Combination Stationery Case Lap Desk

A few years ago I made some stationery cases out of cherry. I wanted something that would hold paper & envelopes, and be sturdy enough to write on and durable enough for travel. I made one in monarch size, and one in letter size. The letter one was the last, so it’s a bit more refined.

I used an elastic band to hold them shut, but I’m thinking of figuring out something that’s a little more elegant.


The top panel is set a little below the side so that sheets won’t slide off, and is stiff enough to write on.


The space below is enough for maybe 40 sheets, depending on the weight of the paper. I usually carry a few sheets of monarch and the rest in letter.


A thumb hole in the top of the divider panel makes it easy to get to the envelope compartment below.


There is a small compartment at the end to store cartridges, but really it’s there because the envelopes aren’t as long as a sheet of paper 😉

The elastic band does a nice job of holding sheets while they’re being written on. I’ve taken this on trips, and used it while sitting on a plane. It’s a bit bulky, but it holds far more paper than a portfolio and provides much more protection.

I’m considering making a few more and offering them on Ebay, so if you’re interested let me know!

[UPDATE: you can now buy one of these cases here.]

A New Desk

Ok, it’s not new, because my father an I built it back in about 1979. But I just brought it home from his basement where it’s weathered many years and a few floods. It’s in good condition structurally, but has plenty of lifted veneer and dings.

I wanted to have a place that was focused on pen and paper rather than my computer. Computers have a way of taking over a desk, between a mouse, cables, and whatever extra USB connected doodads are around. This desk does a nice job of holding paper-related stuff but is not well suited to my laptop, although it does fit inside when I close the front. Because of where the desk is I’m motivated to close it whenever I’m not using it. My wife like this because it’s far more tidy than the huge pile of mess the computer desk usually is. I like it because when I want to write something it’s nice to have a clean place to do it.


I think I might make a replacement, out of a bit nicer wood and with a few minor changes. The cubbies aren’t quite tall enough for a #10 envelope, and they could stand to be a little wider. But that will be a fairly major project, and in the mean time I think i will just enjoy the desk I have.

Air Boss or Sky Train?

This last weekend we went to visit some family for a long weekend. I took the Air Boss, after a bit of deliberation.

The Air Boss is best suited for trips where you can use the bundle packing method. Folding works only so so, and living out of the bag quickly has it bulging in the middle because when it’s standing up and you’re pulling things out and stuffing them back in things gravitate toward the center. Usually if I’m visiting family it’s a living out of the bag situation, and the Air Boss isn’t the best choice.

But since I’m visiting my father, who has a lot of space and I know I’ll be able to unpack, I decided to take the Air Boss and it worked out fine.

Still love the bag for business travel – It once again proved itself during a speaking gig a few weeks ago. But a recent trip to Las Vegas where I took a different bag (it was two nights, and I had to wear a specific shirt for both days so there was little clothing) and that got me thinking about luggage again. I ended up looking at Tom Bihn’s stuff, and oogled a Western Flyer for a bit, and then I ended up back on Doug’s site and reading about bundle packing again. I’d used one of those packing folders to Vegas, and it was a pain.

Re-reading Doug’s site, I noticed he seemed to be talking about making a bundle tightly around a core, outside the bag, and then putting it inside the bag. When I was packing the Boss I noticed that the compartments are all pretty flat relative to the other dimensions. The bag is 21″ long by 13″, and the outside compartments that I use to hold clothes are only 2″ thick. That makes for a floppy bundle. I’ve never tried to bundle the clothes outside the bag and then fit the bundle inside, but I don’t think it would work very well. I’ve never been able to make a bundle very tight. When I try to pull clothes tightly around it tends to crumple the inner layers. There isn’t much space for a thick core. Regardless it works better than my old rolling bag, but when you’re a bag junkie, well, the pursuit of perfection and this kind of bagsturbation is it’s own reward.

That got me thinking about the Sky Train, which has two compartments instead of three and a different aspect ratio. One of them is 6.5″ thick, and the other 2.5″. The bag is an inch shorter, which doesn’t seem like much on paper but on a travel bag an inch is a lot. This makes the main compartment an obvious choice for a bundle, but now a bundle that could be thicker and more stable. I might not need the whole 6.5″, but things like sweaters or jackets, which are often needed while traveling, could be folded and put on top of the bundle. The other compartment could be used for either a smaller bundle or maybe the briefcase stuff. The thicker compartment might work better for live-out-of-the-bag situations as well.

There are a couple things that make me hesitate though. First, the bag is an inch shorter and the Air Boss is already on the edge of being too small for some shirts – with a 17.5″ neck, the body of the shirt is a bit over 21″ wide and the Sky Train is 20″. Second, the center compartment of the Air Boss is such a perfect place for lots of things that don’t really have another place, like shoes, computer, etc. They’re in the center of the bag so they don’t rub against me while walking. They’re protected. And, if I really need to thin the bag to fit it into an overhead (this happened only once, BTW) I can quickly yank out the computer and voila! The bag is thinner. I have this thing about symmetry as well.

I have a few more trips coming up, and I think I might try putting clothes in the center Air Boss compartment and the computer on the outside, and see how that goes.

Economical but appropriate stationery

With all the political goings on here in Wisconsin I’ve become a letter writer again. The best way to get a legislator’s attention is with a handwritten letter, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

Now when I was younger, single, and childless I bought some Cranes stationery with my name engraved at the top. It’s nice stationery, in Monarch size (7.25 x 10.5) which is a little more personal than letter size. It’s their 32 lb paper which is stiff and heavy, and being 100% cotton it’s got a great feel.

It’s also quite pricey – about $2 for a single page letter. As I wrote my 20th letter to someone in Madison, I realized that while I want to send a message I was probably being a little frivolous.

After a few pointless trips to the local office supply stores, where I found a narrow selection of nice paper but almost no envelopes, all at high prices, I checked out Xpedx are a paper distributor, but they sell online and have several walk-in locations where you will find a huge selection of paper. They had a few choices in 100% cotton paper, along with matching envelopes. For less than the cost of 100 Crane engraved letters, I could get 500.

A ream Crane’s Crest 24lb 100% cotton paper and matching envelopes cost just over $100, about $70 of that being the envelopes. As I need to I laser print my name at the top and contact info at the bottom of the sheets and my return address on the envelopes. I can always print some for my wife or daughters, so it’s nice to have that flexibility. 100% cotton gives me some piece of mind that a letter will survive being carried around for a while, should I ever write anything that eloquent. I do write other folks as well, and cotton paper just feels so much better than wood-pulp paper.

The 32lb paper cost about three times as much – about 30% more for a ream of half as many sheets, and it seemed that if I was going after some economy it was silly to go after the increased weight. The 24lb is also thinner and packs in less space when I travel. It’s plenty stiff enough to have good feel, I can write on both sides even with a wet nib, and a four-sheet letter is less than an ounce.

While I’m very happy with my choice, if I was going to do it again I would consider going with 25% cotton 24lb writing paper. I picked up a ream of that to use as desk paper at the office, and it actually writes a bit nicer than the Crane’s, feels almost as good, and it’s about 40% less (on the paper).

The side of the Crane’s where the watermark is reversed is much nicer to write on, which is something to keep in mind when printing the letterhead info. It wrinkled a bit on the edges coming out of the printer because of the heat, but after a few days it flattened out again. The envelopes took a bit of a curl when I printed them, but they too flattened out after a while.

So now I have some paper fancy enough but cheap enough that I feel good using it.

My experience with grid vs square vs blank

I’m probably not the only one who ever sat in a book store looking at the different Moleksine notebooks wondering which one to get. Plain, squared, or ruled?

So I’ve tried them all, and have convinced myself that any particular one is really the right one for me at one time or another. Here we go again! 😎

I prefer it when I can pack more into each notebook, so I don’t have to refer to a different book when trying to find my notes on something that happened less than a year ago. It would be great if a notebook lasted years and years but they have neither the space nor the durability for that. A while ago I found that Miquelrius notebooks have more writing lines per cubic inch, but I couldn’t live with the Miquelrius notebook. The binding doesn’t lay flat and that drives me nuts. So, if I stay with a Moleskine, squared is the way to go.

The ruled notebooks have 30, 31, or 32 lines depending on whether you write in the very stop and bottom spaces. The squared have 41 lines. That’s a 30% increase, which is pretty substantial.

When I look through the plain books I’ve filled,  I notice that I write even less densely than in a ruled book. Even when writing with a very thin lined pen, I write with an increased line spacing. It does seem more natural to sketch in one, though, and that is usually the reason I use to convince myself to go with plain. Something about a blank page being more open and creative. I use blank paper to manage projects, and to write letters. There’s something about nice straight lines of writing on a blank page that is impressive as well.

The ruled books, however, do encourage straighter, neater writing. And when I use a broader pen to write, which usually makes it more readable later, my writing looks better at the wider spacing of the ruled books. There’s also the grade-school notebook paper ambiance going on. Ruled paper seems so normal. Comforting, even. It’s never stopped me from making an impromptu sketch.

So, as you can see it still isn’t a very clear choice. My current books are a grid at home, and ruled at work.

What do you use and why?