Mike Grimes uses a press to adhere a new leather cover to a book in his Big Canoe workshop. As he spins the wheel the plate lowers and applies pressure to the book.
In keeping with the motif of a trade that seems lost somewhere in the pages of history - tucked inside the same dusty chapter as shoe and boot repair - book binder Mike Grimes prefers his antique board cutter, book press and backing vice to modern bindery machines.
“These work well for what I need to do with them,” says the Pickens resident and owner of TLC Book Restoration as he covers an old Bible with new leather. “Everything I do is handwork, so I don’t need the high-tech stuff.”
Because he does things the old fashioned way Grimes’ workshop - the basement of his Big Canoe home - is much quieter than the National Library Bindery Company in Roswell where he worked for nearly 40 years.
On a shelf to his right are other orders for the week: A King James Bible with a ragged cover unglued from the spine; a few more family Bibles; and non-religious texts including Uncle Remus and The Joy of Cooking.
“I do a lot of Bibles because families want to hand them down, or they have notes in them they want to keep,” he said. “I get a lot of Bibles from the 1800s that need work.”
His most notable restoration is a first edition King James Bible from the 1500s. Grimes also made a protective cover called a clamshell for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bible used to swear Barak Obama in as U.S. President.
But Bibles are only about 60 percent of his business, Grimes said. Gone With the Wind is one of the most common novels that come in for repair, and he also restores a surprising number of cookbooks.
“Some of the cookbooks are old and some are new,” he said. “Sometimes people will want me to take the spiral plastic spine off and bind it. The amount of them I get in is kind of surprising.”
The majority of Grimes’ customers want to restore their books for sentimental - not dollar - value. In fact, he said restoration can actually decrease the value but he leaves expert advice on such matters up to friends who deal in rare books.
After demonstrating the press Grimes pulls out another book and explains how he imprints covers with gold-foil. For edges he uses an embossing wheel (which looks like a giant pizza cutter) warmed on a hot plate. The foil is transferred to the cover when it touches the hot metal. For text, lead letters are arranged - in reverse - on a separate machine that heats them up before a handle is pulled to stamp them onto the book.
Grimes then thumbs though samples of cover material - a rainbow of imitation, pig and cow leather - and touches briefly on other bindery accoutrement like paper tape and shoe polish used for leather and page restoration.
And although he’s had his hands on thousand of books during his career, ironically Grimes isn’t much of a reader. His wife Debbie, a retired teacher from PHS, reads books that come through the shop much more than he does.
Grimes was introduced to bindery right out high school because he “wasn’t interested in college.” It was 1974 and the preacher at his family church was plant manager at the Roswell bindery company.
Two years ago, nearly 40 years after he was originally hired, Grimes purchased the antique bindery equipment from a retired plant manager and now considers himself “semi-retired.” He now goes to Roswell one day a week to pick up books for restoration, but acquires other clients independently.
“I love working from my house,” he said. “This is a good pace for me. I can come down and work whenever I need to.”
With the help of his wife the Grimes’schedule clinics at area libraries where books can be examined and quotes given - but he can also meet with private individuals
“It’s neat to know you’re helping keep a family memento alive,” he said. .”I enjoy that, but I’m semi-retired and doing this at home allows me to feel like I’m retired.”