DIY Upcycle Transformation: Hollowed Book Box

Recipes and Tutorials

Find out how I created a beautiful handmade gift with a re-purposed book and a tutorial from!

Last week, I graduated from high school and said goodbye to some of the best people I’ve met yet. Several teachers at my school moved mountains for me. They showed me my own potential, and that’s a gift I can never truly repay.

One of these teachers, my ninth grade English teacher, pulled me aside one rough day freshman year, and quickly became a confidant and mentor. I deemed myself an adopted homeroom student of hers, and she was the first person I’d go to for advice when things began to fall apart. Many hectic school days lead me to seek refuge in her classroom, if only to breathe and get my head together for a few minutes before class. During free periods, she was known by a few for serving up chai tea with stroopwafels and doling out chocolate to “wayward students” She gave me the wisdom I needed when mascara streamed down my face and celebrated with me when I was walking on air. I couldn’t be more thankful to have her in my life.

Needless to say, I wasn’t about to leave without giving her some token of my appreciation. My gift of choice was a tea box made from a hollowed-out book. I thought the book aesthetic would fit our shared eclectic taste and the fact that she teaches literature, and the tea box element would both be unique and allow me to repay her all the tea she’s given me over the years. So to Pinterest I went, and with a tutorial from, written by sisters Jennifer and Kitty O’Neil, I set to work.

See the tutorial I used here.

I started with a plain-covered hardcover book that I found at a library book sale. It was about two inches thick, which I decided would provide a deep enough storage area for tea bags.


The tutorial’s first instructions are to apply mod podge to the edges of the pages to glue them together. I was skeptical about this method at first, because I’d hollowed a book before and was instructed to glue each page together individually to ensure a solid project. I had serious doubts that a brush over the edges with mod podge would do the job.

However, it turned out to be a pretty fair trade-off. In exchange for the hours it takes to glue pages individually like I had done in the past, one could have an easy cutting job when the time came because the pages didn’t move. With the “paint-the-edges-with-mod-podge” method, you can quickly clue the pages together in one shot, but when you start cutting, the paper begins to shift. That leads to lines like this:


Because of this, I ripped out a lot of pages. I will say this though: the sharper the knife, the smoother the cuts will be, because less pulling of the pages occurs. And as I got deeper into the pages, it got easier. All in all, I’d say it was worth the slight trouble to save so much time.

When you do cut the pages, I recommend doing it over a hard surface, because it makes a huge mess, and you’ll want to be able to just sweep it up when you’re finished. Carpet could be trickier, because some paper pieces are so tiny that they are essentially dust, which does not come out of carpet very well.

As far as exactness goes, I didn’t worry too much about my lines being exactly straight or the edges being even. Following my pencil lines kept the line pretty straight, and the uneven edges provided the rustic look I was going for.


The next step, which consists of painting the hollowed section with mod podge, smoothes things out a bit. For a cleaner look, a bit of sandpaper along the insides before mod podging does the trick.

I painted the niche’s edges, the first page, and the outer edges with gold paint, as shown in the tutorial. I used Americana Gloss Enamels Metallic “Glorious Gold”, and for the most part, I only needed one coat of paint, so I highly recommend this brand. There were a few spots on the inside where I dabbed on a sparse second layer,, but it was really easy.

The  tutorial uses scrapbook paper for the inside, but I printed my own background for the box. It’s a poem that my teacher lives by. She says it reminds her why she loves teaching and that she can make a difference in people’s lives. After a particularly rough patch during my sophomore year, during which I spent many a period sobbing or desperately seeking advice, I’d sent her an apologetic thank-you email. She sent back this poem, and I’ve never forgotten.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

-Emily Dickinson

For the cover, I loved the look of the mod-podged flowers in the tutorial, but I knew I wanted something a bit simpler for mine. I chose a raven as my subject, and printed a picture from Google. 

Then I covered the back of the image with graphite (pencil) and placed it on the book’s cover. With a pen, I traced the bird’s silhouette in the image (you can’t see the image well here because my printer ran out of ink, but I could see it well enough to get the outline) and then removed the paper. The pressure of the pen causes the graphite on the back of the paper to transfer to the book cover, leaving a faint but visible outline.

I traced this outline with gold sharpie and filled it in.


Then all that was left was filling it with tea bags!


The Takeaway:

While somewhat time-consuming, this project produces a beautiful, classy gift for anyone from a young bookworm to the relative that seems to “have it all.” It can be easily customized to suit age and taste. The tutorial is clear and helpful, but leaves room for some additional tips.


  • Do the cutting on a flat, hard surface that can be easily swept up. Old book dust is not something you want to track all over your house.
  • Make sure your knife is sharpened before you start. Whether you use a box cutter or an Exacto, the sharpness of the blade will determine the amount of tears in your pages.
  • Be liberal with the modpodge, especially around the edges. If some glue gets between the pages, they’re more likely to stay together.

Have a suggestion for my next adventure? Leave a comment or visit the Contact page!

4 thoughts on “DIY Upcycle Transformation: Hollowed Book Box

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