Writing during a trip is always a fulfilling experience. Whether you are noting waypoints on a map, making a quick sketch of the landscape, or jotting down memorable moments, such acts allow you to slow down and reflect during a journey. In my mind, there is only one place to log such entries, an old fashioned hand-bound leather journal. I wanted to make something that was durable, handsome and consistent with the tradition of my field outings. Let’s get to it.
vegetable tanned leather
leather edge beveler
needle nose pliers
Step 1: Creating the signatures
The first step in making a journal, is to decide how many pages you want to bound, and then dividing them into signatures (unit of folded pages that will be stitched). For instance, if you wish to have 50 sheets in your book, you might want divide them into signatures of 5, each signature having 10 pages. Different types of paper can be used however I preferred to use acid-free parchment paper for the texture and look of the journal.
Step 2: Preparing the leather
Different thicknesses of leather can be used and this will be entirely up to you. You can purchase boxes of scrap leather from Amazon for less than $25 dollars. For this project, a thick vegetable tanned leather was used to give it the durable and thick appearance I wanted. The leather was cut to leave approximately 1/2 inch of leather bordering all of the pages. Once the leather has been cut, you will notice that the leather can have some fraying of fibers from the cut edges. This is where you will use an edge beveler to clean up all of the edges of the leather, giving it a nice and finished appearance.
Step 3: Preparing the leather for stitching
In order to assure that all signatures are sewn at a consistent distance from each other, I created a template. This way, all holes will be exactly where I want them to be positioned on the leather. Also, in the future if I decide to create a leather journal with similar dimensions, I could easily use the same template. Depending on the thickness of the leather, this task can be a little time consuming. I initially made the holes with a stitching awl, and then subsequently widened them with a thicker needle and hammer. Needle nosed pliers were also used to help pull the needle through the holes. Once you are satisfied, the leather can also be softened at this stage. This can be accomplished in many ways. One method is simply to manually flex the leather to give it a more broken in feel. Another way is to use rubbing alcohol on the leather and then add petroleum jelly to penetrate the leather.
Step 4: Staining
This can be accomplished with a variety of different stains and colors. I decided to use a stain from Ecoflow called acorn born. It is important to use an old clean cloth for this step to assure that you rub the stain evenly throughout the leather. If not, the stain will be absorbed more readily in some areas of the leather than others, causing an uneven appearance. This may not be a bad thing, as some of you may opt for this appearance.
Step 5. Stitching the signatures
Stitching was completed using a thick waxed thread designed specifically for leather use. This was a lengthy process considering I had 8 signatures to sew in place.
In the end, I was overall very happy with the journal. It feels sturdy and strong and the acorn brown stain came out looking fantastic. It is an overall quick process and with the proper leather tools can be a very fun project. I encourage any one who has ever wanted one to give it a shot. This will definitely be accompanying me on my field and canoe trips.