Everything Man

Random projects from an alchemist's workshop.

Monday, 14th March, 2016

I’ve been looking for a good notebook I can use to sketch out ideas and plans. I wanted something sturdy enough to survive hard use in the shop, which would lie flat without trying to close up on me while I was working in it.

My first stop was Amazon.com. The best option seemed to be a hardcover, spiral bound, sketchbook. Definitely a possibility, but not as sturdy as I’d like. Looking in brick-and-mortar stores around me I found something similar at both Staples and Barnes and Noble. In each case, the price worked out to be around 16 cents a page. While at Staples I noticed that an 80-page sketchbook was almost the same price as a ream of 11”x17” paper. If I used the whole ream at half size, it would give me 10 sketchbooks worth or paper at a whopping 1¼ cents per page. I’ve done some bookbinding in the past, so the next logical step was to make my own notebook. A trip to Staples and an old T-shirt netted me everything I needed in terms of materials.

Notebook materials
Folding paper
Stacked signatures

First I folded a bunch of my paper in half. This was the most tedious part; I wanted nice clean edges on the finished book, so I needed to make clean folds. For a 100 sheet sketchbook, I needed to make crisp folds on 50 sheets of paper.

I grouped my folded sheets into ten nested stacks of five (generally referred to as signatures). I laid these signatures together and squared up the edges, then clamped them down with a pair of big binder clips. This prevented them from moving around during the next steps.

Clamped signatures
Marking out spine
Slitted spine

Using a ruler, I marked out 1” intervals on the spine of the book, then used a small saw to make cuts across. This gave me little slits in the back of each signature to use in stitching. I used some waxed embroidery floss and a simple running stitch to sew up all ten of my signatures, then stacked them and squared the edges again. (I ran out of blue floss halfway through, so I wound up with a vaguely patriotic theme.)

Stitching signatures
Bound pages
Cover laid out

A few pieces of tape slipped under the stitching on the signatures held them all together. Ideally it would have been cloth tape, but I didn’t have any on hand, so I went ahead and used duct tape instead. A quick coat of glue along the spine and I was ready to set it aside to dry.

While the bound pages were drying, I cut two rectangles of posterboard ⅛” wider and ¼” taller than my signatures. The back of my booklet measured ¾” across, so I spaced them out that much and tacked them down onto an old T-shirt with glue. I went light on the glue here, because I didn’t want it to soak completely through, and really just needed to keep the covers from sliding around. I cut the cloth around the covers, giving myself about an inch clearance on each side, then trimmed the corners as shown. Next I folded the edges in and glued them as well (you can be more generous with the glue in this step, it won’t show), and glued a piece of paper over the rough edges (mostly). I set the completed cover aside under a heavy box of books to dry.

Once both halves were dry, I wrapped the cover around the pages and glued it in place. Then set the whole thing aside again under the same box of books.

Cover glued
Finished cover
Inside finished book

Twenty-four hours later I had a completed sketchbook. It was cheaper than any I would have bought, as well as being dramatically sturdier and having more usable pages. The paper isn’t super high quality (it’s just 20lb copy paper), but I’m not planning to use it for artistic masterpieces so it works just fine.