A Notebook to Suit Your Needs




Introduction: A Notebook to Suit Your Needs

About: Living the maker's life

Instructables is a place where a lot of creative people gather - of that I'm sure. However, I'm not sure how much of that creativity is actually retained due to various issues. In my case that is because of the fact that I write ideas down everywhere and anywhere really. A receipt on my desk is the only piece of paper I can currently reach? That'll do. No paper? A cellphone is probably close. A lecture? I'll just write it down in this notebook where my aerodynamics notes are and find it later. Nope! Barely possible. Oh, and have you experienced the frustration of finding two words you put on a piece of paper about an idea which was amazing, yet that's the only thing you do remember - amazingness. That hurts.

That's the reason why since the moment a friend introduced me to the benefits of using book binder rings for keeping a notebook together I knew this is going to work for me. Some would say, a regular notebook would suffice, but I don't feel so. If we, as makers, are at least a bit alike, there are some criteria to be met. For me the notebook had to:

Have a plenty of space for ideas;
Have a way of rearranging and taking sheets out;
Have some calendar pages, but not the yearbook type;
Be good looking (that's subjective of course);
Be of a convenient size;
Allow for further improvement.

With all that in mind I decided upon the design of it I'm going to show how to make here. While your needs and tastes will probably be different, the making process is probably going to remain fairly similar.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Since I'm entering this into the DIY University contest, it's pretty simple!


X-acto or any sharp knife;
Pencil and maybe a thin marker;
Standard 2 hole holepunch (didn't make it to the photoshoot in time, as you can see);
Paintbrush (gluebrush in this case)
Clamps, weights or, in a true student fashion - books;
Hard flat surfaces bigger than desired cover size for clamping;
A piece of sandpaper, anything 300-500 grit should be good;


Wood veneer, in my case - walnut (area of at least 4x the desired cover size);
Leather (area of 2x the desired cover size), any non-absurd thickness should do;
White wood glue or contact adhesive, also some super glue;
Some paper of desired size;
2 book binder rings;

It should technically be possible to use an adhesive backed veneer and avoid application of any glue per se, but I have not tried that, so I can't really tell how good this idea is. If you decide to go that way, write me a message or comment here, I'd love to hear how it holds up and if there are any other things to have in mind. Thanks!

Step 2: Mark and Cut the Veneer and Leather

Find decent sized pieces of wood veneer and leather. The cover is made by gluing together a layer of leather with two layers of wood veneer which have a grain direction perpendicular to each other to avoid warping of the covers. As for the leather - you have to decide which side you will want visible. The leather I used had a beautiful soft suede side which looked and felt way better than the other one so I went with that.

Cutting can be done without marking anything, but I made some lines with a pencil just for the sake of it. It is wise to cut the initial layers at least a bit bigger than the intended size (which should be a little bigger than the paper to be used size) to allow for trimming and some unexpected error unless you have a PhD in gluing perfectly sized surfaces together perfectly. A sharp knife of some kind should be enough for proper cuts. Just remember that when cutting veneer cross grain it will probably split if the blade catches somewhere (hence the need for sharpness) and when cutting with the grain the blade will have a tendency to go with the natural grain direction. There are several ways to avoid that. First and foremost apply lots of pressure on the ruler or another straight edge you're using as a guide so the veneer under has no chance of moving mid-cut. I also found that a rounded blade helps with the splitting while cross-grain cutting, but so does using more lighter strokes with almost any other blade. If you have some spare area of veneer it's a good idea to try some cross-grain cuts before the ones you really need to make to see where (if) you go wrong.

As you can see in pictures I also trimmed the leather in places where it was folded upwards. Not a must, but a good idea to do so if you don't need those areas because they might mess up your gluing and clamping part a bit.

Step 3: Gluing the Sandwich

Now that you have the layers for covers cut it's a good time to glue them together.

The glue choice is up to you, but now that I've tried both white glue and contact adhesive for this I'd go with wood glue if doing this again. Here's why:

It has no nasty fumes (forget application, the glued cover needed 24 hours before I took it to my room);
No difference in warping afterwards between the two glues;
It is easier to work with: you can reposition layers before clamping, if needed;
It's easier to apply;
Seems like there's less tension between layers when using wood glue, since it allows the tiny bit of movement when clamped;
Easier to clean off if gets where it shouldn't.

Disadvantages of the wood glue are that at least to me it feels like trimming the covers is harder if glued with wood glue and it has less strength and is more difficult to apply in such a manner that every spot is glued perfectly, hence the spots where you have to fix stuff with super glue. No big deal for me, but it's for you to decide.

I believe there are some wood glues that dry hard and brittle as opposed to elastic, that should help with the warping. I'm tempted to try epoxy as well for that reason, but a little afraid it will seep through the veneer and leather. Also a clear coat over the veneer might help, but again, I want my notebook cover to develop unique patina from use over time.

If you do have it, however - spray contact adhesive should be really easy to apply. An even easier way to go might be adhesive backed veneer as I mentioned earlier. I can't guarantee that these suggestions will really work, though, because I haven't tried them myself.

For gluing the covers flat you need to clamp them between two flat surfaces. I used some pieces of a laminated MDF board which I had from deconstruction of an old wardrobe. For clamping use what you have. As you can see I had enough F clamps for one of the covers, yet needed to improvise for the second one for which I used some weights (44kg in total) and added a lot of books on top, just to be sure. I glued these in the evening and removed from the press next morning, ~12 hours total. The glue instructions state 30min clamping time as enough and 24 hours for a maximum strength bond so read the label of whatever you're using and act accordingly.

Step 4: Trimming the Glued Covers

After some time has passed and you've taken the glued, yet untrimmed covers out it's time to trim them. First of all decide upon the size the cover is going to be. Making them the same size as the pages intended is not a bad idea, but I prefer them just a little bit bigger. If you look at hardcover notebooks it's almost always like that and that seems logical for me as well. Since I intended to use A5 sheets which officially are 210x148mm (148.5 maybe) I went for the cover size of 215x151mm. That's an extra 2.5mm in every direction, except for the one where rings are going to be, because you'll need to punch holes there.

Trimming itself is a fairly simple deal. Take a sharp and thin knife - I prefer x-acto with a rounded blade for this. It's not a bad idea taking a fresh blade now if the one you have used seems not too sharp any more (you can get more life from the used ones using a smooth ceramic whetstone of course). For the first cut there's no need in marking anything - eyeball a somewhat straight cut (use ruler for cutting, of course) in a place where all 3 layers are present. If you want to get rid of some glue which you got on the cover or something else bad looking - first cut is the time to do that. After you've got the first cut done, mark two lines going perpendicular to the first cut which in my case are 215mm apart.

A good way making perpendicular lines without a square is using a ruler which has markings on both sides: first set it along the edge and make markings at intended distances, then place the other side of the ruler with matching distances at the dots and make more markings on the side where there are none. If you repeat that several times there will be like 4 dots in line over which you draw the lines on both the top and the bottom for the cut and later cut along those lines. The gif in this step should explain that if there's the need.

Mark the intended distance along the two straight parallel edges now, in my case 151mm, probably draw a line between those and cut. You now have a nice cover for your soon to be notebook. Repeat the same for the second one.

Enter the failure: Since I didn't want to take another sheet of veneer while cutting layers I made the middle ones quite small (around the size of page +4-5mm in every direction), then, when gluing one of those I also had some misalignment and since it was contact adhesive and repositioning was almost impossible I glued it that way anyway. Not the best case scenario. So when trimming the edges and measuring for the last one I spotted a major issue - the middle layer was shorter than I needed (see 5th picture in this step) and I had to go back, find more veneer and leather and glue another one together. So don't be like me - leave a bigger margin for error. No big loss other than the time of course, since I should be able to make a phone case or something similar from this too small cover.

After you've trimmed the covers to size, take a hole punch and punch two standard holes in one of the long edges. It's helpful if the hole punch has a marking indicating the middle of the sheet, because you're going to need that for covers. Mark the middle on the cover using a ruler, then align that to the middle marking and punch the holes. You can't use the sliding guide set to A5 for covers, because your covers are a little bit bigger than the pages that are going in, remember?

If after trimming the covers you see that the leather and glue is not neatly stuck together somewhere (very real when using white glue) take something sharp - like a toothpick, and with the help of that apply super glue between the problematic layers. If it fits, you can use the long neck super glue has for application, just make sure not to put super glue on the visible areas of wood or leather (sides doesn't matter that much) because those spots will be visible and can ruin the looks.

After all of this is done it's not a bad idea to go over the edges with some fine sandpaper. I used 400 grit.

Step 5: Other Not Necessarily Important Things

The covers are now done, you have your rings somewhere and maybe even some pages to put inside, so what's the deal here, you may ask. Nothing much, if you like all of that as is - assemble and enjoy (and maybe vote for me in the contest as well).

In my case there are some issues however. I prefer my binder rings to fit through the holes of more than one page at a time. This enables positioning the notebook in a cover to cover position easy and fast. Since the binder rings didn't fit I used a Dremel tool with the 425 polishing disc to shorten the hinge pins a little bit. A file and/or sandpaper should be good instead of the Dremel for the purpose.

Also a little something for those, who don't have binder rings widely available for purchase locally (like me, I ordered these from China and waited for 1.5 month for them to arrive). It is possible to make a simple and interesting version of them yourself by cutting open a metal ring from a hardware store (pick adequate diameter to fit through the hole) grind it a little bit so the cut surfaces face each other and then use neodymium magnets to attach the halves together. I cut 4mm rings and used 4x4mm cylindrical magnets. See 3rd picture in step. I also made and used rings made from a stainless steel cable for a while, but they had several major issues.

I also like to have some simple organizational ability in my notebook apart from the empty pages I use for ideas, sketches and whatever else so I designed some simple calendar pages and a squared page. All of those are attached here in .pdf format: pages with remaining months of the 2014 as well as all of the 2015 and a page with standard squares, but you'd be better off punching holes in preprinted sheets if you need those with squares I suppose. The calendar pages have Monday as the first day of the week, but the pdf's are all vector based and should be editable in a vector editor so you can change that. As for printing - they are meant to be printed on an A4 page size on both sides of the sheet while flipping over the long edge (select that in print setup), I prefer my calendar pages on a thicker paper, something up to 200gsm since they get thrown around more. The margins left in the file shouldn't exceed what most printers are capable of, so you can print A4 in original size setting. There's plenty of space left for holes as well. If anyone has the question - font used is Futura LT Book.

Step 6: Write All the Things!

Get ideas, write them down, plan your month, sketch or draft, then rearrange if something is in the wrong place or take it out if you need it no more. I consider this approach to be really good if you're studying a creative discipline of some kind, but it should suit anything else as well.

One thing that this doesn't do for me (nor I did ever intend it to do it) is keeping visual inspiration I find on the internet. I use Dragdis for that (not affiliated to them, just love the service). I also prefer to use my cellphone and a Kanban derivative for the daily planning, with the more major monthly one in this notebook, but this is all personal preference.

I also like the ability to fold some single side printed A4 sheets in half and bind them in the notebook, so I have some scrap pages for drafts or something what's not going to stay while using paper which would otherwise be thrown out or burned.

Future plans for this include a neat storage unit for the pages I don't need in the notebook any more, but still want to have around in case I need to refer to something there. I also have an idea on how to improve the binder rings if I manage to find an affordable way to 3D print locally, or maybe even win a 3D printer in one of the contests with my next instructable (that would be totally awesome).

Bonus: If you get bored of veneer, it's always possible to flip the covers around, so you have suede covers. I also expect my covers to develop a patina from use over time.

I'd love it if you shared your ideas for possible pages/additions to this notebook. I'd also appreciate it if you voted for me in the DIY University contest I've entered this in if it seems suitable.

This instructable was also used as a way to get my mind off another one I'm currently working on and maybe get back with a fresh perspective there, so check back in a week or so for something interesting!

Until next time!

DIY University Contest

Participated in the
DIY University Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Fried Food Challenge

      Fried Food Challenge
    • Back to School: Student Design Challenge

      Back to School: Student Design Challenge
    • Halloween Contest

      Halloween Contest


    whow!, hard work and nice result! Usefull for those who reject from using mobile phones


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, but why reject? I use both my cell and this for planning, just for different time periods.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've had a strange obsession with notebooks over my life...going and buying a new pen and notebook also felt like I was starting afresh with no limits on what I might create. This is a very nicely done instructable which allows one to have this feeling anytime. Just put in some fresh papers, maybe varying designs, and go to it!

    Thank you Raitis for this very creative posting.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you, it's a great feeling when someone finds an 'ible I put in quite a bit of effort writing useful!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Lovely, thanks so much! I especially appreciate the pdf calendar and grid paper downloads...


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! And one more thank you for the term grid paper pages, you know, I'm not a native speaker and all...


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! Any tips which image I should set as the main one? Can't decide.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I like the cover image you have in place now.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Keeping that then. And thanks for the feature! :)