How to Make Heirloom-Quality Journals

How to Make Heirloom-Quality Journals main article image
Posted on October 9, 2021 by Libby Trostle

Making heirloom-quality journals with your Glowforge and your Cinch book binding machine is a cinch (pun intended.)  Journals are trendy right now. Gratitude and affirmation journals, travel journals, and memory books have gained popularity in recent years. Journals can be a top seller for your crafting business. They make wonderful gifts. I’ve been asked by many fellow crafters over the past few months how I craft my journals. I’m happy to share my process.

What You’ll Need

The materials and tools I use to make journals include 1/8″ inch thick hardboard material such as plywood or MDF, 32 lb paper stock,  a Glowforge or other laser cutter, a Cinch binding machine, and a Cinch binding spine. You will also need a standard printer if you decide to create custom journal pages.  I use Adobe Illustrator to design all my files. The laser is used to cut the journal cover and engrave the design. And, the Cinch binding machine punches the holes in the paper and attaches the spine to the book.

Journal Size

Deciding what size journal you’d like to make is the first step in the process. Most of my journals measure 5.75 inches wide by 8.75 inches tall and hold paper that measures 5.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall.  This size paper is made by simply cutting 8.5-inch x 11-inch standard sheet in half, reducing paper waste.  A journal of this size is similar to the most popular book trade size in the United States, so buyers are familiar with it. Memory books used for scrapbooking should be larger to accommodate photos, mementos, and embellishments.  For example, I am making a memory book for a friend who recently became a grandmother, and it will be 8.75 inches wide by 11.25 inches to accommodate 8.5″ by 11″ paper.  Notice that the journal cover is designed to be slightly larger than the paper itself for aesthetics and to protect the paper’s edge.

Cover Template

Once you have decided on the size of the book, you can begin designing the cover. Most often, I make my covers from 1/8 inch finished cherry plywood.  The cherry wood gives the journal a rich look, adding to its heirloom quality.  Using Illustrator,  I draw a basic rectangle in the desired size, and then I round the cover’s corners slightly (approximately .15 radius) to remove sharp edges.

Next, I add the holes for the spine. The Cinch binding machine is formatted to cut holes using a 2:1 pitch, which means that for every inch, there are two holes on-center. To calculate this, consider the height of your book – in my case, it’s 8.75 inches tall.  That rounds up to 9″, which means I will need to draw 18 holes (2 holes per inch).  Holes sizes should be ¼ inches in diameter to match the holes produced by the Cinch.

I begin by drawing two holes, then center them on the path of the journal cover’s edge – one at the top and one at the bottom.  The center of the holes should be 3/8 inch from the left edge (spine) of your cover. Note: You will later delete these two holes, as they are only being used to line up the remainder of the holes.  The guides tool in Illustrator can help to measure and place the holes in the correct position.  Then I draw the other 16 holes and line them up vertically along the spine.  Once I get them “close,” I can use the align tools to fine-tune the alignment and spacing.  Select all the holes and then click on align > vertically on-center.  Then with all the holes still selected, click on distribute objects > vertical distribute center.  All the holes will fall in line, and you should now have holes at a 2:1 pitch.  Now delete the top and the bottom holes, as they are no longer needed.  Lastly, group everything, and your journal cover template is ready!

Your Design

Now it’s time to add your design elements.  I typically engrave my design on the cover.  Another option is to cut a design into the surface and place a sheet of colorful cardstock beneath it as the first page of the interior. There are tons of excellent graphic files available from Creative Fabrica that you use to enhance your designs.  Finally, cut and/or engrave the front and back covers using your laser.

Inside Pages and Binding

Next comes the paper and binding.  Cinch offers 1″ binding combs that will hold two 1/8 inch covers and  75 – 80 pages of 32 lb paper.  Your interior pages should complement the design and purpose of the journal.  For my travel journals, I design pages that allow the writer to document the travel dates, destinations, and special memories. I recommend using ivory or white paper and printing your page template on it using a standard printer. The memory book I am making will use specialty paper with preprinted florals and patterns to provide a decorative background.  Use the Cinch binder to punch holes in the paper. If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, you can view the demo below. When designed correctly, the paper holes and cover should align precisely.

Now it’s time to assemble the book. Cinch offers twin loop wire binding spines in a variety of metal colors.  For these spines, the Cinch binding machine includes a tool that secures them to the journal. You can view the process for doing this online. Cinch also offers coated spiral binding spines in various colors that you can thread through the book spine. I find this method much easier.

Making journals can be tons of fun. Handmade journals are not only beautiful and functional but will be cherished for years to come.

Libby Trostle is an artisan, children’s book author, and commercial drone pilot. Visit her website at

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