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Prompted by some titillating comments I read on this discussion
group, I decided to have a go at using sharkskin leather in a
bookbinding project. I ordered from Implora an entire sharkskin, the
only way the leather is sold. It was a very large piece and very
expensive. It had been tanned and dyed, a deep dusty rose color.
Sharkskin is, without a doubt, the most difficult material I have
ever worked with, and I have the scars to prove it. The hide side of
the leather is covered with deep grooves, and the leather is very thick,
.0825 inch, which is about 5 oz, and in places much thicker. It is
necessary to pare the leather, at least the turn ins, but you won?t be
able to get the leather very thin because of the grooves. The leather
is VERY tough and rubbery, and paring it is like paring a thick sheet of
plastic. WARNING: you will not be able to push the leather though the
Scharfix with your fingers as you would ordinary leather. If you
attempt this, to borrow the title of a recent film, ?There will be
blood.? After I learned this, I donned leather workgloves so I could
ease the leather under the Scharfix blade. It is necessary to change
blades often. Taking a hint from the Scharfix instruction booklet, I
soaked the turnins in water, and then pressed them firmly in a book
press. (As one of my helpers in the group pointed out, it?s necessary
to build a frame to accomplish this.) Then the turnins could be pared
to the desired thinness without too much effort. There will still be
some tearing, but it can be repaired since the turnins lie below the
The leather is too textured to hot stamp, so I chose to affix the
spine title piece by means of an inlay. I used the piece cut out of the
spine, turned flesh side up, as a base for an onlay, but it was not a
wise thing to do. The inlay tended to separate from its sides, mainly
because the leather is not at all flexible or expandable. I had to do
some spine repairs with hot glue. I should have followed the
suggestions given in a recent communication to this group, about
preparing inlays with blotting paper. (I?m pretty sure those
instructions are archived.) The title onlay piece was a well pared
piece of deep glossy wine colored leather, hot stamped in large gold
script characters. I glued a few decorative small onlays to the title
I prepared the textblock in the usual way. I have some rose
colored metallic foil, and I edge gilded the top of the textblock with
that. I affixed an emerald green velvet marker ribbon, and metallic
green headbands. (I like to work in complimentary colors.) I did a
half (actually, a third) binding. For the bookcloth I chose an oriental
brilliantly patterned satin fabric of emerald green. For the endpapers,
I used a gossamer white paper with gold Chinese characters glued over a
deep rose art paper.
Creating the depressions for the hinges, so easy with ordinary
leather and plexiglas rods, was demanding, and an entire saga in itself.
I think the final result is very beautiful. The deeply etched
texture of the leather provides a very dramatic apearance. And
sharkskin leather is very forgiving. Smudges are easily removed. When
the project is finished, the leather can be polished to a subtle sheen
by a fine steel wool.
Still, there are problems The leather is very thick, and the book
will not easily lie open. If I were to do this again, I would try to
find someone who could shave the leather to a more manageable 3 oz or
so. It is simply impossible to pare a very large piece of this leather
with a Scharfix. In my one attempt to do so, I soaked the leather
overnight in water. Imagine my consternation when I found this caused
the leather to swell significantly, by about an inch in all directions.
I wasted two pieces of leather in my attempts to make the book.
I have no experience in using a skivving blade, but I doubt that it
would work on this refractory substance. Any suggestions are welcome.
My thanks for those on the list who offered their helps and
comments. One generous bookbinder living in California asked me to give
him a call, and I did. He provided many useful suggestions.
This generosity of knowledge is typical on the contributors to this
discussion group, and it is one of the things that makes the group so
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is
the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.
----William Pitt the Younger
4516 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19139
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