2011 April 26
by JM

Obviously, I have been absent for some time. Family health issues have required that I focus my attention elsewhere. I have had little time to pursue the book binding and clasp making as I have in the past and it is unlikely that I will be doing any new workshops in the near future. I apologize for not responding to comments and inquiries.

I will be leaving this site up in the hope that others may still benefit.  If I ever have time, I hope to update again. Depending on the job, it is possible that I may take some commissions for clasp restoration, repair or replication. And I have some thoughts for some other clasp related projects and/or ventures.

Thanks to the bookbinding community and to the internet community for all your encouragement and support over the years.

I continue to maintain my original jewelry business, primarily selling jewelry on Etsy now.

In addition, we well books on eBay, and antiques and collectibles in the Edgewater Antique Mall in Chicago, IL.


2009 April 29

This is one of the more recent books I’ve made.

A friend of mine linked to my blog with a post about this book. So, I’m putting the photos here even though it is a little out of sequence.  This is one of my most recent works, completed in 2008.

This is a Gothic style binding in wood boards, sewn on double cords, and bound in goatskin. The signatures are Gutenberg paper. The book clasps are constructed of sterling silver and brass. The eight corner bosses are also of sterling silver with brass numbered screen tacks in the center, numbered 1-8. This book measures 5  3/4″ tall by 4  3/8″ wide and is  2″  thick.



After a number of years as a metalsmith, I became interested in book arts and found my niche focusing on constructing metal book clasps and decorations., and I now teach workshops in this to other book artists. The “Numbers” book is an example of my more recent work in that area. If you are interested in learning aobut book clasp construction, I will be teaching a workshop in the Portland, OR area at the Focus on Book Arts Conference in late June. You can find more information on the FOBA web site.

More views. Click on thumbnail to see larger image.

Clasp Repair and Replication II

2009 April 2

Clasp Replica II
Originally posted on , 2006

Original clasp

Original clasp

The commission task was to replicate this clasp, shown left, making a new clasp which would echo the feeling of the existing one. The original was made of nickel silver and nickel plated copper.

For the new one I used solid nickel silver for all the parts. I did not replicate the stamped engraving. The style of hinge mechanism on this was a little unusual and quite a bit more complex to construct.

Rubbings of all of the parts of the clasp were made in order to get as accurate a pattern to work from as possible.

The hasp and clasp plate were sawed out with a jewelers saw and filed and the edges of the parts were beveled. Then the interior design was cut out and filed to bevel the edges slightly. The center knuckle for the hinge was an integral part of the hasp piece in this case and was rolled up to form the tube at the bottom of the hasp.

Shown below are some of the step by step photos of the process with a few words describing the jist of each step, as the photos themselves are fairly self explanatory. Clicking on the pics will open larger views.

Clasp Restoration for Family Bible

2009 April 1

Documenting a commission for Bible clasp construction
Originally posted on, 2004.

Original Clasp

Original Clasp

This brass clasp on the left is a type commonly found on old Bibles and albums. They were machine made, stamped out by the hundreds, I imagine. It might be possible to make a reasonable facsimile of the original clasp through the process of photo-etching. But, unless done in a larger production run, it would not be cost effective. In this particular case, I proposed to create a clasp which was sympathetic with the original part. I replicated the basic shape, created a complimentary shape for the hasp, and patinated the new brass parts to match the color of the existing part, and attached the clasp to the boards.

Making the Clasp and Hasp:

The steps are outlined below in the photos.

Attaching Clasp

After the clasp and hasp are riveted, cleaned and patinated, they are ready to be attached to the board.

The new clasp must be fastened to the board through a new hole, as the old hole is usually too large to re-use. The old hole was filled with a piece of a hardwood toothpick (…otherwise known as the conservation toothpick… ) and glued in with PVA.

The boards were very thick. Hammering a pin through the board without a guide hole would risk damaging the board, so a very small guide hole (much smaller than the pin) was drilled through to minimize the stress in order to make it easier to hammer the pin.

Since these boards were pasteboard, a little brass plate, a small circle of brass with a center hole, is used as an anchor for the rivet on the inside of the board. A recess was trimmed out for the plate and the pin was riveted. (photo 13) Paper was used to fill in any gaps, then sanded down flush with the board, so as to not interfere with the pastedown.

Only one rivet was used to secure the clasp to the board since there is a lip on the front of this clasp which secures it onto the fore edge.

As every clasp is different, one always has to start from the beginning each time, which tends to make this sort of prroject quite time consuming. It tends to be frustrating, but in the end is quite satisfying.

Rust Book with Found Metal Clasp

2009 April 1

Originally posted on, 2004.

This book is made almost entirely of recycled and found materials. I was prompted to make it when I found some interesting paper samples in my dumpster. The paper appears to be some type of phenolic paper which was treated with a chemical to make it look like rusted metal. I serendipitously found a piece of metal strapping in the gutter which was bent and rusted, which seemed perfect to use to make a clasp for a book covered with the rust paper sample. Paper used for the book block is leftover from another use. The spine cover is suede from a thrift store garment. Brass rivets hold the metal strap to the poplar book boards. The textblock was sewn with linen thread on 6 needles using a Coptic style link stitch.

Rust Book, made from found and recycled materials

Rust Book, made from found and recycled materials

Caterpillar Sewn Book, Copper Wrap Clasp

2009 April 1

Originally posted on , 2004.

Branching out, I decided to try something more challenging, so I made this book, in oak boards. It is sewn with the caterpillar stitch, which I was able to do following the instructions found in Volume III Non-Adhesive Binding: Exposed Spine Sewings, written by Keith Smith and available on his website.


The book clasp is made from copper, roller printed to give the texture, annealed to make folding easier.It was finished and patinated using a liver of sulfur (potassium sulfide) solution. Metal clasps wrap around the fore edges of the top and bottom boards.

The clasp strap is recessed into the board beneath the clasp, and extends through a slot cut into the edges of the copper wrap on the bottom board. It hooks into a similar slot cut into the clasp on the top board.

Clasp Restoration for 18th Century Book

2009 April 1

Clasp Replication and Repair: Originally posted on, 2004.

This is the first clasp repair I attempted, and it is really better viewed on the original web page in order to see all the steps properly. For this blog format I am posting a gallery of photos with numbers linked to the steps in order to illustrate the procedure I followed. Clicking on the images will open a larger version at the top of the post.

The set to be repaired was comprised of two volumes, part of a larger set of New Testament commentaries from 1734, bound in wooden boards and covered in vellum. Each volume was originally fitted with two brass clasps with brass hasps. One needed a replacement clasp on the top, two clasps/hinges on the bottom. New hasps were needed for both volumes.

Clasps of brass, or possibly bronze were originally attached to the boards with what looked like headless rusty nails for rivets. The clasps had a dark patina, possibly intentional, or possibly only due to age. I used the complete clasps on the other volume as a reference for modeling the new clasps and hasps. These were large, hefty volumes, at least 12″ X 15″ and about 3″ thick.

Metal used in the original clasps was heavy, about 20 gauge. The hasp was a lighter gauge, and was not flat but was hammered down its length to give it a curved, raised look. This was done most likely provide more stability in the hasp. The old clasps left some verdigris stains which were not removed. No other cleaning of the leather was done. The original clasps had taken on a very dark brown, almost black patina. Photos 1-6 below.

In order to get an accurate pattern for the clasp, a rubbing was taken of one of the remaining clasps on the volume. Twenty gauge (20#) brass was used to make the new clasps and 22 gauge for the hasps. The rods used to make the catches on the clasps were quite heavy, so 12 gauge brass wire was used to make them and also to make the hinge pins. A jeweler’s saw was used to saw out the clasps, because the metal was quite heavy.

Clasps were beveled and decorated to match the originals, with holes drilled appropriately. Hasps were measured and hammered to match existing hasps, and then they were hinged to the bottom clasp parts. Photos show various states of completion. Clasp parts were then given a brushed finish, and then scrubbed clean using an abrasive cleaner to remove any traces of oil before the patina was applied. Photo 7 in the gallery above

Finally, all the parts were colored with a commercial patina solution to give them a dark finish. Two close-up views of one of the finished replacement clasps are shown above in photos 8 and 9.

Attaching the Clasps

Before the clasps could be affixed to the book the paper paste downs were lifted to provide access the boards. The last vestige of the old rivets was removed and the old holes which held the rivets was repaired. Paste downs were repaired with a little thin Japanese paper.

To repair the holes in order to make it possible to rivet the new clasp back on securely, a drill bit the same size as as a small hardwood dowel rod was used to drilled through the existing hole in the board. The rod was trimmed to approximately the right length and then glued into the hole using Elmer’s wood glue. When the glue was dry the rods were carefully sanded flush with the inside board surface.

Romanesque Style Binding and Clasp

2009 April 1

Clasp IV: Originally posted on , 2003

This book, in wooden boards, covered in green suede, is patterned after a Romanesque binding and illustrates a Romanesque style clasp.

Romanesque style book with clasp

Romanesque style book with clasp

In a historically accurate model, the strap would not be attached to the rear board of the book with a brass cover plate. More likely, the strap would have been set into a recess in the board itself, underneath the covering material, and would extend out from under the covering through a slit at the fore-edge. There probably would have been two clasps which may have fastened onto the book front to back, rather than back to front as is shown here.

This hinged brass clasp design in this example was derived from an illustration of a bronze Romanesque design in the book Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, 1999, by J.A. Szrmai. The illustration showed only one rivet used to attach the clasp to the strap, so that is how I made the model. However, using only one rivet is not very advisable because the clasp would eventually tend to rotate on the strap, rather than remain in a fixed position, creating stress which would ultimately cause a tear in the leather strap.

Clasp Modified from Hinge Apparatus

2009 April 1

Clasp III: Originally posted 2003 on

The brass clasp for this book was made by modifying an existing commercial hinge.

Coptic style sewing with brass clasp

Coptic style sewing with brass clasp

An interior pattern was sawed out on one side of this hinge apparatus and then it was filed into its final shape. Some additional matching brass parts were made to complete the clasp.

The clasp is riveted to a suede strap which wraps around from the bottom board of the book up and around over the fore edge. It then fasten onto a brass pin attached to the center of the top board.

A recess was carved into the back board deep enough so that the strap and a decorative brass cover plate could be inset to lie flush with the board surface. (see detail bottom left)

To prevent board breakage, I drilled a small pilot hole, slightly smaller than the diameter of the escutcheon pin which I used to attach the brass cover plate and the strap to the board. Drilling a pilot hole is especially advisable if you are using a hardwood board in order to avoid splitting the wood. It also functions as a guide to help to hammer the the pin in straight. In fact, it never hurts to drill a tiny pilot hole in any wood cover.

Another Early Trial

2009 April 1

Originally posted 2003 on

I wondered if there would be a good way to put clasps onto a book with pasteboard or Davey board covers.

I found this book, which was made in India, with its pages made of what appears to be a heavy cotton rag paper, and boards of paste board, or something similar to Davey board, in a Barnes and Noble store. Since it saved me the time and effort involved in making a book from scratch, something I had not had that much experience with at the time I started the clasp adventure, it was perfect to use in my experiment in making and attaching clasps to this type of book structure.

Attaching clasps to this sort of book differs from attaching them to wooden boards primarily in that each clasp must have a back plate on the inside which will function as an anchor and support for the rivets in order to keep the clasps from ripping out of the board over time. I made the inner clasp supports to match the exterior designs, since they are exposed in this book. But that is not really necessary, as you could hide them underneath the pastedowns, so any simple shape could be used.

I originally planned to eventually fill this book with clasps on all sides, each illustrating a different type of catch mechanism. ( …in reflection, maybe, maybe not.

Original attempt on book board

Original attempt on book board

Fish clasps and clip clasp.

The little fish clasps shown above is one piece of metal folded in half. The top can be decorated by using metal stamps or by hammering a texture on the surface. This one was attached to a strap made of leather or book cloth lined with Tyvek. Styles like thist clip onto a pin which protrudes from the top board fore edge.

Another very simple clasp, the clip shown bottom left, can also be made using just a few tools. The clip slides over a curved lip extending from the top catch plate. It is also riveted to a strap lined with Tyvek.

Originally I tried using book cloth as strap material, but I discovered that it does not hold up over time. Some of the early straps on this book which I made using book cloth are now beginning to tear. Leather seems to be the best material to use for straps. However, I think fabric might also work if used with a Tyvek or vellum lining to help prevent stretching.