DIY 3 point awl


I make a LOT of little pamphlet sewn books. This is the rig I set up to make it easier to punch the holes consistently the same distance apart without using a jig.


  1. 3 corks (synthetic works great – if you use natural make sure they’re in good shape)
  2. 3 bookbinding needles – sturdy shafts with an eye that does not bulge out
  3. duct tape
  4. pen
  5. wood glue
  6. block of wood same width as corks and length 3x as long as the corks are wide
  7. x-acto or other sharp knife
  8. ruler

Three point awl directions:

1 – Measure your needles. They should be at least 2 inches long – the ones I like to use are 2.5 inches long. You want the needles to be about an inch longer than the cork. Cut the corks down so they are an inch shorter than the needles.


2 – Glue the uncut side of the corks to the piece of wood with glue on the wood and between the corks. Make sure they are snugged up, touching sides, and lined up evenly.

3 – Allow the glue to dry and set for 24 hours. No, really. I know it’s hard and you just want to move on to the next step, but slap yourself on the wrist and go do something else.

4 – Use the ruler to mark a line down the middle of all three corks so the needles will be inline with one another then measure and mark three points with an equal distance between them for the needle placement.

5 – Carefully push the needles in to the marks in the cork; about 1/2 inch. Keep the needles perpendicular to the wooden base and parallel to each other.


6 – Turn the whole rig over and push slowly and firmly down on a piece of wood or cutting mat to drive the needles into the corks until they stop (hit the wooden base)

7 – Cut a piece of duct tape wider than the width of the corks and long enough go up the sides and onto the wooden base. Push the needles through the middle of the tape and press the tape to the cork tops, pulling it up the sides and onto the wooden base. Push the tape into all the corners on the way up and over onto the sides of the cork.

8 – Cut more pieces of tape and push the needles through wrapping around the wooden base meeting the ends on the side of the corks so the top ends up wrapped without loose ends.


9 – Cut some more pieces of tape to wrap around the corks and secure them side to side. The goal is to support the connection to the base, and the connection to each other and prevent side to side wiggle.

Note for use:


In the beginning, it will take a little more time placing the multi point awl than a single awl. Make sure all needles are all lined up on the fold. Practice a few times with some paper you don’t care about until you get the hang of it.

See above illustration for sewing diagrams for 3, 5, and 7 point pamphlet stitches.


6 John James #18 Bookbinding Needles

18oz Gorilla Wood Glue

Scotch 1110-C Multi Use Duct Tape, 10-Yards


Paper cutter fence

fence in use

I need to cut some little books, all to exactly the same size. In searching for an inexpensive solution I was happy to come up with this simple hack.

I have a Kutrimmer board shear but it’s missing the fence, and I did not want to go through the hassle (not to mention expense) of ordering a original parts replacement.

The base of the Kutrimmer is metal so something magnetic seemed the simplest approach. I found a couple of strong ceramic magnets and went looking for something to attach them to. I wanted enough edge to serve as a stop for the signatures I was cutting, and something that could accommodate the magnets.

magnet and square

I ended up with this carpenter’s square. As luck would have it, the offset for the edge of the square was a perfect fit for the ceramic magnets I found. I mean PERFECT! LOOK:


How to attach the magnets? Here’s the most useful part of this post -> There is a great little website that is really useful when you are trying to figure out how to attach things to other things. It’s called This to That, and it has a pretty complete listing of which glue will work best for any given situation.

Based on This to That’s recommendation for gluing plastic to ceramic, I used good old E6000 and it worked a trick! I left the whole thing under some weight to cure for 24 hrs.

The magnets are strong and hold the fence nicely in place.

Other possible uses for a magnetic fence? If you have a steel body sewing machine you could use this or a similar set up as a sewing guide. You could also make little spice shelves for the front of your fridge – maybe I’ll try that soon!


Swanson Speedlite Level Square (Gray)

Heavy Duty Ceramic Block Magnets (Pack of 2)

E6000® Craft Adhesive 3.7 oz

A Tiny Travel Paint Set

Tiny Travel Watercolors


Travel water color sets can be expensive and might not have the colors you want. Here’s a quick and easy way to make your own.


  • A clean empty little altoids tin (or any tin you like the size of)
  • InstaMorph moldable plastic
  • paper towels
  • a dowel or Sharpie or unsharpened pencil
  • tubes of watercolors or gouache
  • a water brush
  • watercolor paper
  • rubber cement

Warm up a mug or jar of water to about 150F (65C)  (I used the hottest tap water my faucet puts out and then popped it in the microwave for another 30 seconds).

Fill up the tin you are using to make your travel set to the rim with InstaMorph beads (right up to the edge with maybe a little more as the process of squishing it all together later will reduce the volume).

Pour the beads into the hot water and wait till they turn clear. Grab your paper towels. I find flipping the blob of beads over after they are mostly clear will expose the beads on the bottom to more heat and speed up the heating.

clear beads

When the beads are ready pull them out and put them on the paper towels. (don’t burn your fingers – maybe use a plastic spoon or something to grab the blob) Squish them into one piece and use the paper towels to dry it off as you work it.


Once its all one piece pop them back in the warm water for a second to warm it up again, you can continue to do this as you work if the plastic becomes too stiff to manage – you can even put the whole tin in. (Not once you put the paint in the wells, of course!) Take it out and dry it off.


Put it in the tin and flatten it into the bottom of the tin, pushing it into all the corners until it covers the bottom of the container and is level.

Use the end of your dowel to make impressions in the InstaMorph – these will be the wells for your paint. Try not to break through the bottom of the blob to the tin.

As you make more wells the first ones will deform – go back with a knitting needle or paint brush handle and push the InstaMorph around to make shape of the wells regular.

Let the InstaMorph cool before filling the wells with paints. I fill mine right up to the top because I don’t mind a little leaking over the top. If keeping the paints separate is important, be sure to keep the level below the top of all four sides of the impression you’ve made.

Cut a piece of watercolor paper a little smaller than the lid of the tin, and paint a little sample of each of the paints you filled your wells with. Then, use the rubber cement to glue this to the lid of your tin. (Use the “let thin coats on both surfaces dry and then stick that sucker on there” technique)

closed tin

Fill up your water brush with water and you’re ready to go!


I used to make these with Sculpey – and you could still do that with the added step of baking the whole shebang (before you put the paint in) to cure the Sculpey (and of course skipping all the hot water stuff) but I like that InstaMorph is non-toxic and biodegradable, and over all feels like less of a hassle to me.

Sometimes when you open a tube of water colors or gouache, there is a clear liquid that comes out before or around the paint. Try to catch that stuff on a paper towel rather than in your paint well.

Why do go to all this trouble when you can find pretty good travel watercolor set for around $25? Making your own gives you more control over which colors are included and the quality of the paint. It also allows you to make a REALLY tiny set.  If you already have most of the supplies, it’s cheaper than buying a whole new set of half pans. It’s fun!

Let the paint dry before traveling with it.

Happy painting!


Little altoids tin
(or any tin you like the size of – other tins)

InstaMorph – Moldable Plastic – 6 oz

watercolors in tubes

Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush

Polyform Sculpey III Polymer Clay 8 Oz: White

It’s little book day!


It’s that time again. I have run through my back stock of little books. [ Non footnoted footnote here: I send a little free little hand bound book with each purchase from my Etsy shop because everybody likes a little surprise! ]

Any way its little book day and I thought it might be fun to chronicle the process including a mini pamphlet stitch tutorial in case you want to make your own!


I hoard nice rag paper and colorful card stock which I find various places including at S.C.R.A.P. (one of San Francisco’s under if not un-sung gems tucked away in the Bayshore) I cut it down immediately and haul out a couple handfuls when little book day comes (henceforth know as LBD)

It all get folded half – grain running along the spine people! (because that’s how we do!) Use a bone folder or potters rib to create a nice firm fold. The three holes are punched   using my nifty homemade triple awl and punching cradle. You can use a standard single awl or a bookbinding needle pushed into a wine cork (be careful with that or I’ll tell you the story about the knitting needle and the block of ice!) Instead of a cradle you can use a paper phone book  to punch into (you have one of those right…?)

cradlewbook awlinaction

and punching and punching and punching…..pardon me I’m a little punch drunk here (ba dum smash! -rim shot-)

Next I measure out a couple of arm lengths of waxed linen thread. You really only need about 2x the spine of your book but I am making dozens of books at a time and don’t want to pause to rethread my needle over and over. Then I want the knot on the exterior spine of my book so I go in the middle hole leaving an inch or so tail hanging out – reverse this if you want the knot on the inside. Then I come up one of the two remaining holes (doesn’t really matter which) and then skipping over the middle down again through the last empty hole. Finally I push the need up through the middle hole being careful to come out the spine on the opposite side of the “stitch” from the tail. pull the ends to snug the stitching but not so much you rip the paper and tie it off with a basic square knot. The wax on the thread should lock the knot.


To finish the little books I trim them square on the kutrimmer board shear and round the corners on the corner punch.

Yay! Little books!


6 John James #18 Bookbinding Needles

Heavy Duty Wood Handle Awl

4-Ply Waxed Linen Cord, 25yd, White (Pack of 1)

Books by Hand Bone Folder

Or all this together:

Bookbinding Starter Kit – Bonefolder, Awl, Needles and Thread – Free worldwide delivery

If you don’t want to purchase tools you can use a regular sturdy sewing needle. Try to pick a sturdy one with an eye just big enough for your thread. An eye that is too much larger than the shaft of the needle will enlarge the hole which make the binding looser. You can use the back of a (clean) wooden spoon to go over your fold and firm it up and in a pinch I’ve used dental floss to sew with (when I was traveling and wanted a little note book to jot some things down in).