(I hope it's on-topic - I saw a couple of other questions about scanning books to make ebooks)

I want to destructively scan my least favorite books. To do this the pages need to be separated. The best tool for this is a paper guillotine (heavy knife cutting horizontally through a large stack of pages, whole pages at a time). They are expensive and large.

I read that saws tend to mess up the borders of the pages so they stick together, make problems with the automatic document feed while scanning or make the borders harder to remove in post processing.

Has anyone tried to sand down the spine with a powered sanding machine?

I'm imagining the following process:

  1. Cut off cover
  2. Clamp pages between two pieces of wood with exactly the amount to sand away accessible. Note: This doesn't mean I intend to sand into the wood, it's a visual and tactile guide. It's not that hard to stop the machine in time before a significant amount of wood was lost.
  3. Clamp the clamp down so the spine looks up.
  4. Set up dust removal vacuum.
  5. Take the sanding machine to the spine until the pages are separated.

Why not use a cutter rather than a saw or a sander.

In more details, it the title is not enough.

I think a sander is likely to remove wood as easily as it does paper, possibly more easily. Thus it is not clear that you will get a clean job.

You might get a better result by clamping the pages between two pieces of some hard metal, like iron. Aluminum or other soft metals might not work as well.

Then, the pages may still stick a bit together, as they would with sawing. But it should be enough if all you want is scanning.

However, extending your question to other solutions:

Another suggestion may be to use a cutting press, as was done by bookbinders for trimming pages when mechanical paper guillotine, such as hydraulic book trimmers were not available. Professional bookbinders used to do excellent and precise work centuries ago, which was particularly necessary when they wanted to apply a gold finish on page edges. This is still practised by amateur bookbinders.

Basically it simply replaces the saw by a knife. You need just a very simple press to hold the pages and compress them. One edge of the press must be flat and wide enough so that you can hold a cutting tool against it in order to keep the the blade perpendicular to the stack of pages. The cutting edge itself makes an angle, as is often the case when cutting with a blade. You cut the page stack progressively in many passes, a few pages at a time.

The basic procedure is described in this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9EZhXQ1p1c , but I am sure you can find many others on bookbinding sites, or in books about bookbinding, if you look for "page trimming".

This video gives you the essential. But the blade may have a different shape. Actually, when I learned to do that a very long time ago, I think I used my leather paring knife. It is a simple blade composed of a flat piece of steel about an inch or two wide, sharpened on one end by grinding it only on one side (the other side must be perfectly flat, as i rests on the edge of the press to guide the cutting). The grinding is done so that the cutting edge makes an angle of about 45 degrees with the the non cutting edge (I was taught to make my own blades).

Now, it you are just removing the binding, and not looking for a perfect job, my guess is that a cutter could do the job just as well. Just don't try to cut too many pages with each pass of the blade.

  • I just thought of the possibility to use a hand plane. That's better than sanding for sure and faster than any manual (not guillotine) knife.
    – Nobody
    Oct 13 '18 at 21:24
  • @Nobody I have of course no experience, but it is not clear to me that a hand plane will be faster or cleaner than a sharp knife. I may be much harder ... but the best way to know is to try. My own experience for scanning purpose is only with a hand guillotine, on paper stacks that wre not too thick. I would fragment them when too thick.
    – babou
    Oct 13 '18 at 22:30
  • Well I have no experience using a hand plane on books, but if on paper stacks they remove as much as on wood (which I think is a safe assumption if the stack is properly clamped), then it would need only a couple of passes (5 seconds) to go through the spine.
    – Nobody
    Oct 14 '18 at 15:25
  • @Nobody Experiment only can answer that. Do not underestimate the resistance of a paper stack. I think big books are effective in stopping bullets. At least I am glad my answer is leading to new solutions.
    – babou
    Oct 14 '18 at 19:39
  • I'll report back.
    – Nobody
    Oct 15 '18 at 11:13

I have now started successfully scanning books and my experience is that you should get a guillotine paper cutter.

I made a clamp and tried to remove the spine by sanding or planing it down, but it was a mess. Manually cutting through the stack close to the binding is also slow and tricky.

But it's fast and easy to separate the book into 5mm stacks using a standard retractable utility knife and then cut the remaining parts of the binding off those stacks with a $250 paper guillotine - this is the kind of machine that lowers the blade horizontally instead of around one fixed axis and provides better cuts for deep stacks.

The best method to manually cut the book into stacks is to either lay the book onto its back, force it open as much as possible and cut between the pages as directly into the spine as possible, or to stand the book upright, open it 180 degrees and cut down with the knife. In my experience the latter method guides the knife better, but if you do cut into the pages anyway, then you tend to rip them (potentially even into the text). For the former method you need to steer the knife for yourself, but if you get off course you still get a clean cut and don't risk ripping the paper.

The paper stacks produced by this method haven't jammed the automatic document feed of my scanner once in 2000 pages scanned so far. I reckon it takes about 20s per 50 sheets (100 pages), not including time the scanner works on its own.

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