Introduction: Field Notebooks and Accepting the Fact I Had to Destroy a Book
I am a note taker and have been for many years now. I don’t have an accurate count of the hundreds upon hundreds of notebooks, binders, journals, steno books, sketch pads, digital files, and random napkin-doodles that I own but I can tell you that I have so many that a good portion are stored in boxes in the attic of my parent’s house. I simply like to write good ideas down and let me tell you, “I think” I have a lot of them.
As my professional life began to require more and more travel, it became a bit harder to take my large-format project books with me everywhere I went. So, a few years ago, I decided the best course of action was to start using field notebooks to record ideas I had while on the road. In realizing the benefits of having my note-taking device with me everywhere I went, I almost entirely moved my note-taking experience to field notebooks.
A quick search on the web will pull up quality field notebooks that run about $10 for a 3 pack. The problem for me came when I ran into days where I could almost entirely fill a notebook. Taking notes then became an expensive way of life. I figured I could make my own version for less and always have the supplies I needed on-hand in case I ran into a note-taking emergency.
I had a larger order to make the other day so I figured I would break out all of the supplies and show you how I create my own field notebooks.
Step 1: Materials
While you can get by without a lot of this, I found a few little tips and tricks I use and I’ll explain why I use them in the Instructable below. You are going to need:
- Bristol paper
- Graph paper (Anything will work here but I moved from lined to graph paper because it helps with reference sketches.)
- Some sort of reading material for the cover
- Customizable rubber stamp
- Neutral PH adhesive
- Rounded corner cutter
- X-acto knife
- Paper cutter
- Taping knife
- Foam brush
- Electrical tape
Step 2: Cutting the Paper
First, you have to decide what size you want your notebooks. While you can shoot for any size that best suits you, it’s good to note that Bristol paper usually comes in 9” x 12” sheets and graph paper comes in 8.5” x 11” sheets, so plan accordingly to get the most you can without wasting too much. I usually shoot for a finished product of 5 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches, which gives me a few notebooks out of each piece.
Since we are going to be folding a single piece of bristol and multiple sheets of graph paper in half down the binding of the book, you are going to need to double the width of your overall finished product. Use your paper cutter to cut all of the pieces to length. Since I am shooting for this series to run 5 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches, I cut 2 covers from each Bristol pad that measured 5 1/2 inches by 7 inches. I use 5 sheets of graph paper for each book and those were cut to the same dimensions as the bristol paper. This gives me a total of 20 individual pages for each notebook.
Step 3: Attaching the Covers
My first few runs simply consisted of a blank front and back cover. While this definitely works, I wanted my field notebooks to have a little flair and I started experimenting with attaching cover material to the outsides of the bristol paper. I did this by using books, manuals, magazines, ikea instructions, etc. to run notebook series. This series is from an old book of Hunter S. Thompson photos. It’s good to find images that have a little blank space so you can label your notebooks accordingly.
Spread a thin layer of neutral PH adhesive over one side of the bristol paper and use your foam brush to smooth the glue over the entire sheet of bristol paper. You want to use enough to cover the entire sheet but not enough to cause the cover material to bubble. You are then going to want to press it to the backside of the page with the image you want to use on your cover. Use your taping knife to smooth the paper to the bristol paper, removing as many wrinkles and bubbles as you can. Then place the sheet under a heavy product. A bottle of laundry detergent seems to work just fine. Let that sit and dry - usually 15-20 minutes, just to ensure a good bond.
After these have dried, take an X-acto knife and carefully trace the edges of your bristol paper so your cover material takes the same size. The thickness of the bristol paper makes a decent guide as long as you take it slow.
Step 4: Attaching the Pages
You are going to want to find the vertical center of your book. I use the measuring tool of my paper cutter to find the overall width and then divide by 2. Use a pencil to mark a few reference points on your outside cover as this will be where you create the binding of your field notebook. Once you find that measurement, decide how far you want to space your staples and mark those locations on the reference points you originally set up. I tend to go for the outside edge of my staple to measure 3/4 of an inch from the edge of my cover.
I then center the pages to the inside of the cover material/bristol paper, use my reference points to line the stapler to the correct binding distance, and then send a staple through all of the pages. I then use my taping knife to help hold center and fold the notebook in half.
Step 5: Detailing the Notebooks
Let me be the first to tell you that a sharp corner is not only uncomfortable when going to reach for your field notebook in your pocket, but it is prone to more bends and broken corners on your notebook. Rounding the corners with a corner cutter allows the notebook to slip in and out of the pocket with a bit more ease and looks a little more like the expensive versions you can buy in store or online.
I also place a strip of electrical tape along the outside binding of the notebook to both cover the stapes I use for the binding and also to hide any imperfections in my fold. (Image on final page.)
Step 6: Personalizing Your Notebook
I like to label and date my field notebooks so I know where and when they came from. I purchased a customizable rubber stamp to create my labels. I set the individual letter-type into the grooves of the stamp and give it a test. Once I am good with the print, I find a blank area on the cover material and hit each with the following format.
Series - Gonzo
x of x -
The x of x is the book number of the series. The example shows 3 of 6 in the Gonzo series, which comes from the cover images used. The book number of the series let's me know when I am running out of books and need to start making more. It will also help to organize the series for any future historian who thought my writings were of significance.
Step 7: Write Something
I use my books for anything from recipes to song lyrics and build instructions to keeping track of how I am progressively getting worse at golf. Once I finish a book, I toss it in a pile, date the next book in the series, and start writing.