Sorcerer's Little Leather Spellbook (Notebook)




Introduction: Sorcerer's Little Leather Spellbook (Notebook)

About: I'm a DIY and photography enthusiast who loves to make stuff in his spare time. My DIY interests are pretty diverse, mostly I see something I want to make or a technique I want to learn, then start doing it un…


If you have seen my previous instructable where I have made a leather bracelet you know that I have a slightly more elaborate leather project planned but while I do have most of the tools, I am still lacking experience, so I'm doing some XP grinding by doing side quests while taking all you lovely folks along for the ride!

I sometimes play a roleplaying game that's pretty popular in Germany, called "Das Schwarze Auge" or DSA for short (known as "The Dark Eye" internationally) from which I can draw a lot of references and motifs for this little project. By the way, DSA is well-made, established, has lots of lore and is fun to play. Kind of like D&D I'm told, with some differences that I don't know as I've never played D&D or read any of that lore. If you're interested in roleplaying, I encourage you to try out this system.

Anyway, a buddy of mine is our DM in many games. He has spent a year abroad lately and is returning soon, so I figured it'd be nice to make him a small notebook that goes well with the theme while at the same time allowing me to get some more leatherworking experience. A bonus is that as he's sometimes doing LARP so he could actually use it as a prop!

So the subject of this little experiment of mine is to make a little leatherback / leatherbound / leather cover notebook, or spellbook. The outside appearance is meant to resemble a magic book, tome, grimoire or the like, in essence: A magical book. You get the idea.


  • Make a leatherback notebook which looks like a mystical spellbook or grimoire, albeit smaller
  • Incorporate designs and symbols from DSA
  • Level up leatherworking skills

Safety Advice:

This instructable makes use of scissors, scalpels, razor blades and other pointy objects as well as mallets. Especially the razor blades are very, very sharp and can cut you pretty badly, so remember to never force the blade, cutting away from you and watching where your fingers are at all times. Just be careful with what you're doing. Try to keep your blood inside your body.

Step 1: Tools and Materials


Cutting & General Preparation:

  • Single edge safety razor blades (you want the ones with a rounded metal back for safe handling)
  • Exacto knife
  • Steel edge cutting ruler
  • Hole punches / revolving punch pliers
  • Rivet setters with anvil
  • Edge bevelers
  • Edge slicker
  • Bone folding / creasing tool (nice to have for little touch-ups)
  • Chisel (as a substitute for an adjustable gouge)
  • Triangle (optional, but nice to have to ensure square cuts)
  • Scissors (optional, but nice to have)
  • Cutting mat (optional, but nice to have)


  • Poly / wooden / rubber mallet
  • Leather tooling punches (I used the B701 Beveler, A98 Background, and S706 Seeder)
  • Small flathead screwdriver bits (optional, used some from ifixit's AWESOME set)
  • Modeling tools (point / ball / small and large undercut)
  • Sponge & water bowl


  • Awls
  • Needles (the sturdy kind for leather)
  • (Diamond-shaped) hole chisels
  • Adjustable stitching groover
  • Pliers (optional)

Dye & Finishing:

  • Piece of cloth
  • Brush / Sponge / Cotton dab
  • Rubber gloves (optional)
  • Aluminum foil (optional)


  • Hole punch (the office type for paper)
  • Permanent marker (optional)


Leather & Leather-related Goods:

  • Vegetable-tanned leather
  • Chrome-tanned (clothing) leather
  • Leather dye
  • Leather finish (sealing)
  • Mink Oil (optional)
  • Cling wrap (substitutes for Tandy Leather Tracing Film)

Sewing & Riveting:

  • Thread (waxed)
  • Rivets
  • Bookbinding screws


  • Thick cardboard
  • Paper sheets
  • Clear adhesive tape (e.g. scotch tape)

Step 2: Planning and Practice

Design ideas / cutting corners:

Originally I wanted to make something like a book cover for an A5 notebook. However, I only had scraps of vegetable-tanned leather and didn't want to buy more as this is mostly a practice project. A piece I had was juuuust big enough to make a notebook for pages slightly smaller than A5. In this case I had to incorporate some way to easily attach and replace pages in the notebook so it makes sense. I decided to go for bookbinding screws.

Work with what you have I guess.

Step 1: Planning

I cut the largest rectangle I could get from my scrap pieces of leather, took the measurements and made a file in photoshop. From there I planned out the whole design, like where to put holes for rivets, where to place which elements in what size, where the folds should go and so on. Note that I already accounted for the thickness of the leather I was going to use and added some safety margins for the folding creases.

I'd give you my template files, but the motifs are copyrighted and not mine, so I can't really do that. Sorry. I'll tell you more about the motifs on later pages though, it should be easy for you to find them then.

Step 2: Practice pieces

As I mentioned, I am still inexperienced with the whole leatherworking thing. So I figured I could use some practice and take all my motifs that were going to get tooled, grab some scrap pieces of leather and try tooling all of them to see how well they'd work out. The first six pictures are the results of my practice and are actually in chronological order so you can see my progress. What made this much, much easier was watching a Top Gear (UK) Special in the background for entertainment purposes. Also lots of instructional videos on youtube. I've sprinkled in links all over this instructable at appropriate points to make it a bit easier for you.

I highly encourage you to do some practice pieces of your motifs first unless you are experienced as I learned A LOT about my motifs and some little tricks that I'll tell you about later while practicing.

Step 3: Positioning

Picture 7 shows a mockup of the positioning of my pieces on the actual leather piece I will use for the notebook to help me get a final decision on the placement of all the motifs, as well as which corner motifs to use. I adjusted my template file accordingly.

Design Info:

The magical symbols come from the roleplaying game "Das Schwarze Auge", or "The Dark Eye" as it's known internationally. It has lots of lore, is well-thought-out and fun to play.

Picture #1: This is the symbol of the magician's guild called "Bund des Weißen Pentagramms" (lit.: "Covenant of the White Pentagram") which mostly practices white magic.

Picture #2: The symbol of the magician's guild "Große Graue Gilde des Geistes" (lit.: "Great Grey Guild of the Mind"). Unlike the white guild they're a bit more lax when it comes to the topics of study and things that are allowed.

Picture #3: The symbol of the dark guild, "Bruderschaft der Wissenden" (lit.: "Brotherhood of the Knowing"). They're not downright evil, it's more along the lines of 'You can do what you want, but don't get caught or you're on your own'.

Pictures #4 and #5: Two corner ornaments I found on google images.

Picture #6: This is the design of the cover of a notebook for people playing magicians that you can buy from the guys that make / sell DSA rulebooks and related stuff. The notebook is called "Kleines Brevier des Zauberers" (lit.: "Small Brevier of the Magician"). A Brevier is a book which contains prayers or liturgies. A small brevier is about A6 in size, a handy brevier A5, a normal brevier about A4. At least I vaguely remember having read something along those lines. There are other sizes as well.

Step 3: Shaping, Framing, and General Preparations

I'm sorry that I don't have any earlier pictures because I'm a bloke and forgot to take some in-between. Luckily there's not much complicated stuff to be done to get to this point, so I'll be able to describe and explain what I did.

Step 1: Cutting

Before you do anything, cue another Top Gear Special to stay entertained.

I started out by cutting the largest rectangular piece of leather that I could get from my vegetable-tanned leather scraps using a steel-cutting-edged ruler and single edge safety straight razor blades (see pictures #1 + #4 for those). A square was used to make sure all is properly aligned.

Really nothing complicated here.

Step 2: Edge finishing (aka burnishing)

First I used a sponge and some water to dampen and thus soften the leather. Remeber that you only want to dampen, not wet or outright soak the leather and that at the very least during the first time dampening the leather, go for the whole piece and both sides to minimize water stains. Using an edge slicker I rounded all the sides of the piece of leather so they would be nice to touch, also firmer. The edge slicker can be seen in picture #1.

For better results you can apply an edge beveler prior to using an edge slicker, but for thinner leather it sould work just fine without that as well. You might also want to consider watching the video listed below for methods to make your edges extra-neat and well-protected.

Step 3: Framing, creases and such

While the leather was still damp I used my bone folder tool to mark the folding creases (the ones in the middle, picture #1) to make it slighly easier to fold the leather later. Additionally I used an adjustable stitching groover to make some stitching grooves / frames about 4mm from the edges and a little bit farther away from the center folding creases. These will mostly function as stitching grooves to hold the inner piece of leather later, but also as a nice frame for the motifs that will get tooled into the leather.

Step 4: Punching holes, adding grooves

Having planned out all the framing I could move on with adding the holes that I would need. The four holes on the back side (left half, picture #2 + #3) will be for bookbinding screws and as such are placed exactly far enough apart that the holes of a piece of paper with punched holes (office paper punch) align perfectly. Four smaller holes in the center along the back of the spellbook are for decorative rivets and for securing all leather layers, the larger one in the middle is meant for a strip of leather to come out of and act as a friction-based securing / closing wrap.

Moving on, the folding creases on the front that I made using the bone folder are nice, but mostly of decorative nature. To actually make folding the leather easier I ran edge bevelers (picture #3) along the back (flesh) side of the leather, exactly at the same positions as the marked creases on the front. I continued using the edge bevelers to gouge out / thin the leather at this position to about half its thickness and used a chisel to smooth the gouged-out / thinned crease channel. Additional smoothness / cleanup was achieved with the bone folder.

Actually this is a job for an adjustable gouge but lacking one I improvised with the tools I had at hand. Someone wise once said something along the lines of "The best tool is the one you have", so I made do with what I had. Learn to improvise, my friends!

Step 5: Securing strap

I want the leather notebook to be closed / secured by a leather strap / wrap. So I cut a strip from chrome-tanned brown leather, long enough to wrap once or twice around the notebook using my steel-edge ruler and razor blade. It is slightly narrower than the crease channel cut out in the previous step. The two holes I punched match the smaller holes for rivet-setting in the center of the notebook as the rivets will secure that piece of leather at the back / spine of the book. I then cut the leather in half lengthwise except that small securing part so the wrap could go to either side and be secured with a knot, or by friction.

Recommended videos:

leather edge finishing - A video by Michael Edwards from LeatherWok on edge finishing. Shows you a couple of tricks to make your finished edges much nicer than mine.

Step 4: Transferring the Motifs

Proper procedure and winging it:

The usual way to do this is to have the motif, use a pencil and special water-resistant tracing film to trace the motif, then place that tracing film on dampened leather and transfer the motif by using a modeling tool or something similar. There are, however, some things I don't like about that technique.

  1. You need to have that special tracing film, which is kind of hard to get here, and kind of expensive.
  2. You need to trace twice, which doubles your work and introduces inaccuracies. Also, I suck at drawing, so even more inaccuracies.
  3. It's a hassle.

So I thought I'd use a slightly different technique. First of all, I wanted to skip all the tracing and re-tracing as much as possible. Second, I wanted to be more accurate, especially since many of my motifs had straight lines and such. I decided it would be best to use my printed motifs and trace them directly. Unfortunately, the leather must be damp for this and paper doesn't handle that well. Therefore a moisture blockade which does not interfere with the tracing has to be introduced. The solution came to me in the form of incredibly useful and cheap cling wrap.

Step 1: Preparations

To start things off, you probably guessed it, Top Gear Special time.

As for the actual work, a printed template of the motif is needed. It does not have to be the whole piece, but it makes attaching it easier. Next the leather is dampened with a sponge and some water. Again, you only want to dampen it, not outright soak it. If it's a bit too wet, let it dry a little. It takes some experience to know when a good dampness is reached. It worked well for me when the leather just started to dry. Note that even if you only want to work on a small part of it you should dampen the whole piece of leather, and both sides to boot. This minimizes water stains and warping.

While it's drying I cut a large enough piece of cling wrap to cover the motiv and then some, placed it on the slightly dried but still damp leather, then the printed motif above and secured everything with clear tape (scotch tape). See picture #2 for reference.

Step 2: Motif transfer

Now that the motif is secure and the leather is damp one can use a blunt utensil to trace the motif with some pressure and thus transfer the lines onto the dampened leather.

I mostly used the smaller round point of my modeling tool with some of the smaller details traced by holding an awl at a really low angle (almost horizontally) and tracing with little pressure. For straight lines I used a ruler as a help in order to get really nice, straight lines. Note that I traced the edges of the black lines of the motifs and had experience with all motifs so I was less likely to mess up.

However other things can be used for tracing as well. With my practice pieces I tried ballpoint pens, mechanical pencils and more. Pretty much anything that wasn't too thick or sharp and didn't rip the paper worked when applying moderate pressure. Actually using a mechanical pencil or a ballpoint pen is beneficial as you can exactly see which lines you have traced already.

The only exception is the hand motif / Dark Guild symbol. As I did not want to cut it out and tool it but instead tool all of the surface, so I used an A98 background stamp and pushed down the motif along its edges using the background stamp instead of a modeling tool or pen. It worked surprisingly well (again, tried that on the test piece first).

Notes on the technique:

While the technique is better that the common one in the sense that it's cheaper, less work due to avoiding having to trace twice and being more accurate it comes at the expense of not being sure if the impressions / tracing worked well and making it next to impossible to retrace anything once the reference motif / paper has been moved or removed to check how well it worked. Additionally it is near impossible to redampen the leather while tracing so you're limited to rather small motifs. It also makes it much harder to fix any mistakes made in the process, so use this technique at your own risk.

That being said, it worked out perfectly for me.

Step 5: Cutting and Cleanup

Same procedure as every year? No, James, not this year.

Again I am doing something slightly unorthodox with my leather tooling. What you're supposed to do is use a swivel knife to cut the marked lines / motif as the blade is wide and spreads open the leather (cut), making it easier to tool. Also, swivel knives are specifically made for this. But while I do own one, I decided against its use because I only have a wide blade which is unsuitable for all those tight corners and small, filigrane motifs. Or I am massively lacking experience and can't handle a swivel knife properly. Anyway, I circumvented the problem by using a thinner, narrower exacto knife instead while watching one more Top Gear Special.

Step 1: Cut away

Nothing much to say here. As mentioned I used a thin, narrow exacto knife with a fresh, sharp blade to cut about half the leather's thickness into the leather along the motif lines that I have transferred previously. Note that the blade must be held at a right angle to the leather surface to make the tooling easier and to prevent damaging the leather. Avoid cutting too deep and use a steel-edged ruler for any straight lines. The result should look something like picture #1.

Also, I did not cut the hand / Dark guild symbol, nor the small mystical text / magic runes inside the pentagram on the front page. Those will be treated differently later.

Step 2: Open wide

The exacto blade does not spread the cut open like a swivel knife does as it's a much thinner blade. To remedy this, I dampened the leather (whole piece, both sides) and used a modeling tool with a ball point to run along all cuts to spread them all open to make the tooling a little bit easier. It is hard to see in the pictures, but it does have an effect. This little bit of extra work pays off in the long run.

Step 6: Tooling or Bringing Your Motifs to Life

This is where your motif truly comes to life, so you better take great care in what you are doing here.

Step 1: Dampen

No surprises here. Take a wet sponge and dampen the whole piece of leather, both skin and flesh side. Let it dry a little and when its moisture levels are in the green you can begin tooling. Redampen the leather if it gets too dry to work with.

Step 2: Tooling

I recommend watching a couple of videos on youtube about leather tooling (see below) first as well as trying a couple practice pieces before doing a project of this size and complexity. Though truth be told, this is only my third project involving tooling and it's not really that hard if you take care and pay attention, but as you have seen previously, I practiced every single motif beforehand nonetheless. Even scrap leather isn't cheap and you especially don't want to mess up after having put several hours of work into this already.

I begun by placing my dampened piece of leather on my cutting mat and that on a sturdy, flat piece of hardwood. A sturdy table is fine as well, a flat stone slab would be even better, but I didn't want to annoy my neighbors with the constant hammering, so I placed the wooden plank with my leather on top on my lap and started tooling on there. Probably not recommended, but we're pretty far away from orthodox leatherworking by now anyway. And it worked, so who cares?

Almost all of the tooling has been done with a B701 Edge Beveler which I placed right to the edge of the cut, at a right angle to the leather surface and giving it a couple light love taps with my poly mallet. Then I moved the beveler a bit and repeated the process, trying to push down the leather equally. This takes hours and hours, thus two more Top Gear Specials were watched in the background to keep me entertained. Cue the music!

I should mention that some prefer a single, strong tap for the leather tooling and some use several lighter taps. I see no advantage either way and practice the latter technique by preference. Just do what you need to do to get the results you want to get.

Anyway, some of the corners were too tight for the Edge Beveler and that's where my A98 Background stamp has been used. This was also the stamp I used to completely tool the hand / dark guild symbol as there were a lot of tight, small corners and I wanted it to look uniform.

One more exception was the round dot of the corner ornaments which has been achieved with a S706 Seeder.

So you don't really need 100 different tooling punches (though it might be helpful at times), just the right ones for the job. And you can improvise, which is what I'll show you next.

Step 3: Cheating

Now you might notice that inside of the pentagram of the front cover there's a lot of tiny magic symbols, runes and such with a ton of swirls, tight corners and small details. It was next to impossible to cut them out and tool them properly, so I cheated beforehand by only transferring / marking them and not cutting them out and properly tooling them as I did with the rest of the motifs.

Instead what I did was take two tiny, tiny flathead screwdriver bits from IFIXIT's 54 Bit Driver Kit (I am SOOO happy I bought this super-awesome set on a whim when I saw it in a store by chance), namely the 1.0 and 2.0 one, placed them in their handle and traced the lines of the tiny symbols by gently pressing down a bit at a right angle, moving bit by bit and repeating the process. Essentially the same as with the tooling punches, but no hammer, just pressure. Also, not too much pressure as the flathead screwdriver is so thin it's easy to cut into the leather, which is not what you want.

Again: Make do with what you have. You can improvise tooling punches from so many things you have lying around that you'd be surprised. Damp leather is really soft, so a bunch of things work well. Or you can make your own tooling punches (e.g. instructable by cbm104).

Recommended videos / channels:

  • Ian Atkinson - Great channel with lots of good instruction videos and tips about leatherworking
  • Bruce Cheaney - Also a great channel with a wealth of videos and information about leatherworking
  • Tooling a leather skull - JDO Custom Leather video of how to tool a skull. Has pretty much all the basics to get you started.
  • Tandy Leather - Not only do they sell a bunch of leatherworking tools, they also have loads of good instruction videos on how to use their stuff.

Step 7: Dye and Protect

I should mention that I applied some Mink Oil (I use "Fiebing's Mink Oil Liquid") to the back / spine / crease of the cover from the flesh side first. This is purely optional. I did this because Mink Oil not only seals and preserves leather, it also softens it. This speeds up the process of 'breaking in' the crease / hinge of the book cover, helps keep it flexible and overall protects it. For this purpose it does have the distinct disadvantage of cauing a discoloration to the leather though.

And I apologize for bad pictures here, photographing stuff on a reflective surface is a special pain and while I could pull it off properly, I didn't have the time to fiddle around with my equipment for an hour or two to get better pictures. Please bear with me.

Step 1: Dye

I don't like to stain my work surface, so I placed a big piece of aluminum foil under my piece of leather. I shook my leather dye, "Tandy Leather Eco-Flo Leather Dye: Timber Brown" and put a bit of it into a plastic container. Protecting my hands with some rubber gloves I used a simple household sponge to first give the edges as well as about 2cm of the flesh side two coatings of dye, giving it a couple of minutes to dry in between.

I moved on to generously apply the dye to the skin side, then using the sponge to gently rub it in and spread it well across the surface.

Step 2: Buff

After the first coat of dye dried a bit (about half an hour hour later) I used a piece of cloth to buff the leather by rubbing over it. The point of this is that not all paint particles / pigments of the dye have soaked into the leather, instead some of them accumulated on the surface. Buffing helps evening out the color / dye as well as removing any surplus of paint particles / pigments. It also makes the leather a bit more shiny.

Step 3: Repeat

To get an even better result and darkening the leather a bit more I applied a second layer of dye, prependicular to the first application direction as well as dabbing the sponge over all tooled motifs to get into any and all recesses and corners. Then I rubbed the dye in with the sponge, let it all dry and buffed it again.

Step 4: Hiding crimes

Letting the dye dry overnight it became apparent that the Mink Oil I applied to the spine discolored it so greatly that it did not look good at all. Probably because I overdid it with the application. Lickily, at the same time the darkened color itself looked great, so I swept my mistakes under the rug by applying a bit of mink oil all over the skin side to seal, protect and most importantly darken the leather a bit further, which would even out the color. The oil has been applied with a piece of cloth.

Again, after some drying the leather has been buffed with another piece of cloth. The dye job is not perfectly even and there are a lot of tiny discolorations due to me sucking at applying the dye, but in fact this works to my favour as it gives the book cover an aged, slightly worn look.

Recommended videos:

Information About Dyeing Leather - A VERY extensive video by Ian Atkinson about dyeing leather. Highly recommended.

Dying Leather - A short and crispy instruction video about dyeing leather by Beck Leather

Step 8: Seal the Evil

As I have mentioned paint particles tend to accumulate on the surface of the leather. Not only that, but leather dye does not tend to be waterproof or sweat-resistant. What this means is that in all likelihood the dyed leather will stain / bleed, especially when it gets wet. This needs to be prevented and one way of doing so is to apply a sealant or finishing to the leather. The one I use is "Tandy Leather Super Shene Leather Finish".

Step 1: Apply Finish

In order to apply the super shene evenly I used a sponge brush and gave the whole piece of leather, even the non-dyed inside a good coating. Naturally the edges get a coat as well. Don't go missing a spot. To get into the corners of the tooled motifs I dabbed the sponge brush over them a couple of times. Also I rotated the application direction of the finishing after each coat to make sure to cover everything as evenly as possible.

Step 2: Buff

Just in case and to get the leather super-shiny and awesome after each application and a bit of dry time a clean(ish) piece of cloth is used to buff the finishing.

Step 3: Repeat

Repeat the application of the finishing and the buffing at least once. For good measure I went with 4-5 coats of the finishing. Or more. I was watching a Top Gear Special and kind of lost the count. Definitely at least four coats though.

Recommended Videos:

Leather Finishes Compared - Ian Atkinson takes an extensive look at different leather finishes. Again, highly recommended.

Dying & Finishing - JDOCustomLeather showing a couple of different ways of / products for finishing

Step 9: Nuts and Bolts, Threads and Rivets

Step 1: Grab a piece of lining leather

If you have read my leather bracelet instructable you might've read that exposing the flesh side of leather generally counts as bad practice (unless it's intentional or of no real consequence). As a considerable amount of use time of the notebook will be spent being open I did not want the inside to look shoddy. Thus I grabbed a scrap piece of chrome-tanned clothing leather that I got for an amazingly low price from my favourite leather stores' scrap leather bin and used my steel-edge cutting ruler and my trusty razor blade to cut it to size. I left a bit of an overhang or safety margin if you will just in case. This piece of black leather will become the inside lining of the notebook.

Step 2: Punching holes

Of course the lining leather needs to get attached to the cover somehow. For that I used a permanent marker to mark my 4 center rivet holes of the cover on the lining leather and used my revolving punch pliers to make holes that fit the rivets I was going to use. For the inner holes I used actual hole punches as my revolving punch pliers didn't have enough reach.

Step 3: Assembly

Remember that securing leather strap that has been prepared waaay back in step 3? Well, now it's time to use it. I threaded the split part of it through the center hole in the cover spine and lined up the holes of the securing strap with the ones in the cover. Next I placed the leather lining on top of that and aligned its holes as well. Mind you that cover and lining are flesh-to-flesh, skin sides out.

Step 4: Riveting action

I inserted the rivets through the holes, making sure all three pieces of leather were properly aligned and used my poly hammer, rivet setting punch and anvil on a sturdy surface to set the rivets. I chose the type that looked the same on both sides as I both wanted the outside and the inside look good.

Also, I have lied about the nuts, bolts and thread. Those will come later. Sorry.

Step 10: Punch, Stitch, Punch, Stitch

Step 1: More holes

Dry leather is kind of hard. This does not make sewing very easy. Which is exactly why before you can start the actual sewing it is essential to punch holes for the thread first. So I did that using diamond-shaped hole chisels. A pair of hand chisel pliers would have been useful as they would've allowed me to work into the night without disturbing my neighbors with my hammering but alas, I don't have any. Yet. So I limited myself to normal working hours and used a six-pronged diamond-shaped hole chisel to mark the holes first (punch about halfway through the cover), then a one-pronged one to punch every other hole through both the cover and the lining leather.

Note that I placed a piece of soft wood under the notebook in order to avoid damage to my work surface and hole chisel. You can use a soft plastic cutting board or even better yet, scrap leather for this purpose as well. Also note that the holes were marked / punched inside the stitching groove made waay back in the beginning, the one I called a frame or framing element. Planning ahead is important, ladies and glentlemen!

Anyway, as I will use rather thick thread and the prongs of my hole chisels are kind of close I decided to only punch through every second hole which also saved me some time. The additional marking holes will be hidden away by thread anyway.

Step 2: Hands-on sewing

I grabbed myself a good length of some thick, waxed nylon thread and threaded in a needle at either end. For the first hole I pulled half of the thread through, then continued sewing by inserting a needle from either side through the same hole. Being an ignorant fool when it comes to the art of sowing I have no idea how this kind of stitch is called, but it works quite well and most importantly, it results in an optically continuous seam instead of a 'dashed line'. A pair of pliers was used to pull the needle through if necessary.

Once I ran out of thread I made a double knot, cut off as much excess thread as possible and secured the knot with a tiny bead of crazy glue. Took a new length of thread and continued sewing. Sadly by this point I had run out of Top Gear Specials so I watched some Top Gear Challenges instead.

Step 3: Little touch-ups

After having sown all the pieces together I could finally trim away the excess lining leather. I did this very carefully using a fresh, sharp razor blade. The reason I did not use scissors is that they do not allow a continuous cut and every time you reposition the scissors it is likely your cutting angle changes, thus making the edge look a bit sloppy. At least my mediocre scissors skill results in that, so there you go.

Step 11: Finishing Touches

Step 1: Carboard insert

The lining leather is a bit soft which means that if you are down to a couple of pages in the notebook, you'll be likely to rip through them due to the soft surface beneath the paper. To avoid this and provide a solid writing surface I opted to add 2mm thick black cardboard as a stable writing surface. I measured how large I wanted / needed it to be and cut it to size (95x150mm in my case). When measuring this I took care to make the piece of cardboard of a size such that the upper holes would align with holes made by an office paper punch if the piece of paper would be placed on top of the insert. This would make making new notebook pages much, much easier as I would not need to waste much thought about how deep I need to place the new pages into the hole punch to get them to line up properly.

Step 2: Papercuts

Not the nasty kind of cut. As I only had A4 paper (210x297mm) and needed some of the same size as my cardboard writing surface / insert, I used my steel-edge ruler and a sharp cutter knife to cut the paper to size. The paper I got was an A4 notebook with 20 pages of a nice-looking paper. I got a notebook because it was waaaay cheaper than buying single A4 sheets of a similar paper. Like 5-10% of the cost. Don't ask me why, that's just the way economy works apparently.

Step 3: Holes again

We're almost done. Both the paper as well as the cardboard piece now need holes of the type that office paper punches make, and in that exact distance and positioning as well. For the paper that's easy, I used an actual office paper punch, but the thick cardboard was a bit more tricky. Revolving punch pliers had to come to the rescue. Note that the paper only gets holes at the top while the cardboard insert gets some both at the top and the bottom.

Now note that this does not work well with large stacks of paper or really thick cardboard. You can of course use a hole punch and possibly a hydraulic press or so, but let's face it, most of us don't have that kind of equipment. This is where a really, really awesome trick I saw in Jimmy Diresta's Drill Tips video (DiResta Jimmy Tips 7) could come to your rescue. One wouldn't think that it works, but cutting a length of thin-wall brass tubing, sharpening it and using it in a drill works wonders to cut nice holes in paper and cardboard (after sharpening it with a file or sandpaper). So if you have any troubles, use this trick as it's cheap and there's probably no maker without access to a simple drill, some brass (or copper) tubing and sandpaper or a file. Thinking about it, it would probably work with leather as well. If someone investigates, please do report the results as I am curious.

Step 4: Piecing things together

I used two shorter (7.5mm) bookbinding screws to secure the bottom part of the cardboard insert and two longer ones (10mm) at the top to secure both the cardboard insert as well as the paper for taking notes. Using bookbinding screws makes it easy to change both the cardboard if it is not wanted as well as adding or removing paper from the notebook.

That's all, folks!
I hope you liked my little project and I'd sure love to see your creations as well if you decide to replicate or use my instructable to create your own little leatherback notebook.

Seriously, I love to see pictures of other people's take on my instructables. Don't hold back.

Step 12: Remarks / Hindsight Notes / Potential Improvements

Potential improvements:

  • The only major thing I am not too hapy with is the closing / securing mechanism, that is the leather strap. It works pretty well and for a first attempt this is fine, but if I were to redo it I'd probably put some more thought into a better, more elegant and reliable mechanism. Like a magnetic snap, pushbutton, a belt or something like that.
  • Another small detail that might be added as well might be a pen holder, strap or something of the sort so that you can carry both your notebook as well as your writing instrument with you at the same time.
  • Also the solution using book screws, especially at the bottom, might be optimized a bit. Instead of such a huge cap/head of the screw on the inside I might get some flathead brass screw, cut it to size and sink it in the cardboard insert so that I can get a smoother surface. Or use a different mechanism altogether.
  • For better durability I might think of a different cover spine construction as well. The constant opening and closing will probably wear it out and while that adds character and a lovely used / antique look to the notebook, I'd like to make it as durable as possible. Maybe use two pieces of veg-tan leather for the cover and back while the spine will be made of a softer clothing leather and all three pieces joined by thread? I don't quite know yet. I'll have to research more about bookbinding and bookmaking.


I am very happy about any and all comments given, especially ones pointing out any recommendations, tips, potential improvements or any flaws with this instructable.

I'm open to any kind of suggestions, improvements and remarks. I might even have missed a point or two altogether in a case of organisational blindness so I'd be thankful about you mention any part you didn't like at all as well.

Help me to improve myself so I can give you even better instructables in the future!

Thanks for reading!

Leather Contest

Third Prize in the
Leather Contest

Halloween Props Contest 2015

Fourth Prize in the
Halloween Props Contest 2015

Epilog Contest VII

Participated in the
Epilog Contest VII

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    • Anything Goes Contest

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    7 years ago

    I like that you shared your practice pieces in the instructable. Also, you say you were unhappy with the closure mechanism. I like the look of the leather strap but if you would like an alternative I have a few suggestions. A swing bag clasp or button stud with a leather closure tab might work. For your larger book project you could look into a pin clasp. I think this would compliment your design style but I have only found the pin clasps in larger sizes. Good luck and thanks!


    Reply 7 years ago

    It's a good use of small scrap pieces of leather and shows that you don't need to do this for years to get a passable result.
    Clasps would be a pretty good choice, I'll look into their viability for my purposes.

    spark master
    spark master

    7 years ago


    This would have been a nice project when
    Tandy still had stores on LI. If I ever find that much leather I will
    give it a whirl! Nice star.I did a similar one years ago, I used it to impress
    some Jehova's witness's. They almost got killed getting off my high
    porch, , in fairness I held it over my head and mumbled the Latin Mass
    at tehm. Still it was gratifying to see them run their butts off to a
    neighbor's lawn,whip out prayer books , then pray at me ....Only I would
    make the star upside down to make it for casting spells.... then the goat head center ......ahhh so
    many Jehova's so little time. Hey stop knocking on my door at 9 am, on
    Sunday. Oh it also works on other religions (christians ).

    Ah the follies of "yute" Nice project.

    Bim saha Bim

    "Pray to the Milk Jug"


    Reply 7 years ago

    You usually can get leather from shoemakers, sometimes from tailors as well. Upholsteries or car shops might have some, too. If you have saddlemakers or so they'd be a great place to get some.

    And if all fails you can always order online directly from tandy or a bunch of other places. Ebay is an option as well, just look for "veg tan leather" and you'll get lots of results.

    And that's certainly one way to get them off your back XD


    7 years ago

    Beautiful:-) Good job well done:-)

    The Rambler
    The Rambler

    7 years ago

    This looks great. I love the result and the fact that it's XP Grinding! That's hilarious.

    The Rambler
    The Rambler

    Reply 7 years ago



    7 years ago

    Wow! I'm impressed, I've been wanting to get into leather, I think I'll start now!


    Reply 7 years ago

    Thanks, and you totally should!
    It's really not that hard - this is my fourth leather project and the three preceeding ones were rather simple bracelets (see the flickr album).

    Tools are a bit expensive though. Good news is that you'll be able to do quite a lot with a starter set. Many tools can be substituted or improvised as well, there are instructables on that. Tooling gets much easier if you have access to a 3D printer as you can make custom stamps then.

    And the results are really satisfying. Leather is an awesome material.

    Kapten Rubank
    Kapten Rubank

    7 years ago

    Awesome! Love the finish you got with the mink oil!


    Reply 7 years ago

    Thank you!

    The color you get from combining Tandy's "Timber Brown" with Fiebing's Mink Oil is my personal favourite so far. It goes really well with an aged look that you'd expect from a spellbook.


    7 years ago

    This is awsome, and Im not just saying that because my favorite character class is Magic User... Well done!


    Reply 7 years ago

    Then you'll be glad to hear that the big project I am talking about will be a leather book cover for the magician's rulebook, made to look like an awesome grimoire.

    Coincidentially, it'll be for the same recipient.

    Only reason I haven't made it so far is because it'll have a few additional features that I do not know how to realize yet.


    Reply 7 years ago

    Can't wait to see it! My friend actually has something like you describe for his DM guide, but he bought his. Home made is much cooler!


    Reply 7 years ago

    I'll definitely make an instructable out of it.

    Do you happen to know where he bought it? It would be nice as a reference. I've alreade been gathering dozens of references for this project, but you can't ever have enough.


    7 years ago



    Reply 7 years ago