Ch.19 – Gargantua the Chinese guillotine

Gargantua ready for action. An early picture – the upper of the two volumes top left is a proof, as evidenced by the stepped lines across the spine. It has yet to be rounded, unlike the copy below it, which looks like one of the hundred. Neither has yet been mulled or endpapered.

Ream cutters, as their name suggests, are intended for cutting reams (500 sheets) of paper at a time. A powered electric guillotine will do the job but cost you thousands of pounds. The cheaper end of the manual cutters starts upwards of £500. It was not a cost I could see being absorbed into my hundred books and leaving much over.

But a heavy duty guillotine I had to have if I wanted my books to have that beautifully even fore-edge that you probably take for granted but would certainly notice if it was not there.

Then I came on this (on the site that shall be nameless) :

Screenshot 2018-03-11 19.33.51

(Though in fact the price at that time was £80) True, the spelling did not inspire confidence, and the YouTube demonstration that I found in the course of my research was not the most professional bit of filming I’d ever seen  –

but it did appear to demonstrate the capability I wanted, which was borne out by the online testimonials, at least one of whom had used it as I planned to, for trimming a number of books. Another offered the useful tip of wiping the blade before use, as it came with a protective film of oil. Only one seemed to find it a bit too much –
Screenshot 2018-03-11 20.17.38However, though several others commented on its weight, they saw it as an advantage, and having found my earlier guillotine purchase flimsy and prone to flex, I inclined to agree with them. Since I had two Am*z*n vouchers for £20 from my downstairs neighbour as a thank-you for feeding her cats when she was away on holiday, an outlay of £60 did not seem an excessive risk – if all else failed, it should at least have substantial scrap value.

It shipped from China, which made me think of the interesting reversals that a century or so makes. Time was when an article such as this – sturdy, solidly made, simple in operation – would have been ordered from one of the workshops of Empire (probably Birmingham) and shipped to destinations around the globe. Now China, in the last few decades, has undergone a rapid industrial expansion very reminiscent of Victorian Britain and supplies manufactured goods of a similar sort around the world.

And I can personally testify that this item, at least, is a credit to them and does exactly what it claims to do. It is both heavy and rigid, which are exactly what you want in a guillotine, but it is something less than the quarter ton that the testimonial above  might lead you to expect. No cranes were required, and though I am neither Mr nor still less Mrs Universe, I did manage to carry it up the stairs myself and set it on the table, where it performed admirably, being simple and straightforward in operation – there is a fixed ‘wall’ along one side, and at right angles to it a sliding bar sets the limit against which the paper abuts (there is a grid pattern on the surface to aid alignment) and a clamping bar is screwed down to hold it in place at the end to be cut. A safety catch prevents inadvertent operation of the long handled lever, which gives ample shearing force.

Simple soul that I am, I found the operation of the clamping bar afforded me much childish pleasure, since the handle works like the regulator on a steam locomotive. I may even have whistled while I worked.

All-in-all an excellent investment, and all at a cost of 60p per book!

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