Maker's Notebook Hacks

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

I think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to work for Maker Media, helping to create magazines, books, web media, and events that I truly care about, that excite and inspire me. I just got back from the MAKE offices in Sebastopol, CA, where I was helping to put Volume 17 to bed. It's the "Lost Knowledge" issue, pressurized with plenty of steampunky goodness. It'll hit newsstands on March 10th. Last year, I got to lead the team that created The Maker's Notebook. Every engineer, artist, designer, crafter, or other creative type I know has ideas on what would make the ideal blank notebook. We took a lot of this input and tried to incorporate it into our design. One of the things we wanted to do with The Maker's Notebook was design in hackability. We wanted the book to beg to be customized, extended, repurposed. The cover was designed to look like a cross between a blueprint and an empty storyboard. We created special stickers with which to customize it. We're thrilled by all of the useful, creative, and crazy things users have done with their books. We gave some notebooks to teacher Steve Davee's 4th grade math class to see what they'd do with them. Above is student Aiden's LED cover mod video. Steve has done some crazy-cool hacks of his own, including a binary indexing system, which you can see here. Below are a few other mod projects. More can be found on the Maker's Notebook webpage.
This is an impostor! Kent Barnes Maker-ized his pocket Moleskine by covering it with a paper bookcover he made of the Maker's Notebook. I did one of those jowly cartoon triple-takes when I saw this image on Flickr.
Matt Mechtley's, of Flashbang Studios, notebook, modded at the workshop at last year's Maker Faire Bay Area.
Val Hutchins made a cloth tool caddy that attaches to the cover of her notebook.
MAKE Online Editor Marc de Vinck made a snap enclosure for his book.


  1. a) I love “Make” magazine.

    b) you guys super rock

    but sadly…

    c) I find it a bit ironic that a magazine all about the diy culture should produce a $20 item that is essentially….well….a notebook… and then you pimp it in the Boing.

    but that said….

    d) I love “make” magazine and you still rock

  2. Hmm. $20 is a bit on the steep side. I could grab some graph paper and leather and make my own notebook from scratch… and probably will.

  3. Damnit, the image of an issue of Make devoted to steampunk won’t get out of my head. You’re interfering my last-minute cramming!

  4. @ Smonkey
    I don’t understand the outrage we sometimes here of “How dare a DIY magazine sell a project notebook!”

    Do you expect everyone to bind their own hardcover project notebooks? And keep in mind, this book was done to conform to legal standards for lab, invention, and engineering notebooks, so the pages had to be numbered, non-removable, and conform to other guidelines. If folks want to create their own notebooks, bind their own lab books, that’s great. If do, please send them along to me and I will be certain to “pimp” them on the Make: Blog.

    We created this notebook because most of us at Maker Media were enthusiastic Moleskine users. We knew lots of other makers were too. We were already fans of high-quality notebooks in this price range. So we thought: Wouldn’t it be fun to create a Moleskine-like book optimized for makers? We asked a bunch of makers what they’d want in such a book. Besides wanting it to meet lab standards, they wanted hardbound, they wanted the highest-quality paper possible, they wanted useful reference material in the back. Given all of that, we tried to keep the price as reasonable as possible. On Amazon, The Maker’s Notebook is $13.60. That doesn’t seem like too much to me, but then, I don’t bat an eye at paying similar amounts for Moleskines.

    I use my Maker’s Notebook regularly now and I really love it. Yes, I helped make it, so I’m clearly prejudice, but I honestly think it’s a very cool, well-thought-out tool that I and a lot of people find useful. And a lot of people clearly don’t mind the price because they’re buying them. If it’s too expense for you, don’t worry, your not buying it is not going to hurt our feelings.

    On the charge of “pimping,” I’m writing here about stuff that excites me, that I find “wonderful.” I used to write a lot about Moleskines — I had an article in an early issue of CRAFT about them, and wrote about them on Make: Blog and on my site In fact, I still “pimp” Moleskines on MAKE, alongside The Maker’s Notebook. If I wasn’t writing about The Maker’s Notebook here, I’d likely be enthusing over Moleskine hacks, ’cause I find those fun too.

    (Oh, and thanks for the kind words about MAKE. It’s much appreciated.)

    If you (or anyone else) DO create your own leatherbound project notebook and want to send photos to me, I’ll be glad to consider posting about it on MAKE if it turns out well. A steampunk notebook, perhaps?

    BTWL: For folks who think The Maker’s Notebook is too expensive and not cool coming from a DIY magazine, here’s a (funny) Instructable on making your own.

  5. Whatever they do – they should not bring the LED notebook to the airport. SWAT team non-hilarity will ensue. The current threat level is orange.

  6. The notebook looks great, but unfortunately it’s using antiquated units named after body parts.

    SI FTW

  7. Well said Gareth,

    BTW I just ordered the notebook. I will fill it with art notes! Can’t wait!


  8. For folks who are put off by the DIY-mag-sells-stuff angle, remember that MAKE is a business just like any other. They happen to be making money on people’s desire to believe that they are excellent at doing DIY projects. It’s a nice market niche, and I’m sure they’re milking it for all it’s worth before people actually *have* to start doing things for themselves and can no longer afford $20 for (numbered!) pages in a “hackable?!” cover design.

  9. Gareth,

    So…(sheepish here) I was complaining about this to a friend and they said…”Why…its awesome!” and proceeded to show one to me.

    Okay, I have now seen said notebook and it is nice. (extra sheepish here) Heck, I’ll probably buy one soon.

    Curse you people for being so thoughtful with your design.

    keep up the good work.

  10. Thank you for the post about the
    “Maker’skine” Gareth, I think this is my first mention in BoingBoing.
    I was hoping to influence a pocket sized Maker’s Notebook for the folks like me that like to carry a smaller foot print, as I said: “the best of both worlds”

  11. Thank you for the post about the
    “Maker’skine” Gareth, I think this is my first mention in BoingBoing.
    I was hoping to influence a pocket sized Maker’s Notebook for the folks like me that like to carry a smaller foot print, as I said: “the best of both worlds”

  12. One of the things I’ve always loved about Moleskines, and we tried to design into The Maker’s Notebook, is a quality (of good design, great paper, a cool-factor), “object value,” as Apple designers call it, that makes you WANT to write, draw, dream big inside of it. Now, truth be told, you might get this in spades with a high-end book that you designed/handmade/handbound yourself, but short of that, using a spiral-bound book or an el cheapo blank book, I don’t think you’d have the same effect. I have NO DOUBT that I wrote in my Moleskines, and now in my Maker’s Notebook, at least to some extent, because of the medium. Silly? Probably. But given that I want to get my bright ideas down on paper, anything — a special pen, a notebook, a righteous cup of espresso by my side, that can “trick” me into that is worth it. Spending under a Yuppie Food Coupon on a notebook that affords this is totally worth it to me.

  13. Oh, so your $20 notebook makes my IDEAS better? Well, I’d be stupid NOT to get one! Not trying to be a hater here, but seriously?

  14. No, I’m saying such art and stationary materials make me want to record MY ideas more frequently, ’cause the materials themselves are fun to use.


  15. Well, I was being sarcastic. My point is that you’re being a little disingenuous in claiming that this notebook is something so special that you just had to share, especially considering the fact that you’re just hawking your company’s wares and asking people to buy into the MAKE brand rather than imbibe the true spirit of DIYness and just make their own bloody books. Sorry, it’s the hypocrisy that gets me…

  16. I’m a student – this means that I am typing, drafting, reading, dictating, outlining and various other scholarly and, frankly administrative, functions for a terrifying amount of the day.

    I carry an A5 Moleskine notebook in my folder, it’s not my jotter though – that duty is a much larger A4 generic refil pad (my current ones use recycled paper, I’m not a bad person). That larger pad is actually where the work goes in.

    It’s lovely to have nice stuff around you – that’s why my finished presentation notes, tutorial outlines, polished work goes into the lovely lie-flat Moleskine. But it’s expensive for a writing pad and it’s not for scratching in the corner to get ink out of a stubborn pen. I use the Moleskine pretty much as what the Make: people would call a lab book, not your “lab book” (that’s stained with iodine, smells funny and was what you had on the bench to record your results) but the nice version you hand in to someone that cares.

    Basically – it’s really quite nice, in some people that encourages them to write in it. In me, it actually encourages the opposite – scribbles and doodles and working out are for scrap paper and my notebook is for the notes I’ll actually read from if a professor or (in the best case scenario) a judge :) asks for a submission.

    Not to rain on the business’ right to make money I would advise Make: to watch out they don’t go the way of the Lomoscope company because that would be pretty tragic. Always remember that it’s the meritocratic nature of the niche that appeals to people, not the fact someone got it in kit form and boxed first. You don’t seem to be like that now but I’d be sad to see that happen in future.

  17. Fair enough. It WOULD be disingenuous to argue that there is no commercial motivation behind my posting. I mean, I do work for MAKE and I was heavily involved in creating this product. So that, in and of itself, implies commercial investment.

    But the point of this post was to say how much fun it was to create such a product (as I said in the piece, almost everybody we talked to get input said what a dream it would be to get to design their own notebook) and how much fun it was to create a book that was designed to be modded and then to watch what people are doing with it.

    As I also said above, I still post Moleskine mods on the Make: Blog. We had a two-page Moleskine Mods gallery, with nine projects, in The Best of Instructables. If our interest was only about pimping our own products, why would we be enthusiastically covering our far more successful competitor? MAKE is a business, bottom-line. But MAKE got into the business it’s in because of the passionate belief (in the maker/DIY/open source movement) of those involved. That passion has only grown and it frequently overrides purely commercial concerns.

    (And, I just realized that the actual inspiration for this blog item was the Kent Burns “hack” above which involved nothing of ours. He made his own Maker’s Notebook paper cover and covered a Moleskine with it. Another company’s product, a person’s “unauthorized” use of our artwork, use of our brand, and making a point of calling attention to a desired product we DON’T make (a Mini Maker’s Notebook). I think that perfectly symbolizes the degree of ambiguity/confusion I feel about ownership, brand, openness, commerce, etc.)

    And again, I wholeheartedly invite anyone reading this who has created their own project notebook to send me photos of it. In the entire time I’ve been involved with MAKE, I don’t think I’ve seen a single project like this, and very few bookbinding submissions. It’s actually an art that personally interests me (I used to be a printer), so I’d love to see more. So if people are “making their own bloody books,” they aren’t showing them to us.

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