Introduction: Simple Leather Journal

Picture of Simple Leather Journal

My Notes Are Ugly!

I know, I know, you've had this same problem too. You're ready for a night out on the town, you're dressed up, you look damn good, and then you look over at your journal. Disgusting. Why can't your journal be as classy as you? Don't worry it can.

Well.. maybe you've not had this problem, but you can still make your journal look pretty sharp with this simple leather cover. Which, by the way, is a great project for someone who is first beginning leatherwork. If you’re brand new to the craft, take a look at another one of my guides for a simple leather wallet, which is a little bit easier than this one. However, if you newer to the craft but want a bit of a challenge, take this project on. I would say it will take you about five hours from start to finish. With this project you will develop some important skills for leathering working like: cutting, stitching, riveting, and edge finishing. And of course, your journal is going to thank you for it.

If you’re the guy who is thinking, ‘Leatherworking sounds like fun, but I don’t know if I could pull it off let alone afford it.” Let me assure you that you can pull it off. This is a fairly simple project and a great project to get started. Let me also assure you that, comparatively, leatherworking is a pretty inexpensive craft to pick up. You can spend a lot on tools, but if you buy the right ones, know where to look, and just get the basic tools as your starting, you can keep costs down. I’ve written a guide on my blog to help you buy your first leather tools and another guide to give you confidence when buying your first piece of leather.

What You Need

Here's a quick list of everything you'll need for this project:

-Something to cut with (Rotary Cutter/X-acto Knife if you are new. Round Knife if you already have one).
-Leather Glue (I use Seiwa Leather Cement from GoodsJapan, but any glue cement should work.)
-Thread
-Stitching Needles
-Diamond Chisel
-Stitching Groover
-Burnisher or a Piece of Canvas
-Edge Beveler
-Gum Tragacanth
-Rivet Setter and Anvil
-Snaps
-Dye and Carnauba Cream (if the leather isn't pre-dyed)
-Leather (I used a 4oz leather for this project)

Here is a description of these items if you are unsure what they are or what their use is.

This project has a little more wiggle room than most when it comes to the thickness of leather you decide to use. However, I would avoid anything over 6oz. Anything bigger than that will be really stiff and hard to close. If you only have 7oz+ leather for whatever reason, this project would still work, but you might need to wet form the leather to make sure it bends in the middle. Wet forming is pretty simple and a quick google search will teach you this process.

A quick description of the wallet:

This leather cover was designed based on the Piccadilly brand of journals found at Barnes & Nobles. I chose these mostly because they are cheap. The way the journal cover is designed, you can simple replace a filled journal with an empty one when need be. This will also fit most half-page sized journals, such as a Moleskine. The cover measures 11.5' by 9 1/4'

Step 1: ​How to Print Out the Template

Picture of ​How to Print Out the Template

Go ahead and download the template and print it out. Use a heavy paper, like card stock, because you'll need to trace it later on… just make sure you print it to 100% or ‘actual size,' so it doesn’t shrink during the printing process. Also make sure you cut out the template correctly. A small mistake in cutting at this point means a big mistake on leather later on. Make sure to use a straight edge and a rotary cutter for this part because it’s much easier to achieve straight lines. Normal scissors can be used to cut the rounded parts, just take your time to make the curves as smooth as possible.

Step 2: Prep the Leather

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Set the template aside for a moment, because now it’s time to dye the leather. Dying is really tricky and a hard thing to do well. While it’s a good skill to develop, no one is going to judge you (well, I won’t at least) for buying finished leather (dyed and waxed). If you did that, you can go ahead and skip this step. If you didn’t, it’s time to dye.

Dying the Leather

Even though I didn’t in these pictures, I suggest using some rubber/latex gloves. If you don't your hands are going to look like mine in this picture. I have the best luck achieving a matte finish using a high density sponge. If you want a more marbled finish, like I did, you can use an old shirt. I suggest using Fiebing's Professional Oil Dyes. I’m not usually this specific about things, but the professional dyes that Fiebing's makes come out with a much more consistent and reliable color than the others. It costs a bit more, but this small increase is worth the difference in outcome.

Quickly turn the bottle over with the sponge/rag pressed to the opening three times to load the sponge/rag up with dye. Do not press hard when you first put the sponge/rag to the leather. At this point the sponge/rag has a lot of dye on it, so gently rub the dye in small circles. As the dye disperses and the sponge becomes drier you can press harder to release the dye left in the sponge. Once the sponge starts creating streaks instead of blocks of color, fill it back up with dye. Repeat this process until the entirety of your leather has been dyed.

Waxing the Leather

Give the dye some time to dry. I’m sure the bottle of dye has a suggestion, but I usually wait about 30 minutes to an hour. In my experience, the dye dries pretty fast. Once it is dried, apply a leather finishing cream or carbanua cream and rub it in using an old t-shirt or rag (no need to use a sponge here). When the wax has dried, buff the leather by briskly rubbing the t-shirt in circles. At this point your leather should be looking good and shiny. If you need an example, check out the last picture in this step.

Step 3: Trace and Cut Out the Leather

Picture of Trace and Cut Out the Leather

Trace the Template

Pull out the template again and place it on the leather. I use a divider to create my lines, but almost any slightly sharp object will do. Use what you can find, just make sure it can make clean lines and an impression on the leather without cutting into it. If you are having trouble tracing the template because it is sliding around, you can tape it down, just make sure you’ve given extra time for the dye to dry or the tape will pull some of it up. Also don’t use anything near as strong as duct tape, masking/scotch tape will do just fine.

Cut Out the Leather

You should be able to clearly see an outline on the leather now, as shown in the second picture. If it is not easy to see or you are unsure where the edges are, retrace using more pressure. If your outline looks good, go ahead and cut it out. If you’re new, I suggest using a rotary cutter for the straight parts and an X-acto knife for the corners and curves. If you’ve done leatherworking for awhile or are certain you will be doing it a lot in the future, use or buy a round knife which can be used for straight lines, sharp edges, and curves.

Lay a straight edge along the outlines to make your cuts. I suggest cutting out rounded corners square, and then rounding them out afterwards. When cutting out the curve, lay your template back on top of the leather and trace the curve with your X-acto blade. If you don’t do this, you will have a very hard time creating a nice smooth curve.

Cutting in general can be tricky, and mistakes made at this stage are amplified during the edge finishing process. If you’re looking for some tricks to improve your cuts, you can read them on my leatherworking blog.

Cutting corners are even trickier. Here's a guide on how to cut round and square corners correctly.

Step 4: Mat Down Fibers

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If you're new to leatherworking, it is advisable to use a cheaper leather. Cheaper leathers generally have a messier backside due to loose fibers. Look at the backside of your leather. If it does not look flat nor clean, now is the time to clean it up. Apply Gum Tragacanth to the backside and rub briskly back and forth until the entirety of the backside is smooth and glossy.

Just a warning, if the fibers are very large, rubbing back and forth could make things worse. If you see this start to happen, only rub in the direction of the grain to mat the fibers down. This will prevent them from coming out.

Step 5: Dye and Burnish 'Inside Edges'

Picture of Dye and Burnish 'Inside Edges'

Edge finishing is the last thing you should do, unless the edge is an ‘inside edge.’ I call any edge that is not on the outline or perimeter of the object an ‘inside edge.’ These edges do not touch the other edge of the piece it comes in contact with, and instead sits in the middle. There are two inside edges in this project, each on the flap that holds the journal in place. The inside edge on these two flaps are the ones that are angled. All inside edges must be finished prior to gluing and stitching the item together. So, you need to finish the angled edges of the flaps at this point in the project.

Finishing an edge is a multiple step process and would require an instructable of its own. For the sake of space I will only list the process below. If you need instruction and explanation on each step, please read this more in-depth overview.

Edge finishing process:

Sand with a low grit sand paper to even out the edge
Bevel (I skip this step on thinner leathers, like this inside edge)
Sand with a higher grit sand paper to round out and eliminate large fibers
Sand with an even higher grit sand paper to make it smooth
Dye the edge and let dry
Wet with Gum Tragacanth and Burnish with the wood burnisher or canvas

Step 6: Prep the Strap for Stitching

Picture of Prep the Strap for Stitching

The strap and rivets need to be stitched/riveted prior to stitching in the flaps that hold the journal in place. This way you don't stitch/rivet the flaps closed... because then it wouldn't be a journal cover, it would just be a piece of leather.

Prep the Strap

So, let's first prep the strap for stitching and riveting. Lay that strap template over the strap. Notice the dotted line on the template, which represents the stitching line. Using a single tooth chisel, mark the beginning and end of that stitching line. Be sure to only make these two holes, stitching holes for the rest of the line will be made later.

Create a Stitching Channel

Looking at the stitching lines on the template again, align your stitching groover to the stitching lines so that when setting the groover on the edge, the hole in the small arm rests on the dotted line. Using the groover to create a stitching channel between the two holes you previously made, drag the groover around the curve, rotating the leather with your left hand, and making sure to pull down and towards yourself with the right. This will create a channel for the stitching to rest in, and slow the wear on the thread.

Glue and Create Stitching Holes

Now it’s time to glue the strap to the cover. To glue use gluing cement.

Using a paintbrush, apply a thin layer of glue to the back side of the strap, starting at the edge and stopping at the holes you created (see picture). Then, using the template as a guide, place the strap on the body of the journal cover. Press down firmly on the strap and quickly clean up any glue that seeps out beyond the edges. Allow about fifteen minutes for the glue to dry, if you rush this, the strap may slip as you go to punch the stitching holes.

In general, glue adheres better to the underside of the leather than the top side. If you are finding it difficult for the glue to stick, I will often sand through the top layer of the leather where the glue is going to be applied, this will help the glue sink into the leather and therefore adhere better. Just make sure that you do not sand beyond what will be covered by the glue, otherwise it will show in your finished product.

Create Stitching Holes

Since this is such a tight curve, I suggest only using a two toothed chisel. Set the first tooth in the hole you made earlier, keeping the other tooth in the stitching groove. Now, using a rubber hammer, hit the chisel completely through the leather and pull it back out.

Set the first tooth of the chisel in the last hole you previously made and line up the chisel for the next punch. Then repeat this process until you've created holes all along the stitching channel. If you're using a chisel for the first time, it can be a bit tricky to navigate around curves and corners. This quick guide will walk you through that process.

Step 7: Stitch the Strap in Place

Picture of Stitch the Strap in Place

If burnishing requires it's own guide, then stitching requires a few. Stitching is probably the most skill intensive part of leatherworking, it takes a bit of practice, but once you've figured it out there's a great sense of accomplishment that follows. Seriously, getting good stitching took me awhile to learn, but is generally my favorite part of making something.

If you're new I suggest taking some of your scrap leather, punching out a few separate lines of stitching, and practicing a few times to get a feel for it.

Thread your Needle

But first, you're going to have to thread your needle. Here's a quick tutorial (not done by me) that will walk you through it: https://www.instructables.com/id/how-to-thread-a-l...

Saddle Stitch

Once your needle and thread are ready, it's finally time to stitch. Follow along with the embedded video as you learn how to do it.

Review

It's always good to take a look at your stitching once you've finished and see what you love, and don't love, about it so you can improve. I've written a guide that will help you identify your mistakes and explain what you need to change to fix it for your next project.

Step 8: Place the Snaps

Picture of Place the Snaps

A snap is what is going to keep your journal closed, that way, no one can accidentally read about your secret crush.

A snap is made up of four separate pieces. It has a top and a bottom, and then a female and male part that fit together. The 'top' side is what you want to see, and needs to be placed on the top side of the strap. On the backside of that needs to be either the male or female part. I prefer to put the female part here because it does not lay flat like the male piece does. Then the other piece needs to be attached to the journal cover itself. You'll want the bottom side to be hidden underneath, and the male piece on the surface of the leather so it can connect with the female piece.

Create the Rivet Holes

Take a look at the template you printed out again. Both the strap and the journal cover will have the holes you need to punch out marked on them. Lay the templates on top of the pieces and set the punch over the holes. Using a rubber mallet, hammer the punches through each hole.

Hammer the Rivets into Place

Now using a snap setter and a rounded anvil (see what it looks like in the picture above) hammer the rivets into place. To do this you'll want to set the domed top snap in the rounded anvil. Then place the leather strap over it, with the snap going through the hole. After, place the female side of the snap over both the top part of the rivet and the leather strap and hammer it closed. Repeat this same process with the bottom part of the rivet and the male piece on the journal cover. You do not need to use the domed anvil for this part because there is no dome on the bottom side of the rivet.

It's surprisingly easy to mess up rivets or mangle them in the process. Check this guide out prior to riveting to make sure your rivets look good. Rivets and snaps are really tricky to remove once set, so it's better to just do it right the first time.

Step 9: Glue on the Flaps and Even Out the Edges

Picture of Glue on the Flaps and Even Out the Edges

Apply the Glue

Using a paintbrush, apply a thin layer of glue to the edge of the leather. Do your best to only glue the space in-between the edge and the stitching line. Once you’ve done this around the perimeter of the flap (making sure not to glue angled 'inside' edge you've already burnished) go ahead and place the flap on the journal cover. Apply pressure to make sure the glue adheres. I usually just set a few heavy books on it and wait a minute. Make sure to quickly clean up any glue that has seeped out. Then repeat this with the other flap.

Check the Glue

Once the three pieces are all placed together, check the glue. Make sure all edges are glued all the way to the edge. If any part is already starting to part open, it will really come open when you finish the edges. To fix this just apply some more glue in that area, press it together with your fingers, and quickly wipe away the excess glue.

Even out the Edges

Now that the piece is glued together, check the edges. If they don’t line up perfectly, take the time to cut off the excess using a rotary cutter, X-acto, or a round knife. If all your cuts prior to this were clean, this won’t be a problem, but it’s easy for this to happen, so don’t sweat it if it did. If the excess isn't too much or not that noticeable, do not cut it. Instead use 150 grit sandpaper to level it out. In fact, at this point, you should hit all your edges with 150 grit to make sure they are nice and flat.

Make sure to hold back the strap you've already sewn on as you sand the edges, it's easy to accidentally hit it with sandpaper if you do not. And doing so will tear up the finish on the leather.

Step 10: Prep the Journal Cover for Stitching

Picture of Prep the Journal Cover for Stitching

If your edges are even and flat, the next step is to prep the leather for stitching.

Before you create your stitching channel, you need to figure out where to start and stop the stitching channel. This is something that is pretty unique to this project, as the stitching doesn't go the entire way around the journal cover.

Doing this is surprisingly simple, you just have to create the stitching channel on the flaps first.

Create a Stitching Channel on the Flaps

Lay the journal cover flat with the glued on flaps facing up.

Pull out the template again and look for the stitching lines, which are dotted. Align your stitching groover to the stitching lines so that when setting the groover on the edge, the hole in the small arm rests on the dotted line. Now run your stitching groover along the edge of each flap, making sure to pull down and in towards the journal as you go. Then cut the channel in the other flap.

Find Your Start and Stop Holes

You'll want your stitching to go just beyond the flaps. Doing this will ensure that the corners of the flaps stay flat on the journal cover and don't start curling up over time. To do this use a two toothed chisel. Rest the chisel in the stitching groove at the edge of the flap where the stitching groove ends (each flap will have two of these spots). Make sure to have one tooth on the flap and another on the journal cover, with the edge of the flap sitting in-between. Then hammer the chisel through. Repeat this process on the other edge where the stitching groove ends. Then repeat this on the other flap.

Create a Stitching Channel on the Journal Cover

If you flip the project over, you should now see where your stitching channels need to begin and end (the outer most holes). If you're unsure, the stitching has been marked on the template as well.

Run your stitching groover, which should still be set from earlier, along the edges in-between the two holes, making sure to do this on both sides. If you did not make sure your edges were even and flat, these stitching lines won’t line up, so make sure you didn't skip the previous step. At this point you should have a small channel for the stitching to rest in on either side of the project.

Create Your Stitching Holes

Lay your project flat so that the flaps are facing up. Set the first tooth of the chisel in the last hole you previously made and line up the chisel along the groove for the next punch. Then repeat this process until you've created holes all along the stitching channel.

Working around the corners can be a bit tricky, so if you missed it, here's a guide for making sure your stitching holes look perfect, even around corners and bends.

Step 11: Saddle Stitch the Journal Cover

Picture of Saddle Stitch the Journal Cover

Now it's time to saddle stitch the flaps onto the journal cover. Again stitching is a little bit tricky and will take more than 1 step on a guide to learn.

Refer back to step 7, which is loaded with links to tutorials and guides to help you learn to saddle stitch well.

Step 12: Burnish the Edges

Picture of Burnish the Edges

Bevel

For projects that use thicker leathers, it is a good to use a beveler to help round out the edges. I think that 4 oz is too thin to bevel, which is why I don't suggest beveling the parts of the journal cover that are not sewn to a flap. But, the parts with the flaps are two pieces of 4 oz leather sewn together. And 8oz is definitely enough to bevel. Luckily, beveling is pretty easy. Hold the beveler at 45 degrees to the surface of the leather and run it along the edge making sure to start and stop where the flaps begin and end. Then flip the journal over to bevel the other side, again making sure to start and stop where the flaps begin and end.

Some leathers tend to snag a bit when you are beveling. If this starts to happen, stop and lightly wet the edges with water. If this continues even after wetting the edges reduce the pressure you are putting on the beveler and reset the beveler on the leather when you see the beginning of a snag.

Finish the Edges

At this point your edges will be ready for the same edge finishing process used earlier in this guide. Again, edge finishing is a multiple step process. Here's the same article that I linked earlier to help explain this process: http://www.goldbarkleather.com/sourceblog/2015/12...

Step 13: You Freakin' Did It!

Picture of You Freakin' Did It!

Like I said when you started, this one is a little bit harder than my last tutorial. But you did it! And you got better in the process. And better still, no more ruined evenings thanks to your ugly notes.

Thanks for checking out this tutorial. If you have any questions, just want to say hi, or want to show off your killer new wallet in picture form just drop it in the comments below, or send me an email at justin@goldbarkleather.com

If you haven't figured out by this point in the tutorial, I'd love it if you checked out my blog: http://www.goldbarkleather.com It's a great place to learn the basics of leatherworking alongside others and will help you go from beginner to skilled craftsman in the art of leatherwork.

This is only my second tutorial, and many more are on their way. You can find my past tutorials and all future ones on my blog or here on instructables!

Thanks again, now that your journal crisis is solved, go hit up the club.

Oh yeah, and follow me on Instagram... because I need friends.

Comments

bakdrft (author)2017-02-28

Very Nice Work. Thanks for the template

HollyMann (author)2016-01-30

Thank you for solving my journal crisis (I didn't know I had one until now)! You are funny. :) Your leather journal - it looks fabulous! And, you gave me an idea to make some of these as gifts - but only to those who I know will take care care of it and appreciate it! Looks like a lot of work was put into this and it is so good to see another leather-worker! Please continue posting instructables. This site is amazing. You can find lots of friends on here. Also, where did you learn leather-working? Do you do any tooling? I learned it many years ago when I was in the Army - by my disabled veteran neighbor. Most of the same techniques he taught me were taught to him ages ago..and I saw that you used them also. I love everything I've made from leather - each thing involved a long step-by-step process but the end result was worth it- and whatever you make seems to last forever. Love it!

Hah, you're too kind, thanks so much! I feel great about myself now! Thanks for all the encouragement. Post the finished projected once you get it done, I'm excited to see it.

Unfortunately I don't have a good mentor like that (though I'd like to find one). Mostly I just had some free time, looked down at my boots one day, and thought 'surely I could do better.' One year later, I've yet to attempt making boots, but I'm loving leatherwork and hope to get there one day soon. I've learned through some small books by Valerie Michael (The Leatherworking Handbook) and others by Al Stohlman (The Art of Making Leather insert word here). Both of these use pretty traditional methods.

I've also learned a ton online, from people like Ian Atkinson and Armitage Leather (both on youtube) and a ton more from the Leathercraft Subreddit.

I usually just try to find what is the best quality and run with that. And, no surprise, a lot of them happen to be traditional!

Sorry for the crazy long response, hope it's helpful

oneofakind3 (author)2016-01-28

Very Nice:)

Thanks! :)

watchmeflyy (author)2016-01-28

Yes, my notes are ugly; I'll have to give this a shot someday. :) Overall, very thorough tutorial: thank you for sharing!

Thanks so much! If you make it let me know, I'm eager to see how peoples' projects turn out

3366carlos (author)2016-01-28

professional grade man.

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Bio: goldbarkleather.com || Gold Bark Leather is all about helping the beginner become a skilled craftsman in the art of leatherworking. Leatherworking has become a passion ... More »
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