GBC Ibico 'E-Kombo' plastic comb binding machine, $10.

The 'comb' style of booklet binding machines like Rhin-O-Tuff, Akiles and this GBC Ibico E-Kombo are very popular with large and small binding and printing services alike. Familiarize yourself with these expensive machines, and it won't be long before one jumps out at you.

What's really great about comb binding machines like our E-Kombo here is that although all of us are familiar with the 'round comb' style of binding these machines produce, very few people have any idea what the machines used to make them even look like! And since few people tend to buy things they don't recognize, the ones that are for sale out there just may be waiting for you to come and get them.

Although this particular machine uses plastic combs, other machines are designed to use the single wire and double wire combs to hold the paper. They all appear to work in the same basic way: holes are punched in the papers, a comb is spread to allow the papers to be inserted, and then the comb is released to secure the paper, completing the process. As far as I can tell, the main difference between the machines designed to use plastic combs and those for wire combs is the shape of the hole that the machine punches. Binding machines intended for plastic combs produce a long, thin rectangular hole, whereas those intended for wire produce much smaller holes. As you can tell by the holes in the photos below, our machine uses plastic combs. Let's take a look at how it works.

The first step to using this machine is to center the paper in the punch so that the machine will punch the holes in the right spots, and then tighten the set knob. This machine is electric, so all you do to punch the holes is push the black button on the top of the machine. Then, a plastic comb is placed onto the fence on top of the machine, and as the machine's handle is pulled down, the little metal hooks move sideways and then outward, gripping and opening the fingers of the coiled comb so that the punched sheets can put into place. As the handle is raised back up, the hooks allow the comb's fingers to retract and roll back up, securing the paper.

Although this particular machine is electric, most of the comb binding machines you'll encounter will be the manual variety, which actually look very similar to this electric model, with the exception of the cord, of course. Note that the electric machines only punch the holes electrically - you still have to work the comb part of the operation with the handle on the side. On the manual machines, the handle is pushed down toward the machine to punch the holes, and back in the other direction to work the comb fingers. Now, let's go over a few of the usual general warnings for these machines.

First, you should obviously make sure that any machine you're thinking of buying is in good operational condition and that nothing is broken. Cycle the punch (with the handle on the manual machines, or with the button on the electric models) to make sure that all the punch pins go down and back up smoothly. And by all means, make sure all the little comb hooks are present. Work the handle back and forth to ensure that the comb mechanism functions smoothly.

Second, you should know that round comb binding machines come in many different shapes and sizes, from the tiny models that look much like three-hole punches (and which are worthless on eBay,) to the big monsters that weigh over a hundred pounds, which are worth good money but can be nightmares to get rid of. For a pleasant eBay experience, you may want to stick with the machines that look very similar to the one in our example here.

Finally, notice those things sticking out from the front of this machine that look like little levers (okay, they're not actually 'levers,' but I'm not sure what else to call them.) Each of those 21 levers is connected to one of the machine's 21 punch pins, and pulling out a lever disengages its corresponding punch pin, so that the pin will not depress - and punch a hole - when the machine is cycled. This function is apparently for working with different paper lengths. I mention these levers only because from what I've been able to figure, the lack of this adjustable lever/pin setup indicates a lower price machine, which naturally means a lower selling price on eBay. So, you may even want to look specifically for this variable punch pin feature as a buying indicator.

On a final note, be sure to keep an eye out for the combs that these machines use, because some of them, especially the larger diameter combs and the wire combs, are quite costly. A case of binding combs, even without the machine itself, could mean a very nice profit for you!

This GBC Ibico E-Kombo sold on eBay for $183.00

Photo of GBC Ibico E-Kombo plastic comb binding machine