Listen to 'A brief description of the Plough' (3:59 mins)
The plough is used for trimming the edges of books. The guillotine has largely superseded this method on account of the greater output, speed and accuracy of the cut. It only used for fine bindings, or for amateur use where the trade is treated as a handicraft, it is still employed.
The plough is used in a press and they are both usually put on a stand. The plough consists of two uprights connected by a wooden screw. The whole is capable of moving backwards and forwards along two slides, which are attached to the press. The right-hand portions are also capable of small incremental motions to the left, by slowly turning the handle of the screw. The plough knife is fixed to the base by means of a bolt, whereby it can be removed easily for sharpening or regrinding. When the knife is properly adjusted the knife should travel level with top of the press.
Cutting "in-boards" using the plough
To trim the head of the book the front board is lowered about 3mm or one-eighth of an inch and a piece of waste card is inserted behind the back endpaper. It is then lowered into the press and the screws tightened. In this position the plough can be moved backwards and forwards with a firm motion. As the knife gradually advances, the edge is cut. It is advisable to cut only as the knife recedes, or there is the possibility of a piece chipping off the head. Therefore, care must be taken that the action is stopped immediately the last sheet is cleared or the back board will be spoilt. The tail edge is treated exactly the same way, and if the size of the boards has been estimated correctly, the knife should clear the shortest sheets.
Cutting the fore-edge is rather more difficult on account of the round of the book. A temporary flat back must be obtained during the plough cutting operation. Before this is done, however, the endpapers are marked to the width of the boards, as it is necessary to trim a “square” beneath this mark. Wedge – shaped cutting boards are used, the back one being placed level with the mark, but the front one a square below. The steel “trindles” are now extracted and the book is lowered into the press so that the front board is perfectly level and the back one a little above. This is quite a difficult operation and several attempts may be necessary before the correct result may be obtained. In this position the fore – edge may be trimmed with the plough and the knife may cut in both directions. Upon releasing the book it should spring back to its original round shape. The boards should be found to overlap the edges by a neat square.