“Help! My Gutter is Crinkling!”: Two Theories on An Annoying Phenomenon

While putting together a forthcoming piece on Hendrickson's facsimile edition of the 1611 KJV, I ran into our old friend "crinkle gutter." If you're not in the know, here's a quick explanation. The gutter is the crease in the center of a page spread where the paper meets the binding. If you run your finger down the gutter, the pages should be smooth. But sometimes there's a wavy quality to the pages — your finger flattens them as it moves, producing an unattractive crinkling sound.


As you can imagine, it's rather hard to capture this "crinkle gutter" phenomenon in a photograph. Fortunately, the 1611 KJV has an interior line running parallel to the gutter. If all were well, that line would appear straight. Instead, you cansee a hiccup here and there along the length. Here's another shot that captures the problem well:


As you can see, all along the gutter there are wavy intervals. This is the calfskin edition with a Smyth-sewn binding, so presumably the intentations correspond to stitches. Theorizing about the causes behind "crinkle gutter," a number of people have suggested that it's the result of the stitching being too tight. Perhaps someone in the print factory didn't know how to set the machines for super-thin Bible paper — or the right machines weren't available. I'm not sure. One fact in support of the theory, though, is that the hardback edition of the same Bible from Hendrickson (with a glued binding) doesn't have the problem:


Case closed? Not exactly.You see, there's another quality the sewn edition possesses that its glued counterpart doesn't, and that's stiffness in the pages themselves. Flipping through the sewn book, I observe rigid clumps of pages which actually stand out from the binding like so:


Which leads me to wonder whether paper grain is an issue. When pages are stiff and wavy at the edge, the explanation often given is that page has been folded against the grain. While most of us manage to get through life just fine without being aware of the direction paper grain runs in, printers have to pay attention to such things:

“The printer also should check to see that the imposition is such that the grain of the paper runs parallel to the backbone of the book. Folding ‘cross-grain’ on the machines creates difficulties that slow up the job and are apt to result in wrinkling or buckling in the folding, and subsequent production of an inferior book.” from A Primer in Book Production by Frank B. Myrick (1945)

Note that the grain should run parallel to the gutter — i.e., up and down — and that if it doesn't, the results are poor. Does that include crinkling along the gutter? Someone with more definitive knowledge of paper and printing will have to weigh in on this. But I suspect it might.

19 Comments on ““Help! My Gutter is Crinkling!”: Two Theories on An Annoying Phenomenon

  1. I have only had this problem with 1 Bible, but on that Bible I attributed it to the size of the signatures. They have to be at least 120 pages. They are far to big, and especially toward the middle of the signatures, the pages crinkle. I wonder if signature size could be a factor.

  2. Good point, Ryan, and I suspect the details of HOW the signatures are folded prior to sewing is important as well. When making multiple folds on a sheet of paper, I’d think you’d always want to keep one side “free” the downside of which is more variation in the relative size of the margins after trimming. However, trying to “overconstrain” the signature by keeping the pages more tightly coupled together while folding gives added creasing/crinkle.
    One reason larger books (>9×12) cost more is that you get fewer pages per standard-width roll paper, in other words, fewer pages per signature, like the difference between 32 pages per signature and the more normal 64. But the large print versions usually “handle” a lot nicer because of it. I agree, a book with 120-page signatures must feel awful!

  3. I have two copies of the Allan NRSV. In one, the crinkling is tight, loud, and extends out to make the edges of the paper wavy. In the other, there is some minor crinkling in the gutter though it doesn’t get as far as the inner text.
    In corresponding with Nicholas Gray of RL Allan after purchasing the first copy, he indicated that this was the result of the paper grain. There must be other factors, though, given the difference between the two copies of the same edition.

  4. Just to be clear, just because modern typesetting technology permits someone to produce a book bound cross-grain, actually doing so seems to me to be a blatant instance of malpractice and demonstrates major ignorance of the book-binding craft. For someone to admit their product was bound cross-grain sounds tantamount to saying the product is clearly a “seconds” and should be fully refunded or highly discounted. Right?

  5. I bought a Bible form LCBP, the Large print, and it had substantial gutter crinkle problems. I have used it moderately and it still does. I seem to have this problem with Bible from LCBP.

    • I agree,I have several from LCBP and they all crinkle. The worst one is the 215 large print. I purchased that particular edition because I dislike a self pronouncing text that other large print bibles seem to have. I should have known better,I could see the crinkle on LCBP’s website pictures of their products.
      I will mention that I have a10 year old indexed copy of a LCBP with no crinkle problems. So what has changed with them?
      Betsy Greenaker

  6. Interesting piece Mark, thank you. I purchased a PSR ESV from Allan’s and had some issues with some quite bad crinkling. As you thumb through the Bible you can see and feel some quite big chunks of the text block move, rather than the pages ‘flowing’ smoothly. When you run your hand along the gutter you can feel and hear quite audibly the crinkle. Allan’s were good and replaced it with another copy which seemed much better, so for what it’s worth I agree with Mark S when he says “There must be other factors, though, given the difference between the two copies of the same edition”. At the least it might suggest that some printers pay no attention at all to the orientation of the grain as it varies within print runs of the same edition.

  7. Based on experience binding against the grain or “perpendicular to the fiber”, I think this is exactly what causes the wavy gutter AND the stiff pages you show in the last pic. You can even see how the pages are warped giving away the fiber direction (or grain). Additionaly, a sencond factor that worsens this effect is binding signatures folded against the fiber in high humidity weather. I’ve folded notebooks in a sunny morning, seen the rain come in the afternoon and watch the signatures wrinkle at night. Binding in a moist environment gives the gutter an appearance just like your pics.
    I’m no expert, I can just say what I’ve seen in my years of hobbyist bookbinder and the “printing and binding season” at my job.

  8. All LCBP Bibles crinkle in the gutter. It is a horrible flaw in their binding.

  9. I have just received my brand new RL Allan NASB and Nicholas Gray himself has told me it is called cockling. He deals it, and I quote “do not regard this feature as a fault and as you know every Allan Bible is hand-bound and has its own characteristics.” I am very angry I waited 5 months for this kind of quality. He states “The rippling effect you mention is called ‘cockling’ and happens when a book printed on paper which has the grain direction travelling across the page is sewn-bound”. It seem to me if RL Allan stayed away from cheap Chinese paper this would likely not be an issue.

  10. Chris, I wouldn’t blame the paper, Chinese or otherwise, unless the grain of the paper was opposite what was indicated by the manufacturer, and even then a simple tear test would have revealed that. It’s the typesetter and printer that printed the signatures in such a way that the final folding and sewing would be against the grain. All the text blocks from the same reel of paper would have the same problem.
    I’d say this is like buying directional tires and finding they were installed “backwards”…this is a major screw-up on someone’s part.

    • I know this is an old post but I completely agree “Major” flaw, I have two NKJV Thompson Chains and both have this problem both were made on the same month and year. Its horrible you can’t use your bible , turning pages is like swimming up stream the bible works against you. I sent one back requested a KJV and then realized my wife’s Nkjv is doing the same thing so it has to go back to. Unfortunately this will be my fourth Thompson in 3 months now that I have had to return. A Nasb, KJV Largeprint, Nkjv and now another NKJV the nasb had a bad binding issue , the KJV had wrinkles and almost invisable red ink, and now the NKJV with stiff signatures and no glue all the signatures were in glued. Honestly I think the folding against the grain caused what glue they did use to not hold because the folded grain was to strong and popped the glue free. I am just guessing but it seems probable, I just want a working bible unfortunately Thompson has lost all my confidence. Yes I know they’re not Cambridge or RL. but even a $20 Holman can be used and comes with Smyth sewn bindings, Thompson brags about having the finest made matirials and craftsmanship but none of it matters if the printer puts the expensive paper in the wrong way. Anyways I hope Thompson wakes up and starts making better bindings, I truly love the chain system but if ya can’t even turn the pages or see the words because the ink looks like someone took an eraser to it then the whole purpose of what a bible is for is lost.

  11. The crinkling/cockling issue with Allan Bibles would perhaps be acceptable except that, from what I’ve seen, none of the photos of any of their Bibles shows any evidence of cockling. This includes pictures of the NASB SCR that has just recently been released. The copy I received has noticable (and audible) cockling throughout. Images of Allan’s various Bibles can be viewed on both their website as well as on EvangelicalBible’s website and Facebook page. If crinkling/cockling is indeed fairly common with some versions (such as the NASB), as I’ve read on several different sites, why do no photos show it?

  12. Wynn,
    Could some of this be due to shipments in wet Winter weather? Even if if doesn’t sit out on your porch for a day, who knows what weather a package sees along the way to one’s house? Hate to be a Grinch, but I’m not sure this is a good time of year to buy a high-end Bible from anything other than a brick-and-mortar outfit.

  13. @ Wynn, Two weeks ago I also purchased the NASB SCR from EvangelicalBible and my copy also has the cockling. If you look at the pics from EB you will see the cockling on the blue copy. I just contacted Nicholas Gray from Allan’s and received his response today which he said that all NASB’s have this issue. My question to this cockling issue is whether or not this will ever smooth out after time & use? Nevertheless, I love my NASB SCR from Allan. I simply have chosen to not let this be an issue for me. I still have God’s Word in full without any printing flaws which is the most important thing in my opinion. The references & concordance found within it are great resources – that is sufficient for me. I figure, as long as we live in an imperfect world we will never find a “perfect” copy of God’s Word. We must wait until we look into the face of Christ in Heaven for that.

  14. No they don’t :p I havea180 lcbp and no crinkling at all.My 265 has none either but once you get a mid size like my 300 then a bit of crinkling.I actually don’t mind a little crinkling and popping in my bible it reminds of my self in the morning.:) For the price we pay for lcbp bibles I can tolerate a bit of popping.On the other hand I’m just about done with Thompson Chain,I’ve ordered two in a row now with the stiff signature grain issue and wrinkling to the point of madness & leather stinch smelt like death.Thompson has been good to me by replacing them but now this will be my third return in two months so WAKE UP Thompson! and get back to the ways of the days of old.I seriously will not buy another Thompson unless its an older series.The stiff signature is a game changer it ruins the whole aspect of being able to FLIP THROUGH YOUR PAGES!!!!!! AAHHHHHHHH…..ok I feel better now:)

    • The Cambridge website has a nice write-up about grain direction:


      “Another simple test of printing quality is whether the pages are printed in the correct grain direction, rather than cross-grain. Run a finger along the inner margins of the book: if the pages are smooth to the touch, the book is printed long-grain; if rough or crinkled, it is printed short-grain. Printing in the correct grain direction improves the ease with which the pages may be turned as well as their appearance, and also has an effect on the quality of the gilding. (The short-grain edges of the book will appear wavy, and this effect is highlighted by gilding.)”

  15. I too have had this issue with ALL of LCBP I have recently purchased. I have a 10 year old thumb indexed one from them with no problems. I don’t know if all of their newer ones are like this but judging from the 3 I have bought in the last few months they need to fix the issue. All of the LCBP have been in their Executive binding.
    Now as far as TBS bibles go, the quality has been superb! I have 2 and I just love them. I would give them 4 stars. iI they used better ribbons, I’d give them 5.

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