Tag Archives: engineer

Tom Lipton’s Industrial Notebook

I recently came across a great post by Tom Lipton of Ox Tools, who designs and builds “special tools, instruments, and mechanical devices for the scientific, medical, product development, and metal working industries.” He has some great thoughts on why it’s important to keep a paper notebook, and the contents of his own notebooks are fascinating. Here’s some excerpts:

In the late eighties I started keeping an industrial notebook. I think the habit started when I was taking some math classes at the local community college and got rid of the standard school loose leaf binder. Later on the idea was further driven home when I was involved with several patent applications and the need for documentation of the projects and inventions I was working on. For me my personal notebooks are a place with no rules, where I can jot down a thought or explore an idea or simply keep track of something I’m working on. Even today with the fantastic electronic devices available to us I still find a need for the paper notebook format. One of the engineers I work with and I frequently discuss the difficulty of capturing all the different types of information that come into our possession and how we can organize them and keep track of the valuable bits. My industrial notebook is one just one part of my personal information storage and retrieval system.


We have quite a few electronic options available to us today, but I would argue that few have the simplicity, reliability and versatility of the lowly pen and paper. My version of the industrial notebook is just a simple continuum of thoughts and observations related to my current interests and projects that happens to end up on paper. The content of these notebooks cover every style of writing from notebook, logbook journal and diary to shopping lists for parts and materials. Officially each of these is a different type of note keeping with its own rules, format and content. I’m not much for the rules of the road with my note keeping. The things I put in notebooks are mainly for me, so whether someone else can follow what I’m up to is not as important as writing it down in the first place. Someone said, “The faintest pencil line is worth a thousand times more than the best memory.” Sometimes all I’m doing in my notebooks is talking to myself by asking questions in sketches and by the act of recording the dialog to paper for possible future use.

Read more (and see more photos) at Industrial Notebook

If you are interested in buying the kind of notebook he uses, it’s this:

National Brand Computation Notebook, 4 X 4 Quad, Brown, Green Paper, 11.75 x 9.25 Inches, 75 Sheets (43648).

Review and Giveaway: Elan Pocket-Size Field Book

I’ve been rather fascinated by field books lately. I first owned one when I was in college– I forget where I bought it, but I stumbled on it in a store, thought it looked cool, and ended up using it for some art classes where its durability came in handy.

I hadn’t thought about it in years and then was reminded of it while going through boxes of notebooks and realized I actually owned a notebook that had the same interesting paper used in the work of David Fullarton:

I poked around and found these notebooks for sale at Engineer Supply: Elan Field Books. The standard field book size is about 4 1/2 x 7″, which is not a size I used very often any more, but I got all excited when I saw that Elan offered a smaller “pocket size” field book. At 4 1/8 x 6 1/4″, it’s not for very small pockets, but I couldn’t resist– I had to buy some. And yes, I really did have to buy “some.” Unfortunately, Engineer Supply only sells these by the 6-pack, and at $8.25 each, that ended up being a bit of an investment. But it’s all for the good of my readers, and means I have some extras to give away!

So let’s take a look at what I got:

I have to say, I was disappointed at how large the notebook ended up being. The actual exterior measurements are  4 5/16 x 6 13/16″ and the page dimensions within are 4 1/8 x 6 1/2″. That’s a pretty big discrepancy with what was promised. The Elan field book is shown below with a pocket Moleskine for comparison.

And boy is that cover a bright orangey red! I guess it makes sense, though, as my old muddy brown one could easily get lost in the woods, but this one never would!





You’ll also notice my other major disappointment: a HUGE cover overhang. Yuck. My old field book had almost none.


But inside is where we get to the good part. Inside the front cover, there’s a space to write your contact details and the contents of the book. On the inside back cover, you get a few fun bits of mathematical information that most of us will never use. The pages within are a nice red and blue grid pattern, which is a good compromise between line and graph. The columns would be handy for jotting numbers. The page layout I chose is actually called a “Level Book” but you can also get a “Field Book” that has this page style on the left, and a smaller grid pattern on the right, similar to in the Fullarton image above.


The notebook opens quite flat, due to a somewhat loose binding. The paper has a smooth feel and fine point gel pens feel great on it. Fountain pens worked well, though my Uniball Vision Micro feathered out a bit. Show-through is not all that great, though bleed-through is better than average. The paper is acid-free.


From the Engineer Supply description:



  • High visibility, extra stiff orange hardbound cover
  • Completely protected by a waterproof barrier with blind embossing
  • White ledger paper has a 50% cotton content and is specially formulated for maxiumum archival service, ease of erasure and protected by a water resistant surface sizing
  • Ruled light blue with red vertical lines


  • Number of pages — 160 pages (80 sheets)

  • Page size — 4 1/8” W x 6 1/2” H

  • Grid layout on the left — 6 vertical columns

  • Grid layout on the right — 6 vertical columns

So for the bottom line, I definitely didn’t find this the field book of my dreams. I would really love a smaller one, with no cover overhang. Then I’d buy them by the half-dozen, or dozen, or gross, maybe! But as is, they’re still pretty good, depending on your needs, and they’re not too expensive. As noted above, you can buy them online in packs of 6 from Engineer Supply, or one by one via Amazon.

And I have a few extras to give away! I’ll select 3 lucky winners from entries received in these ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing “Elan Field Book” and “@NotebookStories”, and follow @NotebookStories.

On Facebook, “like” the Notebook Stories page, and post something containing the words “Elan Field Book” on the Notebook Stories wall.

On your blog, post something containing the words “Elan Field Book” and “Notebook Stories” and link back to this blog.

The deadline for entry is Friday Feb. 8 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
And please remember to check my posts on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement of the winner.

Avionics Notebooks from Makani Power

This is pretty neat: Makani Power is a company that is developing airborne wind turbines as an energy source. On their blog, they are posting various notebook pages by their engineers showing their work in progress:

Eric Chin’s Avionics Notebooks.

Eric Chin’s Avionics Notebooks

Peter Kinne’s H-Tail Test Sketches

Eric Chin’s Avionics Notebooks

Notebooks: Dr. Paula Echeverri

Paula Echeverri Notebooks

Review & Giveaway: Book Factory Notebooks

When I wrote about my Engineer’s Field Notebook, I mentioned that I would love to have a pocket sized version. Well, here’s something that’s sort of close: a pocket size lab notebook from The Book Factory. I’ve written about this company before— they’re based in the US, which is a rarity for notebook makers these days. They make all sorts of hardcover and softcover notebooks for various purposes, many of which are more for business or educational uses, but they also offer many items of interest to the general public, and anyone can order from their online store. The Book Factory was kind enough to send me 3 sample notebooks: a pocket lab notebook, a blank notebook with numbered pages, and a lined notebook.


The closest comparison to these notebooks would be a softcover pocket Moleskine. As you’ll see below, the Book Factory versions are slightly smaller and thinner at 3 1/2 x 5 1/4″ and 96 pages. (One of the samples I received, shown below, was actually slightly wider at 3 5/8″.)


The Book Factory notebooks are very basic: no logo stamped anywhere, no elastic to hold them shut, no ribbon marker or pocket in the back. They aren’t made to the most exacting quality standards– the spines are slightly rounded, and the edges can have slight imperfections– they are just a faux-leather/oilcloth material adhered to a paper backing, like the softcover Moleskine, but the Moleskine seems to be trimmed a bit more sharply. I worried that the slightly loose threads at the edge could start to unravel further with more use.


When you open the notebook, the inside cover has spaces for writing your personal information. The lab notebook also has a couple of pages of instructions for properly documenting research findings or inventions, etc., and has index pages you can use to create a table of contents for the notebook.


These notebooks are very flexible– you can almost roll them into a tube without harming them. They’ll stay bent for a while afterwards, but if you bend them back in the opposite direction, they’ll flatten out again. They also open perfectly flat.


The binding is attached to the paper signatures by a sort of cloth tape, which is visible on the inside covers. I think most notebooks probably glue an inner page down to cover this. The signatures are sewn into a slightly rounded spine, not squared off like a Moleskine (again, there was some variation in the samples I received as to how round/square the spine was).


The paper inside is pretty basic. The lined version has a space at the top. The lab notebook has a block of gridded space, with a header and footer for additional information such as signatures of the researcher and a witness.


As for the texture, it doesn’t give the ecstatic writing experience of the smooth, fine paper used in a Moleskine or Rhodia or Clairefontaine notebook– it’s more comparable to the standard white paper you’d find in any spiral notebook at Staples, but perhaps a bit thicker. Some pens feathered a bit, but it performed fairly well in terms of show-through.


What I like about these notebooks is that they seem so scrappy and hardworking. They are nice and flexible for sticking in a back pocket, and they don’t seem too precious to be knocked around. The covers have a soft, pleasing feel to them, and the pages open as flat as can be. They are just unpretentious and functional, which is fine with me. The design of a notebook should fade into the background like one of those black-clad puppeteers–the notebook should leave the spotlight on what the user writes in it. It shouldn’t just be a self-conscious fashion statement (someday I’ll rant about Field Notes being way too “twee,” as the Brits might say). Sometimes the definition of good design is that you just don’t notice it.

However, my inner aesthete may wish the Book Factory notebooks were just a bit more polished in a few details, and most days, my inner aesthete will win. I can’t help caring about how a pen feels on paper as I write, and if I wasn’t obsessive about the exact size and shape and thickness and texture and symmetry and blemishes of my notebooks, well, none of us would be at this website, would we?

But any concerns about quality have to be weighed against the price. The pocket size notebooks are only $6.99, with volume discounts starting at 25 units. There may still be comparable notebooks available for somewhat less, but none that I know of are available in lab notebook formats, or  made here in the U.S.A. The Book Factory has several options for imprinting the cover (“Research Notebook,” “Log Book,” etc.  a they can also make custom notebooks for large orders.

If you want a nice, basic, flexible little notebook, these are a great option, expecially if you have a use for pre-numbered or lab format pages. If you want something more substantial, you can also check out the Book Factory‘s other hardcover notebooks, which come in a variety of specialized formats for different purposes, such as “balance calibration” and “animal maintenance.” And if you want to try one of the pocket notebooks for free, I’m giving one away! You can win the small lined journal with the brown cover by posting a link to www.notebookstories.com at your blog and emaling me at nifty [at] notebookstories [dot] com with the location of the link– that counts as two entries. If you don’t have a blog, you can just send me an email saying you want the notebook– that counts as one entry.  The deadline for entry is Friday September 11 at 5pm Eastern time. Good luck everyone!