The Search for the Right Notebook

An ongoing quest.

Even though I’m a computer guy, and type fast, and write illegibly, notebooks are useful.  I need to get down little things quick before they distract me from the main line of work, and I need to do little work calculations and drawings that I can’t do as quickly on a computer.  And it’s useful to have the pages preserved in order; not very often, but it’s very useful when it does come up.

The TOPS Docket Quad Steno is interesting. It’s the only thing I could find that was top spiral bound and quad ruled (or any kind of graph paper). However, the price that showed just now online is $3 more than I paid in the store, which was already fairly expensive.

Tops Docket Quad Steno


Good points:

  • Quad ruled
  • Stiff backing board (can be written on hand-held)

Bad points:

  • Light paper (16 lb; my heavy black pens show through enough that using the backs is out of the question).
  • Expensive, even at $4.99, absurd at $7.99

Other features:

  • Perforated pages
  • Nice tuquoise lines
  • Margins at edge of page (quad doesn’t go to the edge)

I’ve mostly used side-bound notebooks.  Spiral is my definite preference because they open flat.  I wanted to try a top-bound, though, and a smaller size again. I was even willing to consider a ruled rather than quad book, but this one turned up and avoided that necessity.

cambridge quad
Campbridge Quad

The other decent notebook I know about is the Mead five-star  notebook. At least, I think that’s the current version of the one I’m getting towards the end of.  Again, issues are decent and heavy paper, and a good firm backing board.  Even though I do mostly write on them on a table, I hate them being all floppy. This is about $6, and the pages are bigger, and at least on the older one I have I can often use both sides of the page, so it’s a lot more days of use than the TOPS.

I do like “computation notebooks” (also called “lab notebooks”) in principle; but their bindings don’t lie flat (they’re optimized to make it fairly easy to tell if anything has been removed). They have numbered pages, which makes references easy and also contributes to detecting removals. But I don’t do the kind of work that needs a solid trail for patent applications.

A few companies make composition notebooks in quad rule, but again those don’t open flat, so I don’t find them as attractive to work with.

I’d have a lot more choices if I gave up insisting on quad-rule, but that really helps me organize my pages.


Cambridge (Mead) Wirebound Planning Pad

This seems to be product 06194. I can’t find it on their web site, though I find related products with nearby numbers; I suspect it’s been discontinued.

This is an oversize side-bound spiral notebook. The pages are micro-perforated but not three-hole punched. The paper is “ivory”, and called “heavyweight”; it might be 20 pound, certainly no heavier. It also has two “pocket” pages.

The backing board of this notebook is much thicker, and much stiffer, than any of the others had. It’s very nice to use. This is the best of the notebooks I’ve found, though as I recall it was rather expensive (though not at the level of the $30 to $150 lab notebooks).

Mead Quadrille Composition Book

I don’t think they make anything like this one any more, either. Its product id seems to be B-101.

This is the usual composition book, sewn binding taped over the back, smaller than letter size. But it has graph-paper pages instead of lined. That’s nice. The big thing wrong with it is that the cover and back (same piece of board, wrapped around) are too flimsy for it to be useful in the situations when you need a notebook. It’d work fine writing on a desk.

This paper feels smoother and nicer than the paper in the cheap spiral-bound notebook, but it’s still too thin to use both sides with roller pens or fountain pens.  But then I never use both sides in a composition book anyway, and rarely in a spiral bound even though they open flat.

Mead 100 Sheet Quad Notebook

The product number it gives on the cover is 05674. This one is quite old, and I can’t find that item number, or anything that looks a lot like this notebook, on their web site.

This is a completely ordinary spiral-bound graph-paper notebook. It’s three-hole punched, the pages are not oversize or perforated. The paper is light, not as heavy as 20 pound. The 4-to-the-inch squares are in gray again; maybe this is e Mead thing?

The thing wrong with this is that the back board, while it looks like cardboard,  is hardly any stiffer than the paper. This makes it not very useful for most of the situations where one wants to use a notebook.

It was, however, very cheap.

Graph Pads

This time, the Mead Five-Star Spiral Quadrille Pad, product number 06187. Checking the Mead site today I don’t find this product, but it’s still listed on Office Depot.

It’s 100 pages of 20 pound paper.  That’s better paper than in most such products.  The front cover is plastic, which gets ratty much more slowly and has few drawbacks (it’s harder to write on; I mostly don’t want to write on it). The paper feels less smooth than most, perhaps a bit rough. It might work very well with pencil, as well as pens.

The heavy paper, though, isn’t heavy enough to use both sides of. My broad gel pens show throw quite clearly, especially the black, but even the red does.

Also, the backing cardboard isn’t stiff enough.  It’s not so floppy it seems to have no board at all, the way some of the cheap ones I still have at home are, but it’s definitely sub-optimal, and not nearly as nice as the Cambridge planning pad ones that emphasize their stiff backing.

The ruling is in light gray.  I prefer blue, but that’s probably mostly for traditional reasons. One side is 4 to the inch, one 5. I only use the front side anyway, and don’t really care much about size (I think I prefer 4 slightly, but I don’t think I’ve ever had 5).

I don’t like lined pads.  I never really have. And blank pads (which I haven’t used, and probably wouldn’t like that much) and graph pads are hard to come by and expensive. I got spoiled by the real lab notebooks in the supply cabinet at Network Systems.

The notebook is oversize, and the pages are micro-perforated. The part that comes out is letter size, and is three-hole punched. For my main use for such notebooks I don’t need either.

Much of the part of life that isn’t the search for the right luggage is the search for the right notebook.