How to Package Books
by Craig Stark
#82, 27 November 2006
Part II: Packaging With B-Flute
In Part I, I suggested the use of b-flute
for packaging books on the basis of its meeting three criteria: a high level of
protection for contents, high speed of packaging and low cost of materials.
Today I’ll explain in detail how to use b-flute.
First, a list of tools and supplies
Anti-Jam Extra Heavy Duty Stapler
There are many brands available, many are
no doubt adequate, but don’t skimp on price. You’ll need something that will
hold up under heavy use and have the capacity to staple through 4 to 6 layers of
b-flute. It’s also important to buy the type with an arm that angles sharply
upward so that the head of the stapler will clear the package when in use. I use
a Bostich 00540. It’s about $60 or $70 new.
There are some booksellers who use tape
in lieu of a stapler. The two most common reasons cited for this are the
difficulty of opening a stapled b-flute package and complaints received from
postal clerks who have been pricked by staples with partially open legs. Stapled
b-flute packages can be difficult to open with one’s bare hands, but bring a
sharp knife or scissors to the task – simply cut off one end – and there’s your
book. If partially open staples are an issue, this can be quickly addressed by
taping over the legs.
There are two reasons I don’t recommend
using tape only. First and most importantly, the closing points on the ends of a
taped package are further from the enclosed book and therefore don’t exert the
same protective pinching action that staples do. It’s more likely, that is, that
the book will be able to move inside the package. Second, tape is expensive and
more time-consuming to apply; staples are fast and cheap.
Heavy duty, 3/8". About $5 or $6 for a
box of 5,000. 1/2" staples may be necessary for thick books wrapped in more than
several layers of b-flute.
Heavy Duty Paper Cutter
This is an optional tool, but I wouldn’t
want to be without mine. You’ll see why later. Again, shop for quality, also a
capacity to cut through several layers of b-flute at once. And do get the
guillotine type. I use a Boston 2612 (discontinued, I think), and it gets the
job done, but I’m strongly considering upgrading to one with a 15" cutting
capacity. Prices vary widely – $30 to $100 or more – but I see many used ones at
sales. Since most of these have self-sharpening blades, the age of the tool
usually isn’t an issue.
There are many brands, and quality varies
here as well. I’d spend at least $8 to $10 on this.
3" wide, clear. Experiment with different
thicknesses until you find the thinnest one that will do the job for you. Too
thin, and you’ll have problems with the tape breaking and/or sticking to itself;
too thick, and you’ll be spending more money than is necessary. Buy in bulk;
this is an expense that can add up fast.
You could use a box cutter, but this
would expose a blade to your work surface. Better to use sharp scissors – and 8"
Fiskars work great. You can simply push the open scissors into a seam and make a
clean, fast cut.
This assumes you’ll be using sealed poly
bags to waterproof your books. You can also use Zip-loc bags or, alternately,
tape poly bags closed, though the latter may not give you as good a seal and of
course will consume more of that expensive tape. In any case, a good impulse
sealer can cost over $100 but will save you time and money in the long run. Get
a 12" capacity sealer minimum. 16" or 20" is better, and, if you can afford it,
get the type with a built-in cutter.
Definitely buy these in bulk. Two or
three sizes will accommodate most books, and the excess you burn off can often
be used for smaller books. A 2 mil thickness is fine for books that will be
subsequently wrapped in b-flute. If you’re using the poly-bag-on
the-outside-method, you’ll need 4 mil.
The most important consideration here is
the location of your supplier. In almost all cases you’ll save a significant
amount of money buying your b-flute locally. Check your yellow pages for
listings under packaging or shipping supplies. Sometimes paper suppliers will
carry it. Numerous vendors will ship b-flute to you, but shipping costs can
equal 50% or more of the cost of the b-flute itself – and worse, shipping rates
will be going up in 2007. Typical prices for a 250′ roll of b-flute are $12 for
12" widths and $18 for 18".
The Packaging Process
The packaging process for most books is
alarmingly simple. After sealing the book in a poly bag, drop it on the b-flute.
It can be parallel or perpendicular to the orientation of the flutes.
Next, line up the end of the roll
parallel with and near to but not quite meeting the spine of the book.
Holding the unrolled portion of the
b-flute against the work surface, grab the book and the flute resting on top of
it together with your other hand and push until the book is snug. Then turn it
over twice. Again, holding the unrolled portion of the b-flute against the work
surface, push the book tightly into the rolled portion of the b-flute until its
snug. Place a weight on the book to prevent any unraveling – a stapler works
great for this – then cut the b-flute so that the end will lay an inch or two
from the edge of the package, giving you enough room for a strip of tape to be
Next, tape the seam and push the book
through the package until a portion of it extends out the other end. This latter
step enables you to staple the opposite end with absolutely no danger of
penetrating the b-flute with the head of the stapler.
Pick the half stapled package up and tap
the stapled end on your work surface until the book is snug against the closed
end. Staple the other end (see tips below) – and you’re done, usually in well
under a minute.
Most staplers don’t have blunt or
protective tips, and it’s especially easy when packaging thicker books to
penetrate the b-flute with the head of the stapler. Not good. There are several
things you can do alone or in combination to virtually eliminate this problem.
First – this is more important than any other tip – round over the leading edge
of the stapler head. Usually, the tip is made of relatively soft metal, and a
few minutes with coarse sandpaper or a Dremel tool will get the job done. This
step alone may prevent almost all of your tear-through. Also, staple at a
45-degree angle to the end of the package. This at least eliminates the
possibility of both corners of the head penetrating the b-flute. Generally, if
only one corner of the stapler penetrates, it won’t affect the strength of the
Other preventative tactics include
pre-pinching the end of the package before stapling, lifting the opposite end of
the package slightly off the work surface (to reduce the angle of penetration),
and taping over the ends of the package to add a protective layer to the
b-flute. Finally, if possible, store your b-flute in a relatively humid
environment. It will become somewhat brittle at low levels of humidity and more
prone to stapler head penetration. If this sounds at all complicated, don’t
sweat it. With practice, you’ll soon be stapling quickly with no or almost no
By the way, I’ve seen b-flute tutorials
that suggest tucking in the corners of the ends before stapling.
While this may appear to make the package
beefier, what it in fact does is expose the corners of the book to potentially
more damage. Visualize a packaged book being dropped on one of its corners. With
the tuck method, the package meets the floor directly at the corner of the book.
With my method, the package meets the floor at the corner of the package – fully
one or two inches ahead of the corner of the book. I’ve tested this with a
packaged board (which telegraphs damage quite well) and am confident you’ll have
better luck not tucking your corners.
- 1. Unusually thin softcover books, brochures, pamphlets, photographs,
etc., require a different approach because rolling them several times in
b-flute won’t produce a stiff, protective package. Fortunately, this is easily
remedied. Roll the item as you would any book, cut the b-flute and secure it
with tape, remove the item from the package, and cut it on your paper cutter
at a length slightly in excess of the length of the item. Then, re-insert the
item into the package. Finally, package the resulting package in b-flute
again, this time with the respective flutings oriented at 90-degree angles to
each other. This produces a surprisingly stiff package. Caution: On the first
of the two packages, it’s a good idea to place the item on the smooth side,
not the corrugated side, of the b-flute. Otherwise, especially flimsy items
may take on the profile of the fluting during shipment.
- Unusually thick books items also require a different approach. Think of
this in terms of wrapping a present. Roll and tape as before, but instead of
stapling the ends, cut into them at all corners to a depth that almost meets
the book’s corners. You’ll then have four flaps on each end which can be
folded and taped to produce a custom box. Since the corners will be rather
more exposed, it’s a good idea to use bubble wrap instead of a poly bag or
roll the book an extra time or two in b-flute. As a safeguard against
movement, I also wrap tape around the bagged book in both directions.
- Large and/or unusually heavy books are more much more prone to damage. If
you feel uneasy about rolling them only twice – and you should – roll them
three or four times or more. This may require the use of a longer staple to
close the ends, but the additional cost in materials is nominal.
- When more than one book is going to a buyer, it’s often possible to ship
them in one b-flute package by poly-bagging the books, placing them flat on
your work surface spine to spine (important), then taping around them in both
directions and on the seam formed where they meet. The resulting "book" may be
somewhat floppy, but once packaged in b-flute, it behaves as one.
- Flat rate envelopes are great for saving postage on international
shipments, but most books packaged in b-flute won’t fit inside of them.
However, if you use the method described above for thin items – specifically,
the first method of cutting the package to a length slightly longer than the
item – many books will indeed fit into these envelopes. In this case, however,
it’s important to tape entirely around the interior b-flute package near each
side at a 90-degree angle to the open ends, pulling the tape against the edges
of the b-flute and drawing them down over the edges of the book.
Thin items cross-packaged with method #1
often are too large for these envelopes as well. In this case, I "make my own"
cardboard, again with b-flute. Using a paper cutter I cut four rectangles
slightly larger than the item, two with corrugations oriented in one direction,
two in the other, make a sandwich, and seal it with the item in a poly bag.
Finally, what about valuable books? Even
though a b-flute package will almost certainly deliver them safely, I’m a total
chicken when values rise into three or four figures. I still use b-flute but
shove the package inside a box!
Thanks to Craig Stark of
www.bookthink.com for permission to
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