Leather Legal Pad Folder




Introduction: Leather Legal Pad Folder

About: I'm a professional chef and in my idle time I keep busy making leather and fabric products. Just about anything I put my mind to, I give it a go, usually with decent results.

I keep a lot of notes on those 5x8 junior legal pads, quick recipes or craft ideas even the instructable notes, I made several of these covers in the past for people and figure why not make one for myself, yeah right...

I watched a premium video on a leathercraft stores website on how to make one similar to this and adapted it to what I had on hand,

its quite lengthy as I tend to ramble a bit but I do try to go into detail as much as possible, sometimes its hard to word what you are doing in just a short sentence so bear with me..

Step 1: Tools and Supplies Needed

my tool list is but not limited to

razor knife


ginsu scissors



various bevelers and leather stamps

sheeps wool

harness needles (blunt ended)

tiger thread

swivel knife

maul / mallet

diamond chisels

French edge skiver/beveler

adjustable 'V' gouge

stitching groover

contact cement

4-5 ounce veg tanned leather

gel antique stain (tan)

satin shene acrylic sealer

carnauba crème wax


Step 2: The Pattern

Im using economy grade veg tan again so this guy is gonna look beat up from the get go and will look well worn once I put on the gel antique

1- 14.5 x 9.5 for the cover

1- 9.5 x 6.5 for the pad panel

1- 6.5 x 7.5 to 4.5 for the pocket panel

1- 1.5 x 2.5 for the pen tab

I started the pad panel a while back that's why its already stamped

I make my templates out of manila folders, they are fairly stiff and I can reuse the pattern several times before I don't trust the shape anymore

I cut almost all of my thinner leathers with strong scissors or a rotary cutter and a cork backed ruler, the plastic ones slide when you least expect it to.

lay your pattern down and carefully cut out all of the pieces

if not using a pattern measure out your points and mark them with an awl and cut them with a straight edge

Step 3: Pocket Panel

Pocket Panel
this panel is 6.5 wide by 7.5 tall and angles down to 4.5 inches tall, if you make a template for this, make sure you mark the top clearly so you don't reverse it when tracing it out another day, i have a spare reversed piece I have yet to use from not paying attention

First case your leather, casing information is available all over the web and I do suggest you read up on it before attempting a veg tan project,

for this I am going to run it under water for about 3 seconds and let it sit for about 10 minutes before going any farther ( that is basically a crude casing)

so after casing I set my wing dividers at about 3/16 and scored a line from my 7.5 inch point to my 4.5 inch point and then down to the bottom for a decorative rim

next I set my wing dividers to 1/2 inch and went all the way around the panel for a frame for my picture and a border decoration

I used a small ball stylus and my ruler for a straight edge and rubbed down all of these lines(burnished) this gives depth and color

next I used a border stamp and went all the way around on the inside of the frame to give added decorations

next I layed down a flower design I traced from the web and lightly traced over it with the fine stylus end, this leaves a light design to work with

I traced in the picture with a swivel knife cutting in about 1/2 way, this will give you a nice deep edge when beveling

I beveled the picture in and with various tools I shaped it and shaded the areas I wanted darkened until I was satisfied

finally I used the oak leaf stamp and the dot stamp to fill in the outer areas

Step 4: Pad Panel

for the pad panel

I measured down 1 inch from the top and 3/8 inch from the edge and punched holes on those 2 points with a 3/16 inch punch then with the razor and the ruler i cut a 1/8 inch wide slot from hole to hole, this gap gives room to slide in the pad without stressing the ends too much ** note the picture** when cutting this type of slot always stop about 1/4 inch or so away from the connecting hole and cut back to that point from the inside of the hole out to meet that point, it is very easy to overshoot the hole and cut the opposite edge and ruin your piece.

I slid my pad into place and placed my border tool next to it to give me a general idea where to put the border so it would be exposed when in use, then I set my wing dividers to that point.

I cased the leather then scored a line with the wing dividers on both sides from the holes down and stopped at 1/2 inch up to keep it even with the pocket panel bottom, then with my ruler made a line across the bottom at the 1/2 inch mark,

I burnished all of these lines in with my stylus and stamped in the border with the x flower design

I did not decorate the center here because it would be covered by the pad and the upper and lower edge will have stitches in them when we complete the project

Step 5: The Cover Inside

There's a lot of stuff going on here i'm gonna break it down into several steps

I start by finding my center line on the flesh/unfinished side, and make a line from top to bottom

next I lay my ruler down on that line and using the French edge beveler turned upside down, I rub in a line from top to bottom designating the width of the beveler, then I move the ruler to the other side of the line and do the same thing there, we are basically going to rout out this area to make a fold. it has to be at least an inch wide to accommodate the pen tab when full. IF you don't have a French edge beveler just make sure you have 3 lines marked of for the next step.


This is an adjustable tool designed to dig out a groove at the desired depth, it makes creating a crisp crease line simpler, the drawback from this tool is you can destroy a project quite rapidly if you don't set it properly. so the best way to set it correctly is to take a practice piece from the same piece of leather that you cut your parts from and adjust it on that, make several practice passes and you only need to go down about 1/2 way because leather can be different thicknesses at different points


set your adjusted gouge about 1/2 inch up into your center line then lay your ruler into place and cut out your groove going off the edge, then go the other direction and go off the edge the other way taking out that 1/2 inch, you cant start off the edge it will snag and tear up the edge, do this to all 3 lines

now take your French edge beveler and remove the 2 mounds in the same fashion, the lips on the beveler will ride right in the grooves and make short work of clearing this area and wont go any lower than the gouged grooves, I hope that wasn't that confusing,

Step 6: The Cover Outside

Stitching Grooves

im going to make my stitching groove on the outside only, not on the inside panels, its not necessary to have one at all but it will give me a straight line to follow. I have just used a straight edge or wing dividers many times before.

im also going to sew all the way around even where im not binding two pieces together, this will give me a nice continuous line all around, not have dead ends anywhere and give strength to my fold line

I set my groover to about 1/8 inch and carefully make a groove all the way around, paying attention to have crisp corners and going slow over the fold area, this area is thin and the groover will not catch the edge and go astray,

later when you punch stitch holes after gluing this line will clear the slot holes you made in the pad panel.

Step 7: Cover Outside Front and Back

The designs on the front and back are done the same way as the pocket panel, the layout is a bit different so here's what I did,

I decided on an oak leaf and acorn theme for the cover but I have to set up the placement first

so trying to center it best I want to keep my stamping away from the fold, I am going to come in 1-1/4 inch from the center, that should give me sufficient room, that works out to be 6 inches from the edge and im staying with the 1/2 inch border from the other 3 edges

So lets make some designs, First, case the leather, but, if you case only the front part you will leave a water stain on the line where you leave the leather dry, so we need to case the whole cover, its a good idea to have a plan for the back cover at this point so you can move right into that, its always possible to moisten the leather again so don't fret it too much

once its cased I measured my points to draw to and made light dots to connect to, then set my wing dividers at 1/2 inch and scored in my top, right side and bottom lines, then with the ruler and fine point stylus I connected the top to the bottom at the 6 inch mark, this gave me a nice frame to work in, you will follow this same process later on the back cover.

once the lines are in place I burnished them in with the ball end stylus like I did on the inside panels and stayed with the x flower border stamp. I traced the small corner oak leaf acorn picture from the web onto transparent paper directly from my computer screen, then followed the same procedure as I did on the pocket panel on the inside, using various beveling and shading tools, then added the small oak leaf stamps and the dot stamp to fill in the voids.

if your leather has dried out too much to do the work on the back you can dampen the whole piece again with a damp sponge and case it again

I repeated the same process on the back cover as I did on the other parts using a large oak leaf and acorn design

Step 8: The Pen Tab

ok its small but there is a bit to do on this little sucker over the next few steps,

i normally dont use different hides on the same project as they are tanned differently and the finishing results wont match up, but this part is relatively small and it will be dark, so If you have 3-4 oz leather laying around its better to use that for this piece, it will be easier to slip the pen clip over it and be less bulky, but its not a deal breaker, so for now I cut out the rectangle and wet it fairly damp, the wetter the leather the easier it is to shape it, then I wrapped it around a standard paper mate pen, I matched up the ends and gently molded it around to give it some shape, then rolled it to one side so It would lay flat inside the fold, I set this aside to fully dry before removing the pen. it will unroll a bit but that's ok the glue will bring it back.

Step 9: Dyeing

Im using a product called Gel Antique. it goes on really thick and you wipe it off as soon as you get a nice even coat, it dyes the leather and gets into every little nook and cranny and even the most perfect looking piece of leather will show its blemishes, so be prepared to reveal every imperfection, once you wipe it off it will leave the darkest residue in your tool marks for that instant 2 tone antique effect

so I prep my area with heavy paper and get out the latex gloves, paper towels and about 5 squares of wool, I rub on the gel in a circular motion with the wool making sure to get it into every bit of my design then wipe it off with a paper towel without digging into my stamp work, then with the wool I clean it well, I do this to all 4 pieces one at a time and also on the back sides where the raw leather will be exposed and the edges too. once this has dried thoroughly, usually a few hours( not overnight like dye ) I will take my wool pieces and rub and polish everything until nothing else comes off onto my wool.

the cleaning part is very important, your top coat or wax finish will pick up any loose pigment and leach out onto your clothes and whatever else it comes into contact with, don't skip this step..

when I do this step I also take the time to use a denim cloth and rub all of my edges soft if i'm not going to use an edge beveler later, I will burnish them at the end but now it a good time for early polishing.

Step 10: Pre Assembly Prep

I have to make some marks before I go any farther, these are needed to show me where to not get glues, sealers and waxes before and during assembly, sealers and waxes wont let the glue adhere properly and glues will stain the surfaces that are exposed and are not intended to have glue on them.

I open up my cover and lay it flat and do a dry fit, then I make a mark just under the corners of my 2 panels about 1/8 - 3/16 inch, when I apply cement I know to not go past these marks

on the pocket panel I will cement the left side and the bottom

on the pad panel I will cement the top, right edge and the bottom

`I remove the panels and draw in about a 1/4 inch line (where the white strips are) to designate these areas and also draw in the corresponding lines on the backs of the panels as well. this will avoid any confusion later.

for the pen tab, I mark off 1/4 inch on the inside on both ends

I go down about 1/3 of the way on the pad panel then turn the panel over and mark that spot too the width od my tab. the tab will be attached to the back of this panel

none of these marks will be visible once assembly is done

in the pictures you may have noticed that the color is very uneven on the flesh side, that is the nature of gel antique, when stamping the front you effectively polished the back in those areas and it is designed to be darker in rough areas. you will never get a solid color there for that reason, you can try to rub more gel in but you run the risk of making it way too dark, much of these lighter areas wont be exposed after assembly anyway.

Step 11: Sealing and Waxing

now back to business

once im satisfied with the polishing / cleaning process its time to apply a finish and wax coat because once assembled I wont be able to get to those areas,

for the finish and sealer Im using eco flo satin shene, its not as glossy as the super shene and doesn't give the plastic look like some acrylic finishes give.

with my smaller projects I use a small brush to apply finishes but the larger ones you need to get it on and leave it alone so you don't end up with streaks. I am using a dampened clean sponge to apply it, I do my parts one at a time starting with the backs then the fronts, using long clean strokes I apply the acrylic making sure to get a nice even coat and set it aside, it will be milky and pick up some color but it will dry hard and clear if you don't play with it too much, i try to avoid the inside edge areas that i outlined on the previous step, i will clean them up later but no need getting it there now if possible.

I do this to all 4 pieces and allow this to dry overnight, it takes a while to cure completely

wax on wax off

once all the parts have dried its time to wax this sucker

im using eco flo carnauba crème, it gives a nice waxing that is water resistant to a point and a nice shine.

before I start i use a wool pad and give all of my parts a light buffing to polish up my acrylic and smooth it all out. but not too much because I don't want to rub it off before I get a chance to wax it in

next using that clean damp sponge I give all of my surfaces (except in those outlined areas) a good soaking with the wax, its fairly thin and a little goes a long way, doing the backs first again, don't be alarmed if the pen tab loses its shape a little, you already have the basic shape and that's all you need fnow,

let this dry for a few hours, I know it takes longer waiting for stuff to dry than doing the actual work,,

once completely dry and hazed over I use the wool pad and polish the crap out of the whole thing, I use a toothbrush to clean out the deeper tooling that the wool don't get out, don't worry about fingerprints, were only 1/2 way done, but its sealed

Step 12: Glueing Prep

ok so I have my lines that I marked off earlier and I avoided getting anything in those areas, now im going to use sandpaper and give a light sanding there, and any areas that are slick from all of the work I have done, needs to be roughed up with the awl,

ill start with the pen tab. im going to sand the inside about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in on both ends then on the top I dry fit it tightly butted up to the pad panels edge and mark that point and sand that area to remove any tanning or finish and scratch it with the awl a bit

then the backs of the panels and the inside of the cover along those outlined areas, and the little area for the pen tab.

I brush off any loose debris and im ready to go, ALMOST

back to that pesky pen tab again, next is where I have to jump around a little because I wont be able to get in there too easily once the pad panel is glued in place.

Step 13: The Pen Tab Again

so when gluing there are numerous ways to get the job done and numerous products to do it, I like using contact cement because its strong as hell and fairly flexible, the only drawback is that once its stuck together you probably wont get a second chance to reposition it if you make a mistake

I usually use weldwood from the depot store, I've never had an issue with it,

so I follow the mfg. directions and glue the inside ends of the tab together then I glue it snug to the edge to the under side of the pad panel where I made the marks about 1/3 way down, and let this dry for about an hour or so

then right along that darkened line on the top side (the decorative one I burnished at the beginning) I punch a 6 hole run with my diamond chisel through the panel and the pen tab,

this is where I use up my tag ends of thread I have leftover on my needles, I come close most of the time with my quantity I pull off the spool but when i'm way over I usually break out a new needle and leave the excess on the old one for next time,

ill explain saddle stitching and punching next step but for now jump ahead and read it and come back.

I made a back stitch 3 holes and sewed the tab into place and then finished with a back stitch, this is a medium stress area and i might as well make it strong now. I finished my tag ends underneath and burned them off clean.

ok the pen tab is done. I wont mention it again..

Step 14: Punching and Sewing and Notions

nothing to see here, just a bit of babbling and some useful info, Maybe!


There are a ton of gizmos and gadgets to make things easier, you just gotta know when to say ..OK I have enough

Punches are one, I don't do a lot of lacing but my I have a small set of chisels for that just in case

I did learn early that a good set of diamond chisels are essential if you want your stuff to look great not just ok, instead of having a $500 box of them I opted for a set with interchangeable heads and I never looked back, just remember a new cutting board is waaay cheaper than a new chisel so always punch on a board to save those fine tips,

Needles, there are also a slew of needles for every job, I use mainly harness needles, the eyes are smaller and there is less bulk to pull through the holes, harness needles are blunt ended so you wont catch the inside of your hole and make a mess in there

Threads, I have used everything to sew with in the past, waxed linen to real sinew to artificial sinew and even dental floss, I needed white and it worked pretty good, I learned of a product called tiger thread or ritza, this stuff is braided and strong as braided fishing line, I don't think I can break it and I know I can cut the leather with it if I pull too hard, its expensive but well worth the price,

The Awl, my most important gadget is my awl, I have it in my hand when sewing most of the time to open holes, beware. it will go clean through your finger without slowing down and the resulting blood will permanently stain your project

The punching process, follow your stitching grooves or scribed lines carefully and exactly, when approaching a corner or end, plan ahead and punch accordingly to give even stitches, this is where a set of 1, 2, 4, and 6 tines comes in handy, in corners I use my single tine and split the angle, and always punch straight down to avoid offset lines on the back side of my project

Saddle stitch or the 2 needle method, there are excellent saddle stitching videos on the web, watch a bunch of them, punch hundreds of holes in your scrap leather and practice until you get used to the needle and awl work the rewards are gratifying, believe me. Basically its threading 2 needles with 1 thread, 1 needle on each end, then going through every hole 2 times, once in each direction, this is the strongest method of sewing because if one thread fails you always have the one going in the other direction left to hold the bond together. there are several precautions to take while doing it so do watch a video.

The stitching pony, an extra set of hands, I made an instructable on the one I built a while back, I use it everywhere and with almost every project, its not necessary but it sure comes in handy, I can put it away and leave my project in it while at work and the grands cant get to it and turn my 30 hours of work into a sand box shovel, again. (gotta love em though)

Step 15: Final Gluing

If you have done any gluing before you know that this stuff drips and strings everywhere, it will stain your project and will prevent stain from penetrating your leather

take your time here again, and be careful if your project slides around a little, it will seep over the edges and get on the other side,

I often use a piece of tape or paper to define my inner gluing edge to tame it when I need exact edges but on here im just freehanding it,

I carefully apply cement to the areas I marked off and prepped in the earlier steps, careful to not put it on the wrong edges or getting any over the edge, (easier clean up later) paying close attention to my placement I slowly fit the panels in place, they may be altered a little from the tooling so I line them up the best I can, and avoid letting them touch where they don't belong, an octopus would have an easy go at this but with 2 hands a human has just got to take his time.

once everything is in place I lay down a piece of paper and lightly hammer the connections to ensure a good bond, I also use the rounded handle of a tool and with pressure roll it over the areas to press the two together,

caution when using clips, I often use clips to secure pieces while drying, they will leave permanent marks on your leather, be sure to place something between them and your project or position them over your stitching lines,

I let this cure for a few hours, the punching process is quite rough on the seal and I want it to be as strong as possible

Step 16: Punch

The punching process is pretty much straight forward, 4 straight lines, the only areas of concern are the corners and where you come to an edge.

as I explained earlier in the corners plan ahead and try to get even spacing into them to have a sharp corner

when I come to a panel edge where the project goes from 2 ply to single ply, I use the single punch or the awl and make a hole just over the edge so it will be as close as possible when I am sewing and I adjust my punches as I do in the corners to keep my spacing as even as possible,

the positioning of the pad panel slot holes should be close to the stitch line but not directly in the path, if you notice that they are, then punch a little to the outer edge of your stitching groove at these points to avoid the hole.

I take my time and go all the way around staying in the line as perfect as possible, using my last punch hole for my first tine on my next set of holes to keep my spacing perfect,

it helps to use beeswax on your punches from time to time to make them come out of the holes easier and not have to manipulate the leather too much, I use a bone folder or a ruler to hold my leather down while I wiggle my punch out of the leather if I drive it in too deep.

to protect my cutting board I often use a very thick piece of scrap leather placed between my project and my surface and always do my tooling and punching on a marble slab for a solid backing, right off the table just don't seem to give me a crisp stamping or good penetration with the chisel.

Step 17: Sew

The sewing is straight forward as well, there's only about 300 stitches here, so about an hour and a half and a good cup of coffee should do the trick, this is where I usually hit the park and sit in the truck bed with the stitching pony and get my zen on.

this is an end to end connection, meaning it will be one continuous line, so no back stitching is needed, when I come all the way around I just sew past my starting point about 3 stitches and snip n burn.

this project takes about 15 feet of thread and as a rule I never strip off more than 2 arms lengths of thread at any given time, which is around 12 feet, the reason for this is that the thread gets worn and raggedy after being dragged through every hole over and over, and the wax gets rubbed off leaving no protection.

when I come to the end of my length I tie it off around the edge and snip my needles free, then I set up a new length and starting about 3 or 4 holes back I sew over those stitches and complete my sewing process, when I reach the end I sew over the beginning stitches about 3 or 4 holes and snip my tags off as close as possible without nicking my stitches, then with my torch lighter I burn the ends to seal them. some people use a little dab of bees wax or a seam glue here, im ok with the burning process. then go back and snip off the knot where I added the new length of thread and clean that up as well.

** NOTE** often when I make wallets or items with heavy stress points I do a backstitch in those areas where I punched the single holes when setting up the punch prepping. this will prevent tear out after heavy usage or overstuffing an item.


Step 18: Clean It Up

ok so the edges are probably not perfect anymore, its time to finish this baby and call it a day.

there is most likely glue around the edges and fuzzy stuff and unevenness that you want to remove, I use a razor knife or my dremel for the bug stuff and then use sandpaper to smooth everything down to where I like it, I don't get overzealous, these tools can remove too much leather quickly and make things worse instead of better. I take my time here and clean it up until im satisfied, then with super fine sandpaper give the edge a finish sanding, always being careful to not go over the edge into my threads or the surface of my projects,

If I removed any pigment and exposed raw leather I use a dab of my projects stain with a cotton swab and re-cover those areas,

then with a damp sponge I lightly go around my project to moisten the edge and run an. edge slicker over it to give it a seamless finish.


with my beeswax ball I rub all around my edge ant take a piece of denim cloth and rub the wax into the edge well, the friction from the denim will soften the wax and seal everything in for a durable edge.

wipe the whole thing down and admire your work, until a family member claims it for themselves

thanks for following along on this one, I know it was long but I think I covered the cover well.

I have several other projects here, follow me and see what you think and comment me if you wish.

im no expert but I might be able to answer a question or point you in the right direction


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    10 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 9

    This looks like a fabulous project. I want to learn to make these and your detailed instructions are a good start for me. I haven't been able to find patterns or instructions as all inclusive as yours. PS - I used to live in WPB until 1998. Worked at Motorola in Boynton Beach!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Motorola is a shopping center now. I had friends that did line work on pagers way back when.

    These folders are fun to make. if I missed something drop me a line I'll see if I can help. G.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Someone else recently told me that! I haven't been to BB in years! Am going to tackle your great project when I receive some more tools from Tandy this week. I have many types of glues (barge cement, PVA) and saw you mentioned LeatherWeld. I may try this since I can't order anything that might freeze this time of year, but I can probably get that at ACE. I have printed, read and re-read your instructions and am going to make a padfolio for my boyfriend to replace one he lent to a friend and the friend LOST IT! :( I will post photos when it's done!


    4 years ago

    beautiful, beautiful job!


    4 years ago

    8-10 hours labor. Won't let me edit


    4 years ago

    Sorry haven't been on in a while. Tha labor about drying times for glue,stains,sealers about a day per layer about a week total. But every minute was fun 8-10 gour


    4 years ago

    and you say you,re no expert, I should be so lucky. Man this thing is beautiful and the instructs and the photos were great. Really great job dude.How many work hours went into this anyway, not that it really matters, it is a work of art. Well done.


    5 years ago

    I agree with all comments. This is nice piece of work. Well done. And great detailed photos.


    5 years ago

    nice ;)