Introduction: Stamped Leather Notebook Cover
Everyone wants a fancy leather covered notebook! This guide will teach you how to make exactly that!
2-3oz Leather- Enough to cover the outside of the notebook a little more than 2x
Framing square or Ruler
Pricking Irons 2 prong required 5 prong recommended
Stamp(3d model available above for those with 3d printers)
Contact cement or Rubber Cement
2x Saddlers Needles
Neatsfoot Oil or similar leather conditioner
Canvas/jean cloth and/or wooden Burnisher
Shop Press OR Vice OR Clamps OR lots of Weights
Wood for pressing
Closed cell foam OR Sued Or Rubber
Step 1: Creating the Outside Template and Cutting
First thing you want to do is make sure you're working with some nice straight edges on your piece of leather. Using a framing square makes this very easy, using your notebook as a reference to minimize waste. You can either use a pen(on the backside of the leather) or jump straight to cutting, just make sure you add an extra 3/4" inch to the height and width to accommodate stitching later.
With a squared corner established we can mark the top, bottom, and once of the side stitching areas on the backside of the leather. The stitching areas should be around 1/4" in to 5/16" in, if you have a thicker cover you will need to increase this, these will be trimmed down later so don't be afraid of it being too big. Once you have the side and bottom marked, use your notebook as a reference to get the proper height before doing the top stitching area. Wing dividers make marking stitching areas very quick and easy and are harder to notice should the back of the leather be seen. It can also be done by using a ruler and marking several times along the edge and finally connecting all the marks.
In order to get the final side we need to know the total length of the notebook. If your notebook is quite thin, like the one pictured, it can be opened and placed on the leather to measure the total length needed. If your notebook has a thick spine you can leave it closed and then measure the front side, spine, and backside to get this measurement. Once you have that you simply add the stitch area and you should have your template.
Now you just cut along the outside of the template. Use a ruler or framing square to assist in getting nice clean straight cuts.
Step 2: Creating the Flap Template
Now that you have the outside piece cut out, it's time to work on the inner flap template. The easiest and fastest way is to take the outside piece, trace around it, and cut it out. The new cutout piece becomes your new outside so we can use the previous stitching areas marked for the flap template. Using the old outside now flap piece, take your notebook and place it on the corner to mark how wide the cover is. The flaps need to be less than this measurement since too long and the notebook won't shut properly or they will be too hard to get the cover on. If you make them too short the cover ill come off easily. 75% of the cover width is a good place to start but really it comes down to personal preference and experimentation with that particular notebook.
Once you know how wide to make the flap, mark a line and cut. Once you have one flap cut use it as a template to cut out the other flap from the remaining leather. You should be left with a strip of leather that you can use in other projects or simply as a bookmark!
Step 3: Punching Stitches in the Outside Cover
With the leather pieces cut It's time to mark and punch some stitching holes on the outside piece of leather. The best method is to use wing dividers, the measurement will depend on the thickness of your notebook cover. The thicker the cover the further out you'll want your stitching. If you have say a 1/8" in thick cover you'll subtract that from your original stitching space, say 5/16" in, which would give you a measurement of 3/16" in. So you would set your wing dividers to 3/16" and mark the stitch lines on the front side of the leather piece, no need to press hard just enough to give a line to follow. The notebook pictured has a very thin cover so the original stitch line measurement was used to mark the lines and the pricking irons just moved to the outside of that line.
Don't worry about marking the flaps! Those will come later.
When marking the stitch line try to stop at least 1 full stitch length before where the edge of the flap will be. It's not a big deal if you go over and in fact some might find stitching around the entire outside of the cover to more aesthetically pleasing. Just something to be conscious of if you don't want that. If you do that might require starting/spacing your stitching so that the edge of the cover is in between the stitches for a cleaner look.
Once the lines are marked, use your pricking irons/diamond chisels to start punching holes. If your notebook has rounded corners use your notebook as a guide.
Step 4: Stamping
The reason that the stitching holes were punched in the previous step was so that we would have a good frame of reference for our stamp. With the stitching border in place we can stamp!
First things first, wet the leather. Place the leather on top of a softer backing material, here closed cell foam was used but rubber, suede, or any other soft yet resistant material could be used. The backing material allows for a deeper impression on thinner leathers. You can also use a hard surface for a less defined impression so experiment with what you like. Place your stamp into position and then place a piece or wood or metal on top of the stamp. Then it is time to press.
**Warning** Leather can pick up textures from pressing materials so try to use smooth surfaces or another piece of leather to avoid this.
Here a 20 ton press is used, but a shop vice, clamps, or just a ton of weights can also be used. Just go slow, apply force evenly, and listen. If you hear your stamp creaking or cracking then it's time to back off a little pressure. Once you've reached what you believe to be a good amount of pressure, let it sit for at least 20-30mins. If using simply weight or clamps you'll want to let it go longer. When you're happy with the length of time just remove weight/pressure and pop off the stamp.
Depending on how soft of a backer you used you might need to re-flatten. It should still be wet, but if not just re-wet and place under some weights. Let this sit for about 30 minutes then remove weights and let dry. Pictured is the leather face down on a smooth granite slab with a cutting board for weight distribution and weights on top.
Step 5: Gluing the Flaps to the Cover
Once the stamped cover is dry it's time to glue. Using either Contact cement or Rubber cement, spread glue on the backside of the leather between the stitch line and the edge on the cover and both flaps. You may want to remark the stitch lines on the flaps if you had a thicker cover. The goal is to have glue up to the stitch line but not passed it. Any glue that gets passed will make sliding the cover in more difficult. Once one side of the cover and a flap has glue, place them together trying to keep them as square as possible. Doing one side at a time helps avoid a mess. Then repeat on the other side.
Contact cement and rubber cement work best when allowed to dry a bit before pushing the pieces together. However that leaves very little wiggle room in terms of adjusting once the pieces make contact. Leaving the glue a little wet gives you a chance to readjust. We don't need the best bond here, it just needs to be held in place until stitched, so you can leave the glue a little wet in order to get everything nice and square.
Let dry for at least 30 minutes
Step 6: Punching the Flap Stitching Holes
With everything glued together we can finish the stitching holes. Using the already punched holes in the cover we simply punch those holes again, this time going through the now glued on flaps as well.
Use a piece of scrap leather between the project and your punching surface. Since the flaps are face down the leather could pick up textures from the surface and ruin an otherwise flawless project.
Step 7: Stitching
Using a saddle stitch, stitch both sides of the cover. A good estimate of how much thread you'll need per stitch line is to take the length of the stitch line and do at least 3x that for thin leather and 4x or more for thicker.
Step 8: Trimming the Excess
With the stitching done we can finally trim the excess edge material. How much or how little material you leave is a personal preference, but too close to the stitching line and you could compromise the stitch strength. Also keep in mind that the edges will be sanded so account for the small amount of material that will be removed! Measure from the outside edge of the stitch line and make several marks either using your ruler or wing dividers. Once you've got another marks use a ruler to turn them into a straight line and cut. Repeat on each side.
If your corners are rounded, simply find a round object that matches the radius of the corner and use that as a cutting guide. Even if it's a bit rough this can be further rounded when sanding.
Once everything is cut do a quick pass of edge beveling if you have one. You're not looking to take off a ton of material here, just taking off tiny bit of the corners. This just helps keep the edges from mushrooming when sanding/burnishing.
Step 9: Sanding and Burnishing
Didn't get a clean cut? That's why we sand, just don't push too hard Depending on how rough the edge is will determine where you want to start with grit. If there is a bunch of material to remove then 150-200 grit, if it just needs refinement 400-600, and if it just needs some smoothing then 1000grit+. Since we are working with leather dust a mask is strongly advised. Stand each side until you have smooth surface. If you have any mushrooming(leather edge gets smooshed in), then use an edge beveler and another quick pass with the 1000grit+
If your edge already looks perfect then feel free to skip sanding.
With the edge where we want them it's time to burnish. Get a damp cloth and a dry piece of canvas/jeans or a burnisher. Dampen one edge of the leather and rub the dry cloth on it, don't push too hard. It shouldn't take long before that edge looks shinier and that's what we're going for. Once you've done all the edges you can either do another pass, move on to the next step, or take it to another level. If you want to take it to the next level you would then sand the edges again with 1000 grit+(the higher the better, then burnish again, repeat until you're pleased. There are also products to help with this process like Tokenol, CMC powder, saddle soap, etc, if you ask a dozen leather workers the best way to finish an edge you'll get a dozen different answers.
Step 10: Conditioning & Buffing
Since we've gotten our leather wet it's time to give it some condition so it is back in tip top shape. Neatsfoot oil is a great choice for Veg Tanned leather, but there are other conditions out there(some people use olive oil). Just apply some oil to a clean cloth, and rub a very thin coat on the cover and flaps. If the oil is still sitting on the surface after 15 seconds or so just wipe off the excess. The oil will darken the leather for a short period of time but it will come back to a much lighter color after a period of time.
Let the cover sit for a few hours to let the oil diffuse through the leather. Once it seems like the color has evened out you can take that dry canvas from burnishing and buff the cover and flaps. Lightly rub the cloth a crossed the leather surface. This might cause the leather to darken slightly but it should get a sheen on it.
Step 11: Putting on the Cover
The final step is to simply put the cover on the notebook. Bend the front and back of the notebook as far back as possible without harming anything. Then shimmy the cover on to both the front and back at the same time until they are fully inserted. Then you're done! Close the notebook and admire your handiwork!
Step 12: Optional Steps
There are several optional things you can do with this project that weren't really covered.
The leather could easily be dyed if another color is desired. The best time to dye the leather is as early in the project as possible. Here that would be before you even mark the template. The problem with dying at this point is you might dye more leather than you need. You could also dye after all the pieces are cut out, the risk is that the dye can cause the leather to shrink messing up any measurements. Dying after gluing could help reinforce and resist some shrinking but it's still a risk. Using water based dye when stamping could have good results but might require experimentation.
Block dying is one option to help make the stamp design pop out. This is where you apply dye to a sponge and run it just a crossed the top of the leather with no pressure. This keeps the dye from being applied to the "valleys" of the stamp design. The result is the stamp design being much lighter than the surrounding leather.
Antiquing is another option to make the stamp design pop out more. Simply rub it into the stamp design and then rub off the top layer like in block dying. This is the opposite of the block dying though, the antique gets left in the "valleys" and the rest gets wiped away. The result is the stamp design is darker than the surrounding leather.
A finish coat could also be applied after buffing. If you wanted a more durable/stiff cover then resollene cut 50/50 with water and applied in 2-3 super thin coats would serve that purpose. A more natural finish would be a beeswax based coating like snoseal. There are a lot of other finishes out there like Nikwax, Carnuba cream, tan kote, super sheen, and tons more. Research, experiment, and find out what works for you.
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