One of my favorite style of briefcase is the doctor's bag. Basically that refers to any bag that has an internal metal frame that is hinged to hold the mouth of the bag open. These frames can be bought but are expensive and of bad quality. So being a Maker I figured I'd make my own.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
I have quite a few leather tools that I've procured (mostly from Tandy Leather Factory) over the years. The tools shown aren't all that I have but are the most used (Forgot my strap cutter). You can get by in the beginning with just some basic tools such as a utility knife, straight edge, makeshift awl, stitching needles. But as you expand in your leather working you'll definitely want to get more tools. This will greatly improve the fun and quality of your work. You'll also need sponges and rags for dyeing. A cutting surface is essential. I have 4 plastic kitchen cutting boards screwed to my worktop for cutting.
Get a couple books to look through too. The ones shown are my favorites ( available here )
I also use a Dremel with a flexible shaft that I've had for some 14 years. These come in handy for tough leather if you have a hard time getting your stitching awl through. Just pop a 1/16" drill bit in and you're all set. You can also use it with a small sanding drum to even out glued up edges such as at the gussets or on the handle.
You will also need a drill,bits,oil and a hack saw to make the frame.
10 sq.ft.8 0z. veg tanned leather
3 sq. ft 5 0z. veg tanned leather
1/8" x 1/2" x 4' steel
7" x 15" sheet metal
4 Dees 1"
2 Chicago Screws
1 Tuck catch
Leather Dye and Finish
Step 2: Dye Leather
I have found that dyeing your leather beforehand gets the best results. Sometimes after I am done with a project I will go back with a darker color and antique it a bit. Follow the manufacturers instructions.
Step 3: Cut Out Pieces
Dimensions for most of the parts are in the pic above. Only the gussets and the steel wraps are made of 4-5 oz. leather. The rest is from 8 oz. or there about.
Step 4: Steel Frame
I made a frame for the mouth of the bag out of 1/8" x 1/2" construction steel. Draw it out on a piece of paper and take your measurements of off it. The finished dimensions are about 15 1/2" by 7 1/2" when open. Give enough room for them to be wrapped in the 4-5 oz. leather and not rub to much. Drill holes for the hinge the same dimensions as your Chicago screws about 1/2" from the end. Test it out.
Step 5: Wrap the Steel Frame
Wet a 3" by 26" piece of 4-5 oz. leather down the center and fold it over. Let it dry a bit then cement this to the frame as in the pics. Cut out the hole for the chicago screws at the hinge and fit it together. Leave the ends long for now.
Step 6: Handles
I don't have a pattern to share right now for the handle but I'll try to post it later. There are two handles and each is made up of 2 pieces plus 2 tabs to attach it to the body. Make sure to dye the backside of any parts that may be exposed. Follow pics above.
Step 7: Coffee Break
Step 8: Prepare Front and Back
Finish (dye and burnish) bottom and top edges of front and back. Cut stitching channel all around the outside about a quarter inch in from edge. Punch stitching holes. Glue to bottom as in pics. Stitch to bottom and add bottom feet and stitch.
Step 9: Add Frame and Bottom
Cement and stitch frame to front and back. You can remove the chicago screws to make this easier. Cement sheet metal to bottom inside. This will keep your bag from sagging. Cement a thin piece of leather over the sheet metal.
Step 10: Add Dividers to Gussets
The gussets are a bit tricky on this bag. Measure up a 1/2" from the bottom on flesh side of gussets and 3 " apart from the center. This is where the bag dividers will be located. Cement them in place then fold gusset over the divider. Use a hammer to crease it there and then stitch the gusset from the outside through the divider. Check out the pics
Step 11: Install Gussets With Dividers
This is one of the hardest parts of this construction. The dimensions of the gusset have been deformed by stitching in the dividers so a bit needs to be trimmed off of the bottom sides to make it fit properly. Start by stretching and cementing the bottom of the gusset to the case. You may need to try to fit it a couple of times to get it right. Just cut a bit off at a time to get it. Cement, trim edges, burnish and stitch.
The ends of the steel frame wrap needs to be finished off at this point too. Trim it to your liking and stitch.
Step 12: Add Handles and Lock Tab
I don't have a lot of pics for this step cuz I just wanted to finish it.
Locate your lock tab on the back side ( the side that overlaps the front) cement and stitch it in place. It should run long to be trimmed after you locate the female end of the tuck tab. Stitch that in place also.
Hold your handles flush together and then locate them on the body. Cement and stitch them.
Step 13: Finish
I kind of antiqued the bag by adding darker stain o certain spots that would receive more wear. Then I put a protective oil to finish the outside.
Second Prize in the
Leather Goods Contest