The Transmuted Victorian Engineer's Journal





Introduction: The Transmuted Victorian Engineer's Journal

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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.



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

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

    hahaha touche >_<

    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.

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

    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.

    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!!


    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)

    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


    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.