Introduction: Simple Bound Journal With Recycled Materials

This is an inexpensive (or, possibly free), simple bound journal which allows you easily customize a small notebook with recycled materials and your favorite writing papers. The binding is easy to tie and easy to loosen, allowing pages to be swapped out at will, or allowing you to insert printed materials like maps or references.

I recently taught this method to a group of elementary-age kids who needed expandable and customizable nature journals. We loved it because the materials were recycled, and the books would be made to suit each child and the specific requirements of the class.

Step 1: Materials

Materials = super simple.

  • 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of good writing paper (8 sheets folded once down the middle for a 4x5-ish book gives you 32 pages in your journal). Of course you can use any size paper that you want, because the cover is made on-the-fly to fit the paper.
  • appropriately tough material for a cover (old book jacket, grocery bag, leather)
  • String, cord, or a rubber band to bind the journal

I find grocery bags make good covers, and if your grocer has a personality like our local shop, then your cover can have some fun imagery on it. Old maps are great too, as they are made for frequent folding.

Step 2: Building the Journal: Fold and Prep the Paper

For a journal sized for field work (about 5x8), all we're going to do is fold our sheet in half once. Folding a single page gives you four pages for writing in your journal, so consider how many pages you want when the journal is done (8 sheets makes a 32 page journal).

If you want a smaller journal, all you need to do is fold and tear each sheet in half, and then fold one more time for your (roughly) 4x5 journal. Of course, you're crafty, so you might choose to fold first lengthwise (tearing a sheet into two 4x11-ish sheets, then folding vertically to make a different shaped book (see my leather book in other steps for an example).

Step 3: Tear Each Page to Receive the Binding

Each leaf of the journal (and the cover) need about a half inch tear along each end of the crease. Your binding is going to loop around the crease and 'sit' in this tear.

Step 4: Prep the Cover

Simply identify an interesting part of your recycled material that will serve as a cover, taking into account images, etc. In the pic, you can see that I lay my pages over the grocery bag, aligning it to avoid the messy bits (handles and glued parts). It was easy to find a continuous section that had interesting graphics and no glue or overlaps.

To size the cover, simply use your pages as a template. Mark the dimensions on the bag with a pencil, then cut or tear. When I tear thick paper, I fold, moisten the crease (you can do this with a sponge or your tongue), and rip away.

If the material you've chosen for the cover is being recycled (and it oughta be) then it may be crinkled or otherwise beat up. I found that ironing the paper flattens it out nicely and preps it for duty.

Step 5: Assembly

Tear (or cut) a half-inch into the creased cover to match your folded and notched internal pages and put it all together. Shown: a grocery bag cover and a leather cover.

Step 6: Binding

Some pics of the way the binding works. My binding of choice is a piece of string tied with a fisherman's knot (see's_knot), a simple slide knot that makes it (pretty) easy to tighten and loosen the binding. As shown in subsequent steps I sometimes tie a double fisherman's knot to make it more secure, but follow the above link for a single fisherman's knot, which is easier to visualize.

A rubber band is also great in a pinch, and works well for young children: if they can't tie the knots (or aren't patient enough to wait for you to), they can slip a rubber band over their book and easily remove it to customize the contents.

My leather cover has a suitably classy variation, a fine woven waxed cord (second, third from left)

Step 7: Tying Off the String

In this step, I've used thicker string than I normally would, in order to show the process more clearly. You'll need to practice with this knot a bit, in order to ensure that it can be loosened and tightened to fit. The goal is that you can tighten it by pulling on the working ends of the string so it will fit snugly, while still allowing the loop to loosen enough to free up the pages. (The loop 'loosens' by sliding the two fisherman's knots toward each other, tightens again by sliding them apart. It will take a bit of trial and error to get the knots tied in a way that makes the loop sized right for snugness when closed and the ability to remove pages when open.)

Step 8: Options

In the above image, you can see how easy it is to insert custom pages, like a map. Other possibilities include quick-reference sheets, printed with info about anything from local flora or fauna, study guides, weights and measures, to a mini-address book.

One of my favorite homemade books uses recycled pages from an abandoned sketch-book of my daughter's (she's an artist). Every several pages, there is a remnant of one of her sketches, a nice surprise that reminds me of the drawings she used to make in my journals when she was young.

Covers can be plain or printed, paper or fabric, or fine leather (mine, above, is old pigskin from a recycled Greek overnighter bag). My leather cover will be used over and over again, and I can store used pages in a portfolio If I want. For an extra dose of fancy, covers can be bootlegged from old book slipcovers, CD covers (if your book is small enough), posters, or magazines.


Teach It! Contest Sponsored by Dremel

Participated in the
Teach It! Contest Sponsored by Dremel