Bookbinders Lying Press and
What may be the first image of a lying press is in the
baggage of a travelling binder in an early 14th-century
manuscript. The lying press has not changed in basic design
right through to the present day.
With the lying press and plough (and its accessory backing
boards, cutting boards, gilding boards, tub) the binder could
press pages flat before sewing, hammer-back the sewn book, trim
book edges and boards, and gild edges.
The large lying press could fill in for the similar but much
smaller finishing press, and be used when gluing and lining the
spine, or when titling and gold-tooling the book. The lying
press even became the binder's workbench in large 19th century
Here is an engraving of the lying press and plough.
The plough’s two cheeks are connected by a screw and guide
bars, the book is held edge up in the press and the binder
stands at one end, the plough is pushed forward cutting just a
few pages and then pulled back, the screw is turned to move the
cheeks closer together to cut a few more, and the plough is
again pushed forward and pulled back. This is repeated until
the entire edge has been trimmed.
Several of you wanted to know more precisely how the press
and plough worked, so I made the drawing below which I hope
makes its operation clearer.
As you turn the handle the blade of the plough moves across
the book edge. With practice it is possible to get a smoother
edge with the plough than with a guillotine.
Someone asked about the plough blade, here is an example of
a typical plough blade.
There have been attempts at improving the way the plough
blade cuts, blade design has been improved and slight
variations will be met.
There is a modern plough with a circular blade but this is
rarer than the normal design.
There do seem to be quite a few
people who worry because they do not have a method of
trimming book edges and think they must have a small
guillotine, which probably costs at least £1000 second
hand, when in fact a plough & press will happily do
It’s true; you can spend a £1000… or much more on a lying
press and plough if you go for an antique press, such as the
one shown on the left.
Fortunately there are contemporary
presses and ploughs such as those illustrated on the left
and below. These are precision made by a small team in
Cumbria, in the north of England. Made from furniture
grade beech, they come with a no quibble guarantee
A large press and plough is currently listed at about
£260.00 this includes shipping within the UK. Please inquire
for shipping to the USA and other parts of the world
If you don’t feel you need the large press you can opt for
one of several smaller press’s.
You would need a wooden stand, called a “tub” upon which to
rest the lying press. This can be floor standing or bench
mounted. Bench mounted is £85.00 Floor standing is £135.00
The blade on this particular plough is very easy to sharpen,
instructions come with the plough.
You can see this equipment here.
The Lying Press & Plough are two of the most ancient
items of bookbinding equipment. The press has many other uses
apart from being used with the plough to trim books, there are
many occasions when the press will prove useful, and when not
in use, a cover can be made for it which will give you an extra
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