It may seem odd to start a (mostly) bookbinding blog post with an image of a vegetable peeler, but there is a reason.
Peter Verheyen recently wrote a post titled Bookbinding and Adapting to Life Changes in which he describes alterations he has made to both his work area and his work to accommodate changes in his physical abilities. I was going to write something in response last week, but that post headed off in a different direction, so I am only getting back to the topic now.
I used to be a weaver, which is a physically demanding occupation. I was stronger than many people as a result of my daily exertions and had better than average grip strength. Then I developed rheumatoid arthritis.
Quite suddenly I was severely limited. For a period of several years, it was a good day if I could dress myself in less than 15 minutes, and prepare at least one meal. I could not close my hand far enough to use the vegetable peeler pictured at the beginning of this post. Fortunately, ‘ergonomic’ peelers existed.
The fat handle was far easier for me to hold.
I could no longer manage a basic can opener.
This kind was easier to hold but still difficult to use due to reduced finger strength and the pain resulting from rotary motions with the hand and wrist.
I was grateful that there were a sufficient number of ‘lazy’ people in the world to result in relatively low prices for electric can openers.
I am on a good medication now, so my hands (and various other bits of me) are much more functional. However, repetitive actions can still lead to further joint damage. Even if you are young and healthy, repetitive actions can lead to joint damage. This applies to any activity including book binding. It is important to find the best tool for the job: a tool which permits you to do the work with the least stress on your body.
I won’t even show you a picture of a so-called ‘student’ bookbinding awl, the one with the slim plastic or wooden handle. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone use one for more than five minutes. For many people this awl from Talas would be fine.
I prefer the English style.
David has made me several, which provide an even larger palm grip. Here’s one.
The fatter shaft on the handle means it is easier to grip with my fingers, and the shorter overall height makes it easier to place and hold steady.
This is my standard bone folder. (It comes from J W Hewit and Sons, though I bought it in Toronto at a librarians’ congress.)
It has become evident that it is not adequate (read ‘puts too much stress on my wrist and hand’) for all the creasing of heavy paper that I have undertaken recently.This folder from Jeff Peachey would be better.
However, my new folder from Bonefolder.com is even bigger and easier to hold. I have also added a temporary foam wrapping to see if making the diameter of the grip even larger would be an improvement.
It has also occurred to me that it might be possible to use the folder vertically, holding it in a fist grip and pressing folds with the butt end. I will have to test it. That working position should put less stress on my wrist.
If I were adhering book cloth or paper to large surfaces I would get another of Jeff Peachey’s tools: the rectangular baren.
You can even use it two-handed.
On my rheumatologist’s advice, I will now be wearing this when doing jobs that might put prolonged stress on my wrist.
Since my left ankle has been cranky recently, I will also be wearing an ankle support if I have to stand for an extended period. So elegant! (I will also be wearing shoes that provide decent support.)
I have always been inclined to work straight through all of a step in making an edition or a wall piece: fold all the signatures for 24 copies or all 299 parts of a panel. Although it is possible for me to do this, it is not a good idea. I am currently in the process of punching more than 6,800 holes in the parts for one wall piece. I am trying to limit myself to doing batches of 300 or so, then taking a break to do something different with my hands. And I’m wearing the wrist support.
My advice for the young bookbinder (or anyone else planning to make their living with their hands): use the tools that will put the least stress on your hands. Try to cycle between tasks through the day so that you don’t over-stress one set of joints. Both those things should help your hands last longer. For those of us who already have some physical limitations: use the tools that will put the least stress on your hands. Try to cycle between tasks through the day so that you don’t over-stress one set of joints or exhaust one set of muscles. Both those things should help your hands last longer.
In other book news:
There are still a few days left to view PHOTOGRAPHY + BOOKS at Art Institute Chicago. You can read more about it here.
In knitting news:
It was finally warm enough (sort of) for outdoor photography, so here are some full views of recently completed knitting.
The bolero, front.
The bolero, back.