Open Flat

Of the many attributes I appreciate in a good binding, the one that makes the most difference when it comes to actual use is the ability to open flat.


I don't know enough about the intricacies of bookbinding to say for certain why some books open flat and others don't. It's not a question of cost. There are cheap Bibles that open flat and expensive ones that don't. Perhaps the construction of the text block makes the difference, though again, I've handled sewn bindings that open flat and others that won't. A glued paperback with a softcover will open flat, too, assuming the text block has some weight to it. Some have suggested that the tightness of the binding plays a role, which makes sense to me: with use, I've seen Bibles that wouldn't open flat start to do so. One of the things I love about Cambridge's Pitt Minion (pictured here) is that it springs open and stays flat right out of the box.


If I were publishing Bibles, this is one of the attributes I'd strive for in every edition. Whether they are luxury or economy editions, with enough care for detail and proportion, there's no reason why a Bible shouldn't open flat.

11 Comments on “Open Flat

  1. Paper has grain. When grain is parallel with the spine, the tendency is to lay flat, while against the grain the bookis very stiff. Billy Graham’s giveaways are notorious for being books that you couldn’t open. The reading experience has been so bad I’ve given up on occcasion on trying to read a book I want to read….
    But you’re right. we want books that open up. I wonder what the tension of sewing has to do with the ability of a block to open up?

  2. I have a friend that puts his new paperback books in the microwave so he can work the spine and it lays flat. No more than 10secs from what I understand!

  3. Brian, I suspect you’re right about grain being a factor, and sewing tension must play some part. I’ve sometimes had the sense that a text block was “too tight” to open properly. Shawn, it sounds like your friend is heating the glue in his perfect bound books. I’m not tempted to try it, but the technique makes sense!

  4. One trick to get a book to lay out flat…
    Just say to the book:
    “You are the current president of the USA” and it is guaranteed to flat-out lie.
    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  5. I have Charles Hodges 3 vol. systematic theology set pub. by Hendrickson and it is utterly impossible to keep it open. Penquin Publishers make a nice paperback in my opinion.

  6. Re. microwaving glued volumes…the benefit can be short-lived. You get some added temporary flexibility, as long as the adhesive used was a thermoplastic like PVA, but it seems to greatly accelerate the glue’s aging. Within a year, my “microwaved” experiments were brittle as 50-yo paperbacks and just fell to pieces. So microwave at your own risk.
    Didn’t seem to hurt the paper however, fwiw.
    Other claimed advantages to microwaving books at

  7. Wrap the stiff book in a heating pad for a while until center of said book is warm.
    Break in by gently opening a few thin sections at a time before book cools.
    Heating in this manner will not break-down the molecular structure of the adhesive as will microwaving.

  8. I doubt the microwaving is breaking down any molecules (just vibrating them) unless you get it way too hot. It’s just simple heating that has any value, IF there’s any value at all, since it’s easy to obtain short-term benefit but with a high long-term cost in brittleness.
    However if you want to use heat to soften up PVA (the glass transition temperature is generally given at about 85 degF so you have to go above that) you should heat slowly to a known, controlled temperature of less than ~130 degF, so a thermostatically-controlled heating pad on low or medium heat is probably a very good source, definitely better than everyday kitchen ovens (conventional or microwave) that really aren’t calibrated, at least not for that low of temperatures.

  9. I couldn’t agree more Mark.
    If the Bible does not open flat, I don’t care how soft and flexible the leather is, I’m likely to pass on purchasing it.
    Cambridge Pitt Minion’s certainly do excel in this area of Bible. They do open flat…right outside the box.

  10. It looks very good, but the best book could be naked and would be as good, but with nice binding, it is better. As a pastor, I have many, old and new, so I am very happy to know this website. Thank you and keep up the good job. God bless you.

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