Introduction: The Transmuted Victorian Engineer's Journal

Picture of The Transmuted Victorian Engineer's Journal

I keep sketches and notes in a variety of places, and I've been wanting to create something to be left in my workshop that will protect my drawings and notes, be heavy enough to function as a paperweight, and have an Old World look and feel.

Aluminum 1 piece @ $12.29/piece Cut to: 4.5" x 7"
Aluminum 1 piece @ $2.63/piece Cut to: 1.5" x 4.5"
Aluminum 1 piece @ $9.65/piece Cut to: 5.5" x 4.5"

Leather binding: ~ $4.00
Brass screw posts (bag of 6 but using only 3): ~ $2.50
Paint: ~ $3.00
Graph Paper Pad (for qty 2): ~ $2.25
16 brass slot screws ~ $2.00

Total cost: approx $38.75

(Many of the items I use here are left over from my Flipbook projects here and here.)

Step 1: Components - Aluminum

Picture of Components - Aluminum

I originally wanted the shell of the notebook to be made from copper or brass. Price quotes from various metal cutters were within a few dollars of one another, but I quickly learned a lesson: brass sheets are expensive. So I decided to go with Aluminum and paint distressing. The aluminum has a nice weight to it (.25" thickness) - I probably could have gone with .125" thickness but I don't want the covers to bend easily.

Here are price comparisons:


Sheet 1 - 4.5 x 7
Sheet 2 - 1.5 x 4.5 Lot Charge $146.51
Sheet 3 - 5.5 x 4.5


Sheet 1 - 4.5 x 7
Sheet 2 - 1.5 x 4.5 Lot Charge $24.57 at
Sheet 3 - 5.5 x 4.5

(I bought a smaller set for a smaller version to be made shortly:)

1 piece @ $6.83/piece Cut to: 3.5" x 5"
1 piece @ $1.37/piece Cut to: 1" x 3.5" Lot Charge $13.80 at
1 piece @ $5.46/piece Cut to: 3.5" x 4"

Step 2: Components - Screws, Leather, Hinges

Picture of Components - Screws, Leather, Hinges

The screw posts are solid brass - I bought them from - they come in packs of 6 and these are 1" (distance between screw post ends).

I have some strips of leather I purchased from Tandy leather company (locally) for my Flipbook projects - natural (tan) and black. I chose to use black for this project so the brass Chicago screws (screw posts) would really stand out. Tandy sells online from their website at

I found the small hinges as a pack of 4 at Hobby Lobby for under $2.00.

Step 3: Components - Graph Paper Pads and Paint

Picture of Components - Graph Paper Pads and Paint

The graph paper pads were purchased at Sam Flax and are nicely bound. All I have to do is remove the wraparound cover and the cardboard back. These are inexpensive and I can refill the notebook whenever I like. The small graph pads are perforated for easy tearing out. They're made by Alvin Saray and can be bought online (see URL/link below).

Finally, paint was a single can of Krylon Fusion Hammered Finish dark copper. I laid it on extra thick over a few days and the aluminum has a nice (and unique) visual and tactile surface. I was worried about painting aluminum but this stuff sticks and sticks good - it'll probably chip off if dropped from a height, but I've tested it by making a few scratches and it's a solid coating as you can see.

Graph Paper Pad - 4.3" x 6.7" (ALG14)

Step 4: Paint Aluminum

Picture of Paint Aluminum

Not much to say here - I put on about 3 coats over a period of 2 days. For the first coat, I used a continual spray, but on the 2nd and 3rd coats I used quick sprays of paint to give some areas a darker finish, some areas a thicker or layered look, and other areas developed unique textures (the smallest piece has a bubbling effect that looks great so I'm hoping I'll be able to make it visible and not covered by the leather binding.

I could have painted only the external sides of the pieces, but because I wasn't sure which side I'd choose as external (and to give myself choices) I painted all sides of the pieces.

The final result looks a little different in photos than when you're holding it, but it turned out great - sort of a metallic copper leather look but with a very interesting surface feel.

Step 5: Test Assembly

Picture of Test Assembly

Just a few photos showing the early assembly - I haven't cut the leather binding for the left edge.

Step 6: Drilling the Cover Plates and Graph Paper Stack

Picture of Drilling the Cover Plates and Graph Paper Stack

I decided to drill the plates first. I clamped them together, measured where I wanted the three screw posts to be inserted, and placed a piece of wood underneath the bottom plate so the aluminum wouldn't "splinter" or warp when the drill bit cuts through.

After the plates were drilled, I used one as a template to drill the stack of graph paper. I placed the aluminum plate on top, marked the paper with a sharp point, placed scrap wood on top and bottom, and drilled.

Step 7: Assemble Main Body (minus Hinged Cover)

Picture of Assemble Main Body (minus Hinged Cover)

Next I cut a piece of leather to wrap around the journal's spine. I drilled three holes as seen in one of the pictures and then threaded the screw posts up through the leather, through the bottom plate, then through the paper, and then placed the top plate.

As you can see the screw posts don't extend beyond the surface of the top plate - this is where the 1/4" brass extensions come in. I inserted 3 of them and then folded the leather over and pressed down hard. The extensions made little indentations and I used a sharp awl to make the points easier to see.

I then drilled those holes, wrapped around the leather and screwed them down with the screw post ends.

One of the images shows the completed journal minus the hinges... that's the next step.

Step 8: Attach Cover

Picture of Attach Cover

The cover consists of two pieces of aluminum that are held together using the small hinges. Each hinge comes with small brass screws (unfortunately they're Phillips head, not slot, so I purchased 16 small brass slot screws and cut off the heads to glue over the holes and to add a few (for looks) along the right edge of the top cover.

I used Gorilla Glue for the hinges... the glue expands (I wish they'd solve that problem) but I used my Dremel again to grind down the glue overflow.

After the hinges were secured, I covered them and repainted the pieces with one last touch up. Then I assembled the journal - weighs about 3-4 pounds... (best guess).

Step 9: The Journal

Picture of The Journal

Some final images of the journal open and closed.

Total time spent on project: ~4 hours (not counting paint and glue drying times)

Final Thoughts:

1. Always use eye protection - while grinding off the screw heads with my Dremel, one of the heads "got away" and smacked against my eye shields - if I hadn't been wearing them...

2. Let the paint dry good - take the extra few days to coat the aluminum thick and let the paint harden.

3. Looking back I know I should have drilled the aluminum first before painting... argh. But all those re-touch coats I kept putting on just kept adding to the nice look and feel of the covers.

4. I'm going to try and make a mini-journal next using the smaller set of aluminum plates, but I need a break... and then it's on to the next project.


anbu94 (author)2011-01-16

i would have to open mine backwards because im a lefty and the angle the cover stays open at would be a problem haha

CamWaite (author)anbu942011-06-07

You could always use it at 90 degrees like a note pad?

anbu94 (author)CamWaite2011-06-07

hahaha touche >_<

Kiteman (author)2008-09-27

Oh, you are so right about eye-protection with the dremel. My rotary tool is the only power tool I have where putting on my goggles is a reflex action.

guitarman63mm (author)Kiteman2008-09-27

How's that? What about your angle grinder? Your circular saw? I only use goggles with a dremel if I'm shaping metal.

Kaiven (author)guitarman63mm2008-10-01

I only need eye-protection when I am using my dremel because the cutting blade is very weak and brittle. It tends to break into bits and the pieces fly every where.

boarder2k7 (author)Kaiven2008-10-02

Definitely get better cutting wheels man.

Its worth ponying up the extra money for the fiber reinforced wheels, as they don't have the tendency to grenade in your face, when they crack they stay together.

And yeah, wear goggles ALWAYS!!

Arx (author)boarder2k72008-10-03

Or just learn how to use them better. My favourite wheels are the cheapest thinest ones. They cut the fastest, and if you use them right, you'll rarely break them. Mine either wear down to the point where they're too small to be useful, or I accidentally smack something into the dremel and break them when it's not in use (would break expensive fibreglass ones too)

badideasrus (author)Arx2011-01-07

i don't know if your refering to cutting wheels for a rotary tool or for somehting alittle bigger, but when i ran out of wheels for a pnumatic cutting tool. the three inch kind (which didn't belong to me, actually. was using tool at parents work...... ) i bought a pack from big lots. basically a dollar store for those of you who don't have one.
all three wheels snapped in half and nailed me in the chest one (one at a time obviously) ...........was not a fun experience.

moral to me, never buy cheap. the wheels that i had before this were very nice ones that didn't break once (besides alittle chipping when i was careless). i wore them down to the metal collars without breaking

Arx (author)badideasrus2011-01-07

Yes, we were referring to the ones for a rotary tool.

I should have been a little clearer, though, when I said "cheapest".

I don't mean dollar store junk, I just mean that I buy the thin, non-reinforced ones, and they work great if you're using them properly.

Dremel 409 are the ones I usually get. I see a lot of complaints that they don't last, or that they break too easily, but that's just because they're being used improperly.

the heavy duty 420 ones don't give me any more cutting distance per wheel, and they're really slow and cut a much wider kerf.

The fibreglass reinforced ones are a good compromise (still fairly thin, but stronger), but they're too expensive to be worth it IMO. If you're paying 4x as much, and only getting 1.5x the cutting, is it worth it? The odd broken disc when I do something stupid isn't really that big a deal, since I always wear eye protection.

On an angle grinder or large cutoff tool I would agree with you, since the flying bits are more than a minor annoyance.

Arx (author)Arx2008-10-03

Oh, and I don't mean to say learn to use your wheels better as an alternative to glasses. ALWAYS wear your safety glasses with any power tools, and even consider them with hand tools if there's ANY chance of something getting thrown into your eyes.

Gage987 (author)Arx2008-10-14

i have to take a technical education class and my teacher aleays makes us wear safty glasses and he dosn't so i asked him why and his glasses have the safty stuff built in

boarder2k7 (author)Gage9872008-10-14

Yeah well.... Glasses =/= safety glasses

Its better than nothing yes, but they never have as much coverage of your face, leaving your eyes open to side impacts.

And yes, ARX, you shouldn't be cracking wheels, but if you have the problem, or have to cut something in an odd shape where the wheel grabs and pulls, its worth it to use the fiber wheels.

static (author)Kaiven2010-08-30

Here a full face shield is hung on the bottles for the cutting torch. purchase after my prescription eyeglass gave up there useful life in protecting my eyes. A clear full face shield in in the cabinet next to the angle grinders as well.

Ph3nomin0n (author)guitarman63mm2008-09-27

Thats too bad... you should use safety goggles using any kind of power or electric tool... I was hit in the eye with a rock using my weed eater...

terramonkey (author)Ph3nomin0n2008-09-27

I must agree-until eye transplants are a 1 hour surgery, I recommend anyone who can't predict the flight path of every molecule of high velocity swarf they produce, should be wearing some kind of eye protection. My rule is: the less 'cool' I look the better.

Safety is a great concern, but you can look 'cool' while staying safe, that is if you consider steampunk cool. Brass goggles, big leather gloves, and a leather apron can be quite stylish for the mad scientist as well as the tool-shed hobbyist. I have even seen some beautifully steampunked respirators. When I get the chance to make one of these journals for myself, I will certainly look the part of Victorian tinkerer when cutting and drilling on metal. Of course, those of you who think an eyepatch is cool, you may want to forgo the goggles and you may have the opportunity to wear one the rest of your lives. lol ;-)

I just use a pair of ballistic proof goggles I got while in the military (Wiley X's). The look like regular old sunglasses with clear lenses. And it only took five grueling years in the Marine Corps. to get them. They do work great though...

Well said! Goggles are DEFINITELY on my "TO MAKE" list... but until then, I have a German pair that function well but don't look "too Vicky" - Jim

I agree, except when I'm just shaping a small section of wood at low rpm. Like I said, anything above that, I end up wearing giant goggles, a thick weatherproof jacket, leather gloves, a NIOSH canister-based respirator and enormous ear protecters. When I don't wear goggles, I instinctively close my eyes before I make cuts on things, kind of like shooting an older, black powder-based gun.

Kiteman (author)guitarman63mm2008-09-28

I don't mean that I never wear goggles at other times, it's just that goggles are a reflex with the rotary tool.

I don't have so many power tools (no angle grinder, no circular saw), and they're generally large and predictable, and they're generally used at arm's length.

My rotary tool, though, is so small that tiny shifts in angle give rise to huge changes in the direction the parts fly. Plus, it's the only tool I have where the bits regularly disintegrate in use, and I work at much closer quarters.

gmjhowe (author)Kiteman2008-09-27

i dont use goggles with my dremel...

HisDivineShadow (author)2008-11-17

Can someone explain to me as o wha steampunk is [im kinda new]

static (author)HisDivineShadow2010-08-30

A quick and dirty definition of "steampunk", steampunk is a fashion genre. Where people modify the appearance of modern devices to resemble or give a reasonable facsimile of the appearance of machines and other items during the Age of Steam, and the early Industrial Revolution.

I'd Google it... too difficult to explain in a short comment.

schaie (author)2010-03-14

You need to find an industrial metal supply in your area.  they often have cut-offs that they sell for a fraction of the price of a retail supplier. 

I ofen go and sort through the remainder bin at mine, and I get brass and copper for market rate by the pound. (right now about $4.50) you have to do the cutting yourself, but this can be pretty easily accomplished with hack/jeweler saws.

jlipimpski (author)2009-10-23

I love the idea, and made one for myself. I chose wood instead of aluminum, because i liked the idea of a stained wooden finish better (personal taste). I threw on some nice looking brass hardware, sandwiched it all together with some countersunk machine screws, added a copper band across the top for looks, and i was done. I wasn't too keen on the whole usage of glue so I didn't use any in mine. Here's a picture of it:

Thanks a lot for putting up this instructable, it was great!

jktechwriter (author)jlipimpski2009-10-23

That is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!  Wood is definitely the way to go!  Nice work, and thank you for posting pictures!  Glad you liked my version, but I'm now envious of yours :)


cryp7ic (author)2009-08-16

Why did you decide to use glue instead of drilling and taping a hole?

jktechwriter (author)cryp7ic2009-08-16

I lacked a tap tool at the time (I have one now). Also, the small brass screws are not very strong and even with a tap, I don't know if they'd hold. Let me know if that works for you because I'm sure interested to know how it would hold up.

cryp7ic (author)2009-08-16

How did you drill the holes (powerdrill/end mill/...)? I love the book, and would love to make one for myself!

jktechwriter (author)cryp7ic2009-08-16

I used a handheld drill with a simple drill bit. The aluminum drills easily... just go slow and wear eye protection as it slings off debris quite a bit.

WCEastFZX (author)2009-07-23

I love the paint you used! I will look for that if I need to make a steampunky thing. And I am amazed by all the goggle comments...I am a bit of a goggle aficionado, and have been known to wear them even when unnecessary...

petrino (author)2009-07-11

we made these in high school... only no leather... no aluminiu,... no studs or screws... just paper...

Catling (author)2009-02-13


oldsnake (author)2009-01-03

Thank you, very nice one. Just the price of the aluminum is kinda,......mezzo.

jktechwriter (author)oldsnake2009-01-03

Well, don't get the 1/8" thickness... although it's easier to drill, it will bend on you if you're not careful. The 1/4" has a nice weight to it, without being TOO heavy... Glad you like it - I should have my mini-version submitted by no later than tomorrow - please consider voting for it in the Craftsman Contest if you like it. Thanks! Jim

Lunare (author)2009-01-03

Thanks that was very helpful. :D Have you made the mini version yet? I think I'm going for that considering budget lol.

jktechwriter (author)Lunare2009-01-03

Funny that you should ask :) I'm finishing it right now - trying to get it done in time for the Craftsman contest... should be posted by tomorrow at the latest - PLEASE vote for my submission if you like my work - I'm hoping to do some more versions of this - different sizes, styles, and complexities.

Lunare (author)2009-01-02

What type of aluminum exactly did you get from the site? I am a bit overwhelmed with all the choices...

jktechwriter (author)Lunare2009-01-02

Here's the breakdown of each piece ordered - hope this helps.

1 piece @ $6.83/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 3.5" x 5"

1 piece @ $1.37/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 1" x 3.5"

1 piece @ $5.46/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 3.5" x 4"

1 piece @ $12.29/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 4.5" x 7"

1 piece @ $2.63/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25"Cut to: 1.5" x 4.5"

1 piece @ $9.65/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 5.5" x 4.5"

Smithington (author)2008-12-26

That's nice if you have the place to work on it. Our crafty family has built all our steampunky goodies right off the kitchen table, and for some reason, we keep losing all our clamps.... But I will try with all my effort to make a steampunk graph paper note book, I can't see myself going on without one!!

jktechwriter (author)Smithington2008-12-27

It didn't really take that much workspace to make - painted in the garage, drilled and clamped on my workshop table. I'm getting ready to do my next version - stay tuned.

mtownsend (author)2008-12-20

This is absolutely awesome. I'm a part time special FX builder and I've always needed something to gain respect.

CapinPorcupine (author)2008-11-02

so can you just use a regular drill bit to cut the holes in the aluminum or do you need something different?

Yep - I just used a regular 1/4" bit to drill through the aluminum... just a little pressure was needed but there was no damage to the bit.

K thanks. when i get the money im totally making one of these

Carlos Marmo (author)2008-10-29

Wonderful Work! Congratulations!

gearskin (author)2008-10-14

You should turn all the screw slots to face the same direction if you haven't already done so (I couldn't tell in the pictures), for just that extra little bit of finesse. I love this project, and I'm going to make two of these very soon. I will post pictures!

jktechwriter (author)gearskin2008-10-14

You know, I actually considered that when I was gluing all the slot heads onto the hinges and those 3 for decoration, but then I thought it would look very weird to have them all perfect aligned - it never work out that way with real screws, so I decided against it... but feel free to try it on yours and post here when you're done - would love to see your final versions. I'm hoping others will share their final designs, too.

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