Making a Leather Journal

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.

Materials:
vegetable tanned leather
cutting blade
cutting board
leather dye
leather conditioner
leather edge beveler
waxed thread
parchment paper
metal ruler
stitching awl
needle nose pliers
hammer

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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.

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template

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.

Conclusion:

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.

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The Voyageur – Knife Making

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to create the most important tool in bushcraft. The knife. There are an endless style of knives out there, however I found myself drawn to scandinavian steel and grind. Norway, Sweden and Finland are a few of the countries that have a long standing tradition in superb bladesmith with companies like Helle, Mora and Enzo. Up until this point, I have used my Morakniv as an all purpose knife, however I wished to own one with a figured handle. Instead of purchasing a knife, I decided to make one.

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Carbon steel blade, forged in Karesuando, Sweden.

Choosing the steel. In the simplest sense, steel is combination of iron and carbon. There are numerous different types of steel with different properties. Different alloys can be added to provide these properties. When it comes to forging a blade, the key distinction is whether you want a simple carbon steel blade or a stainless steel blade. The stainless properties come from the addition of chromium to the iron and carbon. The chromium provides rust resistance and flexibility but at the sacrifice of the hardness of the blade. To qualify as stainless, the overall composition must be at least 10.5% chromium. Stainless steel is the choice for several folding knife makers such as Victorinox, because of the low maintenance required with this material. Carbon steel on the other hand, is more prone to rust and corrosion, however many prefer this steel in bushcraft because it is harder and can hold an edge for a much longer time if properly maintained. It is also an easier steel to sharpen in the field. I could go on and on about the different steels that are available for knife making but to keep it short, I decided to go with carbon steel, particularly from Sweden.

Karesuando, Sweden: The most northern town in the country is known for producing superb Scandinavian blades.
Karesuando, Sweden: The most northern town in the country is known for producing superb Scandinavian blades. Photo courtesy of  Stephen Hudson. http://stephenhudson.net

Karesuando is the most northern town in Sweden, it is known for producing superb blades. I purchased mine from Thompson’s Scandinavian Knife Supply . An excellent supplier of anything knife related including stabilized wood, pins, and bolsters. They have a variety of blades to choose from.

Choosing the wood. This was an easy choice for me. Curly birch. A wood that in my mind exemplifies the culture of canoeing in Ontario. When purchasing the wood, it is key to choose “stabilized” wood. This means that it has been dried thoroughly and is no longer prone to movement. The cost of the wood would also vary depending on how much figure is present.

Chiseling the outline of the tang, was a simple process and completed by hand and chisel. I like the Karesuando blades due to their thicker tangs in comparison to the Moras and Helle blades. This particular blade had a drilled hole designed for pin placement however in my case, I was going to be using a hidden wooden peg instead of the usual polished brass pin. This peg would work to secure the steel to the handle and prevent slipping of the blade.

Two separate types of glue were used to mate the two halves. The most common method of fixing steel to wood is by using epoxy resin. For the wood-wood contact however, it was gorilla wood glue all the way. I clamped the pieces and let it sit for 24 hours.

Next came the difficult task of actually shaping the handle. I decided that I was going to do this by hand. It was a laborious process of carving, filing and sanding. My influence for the handle came mostly from existing Helle models such as the Temagami and the Eggen. While many Scandinavian knives lacked any sort of finger groove, I knew that I wanted a fingerguard.

When I was finally satisfied with the end result, it was time to sand it and put a finish on the handle. Ideally, you’d want the handle as smooth as possible before putting on any coats of oil or finish. The sandpaper should have a grit of at least 400. In this case, I wanted a simple finish that would bring out the grain and figure of the wood. I stuck with tried tested and true boiled linseed oil. After several coats, I then proceeded to apply layers of beeswax for further protection and to seal it.

In the end, I must say that I was overall happy with the result. The voyageur’s  handle fits comfortably and the blade is fastened securely. The use of machines would definitely make the process faster and easier however I wanted my first one to be completed by hand.