Recycle a phone book into a pen organizer
Spring is finally approaching, and with it comes a familiar sound… the thud of a new phone book landing on the front porch. In our area, Jo and I are inundated with as many as 4 or 5 new phone books every Spring, from different publishers all trying to compete in the advertising biz. Of course nobody needs that many phone books, and I usually just toss all but one of them in the recycling bin, but this year I decided to try to upcycle one of them into something fun. I managed to turn one into a quirky and unique pen/pencil organizer that’s a real conversation piece on my desk!
Cut the phone book
The first step is to cut your phone book down to size. The finished pencil organizer should be between 3 and 4 inches tall, so that’s how much you’ll want to cut off the book. Use an aluminum T-square to keep things straight and a very sharp utility knife to make your cuts clean. Make several passes with the knife and go as far into the book as the knife will allow.
Before you can cut through the rest of the book, you need to fold the cut part out of the way, but the spine is stopping you. So take your knife and cut carefully through the spine, lining it up with the cut you already made on top. Now you can fold back the cut pages and continue cutting through the rest of the book, using the T-square as a guide.
When you’ve cut the book in two, use a pair of scissors to cut the front and back cover off, as close to the spine as you can.
Form the loops
Separate the pages of the book evenly into 5 sections, and put a binder clip on each section to hold it in place. If you want to get really creative here, you can try to find your own phone number or the number of your favorite pizza place. If you’re lucky enough, you can split a section on that page, and have that number visible on the outside of the finished loop!
Now we need to roll the spine up tightly in the middle. To do this, you need something to be in the middle for spine to curve around. Take a brand new pencil and cut it about 1 inch longer than the height of your book (no saw necessary — regular scissors will work). Using a hot glue gun, glue the pencil to the spine, lining up the bottom of the pencil with the bottom of the book (the part where you cut, which is not as smooth) and letting the eraser end stick up past the top of the book (the part that is nice and smooth).
Squirt a bunch of glue around the pencil and roll the book up around it, holding it in place until it’s set. Your book should no longer have a beginning or end, and the pencil will make a fun handle for picking up the organizer after it’s done.
To form the first loop, take one of the sections and remove the binder clip. Curve the entire section around a piece of cardboard tube, making sure that the pages are nice and smooth and forming a nice loop. When you have it in a position you like, put the binder clip back on.
You can see now that by bending the pages, the ends don't all line up anymore, but we need them to. Using a pair of scissors, cut off the ends of the pages so that they are once again square with each other. Then test the fit by putting it into the crease along the spine.
If it fits, glob a bunch of hot glue on the edge and push it back into the crease, securing your loop. Hold in place until the glue is set.
Repeat with the other four loops. You’ll be left with five wobbly loops around the center. Now we want to open those loops up a little and make the whole thing more secure. To do this, run a bead of hot glue along the side of one loop, about an inch or two away from the spine.
Then press the two loops together along this glue line and hold until set. Repeat for the other loops.
Decoupage the paper
You’ve got this really neat looking pencil holder now, but it is still weak. The pages aren’t stuck to each other and it’s all still flexible. We’re going to fix that with a few coats of decoupage medium (our favorite is Mod Podge). Using a 1″ wide, soft-bristled paint brush, glob the Mod Podge onto the top edges of the loops, making the individual pages all stick together. Don’t try to coat the inside or outside of the loops yet — just focus on the top edges where all the pages meet.
Let it dry then apply a second heavy coat, but this time go ahead and brush the Mod Podge on the inside and outside of the loops, and again on the top edges.
With two coats on, it’s time to flip it over and coat the bottom. Because of your pencil “handle”, the piece won’t sit flat on the table when it’s upside down, so cut a small length of cardboard tube and set the pencil inside that. It will make the perfect stand and keep your project stable. Put two generous coats of glue on the bottom, so that the pages are all firmly stuck together.
When you’re satisfied that you have enough coats of Mod Podge on the entire piece and it’s as firm as you want it, trace the bottom of it into a piece of black card stock. Cut the shape out, cover it with Mod Podge, and put it (glue side down) onto the bottom of the pencil holder. This bottom piece will keep your pencils from falling through.
With the card stock bottom in place, apply another liberal coat (or two) of Mod Podge to the exposed surface, to seal it. Having a full coat on both sides of the card stock will make it sturdier and prevent damage from the things you store in the holder later.
The finished result
When it’s all dry, go ahead and fill it with markers, pens, and pencils and add it to your desk.
So cool and functional, don’t you think?
Update: Multi-level and multi-colored!
At our reader Cindy’s suggestion, I created another phone book organizer with each compartment at a different level. I built it using the same basic steps as above, but the cutting part was a bit trickier. Here’s how to do it:
Cut the phone book to a height of 7 inches. Then divide the pages into 5 sections and secure each with a binder clip. Open the book so that just one section is flat on the table in front of you, and use a ruler to measure down 4 inches from the top of the book. Mark a line and use the ruler and utility knife to cut that section on the line, so that what’s left is only 3 inches tall.
To remove the unwanted part of the pages, put the blade of the knife down into the spine and cut through, removing the whole section in (hopefully) one piece.
Now fold the next section of pages down and measure again from the top, but this time marking it at only 3 inches. Cut on that mark and then again in the spine, to remove the section of pages from this layer. Continue on with the next two layers, marking and cutting them at 2 inches and 1 inch from the top. The final fifth layer will not need to be cut at all. When you’re done, you should have a nice stair-step effect with your sections, which will result in each compartment of your organizer being a different height. Glue the pencil to the middle and glue the sections in place just as you did before.
The only problem I had with this approach is that the ends of the pages in each section were all showing because the compartments were different heights, so there was nowhere to hide the hot glue and cut ends. I didn’t like the look of it at all, so I decided to try something new with this one… I painted it!
It no longer looks like a phone book, so it has lost a little bit of the quirky appeal, but I really love the colorful result I got by painting each petal a different color.