it.

48 comments:

Carol said...

Rhonda, you are such an asset to the book binding community. Showing how to make paste is really important and yet I've never thought of showing it. I often have trouble getting wheaten flour in Sydney - there must be a worldwide conspiracy.

Jen said...

FWIW, the "health" food section of SuperStore sells wheat gluten - which I *think* is just a fancy name for wheat starch.

Rhonda said...

thanks carol, hmmm what is it with wheat starch?? i had a message from another person who said wheat starch is available at Chinese grocery stores. So I'll be checking that now.

and thanks jen. i just did a little goggling and i don't think wheat gluten and wheat starch are the same product - but i may have a look when i go for groceries this weekend!

Kiley said...

Double boiler- Genius! I've had problems with lumps and that should fix them!

eb said...

Do you ever use methyl cellulose? That's all I ever use, but it's not reversible.

Rhonda said...

yes kiley, the double boiler makes a big difference!

eb, i don't know anything about methyl cellulose - do you recommend it? does the paste have a longer lifespan than wheat paste?

eb said...

It lasts indefinitely and requires no cooking and a little goes a long way. ~5 T. makes a quart. By itself it's a weak bond, but cutting it into pva like with paste improves the properties of both. I'm told that moths aren't drawn to it like with wheat paste. Pure wheat paste is probably still the choice for paper to paper where the objective is to have a bond that will break before damaging the paper, like with gluing a paper hanging tab to the back of a drawing on paper. One draw back to the methyl cellulose is that if you run out of starch for your sauce recipe you probably won't want to raid your book binding supplies for a thickener.

Rhonda said...

Oh now I want to try some methyl cellulose, to make paste that is, not gravy :-)

moonbindery said...

I know a bookbinder who uses a mix of pva and methyl cellulose for almost all of his bookbinding. He showed me a bucket of the stuff, and explained that the "slime factor" is important--that you should mix just enough methyl cellulose into the pva to make it nice and slimy.

Rhonda said...

of course, the slime factor! good to know, thanks :)

Kiley said...

I know a few people who swear by methyl cellulose but it's really expensive in the art stores here so I've never picked it up. Anyone have a reasonable source for it?

Daniel Heywood said...

Great post, thank you. - My understanding about using distilled water is that it allows for an archival paste, whereas plain ole tap would not. True?

Renda said...

I was just viewing this site and saw the questions about methyl cellulose. You would be very surprised to learn that you probaly aready have some methyl cellulose in the name brands of Citrucel or Unifiber used as a laxitive but is same thing.
Good Luck and thanks for the info that I gathered from the site as well.
P.S. Wheat paste can be bought in powder form in the wallpaper section of Lowes ETC. I bought a box (name brand; Golden Harvest vinyl wallcovering paste for little over $2.00. I learned losts of tricks as a paint specailist.

Anonymous said...

This is so great that you are posting this here Rhonda,someone said you are an asset, understatement.

I uses CMC as a binder for glazes a lot and when i was making paper paste for kids art projects and mache. You can get it through pottery making stores. It's one of the cellulose products that interferes least with color and curls up least on paper.

Adornyourself, aka: kathy

Anonymous said...

Link for less expensive CMC, a cellulose porduct, bout 1/2 way down the page:
http://www.baileypottery.com/clay/clays-chemicals.htm

Anonymous said...

Infinite thanks, Rhonda.

王箫 said...

Wait, EB, I thought straight methyl cellulose is reversible...? just not when mixed with PVA (since PVA is not reversible). I wonder how it mixes with EVA (similar to PVA, but reversible). If it has the same effect on EVA as it does on PVA, I'd say that would probably be a completely amazing bookbinding adhesive.

Suzy said...

Eb, Methyl Cellulose IS reversible but it does have a much weaker bond than paste.

Anonymous said...

where can you get PVA i cant find it anywhere, does it ever go by a different name?

San said...

i am binding a book for a friend and i dont know what to use to put the cover back on. i have scrap booking glue, and i could make wheat paste. what would last longest. and i heard you should leave the old glue on the pages is that true?

Rhonda Miller said...

PVA is usually available in art supply stores. Or any store that sells bookbinding supplies. You can always get it online. Talas sells it. And Hollanders and Volcano Arts and lots of other sites.

I think wheat paste is very common in book repair. Because it won't damage the book and it is reversible. (But some people think wheat paste will attract bugs, i have no idea if that's true.) I use it, though. Sometimes I'll mix it with PVA. Depends on the book.

If the old glue is not hindering your ability to reattach the cover, then yes, leave it alone. But sometimes it has to be removed - and if you have some old hard glue that you want to remove, you need some wheat paste. Make the wheat paste, then put a generous coating of it over the old glue and let it sit there for a while so the moisture saturates the old glue - this should 'reactivate' the old glue and make it soft so that you can easily scrape it off.

san said...

thanks,that should help alot, i used scrapbooking glue on a book and it seemed to work. i am fixing a book for a friend that is kind of a nice book would that glue work or would you suggest the wheat paste?

Anonymous said...

thanks, i look some more and see if i can find any PVA. would home depot, walmard or joann fabric and craft store have pva?

Anonymous said...

This is a geat discussion and I have learned so much! THANK YOU! I have used corn starch, wheat flour, wallpaper paste and methyl cellulose. They all work, but all have different consistencies. The methyl cellulose if very light and doesn't hold a pattern tight. You still see the marks, they are "soft", where the corn and the wheat pastes are much stiffer designs. Both great, just depends on what you are looking for. The trick is to be adventurous and have fun!

San said...

How long does wheat paste take to dry? i have another book that needs fixing but i want to make sure that it will have plenty of time to dry before someone is going to try to pick it up to read. the book will be read out of every evening for the next few weeks so i have to be careful

Doj said...

fantastic thank you. I'm new to bookmaking and have just used PVA so far. I was directed to charnwood books to buy some pva/paste mix, it was £5 but with delivery and VAT added it ended up coming to over £14! Rip off. So I can make wheat paste and mix it with PVA? What ratio of paste to pva would I mix them?

Rhonda Miller said...

San, I let paste dry for a long time - several days. Probably doesn't really take that long, but I like to be sure.

Doj, yes you can mix your homemade paste with PVA. I usually do it about 50-50, but it doesn't have to be exact. Sometimes I like it to be thicker or thinner depending on what I'm doing.

thanbo said...

Starch paste (wheat or rice) is also necessary for binding with leather, as PVA will blacken your leather.

Cuadernos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ana said...

Hi Rhonda this is Ana from Argentina, I'm pretty new at bookbinding but I found this post very interesting and helpful, so, thanks! I'm currently working with cotton and linen fabrics for the covers, would you recommend wheat paste to glue fabric to cardboard? Thanks a million!

Amber said...

Oh so very helpful. I'm using this recipe from now on. :)

Wendy said...

Hello, I was hoping to use this paste to adhere pieces of paper to collages and have them hold over a long time, do you think this will work?
I spoke to a long ago art teacher for just a few minutes and she has been book binding for many years and mentioned that she adds tea tree oil of eucyl oil to preseve it in the fridge, she did not say how long it works but does this all the time

Rhonda Miller said...

Yes, I think paste would work well for collage. Using just wheat starch (rather than whole flour) is more archival.

I've never heard about adding those oils to paste for longevity.

Anonymous said...

Where I live, only white whole wheat flour is available and is more expensive than regular flour. I am, at the moment, making paste with the white whole wheat (it feels like regular four). Do you think this paste will work??

Thanks,
USMCMom

Anonymous said...

Really helpful. Thanks!

letterlady said...

Methylcellulose lasts indefinitely and doesn't need additives or to be refrigerated. You do have slight loss of definition from wheat paste, but the other qualities make up for that in my opinion. Also, if you mix it "heavy" or thick, it will hold patterns better. It's wallpaper paste, so you can get it at hardware stores too. There is a craft brand...Ross.

Rhonda Miller said...

thanks Ross!

Anonymous said...

Commercial wallpaper paste has alum in it to discourage insects from eating it.

Lisa Rivas said...

Great source for wheat paste and other vegetable adhesives: http://apps.webcreate.com/ecom/catalog/product_listing.cfm?ClientID=15&CategoryFullID=104

Anonymous said...

Hi! Great thread. What is the best way to remove a combined PVA- wheat paste glue? I glued down the end papers on a 1743 book and the page opposite the title bage must have gotten glue on it,,,because now it is tearing! (And it has a lovely lithograph on it). Yikes!

Rene Shoemaker said...

In response to my question, above, I used a hair dryer set on low to soften the glue, and using a micro spatula and a scalpel, I was able to remove the page that had been sticking to the other page with the lithograph.. Now on to repairing the tear! Thanks, all, for considering my problems!

Rhonda Miller said...

Thanks for the update Rene. Good luck with the rest of the work.

MadHappyArts said...

@Lisa Rivas; thanks so much for the link to Talas. Great website - has exactly what I wanted, in both natural and synthetic adhesives - especially the methylcellulose that i need for making paste papers.

Rachel L said...

according to Brian Shure, printer, wheat starch is the starch in wheat flour after the gluten has been removed. He has a method of making it at home in his book about chine colle. (No affiliation with him or anything, just a reader impressed with his book.)

Anonymous said...

Can you just use wallpaper paste?

Rhonda Miller said...

I don't know what the ingredients are in wallpaper paste. But I doubt if it's a suitable alternative for bookbinding - I've never heard of anyone using it.

Robbie Eshelman said...

what do I use to repair tears in a book cover?
thanks, Robbie

Rhonda Miller said...

Robbie, Wheat paste is probably a good choice for the adhesive. Is it a paper cover? You can adhere a thin strip of Japanese paper on the back of the tear.