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.


Pamela Cassada said...

I love this idea! I want one for Christmas! Do you think you could talk to Santa for me? No joke though, I was inspired at this idea. I love old books too. Nothing quite as beautiful and intriguing as a wall of old books.
Enjoy your beautiful creation, I know you will get much use out of it.
Love and prayers, Ma

Brad said...

Nice hack bro! Time to go find me and old Encyclopedia Britannica!

Joe Cassada said...

Thank, ya'll!

Mom, I'll put in a good word to Santa's book hacking elf for ya.

Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

How could you do that to such a beautiful old hymn book!? Just kidding. That actually looks really awesome. Great job with that.

Joe Cassada said...

Hey, Nicholas! Thanks for stopping by. It is sort of a heart breaker cutting the old pages out, but now I get to enjoy it everyday.

John Wesley Hardin said...

I like that idea... I'm going to have to try it. I've actually got a couple of early 1900's song books to use that the pages have come loose.

Thanks for the link for the graph paper pdf also...

Brian said...

Excellent job, Bro. Looks great. Wouldn't mind having one myself. I normally by the leather bound jobbies and B&N, but they get pricey, so I don't buy often. Anyway, excellent work. It really looks good.

Joe Cassada said...

Thanks, John and Brian. I'm still suing my journal...going strong for over a month and the binding is still holding.

Joe Cassada said...

*USing* my journal

lauren said...

Hey... You can use the music sheets for cool decoupage/modge podge art. That's what i do. I'm always
On the lookout for yellowy aged music sheets.

Imjustawoman said...

I actually had looked around to find a good site on how to create a journal, and I had found a few but the stitching method seemed way to hard for me to figure out. Once I came to your site and saw this, I had to try it. So I pulled out my Hypnerotomachia Polophili book and laid on the computer paper and got to work. I didn't have Gorilla glue, so I used super glue...which worked wonderful. Can't wait til I can glue to pages in and use this cool journal I just made. Plus conveniantly enough the title of the book means The Strife of Love in a Dream...convenient I think for a journal. Awesome tutorial and awesome idea. Thanks for putting this up.

Faye Christiansen said...

I live in Muskegon and Hages is a staple here. I went with my mom once.

Frank Turk said...

You're going to have to learn to have to learn to build folios to do stitch binding. on hand-binding a book.

However, you can out-hipster every hipster by doing this.

Blessy @ Stellar Tatter said...

Awesome! I'm looking for ideas on what to do with this old book I've bought last week. Still undecided, but this is really cool.

Joe Cassada said...


Honored that you would stop by. Thanks for the link. I'm sure ti will come in handy.


I hope you have fun with your project.

Oklahomaredhead said...

Awesome idea. I really love old books and this is an excellent way to do something unique as a Christmas present for my niece.

Francine Johnson McGee said...

Love the idea. I've gotta couple a books that have cool bindings and no value. Just may have to try this. I had forgotton about gluing bindings. I know sewing it would be better, but I'm just not likely to get that done, and I already have a widget that'll work for holding the paper. Thanks for posting this. Have you done anymore since then?

Anoosh Iqbal said...

Amazing idea. I have so many books that can be turned into beautiful art pieces again. I like upcycling old stuff. I found many inspiring projects in the Book of Books by Altered Upcycling They also have a website where you can sign up for free stuff.