Introduction: The Transmogrified Victorian Reporter's Notepad

I have a friend who writes for a few magazines and a local newspaper - this is a gift I made for him. Like me, he likes Steampunk/Victorian-era-type items. This is my attempt at creating a reporter's notepad with an archaic look and feel.

Tools used:

Cordless Drill (not the best choice, but more on this later)
Sandpaper and File
Drill Bits
Cutting Blade (for leather)

Metal used:

1 piece @ $6.83/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 3.5" x 5"
1 piece @ $1.37/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 1" x 3.5"
1 piece @ $5.46/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 3.5" x 4"

Miscellaneous materials used:

Leather binding: ~ $2.00
Brass screw posts (bag of 6 but using only 2): ~ $1.75
Brass screw post extensions (1/4" x 2): ~ $1.00
Paint: ~ $0.00 (leftover from previous project)
Graph Paper Pad (for qty 2): ~ $2.25
Brass Hinges (x2) ~ $0.50

Total cost: approx $21.00

Metal was purchased online from
Brass screws were purchased from

Step 1: Components - Aluminum, Leather, Screws, and Hinges

While I originally wanted this notepad to be made from brass, the cost of the 3 pieces was almost $90.00 compared to less than $15.00 for the aluminum. I ordered it pre-cut from My measurements were based on the small graph pads I purchased locally from a Sam Flax store. The cover and backplate have approx. 1/4" extra space around the graph pad when the pad is attached inside.

The aluminum pieces are 1/4" thick - it's heavy enough to give the entire notepad a nice solid feel. Using 1/8" aluminum was considered - while it's easier to drill holes through, I found that it's a little too thin and is easy to bend if you're not careful. Below are the dimensions of the 3 pieces:

1 piece @ $6.83/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 3.5" x 5"
1 piece @ $1.37/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 1" x 3.5"
1 piece @ $5.46/piece
Aluminum 6061-T6 Bare Plate 0.25" Cut to: 3.5" x 4"

The leather used is a simple 48" strip (3" wide) of black 1/8" leather. It's easy to cut with a sharp blade and will wrap the notepad's left edge. This was purchased locally at my handy Tandy Leather Company store.

The brass screw posts (also called Chicago screws) were purchased online at - my local Ace Hardware had "brass" screw posts but they weren't real brass - after putting a screwdriver to them, I discovered they were simply painted/coated lightly and were easy to scratch and see the aluminum underneath. Extensions are available, too, if you find the complete assembly is too thick. In this case, the 1" screw posts were just a little bit too short so I added in two 1/4" extensions (as you'll see in step 7).

I purchased a small package of 4 brass hinges at Hobby Lobby for $1.00 and the small graph pads were just a little over $1.00 each at Sam Flax.

Additional Thoughts:

I have a strip of tan leather (1/4" thick) that also would have looked nice, but it is much more difficult to bend and secure with the screw posts due to its thickness. I'm going to try and purchase a 48" strip of tan leather in 1/8" thickness for a future project.

Also, I love the brass screw posts - they are heavy and solid feeling. They also come in nickel and I'm going to get a few of those for future projects, too - they might look nice against that black leather.

Step 2: Getting Started

First, I removed the graph paper covers and backing as you can see in the first image. I save this kind of stuff rather than discard - cardboard always makes a nice place to write down measurements and calculations during a project - before throwing anything away, always pause and ask yourself if it can possibly be reused or recycled before tossing.

In the next image you can see that I've stacked everything together to get an idea of its thickness and weight. The thickness is important because it will help determine the correct length of screw posts to use. I have 1" screw posts plus 1/4" extensions which are sufficient when adding in the thickness of the leather (1/8" on top and 1/8" on bottom).

Step 3: Drilling the Binding Holes

Next, I've clamped down the metal - this helps me to determine the proper spacing of the top two pieces. I've left a small 1/16" gap that will allow the hinges to properly open and close. If you look carefully you can also see that I've marked on the top left piece where I will drill.

As I've begun tinkering and building things, I continually learn new from my mistakes. One thing I've learned is how important it is to drill pilot holes (especially in metals). The smaller drill bits are easier to use in the solid metal AND they provide space for the larger drill bits to shed the metal that is being drill out. The second image here shows the two pilot holes I drill through the top and bottom pieces.

The next three images shows the top left piece and the bottom piece with the 1/4" diameter holes drilled and how I clamped down the top left piece to the paper pad and the holes drilled into the paper pad.

The final image shows the paper pad inserted between the covers and secured with the screw posts to test the assembly. Notice the space underneath the screw posts - it looks like enough room for the thickness of the 1/8" leather binding but it's not - I'll have two add extensions later (step 7) so the leather can be tightened down properly.

Step 4: Drilling the Hinge Holes

Look carefully at the first image and you should see small marks indicating where the holes for the hinges will be drilled.

At this point, I'll mention that all my drilling so far has been done by a cordless hand drill; my electric hand drill died a few months back when the motor burned out.

Drilling with my cordless was problematic - I only have one battery pack, so I had to keep charging it every so often. It also just doesn't have that much power. But these problems are NOTHING compared to the issue of trying to drill down vertically into metal while putting enough downward pressure on the drill to get through the aluminum. If I got even minutely off vertical during my drilling, the drill bit would buzz and make an awful racket and the aluminum piece would also buzz (even when clamped securely).

I've decided I want a table mounted drill press - I won't have to worry about whether my hand drilling is perfectly vertical and I don't have to concentrate on downward pressure while trying to keep the drill steady.

The next two images show the pilot holes drilled - and here's where I ran into my next problem. I've only got a small collection of 8 bits (1/4", 3/8", and smaller). I didn't have the proper-sized bit to match the small screws that will secure the hinges, so I used what I had and the holes came out slightly larger than the screws.

So, my solution was to drop some Gorilla Glue into each hole (and a little where the hinges will attach). I attached the hinges, making sure to dip each screw's threads into some glue. The glue dried overnight (it expands and fills space, which worked in my favor) and now the screws and hinges are secured. I took a small bit of sandpaper to the excess glue.

Ideally, I'd like to have a tapper that will let me drill the holes so they are threaded and ready for screws to be inserted. These small brass screws are very soft metal and if I had used a screwdriver, it would have stripped the heads easily. Another item on my Must-Have-List is a bigger assortment of drill bits, with a good mix of small and large diameter.

The next two images show the hinges work - look carefully and you can see some glue remnants before I sanded them down.

Step 5: Cut the Leather Binding

I measured the height of the book (not thickness) and cut a small bit of black leather to wrap around the final book. The strip of leather's top and bottom are already perfect cut and parallel so all I needed to do was make sure my cut to separate it from the strip was as near parallel to the other edge.

Step 6: Painting the Parts

Next, I covered the hinges with painter's tape and applied numerous heavy coats of spray paint. I used Krylon Fusion "Hammered Finish" which gives it a nice finished texture and dries fairly fast.

Note: Some of you may wonder about applying this type of paint to aluminum, but trust me - The Krylon Fusion stuff works great. I didn't even have to scratch up the surfaces or use any kind of etching bath (such as vinegar) to get the paint to adhere.

Step 7: Assembling the Notepad

Next, I placed the bottom piece over the leather and drilled two holes. I then inserted the two screw posts, followed by the bottom cover and then the graph paper pad. The last image shows a small strip of leather that I cut away - when wrapped around the entire notepad, it was just about 1/8" too long and covered a large portion of the hinges.

To determine the final drill holes, I wrapped the leather around and pressed hard over the screw post extensions poking up from the top of the cover - they make a mark that I've indicated in the last figure.

Step 8: The Notepad Completed

The last step is to clamp down the leather binding with the screw post ends and test the hinged cover to make sure it opens and closes properly.

Total weight is about 1.5 pounds and I'm completely happy with the final results - it's got a nice weight to it and looks and feels like something from the past. It's small enough to fit into a laptop bag pocket or just sit on the desk and invite questions.

Since it was a gift for my friend, I'm going to have to create another one for myself. $21.00 isn't bad for a handmade gift that should last quite a while. (I gave him five extra graph paper pads as refills.) He's already informed me that two people in his office want one - hmm....

Final Thoughts:

1. The total time invested in this project was probably close to 4 hours - but a lot of that is due to having to start and stop because of the recharge time on my cordless drill battery (paint drying time isn't included because I allowed painting to dry overnight).

2. More Clamps! I have these basic clamps that won't let me clamp things down any further way than 2 or 3 inches from the edge of my worktable. Add something else to my Must-Have-List. It'd be nice to be able to clamp the metal down in more locations to prevent vibration when drilling.

3. More Variations! I'm considering doing some more of these types of books - possibly an actual 3-ring binder of some sort... that'll require some thinking. Any suggestions? Please let me know your thoughts!

4. My best suggestion for making this or something like it is to spend the proper amount of time on your drilling - if the holes are lined up properly, the graph paper pad or one of the covers will be misaligned and the entire thing will look wrong. I made a couple small mistakes during my drilling (mainly due to using a hand drill and not a drill press) - they're hardly noticeable in the pictures or to my friend, but I see them and have learned a bit more that will improve my future projects.

I hope you've enjoyed my Instructable - I'm a writer (if you couldn't already guess) and always enjoy documenting my projects - if you decide to make one of these (or a variation), I'd love to see your final version... actually, I'd love to see your entire process in Instructables! If you have any questions about what I've posted here, please ask and I'll do my best to respond quickly.

Atlanta, Georgia

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