Home Blog Blog WSW Toolkit Foreign Correspondent—Folding for Binding, Part I: Tools

Foreign Correspondent—Folding for Binding, Part I: Tools


For folding paper you’ll want two tools: a folder and a knife. I know this is starting all the way at the very beginning but I think it’s worth a review if you’ve done this before, and to start off right if you haven’t.

Cobbler’s knives



(Or equivalent.) You want some sort of rough blade, not too sharp and not too dull. The action of the knife in the fold of paper is almost part cutting, part tearing. Papers will all behave a bit differently, but generally I find that if the knife is too sharp for the paper, I end up cutting a bit crooked because it’s just too easy for the blade to glide through where I don’t want it. Too dull, of course, and you’ll tear too much and end up with a ragged or even ripped edge. Another feature of these knives is a long blade, which you’ll see with experience makes more sense than a short Xacto-type blade.

PS, Feb. 9—I just found this one amongst my tools. It’s an oyster knife, tapered evenly on both edges, not sharp really on any. I use it when the others are too sharp. This is probably one of those things that depends on who taught you, where you’re from, and what you have available to you.


Bone Folders

I was going to skip this until I did a quick Google search & found there’s a lot of crazy out there about folders: what they’re made out of, how to use them, and how to care for them. Historically (say, 18th century) folders would be made most often of bone, ivory, or wood. Wood being soft, and ivory being illegal, ours are bone. There are some plastic ones out there; skip it. A proper bone folder isn’t so expensive that you can’t indulge. As to shapes, you want one with a round-ish end and one with a pointy-ish end, which is the most common shape anyway. You can add others to your birthday wish list if you want but you only need the most basic for most things.

I suspect oiling is one of those things that everyone has their own opinion about & is convinced that theirs is the only right one. You don’t need to oil it to use it, and really over time your finger oils will work their way in as you use it. I’ve heard people talk about soaking their folders in oil for a few days, but doubt that does very much. It certainly wouldn’t prevent it from chipping or splintering, as I’ve seen on a few websites; that’ll have more to do with the quality of the bone you have.

Teflon Folders

If you want to buy two folding tools, a teflon folder is useful but not requisite. The advantage is it is less likely to burnish (shine) the surface of paper and cloth, although of course that depends on the paper and the cloth and how enthusiastically you burnish. The disadvantage is it is softer than bone; you won’t get the same pressure as you will with a bone folder, and over time with repetitive actions (like turning in fabric over board) you will almost certainly find that you get dents in the tool.

To set the record straight, we all call them teflon folders but it’s just as well to know that Teflon is a brand name; the material is in fact polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE for short.Talas notes that their PTFE folders are made of a Teflon-like material, which I suppose is true but it’s a bit like saying tissues are a Kleenex-like material. That said, I like the Talas ones better than others, so don’t let that stop you from buying them.


  1. wrote on February 3rd, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Patricia Grass

    I’ve been using a fettling knife instead of a cobbler’s knife. It’s a tool potters use. It’s long. thin, narrow, flexible, not too sharp and cheap and easy to find.

  2. wrote on February 4th, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Mary Jo Koranda

    I appreciate starting at the beginning. Too many workshop presenters assume you know the basics and give directions to “make a hollow tube.” Sorry, I have the general idea but not the specifics. I actually read an article on how to use a scissors but the wording was not very clear. Thanks. Please, can we have more?

  3. wrote on February 9th, 2011 at 10:48 am


    Yes! The problem of a workshop, of course, is limited time and (usually) a whole lot of variety in experience with the students. Things get simplified so that everything fits into a weekend or a week, and then you get home and realize you’re missing something. Hopefully this helps bridge some of those gaps.

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