Introduction: Leather 3 Ring Binder
Last year I was staring at my computer screen at work when I felt a tap on my left shoulder.
Co-worker: Hey, Mario.
Me: What's up?
Cw: Check out what I just found. You think you can make something like this?
Me: Bruh. Is my name Mario? Of course!
Cw: Alright. I want something where I can carry a pen, an ID, plastic binder sleeves, and has snap button.
Me: You got it, dude. Give me a few days.
And sure enough, after a few days of researching a product I had never seen before, I began cutting into a rustic double shoulder piece of leather I had only used once before to make a leather passport holder. You can see that Instructable here and video here. I got a little creative with sourcing the binder mechanism, but you'll see later a few steps from now.
Step 1: Supplies and Equipment
These are the materials I used with an affiliate link to where you can buy them. Feel free to click on the link. I dare ya. ;-)
Leather (Tandy Leather)
Leather Remnants (hit or miss with size and quality) https://amzn.to/3fjq5Wz
Chicago Screws https://amzn.to/3faxfwq
Contact Cement https://amzn.to/3aXjTAm
Three-Ring Binder (will need drill) https://amzn.to/2KRwr1x
Three-Ring Binder Mechanism only https://amzn.to/3djrn2j
Line 24 Snap Buttons https://amzn.to/2Ym547P
Self-healing Cutting Mat https://amzn.to/2SsDaDh
Stitching Diamond Punch https://amzn.to/2KTyHp6
Leather Hole Punch https://amzn.to/2W0LfB6
Flat Head Screwdriver
Wing Compass (optional) https://amzn.to/3f9DQak
Drill (if using three-ring binder, optional) https://amzn.to/3fbpfLx (doesn't have to be this one, but this is what I own)
Something triangular shaped (optional)
Step 2: Template and Cutting the Binder Shape
This part was pretty easy. I opened up a three-ring binder I had that wasn't being used, held it in place on top of the leather with some weights and traced around it with the metal tip of my mechanical pencil.
Note: I didn't do this because I hadn't thought about it at the time, but it's best to trace your leather about 1" longer on one side if you decide you want to use leather over the binder mechanism on the inside. Why? Because if you do, after you stitch that leather piece in the middle, the spine of the binder will be wider than the width of the binder mechanism cover and it will decrease the front and back panel lentgh of the binder. Not by much, but enough that if you use plastic binder sleeves, they may curl up slightly when you snap you binder close.
Should you decide, that you want to leave the binder mechanism fully exposed on the inside of the binder, then tracing the original size of the binder will work just fine.
On this design, my buddy wanted a snap button tab on the back panel of the binder that would snap onto the front panel of the binder when the binder was shut close. For this piece, I improvised and used a small, square, plastic lid from a food container because it had rounded corners. With a ruler, I found the center of the binder, both vertically and horizontally, placed the lid over the edge of the template so only a corner of the lid extended past the edge, and traced the corner.
I used a ruler and knife to cut out the binder. The corners were sharp, so, to round them off, I took the blade out of the knife and "nibbled" at it until I rounded it off.
Step 3: Punching Stitching Holes, Threading Needle, and Saddle Stitch
I used stitching diamond punches to make the stitching holes, but before I started punching stitching holes, I had to determine the distance away from the edge. I had to semi-eyeball this step because at the time, I didn't have a winged compass that I could set to a specific width, so I measure a few eighth's of an inch away from the edge and connected the dots using a ruler and the back of my knife blade. On the tab of the binder, I improvised and used the two-pronged diamond punch. Once the stitching line was ready, I aligned my punch and hit it with a hammer a couple of times.
Note: It's important to keep the punch as straight as possible, otherwise on the other end of the leather, the prong will either come out closer to the edge or further away from the edge and then when you stitch with the thread, the line can potentially look wobbly. Don't ask me how I know this. ;-)
The set I used included 4 diamond punches with different amount of prongs each. This was useful when I approached corners because I was able to use the 1-prong or 2-prong punches.
These are the steps I take to thread my needles and how I do the saddle stitch.
- Thread the eye of the needle
- Pull thread about two inches
- Hold thread in one hand while holding the threaded needle in the other and CAREFULLY poke thread with the needle
- Pull needle through thread until taut
- Determine length of thread by multiplying four times the distance of the stitching to be done
- Repeat on the second needle
After the stitching holes are punched and the needles are ready, whenever possible, I usually start at a point of the leather piece where I want the initial stitching to be hidden or inconspicuous. When I find that point, I start at the second hole, push one needle through, hold one needle in each hand and pull both needles so that equal lengths of thread are on each side. I back stitch once into the first hole by pushing one needle through on side, then the second needle from the opposite side. Again, I pull on both needles until there are equal lengths of thread on both sides. This locks the thread in place and then go back through the second hole repeating the saddle stitch, then the third hole, then the fourth, etc until I reach my end point. When I get to the last hole, I back stitch again once or twice and then tie a knot in the thread and cut it. Using a lighter, I melt the loose ends.
Step 4: Binder Mechanism Cover and Left Pocket
The next step was to create the binder mechanism cover. This is completely optional, but if you decide to make it, I feel it gives this binder that extra oomph. For this piece and the left pocket, I used a different and darker colored leather that I got from a bag of remnants.
I cut out a rectangular piece that was as tall as the outer leather cover and wide enough to cover the binder mechanism.
Note: Don't cut too wide. I recommend cutting as narrow as possible to just cover the binder mechanism and still be able punch stitching holes along the length of the piece. Why? If this center piece is too wide, then after you stitch it and close the binder, the binder may potentially "shrink" a little. This can happen because the spine of the binder becomes wider and if the leather you use is on the stiffer side, the "bending radius" (is that a thing?) is wider. Feel like you've read this before? Ha! I just want you to know what can happen.
When you've cut the piece out, place it next to the binder mechanism (I explain how to source it from an inexpensive binder in the next step) and mark where you'll cut the slots for the three rings (a few steps later).
For the left pocket, I had a piece that was wide enough for the front panel of the binder. I measured about eight inches up and cut across in a straight line, then straightened the bottom edge. Because of the shape of the remnant piece, I cut the side opposite the 90 degree angle straight as well. The final piece resembled a right trapezoid.
Another feature of the left pocket was that it has a loop for a pen to be inserted and a slot for a business card or ID. These were made out of three half-inch strips of the same color leather as the outer leather. The pen loop was just a two-inch piece sewn to the pocket at the ends of the strip. The card slot was made of two three-inch pieces sewn in a V-shape. Both pieces were glued using contact cement and sewn using the saddle stitch onto the pocket before the pocket was sewn onto the front panel.
Step 5: Binder Mechanism
I had a plastic three-ring binder that I was no longer using, so I took the mechanism off of it. This particular binder mechanism was attached to the plastic cover with two metal rivets. To remove the rivets, I took a drill bit about the same diameter as the rivets and drilled through them to remove them from the mechanism. Note: Make sure you have a scrap piece of wood underneath.
Step 6: Punching Snap Button and Binder Mechanism Holes
I used the plastic binder again and placed it on the leather binder cutout to mark the holes to punch on the leather. After marking the holes, I used the rotary punch to punch the two holes where I would use the Chicago screws to attach the binder mechanism to the leather binder.
To determine where to punch the holes for the snap button, I closed the binder and folded over the tab on the back panel. I marked near the center of the tab and used the rotary punch to punch the hole. Now that the hole was punched on the tab, I used that hole to mark where I would punch the hole on the front binder panel.
Step 7: Attaching Snap Buttons
After the holes were punched, I took a set of snap buttons and attached them before gluing and stitching the side pocket onto the front panel. These snap buttons I used consist of four pieces and need an anvil and setter to be attached. You'll also need a hammer for this step to strike the setter.
On the front panel, the two pieces I used are the stud and the eyelet, with the stud on the outer side of the panel and the eyelet coming out from the inside. On the back panel tab, the two pieces that are used are the socket and the cap, with socket on the inside of the tab and the cap coming in from the outside part of the tab.
The anvil has two sides, a flat side and concave side. The flat side is used to set the stud and the eyelet, and the concave side is used to set the socket and the cap. When you set the eyelet or cap on the anvil, stud or socket will be facing up. Rest the setter in the middle and strike it a couple of times. Note: You may need to practice on scrap piece of leather to get the hang of it.
Step 8: Attaching the Binder Mechanism and Side Pocket
Remember that binder mechanism cover I cut back in step 4? I placed it next to the binder mechanism to trace the position of the slots for the three rings and then placed the binder mechanism on top the leather mechanism cover to mark the holes for the Chicago screws. To mark the width of the ring, I placed the mechanism upside down so the rings were touching the leather and marked with my mechanical pencil the width of the rings. To cut the slots, I punched two holes on the ends of the width I marked, then I connected those to two holes by cutting two parallel lines with a knife.
To attach the binder mechanism, I placed both the mechanism and mechanism cover on the binder and traced the width of the mechanism cover on both sides. These lines are helpful because they act as a boundaries for the contact cement. I placed the Chicago screw post piece from the outside in through the two holes in the spine and then added contact cement to the inside part to the spine and to the binder mechanism cover. While I waited the glue to set, I placed the binder mechanism on the spine with the Chicago screws going through the two holes on the binder mechanism and secured them with the screw piece of the Chicago screw. I then placed the binder mechanism cover over the binder mechanism and pressed the edges with my fingers.
With a ruler and the back of the knife blade, I traced my stitching line. No. I hadn't invested in a winged compass yet, so I had to improvise. :-) With the diamond punch, I punched the stitching holes and then saddle stitched it together, doing both sides of the cover separately.
Optional: I went back with a ruler and knife and cut the binder mechanism cover closer to the stitches. I did this because I think it makes the overall spine width a little narrower when the three-ring binder is closed up.
To attach the left side pocket, I measured eight inches up the side of the panel and added contact cement from that point down to the corner about the width of the brush, then along the bottom of the panel, followed by the corresponding sides on the pocket. I waited a few minutes, per the contact cement instructions, and then joined the two pieces of leather together. All that was left, was to stitch the pocket to the panel, but instead of just stitching those two pieces, I went around the perimeter of the binder with the stitching because I thought it looked aesthetically better.
I didn't stitch the whole perimeter in one shot, I divided it in two for the two panels. The amount of thread I measured for each panel was four times the length of the stitching distance. I hid my start and endpoints in the spine, just behind the tab of the binder mechanism. After the stitching was complete, I went around with a hammer and flattened the stitching. I think it gives the stitching a more uniform look.
Step 9: Sanding the Edges (optional)
Like the title of this step says, the sanding of the edges is optional. I only did a light sanding on the edges where the pocket and panel where glued to ensure edge uniformity. :-)
Step 10: Final Product
Like I said earlier, this was for a buddy of mine, so I burned his initials using a wood burner. You can leave yours blank or even use a laser engraver.
Hope you enjoyed this one. I certainly did and it definitely boost my leather working confidence.
I've entered this in the Leather Contest, thank you for your consideration.
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