Making a Leather A4 Journal Case
An essential daily carry item of mine is a size A4 Moleskine journal and/or sketchbook where I can quickly jot my ideas down on paper before I forget them. As time goes on, I find myself using the journal in different settings; the office, park bench, coffee shop, home, hotel, and so on. Since it was always with me whenever I was working on a project, I decided to design and make a leather journal case with card slots and a multi-purpose pocket to hold additional supplies and smaller notebooks. Here’s how I made my leather A4 journal case and all the tools I used at the end of the post.
Sketch the journal case with all of its components
Every new projects starts with brainstorming the various components of the product, where they will be located, and how it’ll all come together. For this particular A4 journal case, the critical components were a slot for the back case of the A4 journal to slide into, a pen holder off on the side, a large multi-purpose pocket, two card slots, and a large pocket. The pen holder would be created by folding one side of the journal case over on the right side. This will become the slot where the back case of the A4 journal will slide into.
On the opposite side, there will be two pieces of leather that are stitched together to create two card slots at the top and a large enclosed multi-purpose pocket at the bottom. When these pieces come together, they will be stitched onto the left side of the journal case to create a larger pocket and a clean finish on the surface of the journal case.
Cut a template and use it for the journal case
Once the sketch was complete, I cut out a template on a piece of draft board using my laser cutter. I know many of you might not have a laser cutter, so you can sketch your templates onto a piece of museum board or chip board and cut it out using a ruler and knife. When you’re done cutting each part of the template, you’re ready to use it on your leather.
Using the template and a sharp knife, I cut out the back of the journal case, the pen slot, and one of the inside large pockets. In the photograph above, the piece connecting the larger rectangle from the smaller one will become the pen slot when the smaller side is folded over. Then, I used the template to cut the left side of the journal case that includes the card slots and multi-purpose pocket.
Scratching and gluing
With all of the pieces ready to come together, the next step is to scratch the smooth skin side of the leather along the edges to prepare them for glue. Using a scratch awl, a roughing tool, or a sharp knife in a scraping motion, rough up about ¼ inch around the edges that’ll be stitched together. Once the edges are roughed enough to glue, apply your adhesive of choice and glue your pieces together. Personally, I use a water based adhesive that I recently discovered from a company called Aquilim that goes on white and dries clear without the strong odor of bonding cement.
After attaching the two pieces together, I use a roller to apply pressure where the adhesive is located on the leather. With the larger back case leather piece, I fold over the short rectangular side to create both the slot for the back case of the A4 journal to slide into and also the pen holder. Following the steps above, I glue the perimeter together.
Hand tooling and saddle stitching
Once the glue dries and the pieces are firmly held together, I use my wing divider and scratch awl to draw lines where I’ll need to chisel the leather with my diamond punch. For a journal case like this one, this step will be repeated multiple times to stitch the card slots and the multi-purpose pocket together.
After tooling the leather to create all the diamond shaped holes for hand stitching, I prop it up on my stitching pony and get to work saddle stitching. This is one of the most meditative things to do in leatherworking because it’s probably the longest part of any handmade leather product. I usually put on an audio book at this point and stitch away. For the left side of this leather journal case, I stitch in this order; card slot divider, divider between the card slot and multi-purpose pocket to prevent cards from slipping through (I forgot this step and did it later), and the inside long edge.
Once the stitching for the inner pockets are complete, I switch to the perimeter of the journal cover and follow the same steps above.
Burnishing the edges
For every product with exposed leather edges, I always burnish the exposed edges. My process starts with carefully trimming off the smallest amount of leather around all the edges using a sharp knife and guide. Once the edge is trimmed, I bevel the edges to begin the rounding process. Then, I sand the edges down to create a uniform and semi-round finish. Finally, I use some water and my latest favorite find for burnishing, Tokonole Burnishing Agent, and canvas cloth.
Before making this leather journal case, I never thought that something as simple as this could make me want to pull out my journal and write or sketch more often. I find myself staring at the finished product, mesmerized by its beauty and the feeling of the natural creases of the leather. Having my favorite pen, cards for easy access at café’s or while traveling, and a larger pocket to carry my other small notepads or supplies has made it as easy as possible to simply pull out my journal and get to work. Most of all, the compliments that come from people who see the journal cover is always uplifting. I hope this brief tutorial gives you some insight to how a quality leather product is made!
Just in case you’re looking to get started with leatherworking, here’s a short list of essential tools that I used to make this product. Keeping in mind that many people who are starting off are on a tighter budget, these links will take you to the most basic and low-cost, but good starter quality tools on Amazon and other suppliers. If you’re looking for recommendations on higher quality tools, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll let you know what I prefer to use! If you decide to purchase using any of the links below, I will get a very small commission from Amazon (probably a few cents…) which will support my leather working hobby and my shop. Happy making!