It's been awhile now since my wife turned me on to the IKEA Hacker blog -- dedicated to adapting products from the Scandinavian flat-pack furniture giant for all sorts of unintended uses. Although I'm about as unhandy as they come, the idea intrigues me. There's a similar hacking spirit in segments of the Bible-reading community, as well. We want to switch out bindings, interleave additional pages, add extra ribbons, notepaper, and other goodies, adapting the Good Book for optimum use. 

A question that often comes up is, what's the ideal starting point? If you're going to have a Bible rebound, for example, you want to start with a sewn text block. You want good paper and so on. From the hacking standpoint -- particularly if, like me, you don't know your way around a toolbox -- the ultimate is probably something like this, Hendrickson's new looseleaf ESV:

Above: The Hendrickson looseleaf ESV in binder.

This is an 8.5 x 11 inch looseleaf wide margin edition of the Bible pre-punched for five-ring and three-ring binders. You want a "blank Bible" with note pages interleaved? No problem. Buy some copy paper, punch some holes, and start inserting. Since the paper size is standard, you can type up your own notes and print them out, too, sticking them in the appropriate section. If you're a minister or teacher, outlines are easy to insert and remove as needed. What could be easier?

Above: Opened to the title page.

Hendrickson has made a specialty of looseleaf editions. I picked up the ESV since that's the version I use in writing, as well as the one we read from in church, but there are others, too: the NIV Study Bible, the Greek New Testament, the NASB, the NKJV, the KJV, the NIV, and the NRSV New Oxford Annotated Bible. Other publishers have put out their own editions, so hunt around and see what's out there. The odds are, you can find one to suit your needs.

The ESV uses the familiar two column layout. The text size isn't disclosed, but I'm guessing it's in the 10-11 pt. region, large and comfortable compared to most. The inside margin -- the one with the holes punched -- is just a shade under 1.5 inches wide, and the outer margin is just a shade under 1.75 inches. On top, almost 1.5, and at bottom almost one inch. Since each page can be removed, the entire margin is available for notes. No real estate goes to waste. Like I said, what could be easier?
Above: The inside layout will be familiar to ESV readers, 
a generously sized version of the two-column format. It's not the 
Classic Reference text setting, though it has the same features. 
Presumably it is one of the existing Crossway layouts. Any guesses?

Above: A close-up.

What about the paper? It's thin, naturally. And it's certainly translucent. To the touch, you get none of the slick sheen of traditional India paper. Instead, it feels more like very thin copy paper. If you use ring binders, you know that the paper bears a lot of stress. The one real downside to a looseleaf Bible, in my view, is that the paper is on the delicate side, which means it will show wear with use. In some cases, a lot of wear. And because the pages are free-floating, you'll get wrinkles and bends you wouldn't with a traditional binding. Just be aware.

Thanks to the fact that the looseleaf ESV included some blank pages in back, I was able to satisfy my curiosity about the paper's performance. I grabbed three pens representative of what I typically use: the Pigma Micron with archival ink, which has gotten a lot of praise from my readers, a Sheaffer ballpoint, and a Parker rollerball. As I've mentioned before, I try not to be too fussy about what I write in a Bible with. Any ballpoint will do, pretty much, and since I tend to have a Fisher Space Pen in my pocket, that's often what gets used. (I apologize in advance to anyone who is scandalized by this revelation!)

As you can see, I threaded a blank page near the front of 2 Corinthians and started writing:

Above: An unscientific test.

Above: A closer view.
Click on these photos and look at them full size. You'll get a better view of the writing, and also an appreciation for how translucent the pages are. The print on the page underneath is clearly visible through the blank sheet. In fact, when you look at the reverse (below), you can read the end of the word Corinthians under the Pigma Micron. All three pens looked good to me on front. The rollerball stayed nice and neat, without bleeding or smudging.
Flipping the page over, both the Pigma Micron and the Sheaffer Agio left visible writing, but didn't bleed through. The Parker shows through quite a bit more.

Above: Ballpoint? Sure. Rollerball? Probably not.

As a rule, I won't be doing potentially destructive tests like this in future reviews. So don't ask me why I didn't write in the latest goatskin-bound Allan's with a Sharpie to see what happens. But since the format lent itself to this, the blank page was there, and there wasn't much hope of getting any yoga poses out of this one, I figured I might as well.

Above: The binder isn't large enough for the pages.

You can order this edition either with the binder or without, and my advice is without. The five-ring binder from Hendrickson suffers from two faults. First, it has five rings! That might make for a more secure hold on the pages, but it also means inserting your own pages is a little bit harder, since it requires more than a standard three-hole punch. The second weakness is the size of the rings. As you can see in the photo above, they're not large enough to accommodate the width of the Bible. As a result, you have pages stacked along the curve, exacerbating my concerns about wear. 

You'd be better off ordering the pages alone, then taking them to the local office supply for a big D-ring binder. While you'll lose the simulated leather grain and the Holy Bible stamp, your pages will be under less stress. 

One thing I appreciate about the text block is that the holes are generously sized, affording the necessary "play" as they move around in the binder. Tight holes are less forgiving. 

Above: The five punched holes are generously sized. A good thing.

Above: The true strength of a ring-bound Bible is transferability.

If you imagine yourself hefting a big hole-punched Bible around, its natural bulk augmented by your own interleaved pages, after the initial glow fades, you might wonder whether there's something impractical about it all. This thing is massive, after all, bigger than the biggest of Study Bibles, heavier than any wide margin. Is it really going to prove all that useful?

Short answer: no. Not if you carry it around like that. But the secret strength of a ring-bound Bible is its transferability. Don't lug around the whole thing at once. Take only the pages you need.

I'm about to spend the next two months on the road, lecturing at Worldview Academy camps all over the country. In preparation, I've printed out color copies of my slides, my teaching outlines, various articles and pictures, sticking them all together in a reference binder. Having a looseleaf edition of the ESV allows me to insert the pages I'll need along with everything else. I can travel with a regular Bible, and have my wide-margin pages in the binder for when I need them. Nice and neat. 

Above: Sections of the Bible integrated into teaching notes.

If you preach sermons, teach classes, or attend studies of particular books, the same kind of thing can be useful for you. While a looseleaf edition isn't likely to replace your regular Bible -- even your wide margin -- it's a useful tool for those of us who need to break up the text and integrate other helps. Like a Study Bible, it's a specialized edition. Not for everyday use, but a lifesaver when you need it.

Above: A study in scale. The 8.5 x 11 inch pages dwarf the typical Study Bible, 
in this case the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible.

In the spirit of hacking, I'm sure some of you can think of other uses I haven't even anticipated. If you have a unique application, I encourage you to share it. Most of my looseleaf Bible daydreams up to now have involved Filofax-sized editions like the old NASB I have packed away somewhere. But the 8.5 x 11 size makes so much sense when it comes to adaptability. 

The looseleaf ESV is available for under $50 without the binder, so it's not so precious that you'd never dream of using it -- or abusing it. I'm thrilled it's finally arrived, and can't wait to see what interesting and unexpected applications I'll discover.