Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hack a Vintage Book into a Custom Journal

I love old books: their smell, their feel, their look. I love their secret history and all their nostalgia. I love to read the owner's name inscribed in a book that's a hundred years old and wonder about the person's life - how long ago were they born? how long did they live?

I enjoy journaling and sketching. I prefer paper and pen to digital tools - I just love the scratch of a pen on good paper, and doodling helps me think, so I'm always looking for another notebook or sketchpad.

I would love to have a Moleskine, but I have a hard time justifying $15 for a notebook. So I decided to make my own custom notebook bound with a vintage book cover. Here's how I did it:

1. Find an old book.

I chose an old hymnal. I love the color and the nostalgia. I picked this one: Tabernacle Hymns Volume 3, circa 1939.

2. Read up on DIY book binding. Here's a helpful link:

3. Make a book binding jig.

This is the book binding jig I made from scrap lumber and a couple of wing nuts. I didn't follow any plans; I just copied the best I could from photos at the site linked above.

4. Pick your paper and trim it.

I chose some gray stationery I had left over. Nice and thick so there won't be any bleed through. I cut it so each page could be folded in half, which will make a stronger binding.

5. Clamp your paper down in the jig and glue the binding.

Bookbinders recommend PVA glue (it's still flexible when dry). Home Depot didn't have any, so I just used some Gorilla glue I already had on hand. I spread a light coat with a cotton swab.

Let the glue dry for at least a couple of hours. I let mine dry overnight. Don't be surprised when the Gorilla glue expands as it dries...doesn't make the prettiest binding - but it will hold.

6. Carefully cut the old pages out of the old cover.

This is sort of a heart breaker...but old books are usually a dime a dozen. It's not like anybody was actually using this hymnal anyways. I kept the pages. I'm not sure why. I definitely would not do this to an antique book that had value. This is just for cool looking old books that have no value at all. I have an old hand-size Bible with a fabulously decorated cover, but I couldn't bring myself to cut up a Bible, so it still decorates my desk.

Here's a picture of the inside cover with it's fragile binding:

7. You may have to reinforce the binding.

I did so with a peice of old t-shirt and some 3M spray adhesive. Nothing fancy here. NOTE: the spray adhesive is still sticky after it dries, so watch your overspay.

8. Glue the reinforced cover on to your bound pages.

I seemed to have lost the pic to this step, but it should be pretty self explanatory. I used Gorilla glue again to bind the cover to the already glue-bound pages. Let it sit overnight, clamped and weighted binding side down.

9. Enjoy your unique, customized vintage journal!

Use it however you want: journaling, planning, organizing, sketching. Right now I'm considering using mine as my planner/organizer. I'm not sure though. I did a mix of plain and graph paper for more flexibility in how I use it. (I downloaded the graph paper PDF from here:

I kept some of the first pages for added nostalgia:

The label was already over the name when I got the book. It said: "Rev. K. L. Snow". I wonder who he was or what church he pastored.

Can you read the prayer typed on a scrap piece of paper and glued to the first page? It's so old that the type is really beginning to fade. I wonder how often Pastor Snow prayed that prayer. What a wonderful way to start and end your day.

The next page is stamped by:

Thos. W. Hage
"The Christian Supply House"
Muskegon, Michigan

I did some research (read: "I googled") on this bookstore and came across this article dated May 15, 2008 about Thomas Hage's son:

Hage Inc. is still a functioning Christian bookstore. Here's their website:

Here's some things I will do differently next time:
1. I would like to learn how to stitch binding instead of glueing. Stitch-bound books lay open better, but glueing is so much easier.

2. I don't like the color paper I chose. Next time I will pick a tan or white instead of gray. But gray is the only color of heavy weight paper I had this time around.

3. Perhaps a larger book. I dunno.

All in all, it was a fun project, and my notebook is the only one like it. If you're not into making stuff, cuttin' and pastin', then you should probably just stick with the store-bought notebook. But if you're slightly creative, have an abnormal fondness for old books, and prefer analog over digital, then this is a project I'm sure you'll enjoy.