Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Keeping Secrets

What is it about hollow book safes that has always been fascinating?

Ever since I was a child I wanted a hollow book to hide things in. I'd seen them in the movies and just thought they were the shiznit. Tell me that Andy Dufresne's Bible in Shawshank Redemption didn't blow you away! Did you notice that the cavity for the rock hammer started in the book of Exodus?  

But when I was a kid, you could never get one. Now, here I am 30-odd years later realizing I can make my own (yes, at times I'm slow on the uptake).

So one day I trucked on down to the thrift store, where you can get a bag of books for $1, to get some practice materials. After destroying several fine copies, I think I found a process that I like. My first attempts involved drilling a hole through the text and then using a jig saw to cut out the cavity. The pro of that technique is that the outside edges of the pages are entirely unmolested, but it doesn't outweigh the cons that it makes the paper bunch up, creates an incredible amount of dust and takes forever.

Looking up how others make theirs, you'll find some use a utility knife and approximately 30 years of their lives for each book. Well, besides not liking the rough cut edges I think I'd take the knife to my wrists after about 50 pages, so we can rule that method out.

I moved to the bandsaw, which I very much prefer due to the clean edges it cuts and its speed. The drawback is that I have to cut through the bottom edge of the pages, so I do that now at the base of the book near the spine, where the seam goes relatively unnoticed and is then backfilled with glue.
You'll notice the hollow books in the movies all have free pages. They're not secured together and float freely, which is fine for a soft-cover book like Andy's Bible. But I just didn't like it for my own work. The contents could easily fall out through the pages and the whole thing is very fragile. A good thick layer of wood glue secures my hollow book pages together now. The first few attempts like this featured a felt lining over the glue, but I've upgraded to wood lining. Now the books I make are essentially boxes, they're solid enough to keep whatever fits inside. 

Now that I've got a good technique, I make several versions, including a fused book set for an extra-deep chamber, and cases for electronic devices like my Kindle and my wife's Kindle Fire (which she loves). The books with really nice inside covers are the best. They look great. So now I try to only choose books with nice insides or books with culturally
significant titles (like the Twilight series ... that was a joke).

So, if you're a thief planning to invade my home, be sure to hit the bookshelf. Who knows what you'll find?