Sunday, May 23

Carving a Pen Chamber in a Moleskine

I think I've touched on my Moleskine (pron. MOLE-eh-SKEEN-eh) love before, right? The little black notebook that comes with the onion-skin pamphlet explaining how the notebook this was modeled on was actually the favorite of, like, Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Jackie Chan, the Dalai Lama, &c.?

Someone forwarded me an online article by Treehugger, featuring six "awesome hacks" for your Moleskine notebook. Granted, I could easily buy enough Moleskines to build a small cabin, but it never occurred to me to get one just to mess around with and deface. So my wife surprised me out of nowhere by buying me one expressly for this purpose. "Get silly with this one," she said. "This is your Moleskine to go crazy with." She knows that I revere the Moleskine as basically a perfect end-product, so anything I put into it has to be polished and notable, but she believes I should let myself off the hook and get stupid with this one.

I decided to start with the hack in which you carve out a small chamber in which to lay a pen. The idea, ostensibly, is that you always have a pen with you when you grab that notebook.

Firstly, I'm never without a pen. Usually I've got two or three in my pocket, and even more if I've got my SwissGear air travel bag. I'm more likely to forget to bring a Moleskine than to grab a pen when I start my day.

Secondly, I really didn't want to screw up a nice Moleskine with my amateurish efforts. I don't know how the guy in Treehugger did it, but I'm guessing a Dremel would've been handy, whereas all I have are a couple X-acto knives and a boxcutter around here somewhere.

But I did go ahead and try it out, and here's my advice for anyone who'd like to do the same.

  1. You can trace out the shape of the pen like I did, but now I'm kinda wishing I just went with a straight-line, right-angled rectangular box for the pen. I was thinking I'd create a more form-fitting chamber for my Slicci.
  2. You can start digging next to the spine (and expect the pages may be a little flimsy to turn) but I would recommend centering your chamber vertically. I started mine out too close to the bottom and the first six pages shredded down by where the cap is pointing. Too close to the edge, especially for a beginner like me.
  3. Use differential light to help with the cutting. You can see where your initial cut's supposed to go, because you've traced around the pen, but after that you're relying on the scratches that penetrated previous pages and those can be hard to line a knife upon. Set up a lamp to one side and, if you can, use natural daylight on the other side. Every contour and indentation will be much easier to discern.
  4. Dig a rut in one side: once you've made your cut, retrace it over and over to dig deeper into subsequent pages. If you just trace the pattern over each time you get to a new page, you increase the likelihood of imperfectly replicating the shape and misshaping the chamber. You really want this thing to be as tidy and homogeneous as possible, and you can achieve that by digging in the same spot a few times.

Oh, also: remember to pull that woven fabric bookmark out. When you get to the middle of the Moleskine you won't slice the bookmark, but its presence will mess up your careful efforts to retrace the chamber.

But most important of all...

Use a fresh, new blade in your X-acto knife. I used a dull blade almost all the way through this project and it was a lot of work and took hours. When I replaced the blade with a new one, I nearly wept over the difference. I could have shaved an hour off my time and done a significantly more precise job with less effort and fewer mistakes.

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