Do you have a good notepad? I won’t say it’s essential towards keeping track of project plans, notes, and sketches, but it can be extremely helpful.
Maybe you prefer digital notes, and that’s fine, but I tend to prefer paper for certain things. Oh, I do keep track of a lot of things digitally on my computer and “in the cloud,” but it’s a complement to what I do on paper and not a replacement.
You don’t really need a notepad – I’ve used envelopes, post-it notes, printer paper, and well anything at reach. But a notepad provides consistency. Loose pages can be kept together in a folder, and bound notebooks can be organized for future reference.
Veritas Workshop Pads
Above is Lee Valley’s Veritas workshop pad, available in different sizes. These notepads are available in 3-1/2″ x 6″, 8-1/2″ x 11″, and 11″ x 17″ sizes.
In letter-size, you can choose between 48 or 96 page capacities, and 1 or 5 pad packages. In the smaller size, each pad is 50 sheets and sold in a package of 5 pads. The largest size is available in 48 sheet pads and 3-pad packages.
The grids are 1/4″ wide (4 squares per inch), and with dots spaced 1/16″ apart, and this works out well for laying out woodworking projects.
You don’t need grid lines or graph paper, but it helps with sketching, making tables, lists, diagrams, or quickly visualizing the scale of different dimensions.
Lee Valley prices these Veritas workshop notepads very affordably, and they’re made in Canada.
The smallest size is a bit too narrow for my liking, but their economy, quality, grid lines, and handy ruler markings on every page make them great scratch-pads.
Rhodia Dot Grid Notepads
Rhodia notepads are made from 80g vellum paper, and are super-smooth. They work great with pencil and ink alike, and are much-loved for how well they behave with fountain pen inks. I have had good experiences using them with technical pens as well.
You can choose between many different sizes and styles. A5 is a middle size, around the size of a hardcover book, and A4 is approximately letter-sized.
I am a fan of Rhodia’s dot grid layout, which gives you enough structuring to write neatly but also higher visibility for sketches. They also make lined and graph paper.
You get 80 sheets per pad, and can choose between staples and wirebound tops.
A5 is a good size, at least to start out with, due to its convenience and lower cost.
Roaring Springs Engineering Pad
I can’t put my finger on who or when, but someone here turned my attention to engineering paper, and I’m glad they did.
I’ve been using Roaring Spring’s 5×5 grid engineering pad with 15 pound buff paper, and recently ordered their green-colored pad as well to try out.
The front of the pad is unlined, and the back has a grid with medium brown lines.
The paper itself is light cream-colored, but far from the glaring yellow of standard legal pads.
With a sheet of paper on the pad, the rear grid lines stand out, giving you structuring to lay out your sketch. Removed from the pad, and the grid lines almost disappear, reducing their visual distraction from your sketch, diagram, or writings.
Or, you can use the back as you would graph paper.
I wish I had been introduced to these beige buff engineering paper pads earlier.
There are some less expensive notepad options, such as:
Or, you can always get a cheap ream of paper and an inexpensive clipboard or pair of binder clips.
Notebooks vs. Notepads
I like using both notebooks and notepads. Notebooks are better where project planning might progress or involve multiple components, while notepads are more versatile and accommodating of day to day needs. I’d feel bad about jotting down something random and unrelated in a notebook, where it’ll remain in that book forever, with notepads feeling more casual and permitting.
Keeping track of things is important, and there’s no right way to do things. I’ve made booklets out of printer paper, and often use post-it notes and the backs of envelopes to work things out, although I’ve tried to be better about using notepads since their pages are easier to store and refer to.
I don’t always keep good notes, and then I find myself either duplicating planning efforts or working backwards as I try to decipher past actions based on unrecorded plans.
Veritas’ smaller notepad size is a little taller than a paperback book, and Rhodia’s A5 is about the size of a hardcover. I’m sure you know what letter-sized looks like, and A4 pages are slightly taller than letter-sized paper.
I tend to use A5 notepads and notebooks most, and while I have an A4 pad or two, I prefer letter-sized pads since they pages store more conventionally. Letter-sized pages can be liberated from a notepad and stored in a standard-sized folder, or punched and kept in a standard-sized binder.
Cost vs. Quality
The Veritas notepads hit a sweet spot, where they’re inexpensive enough you can rip off a page and use it as a glue shield or folded into a dust-catcher when drilling into a wall or other vertical surface.
The Roaring Springs notepads are also fairly inexpensive, and they’re pre-punched for easy storing in a 3-ring binder.
Rhodia offers better paper quality, but you spend a bit more for it. There are even more premium options, but at “why would you buy that for workshop use??” pricing. Even the Rhodia might be a bit much, but their paper is smoother and thicker than cheaper paper, and it handles technical pen and marker ink a lot better than printer paper without feathering or bleeding.
If you must have a notebook recommendation, I currently like the Leuchtturm 1917 in A5 size with dot grid paper. The paper is of similar weight to the Rhodia, but with a slightly different texture.
I used to buy Moleskine notebooks from the bookstore (with coupons) and then from Amazon. I’ve had very good experiences with the brand.
You can also go with traditional marble or spiral notebooks, but they don’t tend to be anywhere as durable.