How to Hack a Vintage Book into a Custom Journal

The journal market has exploded since the advent of the Moleskine, but not everyone wants to spend $15 for a notebook. Others may prefer the look of something totally unique, or maybe you just want to get into another DIY project. Whatever your reason for wanting to bind your own notebook, here’s an easy way to hack a vintage book into a custom journal.

Supply list:

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). My local hardware store didn’t have any bookbinder’s glue. Next time I do this project I will purchase proper glue from Amazon.

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.
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.

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