Binding a Journal From an Old Book




We decided to bind journals out of old books after realizing our school was throwing out several dozen of them. Old books often have gorgeous, embossed covers, but they're usually not in great shape on the inside and are rarely worth anything when you try to resell them. As a result, it's hard to find a good use for them.

So, instead of tossing old books, why not give them a new lease on life by "up-scaling" them into beautiful, hand-bound notebooks? Here, we used a hardcover copy of Middlemarch from 1904, about 40 sheets of paper, and an small print-out of the Communist Manifesto for our History teacher. The project took about four hours total from start to finish.

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Step 1: Separate Cover From Text Block

Start off by getting the cover of the book lose. Using a knife, box cutter, etc., cut along the inner edge of the block of pages, getting as close as possible to the cover itself. Repeat on the other end of the book.

You won't need the text block again for this project (and we still haven't figured out what to do with our scrap pages!), but perhaps you can shred them into confetti, make a book sculpture out of it, or use the illuminated pages as decoration.

Step 2: Make New Text Block

Next, fold, stack, sew, and trim the pages you'll use to fill your book! Get enough sheets of paper to properly fill your cover (fold your stack in half and compare to the width of the original text block). Next, sort all your sheets into piles of 5-8 or so. These piles will become your "signatures."

Fold your pages "hamburger style," and, for each signature, nest the folded pages into each other. Stack these together, and leave them to sit for an hour or so under a heavy book.

Line your signatures up on the folded end, and decide where you're going to make your holes for sewing. For ours, we used a kettle stitch and made five holes. We also didn't bother using the waxed thread most bookbinders use. However, snoop around online till you find a sewing tutorial you like that suits the size and thickness of your book (we recommend the YouTube Channel Sea Lemon for free bookbinding tutorials). Once you've chosen, sew away! This was probably the most repetitive and time-consuming of all the steps, but with a podcast or movie in the background, it can be pretty relaxing!

When you're done sewing, let your text block sit under something heavy for another hour or so. If you have access to some clamps and a cutting board or two, you can also take this opportunity to trim the uneven edges of your block of pages using a ruler and your box-cutter, blade, etc. If you have access to a papercutter, this step will be much easier for you.

Step 3: Glue Your Book Cloth

Time to strengthen your book! Start by using a paintbrush to cover the spine in a layer of glue. Allow this to dry.

Next, glue a strip of cloth along the spine of the text block. Usually, book cloth is a mesh-like fabric (e.g. cheese cloth), but we used a square of thin cotton we had lying around. Glue up to about a centimeter from each end, and leave about an inch of extra fabric on either side of the spine, as shown above (DO NOT glue this to the front and back of the text block - only the spine).

For this, we used PVA glue. This is what most bookbinder's recommend. However, Elmer's glue will do just fine.

Step 4: Glue Text Block to Cover

As your block of pages dries, search for pretty, colorful paper you might like to use for the end pages. They should be the size of your original blank sheets of paper. Fold these end pages in half, and use a paint brush to apply a thin strip of glue along the folder edge on the outside. Paste the end page along the margins of the first page of your book. Be sure that your folded edges are all lined up and that you haven't glued the end page in such a way that it covers a lot of your first page. Repeat this on the back and allow to dry (preferably, again, under something heavy).

You're finally ready to glue your new text block to the original cover! Before going any further, make sure all the edges of your book are even. You won't be able to trim your text block once you've attached the cover.

Apply glue to the inside of your covers and the outside of your end pages, and glue these to each other carefully. Leave to dry under even weight for at least an hour.

Step 5: Enjoy Your New Book!

This project is a great way to conserve gorgeous, old books and makes for a very personal, original, and thoughtful gift. Experiment with different types of paper (lined, blank, graph, or sketchbook paper), make photo albums for loved ones, or even do your favorite essay or short story justice by presenting it in a really unique way. Thanks for appreciating the beauty of books and helping us keep these lovely old covers around. Enjoy!

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    3 Discussions

    Threadhead Jude

    2 years ago

    Wow! Thank you for posting... I've searching for a professional book binder and have had so much trouble finding one... I could try to rebind it myself with an old book cover of the same width.


    2 years ago

    Love this. Will try it myself. I love old books too.


    2 years ago

    For those who don't know, Elmer's glue is basically PVA glue. It's just that most people (in the USA, at least) pay attention to brand name more than actual product composition. When I read an Elmer's glue label for the first time (after using it for years) I was very surprised.