In theory, it’s easy to make a pocket notebook. Staple a few small sheets of paper to a piece of cardstock, fold in half. Of course, it’s a different story if you want to manufacture and sell your notebooks, but the relative simplicity of the format has spurred people on to make not just a pocket notebook, but the perfect pocket notebook.
As a side effect, this has created an endless of sea of notebooks to choose from. They all promise premium quality, and yet, they all look and function the same. So if you want to make a perfect pocket notebook that people notice, you must really ask yourself: What can I do differently?
Newcomer Furrow Books attempts to answer that question starting with their Great Plains Edition, moving the lines and grids off the pages and onto a separate accessory — a ruling card.
Lines and graph are on either side of the card. Using it is simple enough: I open to the page I want, put the card behind that page, and start writing. The rules show up from behind the paper, the card sandwiched between the page I’m writing on and the next.
The first thing I noticed about the card is that it juts out when stored in the book, which is actually its own feature. It makes removal easier and acts great as a bookmark.
The card works well, but is ill-suited to a few situations. If you’re going mobile, it will obviously be tough to position and re-position the card quickly. Plus, there’s always the fear of losing the card.1 One-handed scribbling is difficult, as the card will shift without the weight of a second hand. The card is especially useless in dark environments, as the rules won’t show up without the right lighting.
Another word of caution: at best, the ruling card is good for making sketches and scribbles neater, but is not meant for accuracy. You could try technical drafting on this book, but the card easily shifts during use. It’s a visual guide, but doesn’t accommodate for meticulous work.
I’m being too harsh. The ruling card isn’t right for everyone, but it works well for a casual user like me. When it matters, the lined side of the card keeps my writing straight and small, leaving more space than if I were to scribble without the lines. Although I don’t do a lot of technical drawing, the graph side of the card helps for checklists and positioning my writing.
It’s a neat idea, even though it answers a problem I never thought of. For me, dot-grid ruling has worked perfectly to keep my quick scribbles in line and lend structure to my design sketches. It has been a must for any pocket notebook I buy.
However I’ve noticed that the dot-grid pattern has greatly affected my sketching. Many of the designs that resulted from my dot-grid notebooks are all so blocky and geometric. I looked into buying blank notebooks, but was reluctant to completely let go of ruling’s form and structure.2
Furrow Books happens to fill that need. I’ve experimented with the ruling card system by combining the use of lines, graph, and the blank pages for my sketches. I still have to wait a bit longer to see how useful it ends up being, but it presents a unique way of sketching and I expect cool stuff to come out of it.
Onto the paper. It’s got the right amount of texture — just a little rough and not completely featureless. Pages feel softer rather than tough and crisp, resulting in less wrinkles and dimples from putting the book in my pocket. Tiny visible fibers are embedded in the paper, which are neither harmful nor helpful, but they make the paper look more distinguished and less ordinary.
Writing with a pencil feels great on this paper, thanks again to the texture. I can feel some grit as I write. While graphite still glides on the paper, it doesn’t merely slide. Another benefit is that the texture holds the graphite better. Smudges aren’t even that bad.
My favorite part of most notebooks is the cover, and this book is no exception. It feels and looks absolutely lovely. I delight in running my fingers over the rippling, plaster-like material.3 It feels so rugged and velvety at the same time. The only printing on the entire book is on the back cover, which is great, as the rest of the cover is pleasant to look at.
Like the paper, the cover holds its shape well and doesn’t wrinkle or dimple easily. After a week of writing and putting the book in my pocket, it only has minimal deformation and friction wear. Of course this will change as time goes on, but I expect it to last at least six months.
All the parts of the Furrow Books notebooks come together well, and I don’t have much to say about construction. The paper is cut well, and I’d have to stare even longer to find a defect. The only problem I have is the stitching, which isn’t aligned as well as they should.4
On the book I’m using, the middle staple is slightly crooked. I can actually see how that staple accelerates the wear on its part of the spine. Plus, the fold-ins of each staple are inconsistent — one of the staples isn’t even folded in completely. If stitching could be improved in any way, this notebook would be truly flawless.
When it comes to buying this book, there are a couple alternatives to consider. Obviously, there’s Field Notes. Taking into account that a Furrow Notes three-pack costs just four more cents than a pack of Field Notes, the quality of this book is impressive. Besides, I find Field Notes paper disappointing, almost completely absent of the texture and heft that Furrow Books paper has. It lacks character and writing on it feels terrible. I’d rather write in a Furrow Books notebook.
Compared to Doane Paper products, I’d say that Furrow Books’s ruling card is best for casual users of the Grid + Lines ruling. If you’re heavy into drawing with a grid and/or writing with lines, the card isn’t reliable enough. However for the occasional sketch, more orderly scribbles, and dispensing with Doane Paper’s thick distracting ruling, the ruling card is for you.
The last alternative to keep in mind: making your own ruling card. You’ll miss out on the quality Furrow Books “experience,” but it’s a good way to try the ruling card system before buying. Again, the card isn’t for everyone. Print some lines on an index card, stick it in a spare blank notebook, and see what happens. If you find that it works for you, it’s worth upgrading to Furrow Books.
There isn’t anything to hate about Furrow Books’s first product. It’s made of excellent materials that make me love using it. And while the usefulness and usability of the ruling card remains to be fully seen, it’s a novel well-executed idea that has potential. I’m confident that this notebook will be enjoyable to use all the way to the last page.
The Furrow Books: Great Plains Edition (Pocket-Size) is available for purchase from www.furrowbooks.com.
Note: I contributed to Furrow Books’ crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. I’ve spent two weeks testing this notebook. This is my first notebook review. You can contact me to ask for additional information about my experience with this product.
If you do lose your card, it isn’t that bad: You can get a card from another Furrow Books notebook. Although if you don’t have the rest of your three-pack handy, you will have to go rule-less for awhile. ↩
Yes I know Doane Paper, I’m getting there… ↩
Judge me all you want, but it’s that good! I could even say that it feels like the aluminum unibody of Apple laptops, but that would really make it pretentious. ↩
If you think I’m nitpicking: when it comes to durability, the spine is the notebook’s only point of failure. How well a notebook is stitched factors into how long the spine will last before the notebook falls apart. And I tend to use notebooks as long as nine months, so this kind of stuff matters to me. ↩