Bindery Workers


Exploring this Job

Read books about printing production practices. Here is one suggestion: The Basics of Print Production, 2nd Edition, by Mary Hardesty Kuhn (Printing Industries of America, 2011).

You may be able to find out firsthand about bindery work through a summer job in a local bindery. By observing operations and talking with experienced employees, you can both learn and earn.

In addition, many trade and vocational schools offer courses that teach the basics of the trade. Some schools even have work-study arrangements with trade or job binderies that enable students to broaden their experience in the field. Contacts made during this training period may be useful in securing full-time employment after graduation.

Industry experts say that any exposure to the printing industry is valuable background for a job in the bindery field.

The Job

The average bindery worker today is a skilled machine operator. Collating, inserting, and other bindery tasks are periodically done by hand, but the bulk of binding processes are automated: cutting, folding, gathering, stitching, gluing, trimming, and wrapping. Finishing also might include embossing, die cutting, and foil stamping.

There are several different types of binderies: edition binderies, which specialize in large volumes of books and magazines; pamphlet binderies, which make pamphlets; trade or job binderies, which finish smaller quantities on a contract basis for printers and publishers; and manifold or loose-leaf binderies, which bind blank pages and forms into ledgers, notebooks, checkbooks, calendars, and notepads. Hand bookbinders work in small shops where they bind special-edition books or restore and rebind old books. Hand bookbinding offers a wide variety of projects.

Bindery work ranges from simple to complex. Some binding jobs, such as preparing leaflets or newspaper inserts, require only a single step—in this case folding. The most complicated binding work is edition binding, or the production of books from large printed sheets of paper. Book pages are usually not produced individually but are printed on a large sheet of paper, six or eight at a time. These large sheets are folded by a machine into units called signatures, and the signatures are joined together in the proper order to make a complete book. The signatures are then assembled by a gathering machine and sewed or glued together to make what is called a book block. The book blocks are compressed in a machine to ensure compactness and uniform thickness, trimmed to the proper size, and reinforced with fabric strips that are glued along the spine. The covers for the book are created separately and are pasted or glued to the book block by machine. Books may undergo a variety of finishing operations, such as gilding the edges of pages or wrapping with dust jackets, before they are inspected and packed for shipment. A similar procedure is used in the binding of magazines, catalogs, and directories.

In large binderies, the operations are usually done in an assembly-line fashion by workers who are trained in just one or two procedures. For example, a stitcher operator runs the machines that stitch printed matter along its spine or edge. Other workers might specialize in the cutting, folding, or gathering processes. Much of this work involves setting up equipment and adjusting it as needed during the binding process.