Bookbinding 101: Hole Punching Tools

For making largish holes in leather and book board you can use a hollow punch (shown at left), which has a sharpened tube shaped hole on one end, and a flat head on the other end. Ours has replaceable tips for different size holes, but some hollow punches come in sets with a different punch for a different size hole.

To make a hole, place something underneath your material, something soft but dense, such as a scrap of book board, or an old phone book or catalog. Make sure it's thick enough to allow the punch to go into without going all the way through. You may also wish to avoid punching holes anywhere that if it does go all the way through it won't leave a hole where you don't want one (kitchen table, etc).

Next, place the hollow end of the punch on your material where you want a hole, hold the punch vertical, and hit the flat head with a hammer. Hit it hard. Repeat as needed. It can be a chore, but, as it requires wielding a hammer, it can also be satisfying.

Crop-A-Dile I
Nowadays we use a Crop-A-Dile, which speeds things up considerably, doesn't wake the neighbors, and makes the chore of punching a lot of holes less of a chore. However, just like getting a dishwasher after washing by hand, it doesn't take long before the ease of doing dishes, or punching holes, becomes a chore again. Cure: use the hollow punch and hammer to punch a lot of holes, then the Crop-A-Dile becomes a dream to use again.

The Crop-A-Dile comes in three flavors, designated by a I, II, or III, only two of which are for hole punching. (The Crop-A-Dile III, or Main Squeeze, is not for hole punching, but for die cutting, embossing, attaching corners and setting squeeze tabs. What's a squeeze tab?)

Crop-A-Dile II
The Crop-A-Dile I (original) and II (or Big Bite) both punch holes of two sizes, 1/8", and  3/16". They also set snaps and eyelets, which is handy. The main advantage of the Big Bite is it has a 6" reach, while the original can only punch 1" from the edge of your material. The great majority of our holes are punched with the original, but sometimes we need that 6" reach.

There is one style of book, a quasi-longstitch, for which we use the Crop-A-Dile I to punch holes in signatures (a group of pages). But, for most styles of books we use an awl for this job. However, it could be used to punch holes in pages of other book styles too. Just depends on what you like.

With our Crop-A-Dile I we have punched tens thousands of holes in book board and leather. And it's still going strong.

Japanese screw punch
Another tool is the Japanese screw punch. Some bookbinders really love it. It looks much like a hollow punch, but instead of hitting it hard, you push down, and as you push, it twists on a screw, increasing its punching power.

Leather hole punch
One final hole making tool is a leather hole punch. We don't use one, but only because we don't have one, and only because we have a Crop-A-Dile.

Anything to add to the discussion? Please leave a comment.