9 Ways to Turn Old Musty Books Into Something Cool

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on December 30, 2009

Bibliophiles and bookworms, English majors and lovers of literature: is it possible to have too many books? They accumulate so quickly! Every member of your family getting you the same three books you requested for Christmas. Seeing Don DeLillo marked half-off, knowing you dumped a half-caff latte on your copy of Underworld, and – even though only the first three pages are illegible – justifying its purchase. 15+ years of required reading lists stored in boxes in your basement, even though you can bet your bippy you will never willingly read the poetry of Robert Burns again.

We are up to our waists in books, some of which we hate (really Master Burns? Scottish dialect? A mouse?!) yet we will never give them away. Because they just might come in handy some day. Like a day when you decide you want to transform your old books into awesome works of art. Like today.

Update: Do to the overwhelming support (HA!) of these ideas, I have compiled an equally fabulous display of incredible bookmarks – the exact opposite of book arts and crafts. Hear, hear!

9 Ways to Turn Old Books Into Something Cool

1. Hollow out an old hardback to create a nifty iPod case, a unique display case, or a fun hiding place for your treasures.

It brings a whole new meaning to “audio book.”

Use your old books to showcase your artistic side.

Good for hiding passwords and codes, the key to your safe, and family jewels.

2. Use the pages to create a book wreath.

Your choice of ribbon can transform this wreath so it is suitable for every holiday – or every day!

3. Use them to build invisible, floating bookshelves.

If you think floating books are mesmerizing, check out some other wacky bookshelves that will make your head spin (and your walls upgrade to awesome).

4. Choose a book with a great cover and turn it into a clock.

Book clocks are for everyone, young and old.

5. Turn your book into a lamp shade.

We recommend using a low-watt bulb, like 10 or 15 maximum. Or your book lamp shade might turn into a fire lamp shade.

6. Transform a beautiful hardcover into a book purse.

For the fashionable bookworm in all of us.

7. Cut out bits of your favorite passages and make a glass pendant necklace.

Great for expressing your individuality and having a tiny cheat sheet hanging around your neck come finals week.

You could also use the pages to make paper beads.

I have heard this is a great activity for little girls at slumber parties and summer camp, but cannot vouch for it.

8. Insert blank pages into a favorite tome to make a journal or scrapbook.

For those who find the Moleskin a little too common and hipster.

Use a book cover for a picture frame.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This combines a picture AND a thousand words. So really, this book cover picture frame is worth two thousand words.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of our book reviews on the Written Word.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

HistoryMajor August 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I think this is really cool! I am a bibliophile– but while some books are meant to be read again and again, others are only good once, and still others aren’t worth reading at all. This would be a great way to recycle worthless, unsellable college textbooks, or to use books that you’ve got duplicates of. Books in, of, and by themselves are just paper and ink. The true wonder of books is their contents– and sometimes the contents aren’t worth holding on to just because they happen to be bound in codex form.

alex October 24, 2010 at 3:22 pm

only savages destroy books.

Judith Bandsma October 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I guess they missed the desks at the library in Delft, Netherlands.

deepak dethe October 28, 2010 at 12:32 am

sorry i m not in favor of harm book like this !!!

Rhemalda November 14, 2010 at 1:14 am

I just love the purse book. I think I may have to come up with one of those.

Mystikan December 16, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I think the negative reaction to destroying books evinced by so many here (myself included!) is because of the attendant Orwellian symbolism of destroying knowledge and information. The two words “book burning” conjure in the mind chilling scenes of goose-stepping, jackbooted police exhorting the public to ignorance and servitude and fanatical love of Big Brother.

In history, the destruction of books has always been the province of tyrannical, oppressive or religious regimes, to the extent that many people today, hearing of the destruction of books, instinctively shrink from the symbolic tyranny associated with it.

This is a good sign, because it means we are finally learning the lessons of history, and perhaps those who oppose the destruction of books, even in the name of art, will be those who oppose our governments and fight for freedom, when in the near future the jackbooted police again march down our streets.

Val Shaw January 9, 2011 at 10:57 pm

I belong to a libray group. We sell used books as a fund raiser. There are some books that nobody wants. You can’t sell them, you can’t give them away. These crafts are neat and a better end for any book than the recycle bin.

Kelsey March 1, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Hey there,

I was interested in making a book into a secret treasure chest, but every time I click on the picture you have, it says I “404’d.” I can’t find it anywhere else. Could you help me out? I found the idea on your “9 Cool Things to do with Old Books” article.



Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot March 2, 2011 at 11:26 am

@Kelsey – Thanks for catching that. The link is updated, or just click here.

ae June 21, 2011 at 6:36 am

The “great activity for little girls” comment is sexist and not appreciated, but I do really like the creative ideas, thank you.

Shannon June 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Can’t do anything without offending someone nowadays…

Anyway, love these projects. I will definite try out some of them.

Kathleen November 24, 2011 at 10:10 am

I work at a library. Guess you all better not look behind the scenes where we toss out books by the dozen every day. The reason? Because people who borrow them don’t take care of them, and they have coffee stains, food stains, water damage, dog/toddler chew marks on them. Every one of them in that condition is considered hazardous, due to potential (or existing) mold growth and germs. We aren’t allowed to resell them or even give them away.

Don’t be so hoity-toity, folks. Books get thrown away. Very few are one-of-a-kind, and many are not ever going to find another home or another reader. It’s not the end of the world, and these crafts are an excellent way to reuse books that no longer have an interest for the owner as reading material. Remember, the person who owns the book gets to do with it as they please.

Deborah December 2, 2011 at 8:53 pm

As a school librarian, I must “weed” books regulary because of damage or often age (information is outdated). I used some of these today to make ornaments and a wreath. The students were appalled at first, but when they saw the condition of the books they thought it was a great project.

Jennie December 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I have made book angels from old books that no one wanted. They are beautiful! I have just recently seen a Christmas tree made out of an old paperback book. I will be making that one this Christmas season. You should google those and add to your list.

I also like the idea of the glass pendant necklace. I will use a Bible that was my childs that is not useable anymore to cut out favorite verses for the teen girls in our youth group at church. I think those will be a big hit. Thank you for the wonderful ideas for books that are no longer able to be used as they were intended.

Oh, I have also seen another version of a book wreath that I will be doing for 2 couples where both are involved in music. I am going to get an old hymnal from church and make those for them out of their favorite church songs. I think that is a wonderful way to preserve special books.

Zain Lilly February 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Really appreciate you sharing this post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

meow March 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm

how about just giving the book to someone who has not read it?

Sarah Davison March 10, 2012 at 5:53 am

I can associate with the people who find this disturbing, but you have to remember; there are perhaps thousands more copies of these books out there. If I was an author, and saw that someone did this to my book, I’d congratulate them. No disrespect is meant to the author, or these artists would have just burnt the book.

Jamie April 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

People, settle down!! We all love books, or we wouldn’t care WHAT to do with them–we wouldn’t have any, and we wouldn’t have any interest in what to make with them! Listen, people of course shouldn’t cut up old books that have personal, historical or monetary value to them. I wouldn’t suggest tearing apart every book out there–some books are too fine to want to change in any way. Yes, if you don’t want those, give them away! But for people to suggest that EVERY PERSON ALIVE WANTS EVERY BOOK OUT THERE and all they have to do is give it away is not true. I’m a teacher, and people give us books, which is great. But sometimes my students aren’t interested in them. They’re old (in the dull, not relevant way), or they’re boring. OR THEY’RE RUINED. Wouldn’t it be better for the cause of reading to show people how great books are as objects, and what cool things you can do with them…rather than treat them like dusty old objects that are only for the rabid book-lover to enjoy? I mean, if you want kids to love books, you have to have them in your house as PLAYTHINGS first, to give the message that books should be everywhere. And by the way, I don’t have enough room in my house to “just keep them”. That’s called hoarding, and you don’t love books if you keep every one of them that ever crosses your path. You have a mental disorder in that case.

You know, it’s fine to have an opinion, but nobody gives out awards to the people that act the most offended about doing things with books. You simply have to have good judgement, and an open mind. Besides, with the e-readers (which have their place, one has to admit) maybe the desire for more actual books is a good thing for all of you who don’t want to see books go away.

Lauren February 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Lovely ideas! Bookmarked so I can have it handy. My husband and I came across a dozen boxes of books at our local library, and these ideas are good ways to use up the ones no one wants.

The angry comments are so funny. I’ve been looking for ideas for these books and all the mean comments…Great entertainment.

I understand the ill feeling one gets from destroying or tossing out books, but some books are just useless. Who wants a torn up psychology book from the 40s? An old cook book from the South and full of racism and misogyny? Really? These things are precious and must never been thrown out/repurposed? Yeah I’m totally going to spread hateful messages in some of these old books I have…pfft.

Get over yourselves, people. Some books are worth money and time and all that, but some aren’t. Sadly, more books are worthless than not. I don’t consider an long outdated encyclopedia worth the room when I can use it for something else and make room on my book shelf for books I’ll actually enjoy.

Deanna C. Dilley August 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm

As a poet myself, I just <3 the purse and pendant ideas. There are a few of my own poems that I would love to see made into jewelry some day. Though I haven't yet published any books, the pendant would be an awesome way to carry my own words with me every day. Poetry lovers, please feel free to check out voicesnet.com and use my poetry as well as that of other up and coming authors for your own pendants. This is a public site welcome to all who enjoy the love of reading and writing.:-)

cc March 2, 2014 at 8:30 am

A couple of years ago, I took a stack of old books and made two table lamps. I get tons of compliments on them and have even been asked to make more. They are perfect in my library!

Francine November 24, 2014 at 7:35 am

I am making a wreath out of a church hymnal. *Gasp* I struggled with the concept at first, concerned there is a special spot in hell reserved for hymnal destroyers. But honestly, I have looked at the book a hundred times. It’s pages are separated from the spine, the cover is warped, even a little stained. I am giving this sad, forgotten book from the church basement new life. I’m not tearing it apart, I’m lovingly paying homage to it.

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