When you begin working with leather you have a lot of ideas of what to make and before long you find yourself with all the leather goods that you need. Then you begin making the stuff you want but don't necessarily need. At this point, your skills are at a decent level. They are good enough to begin making stuff for your friends and family and, if you're lucky, they will pay for the cost of the materials. You hone your skills and before long you can charge for your time as well. I have just reached this point, so when I had the opportunity to make and sell a briefcase I jumped at it. This is by far the biggest thing I have ever sold.... so fingers crossed I don't mess it up!
In this instructables I will show you in detail how to make a briefcase with an accordion gusset.
I have made a briefcase like this before but besides the rough pattern I did not write much down. So even though I did not start from scratch, there were still a lot of details I couldn't remember. This time around I wrote down EVERYTHING and took several hundred pictures along the way - painstaking, but worth it.
I once had a professor who told me that if you include a picture in a report, it better have a caption. I took this to heart so the pictures are really all you need in order to make the briefcase. In the description for each step I will detail what I do, my thoughts I had along the way and sometimes I will even give reasons for why I do the way I do certain things. Leather work is surrounded by a lot of myths and quite often people do not stop to think about why they do things in a certain way. The bottom line is that you should do whatever works for you and don't worry about whether it is the "correct" way or not.
The sequence of the steps are not really a representation of how you should proceed. You go back and forth between steps according to your mood and what you need in order to proceed with another step, but it should give you a good feel for how it all works.
The overall design of the briefcase is very heavily influenced by the briefcase call westminster 3 made by Swaine Adeney Brigg. The price starts at 1895£ or 2932$. Wow! That's a lot of money and then its not even hand stitched! For a lot less than this you could buy all the tools and leather required and make your own. Just saying! Sure it takes some skills but if you are a maker this should not frighten you. Within a year or two you should have no trouble making something like this.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- 3-3,2mm bend for the main part
- 1-1,2mm shoulder for the gusset
- Find suitable pieces at Tandy leather
- Round briefcase lock
- 3 x 25mm Buckle
- 4 x 20mm D-ring
- 2 x 25mm Snap hook
- 4 x chicago screw 10mm
- 8 x 2 mm round head brass rivets
- Metal bar
- ROC leather dye
- Lin cable 432 white
- Leather Protection Cream
- Contact cement
A lot of tools are used to make this briefcase. This list might not be complete but the most important tools are mentioned below:
- Pricking iron (mine has 4 mm spacing) Diamond Hole Chisel Set
- Awl blade + Awl haft
- Small nails
- Stitching horse (this one might be too small)
- Small scissor
- Utility knife
- Round knife
- Skiving knife
- Safety beveler
- Strap cutter
- 1m ruler
- Paper clamps
- Wax paper
- Marking awl
- Wing divider
- edge beveler (I like a small edge beveler)
- sandpaper (80, 180, 400, 1000, 3000)
- Buffing wheel
- Buffing compound
- Small ball peen hammer
- Anvil (big flat piece of steel)
- Molotow 50 mm head
- Molotow 250 ml bottle
- Molotow 311em marker (for edge dye)
- Molotow 611em marker (for water)
Step 2: Pattern
What is a tutorial worth without a pattern? Almost nothing if you ask me, so naturally I have included the pattern.
When cutting out the pattern, don't just follow it blindly. Allow a couple of extra centimetres on pieces where it makes sense so that you don't run short. Also, I can't guarantee that it is 100% correct, so double check the measurements as you go along. If you find any mistakes let me know and I will correct them.
Regarding the gusset and partition board I have changed the pattern so that it has the dimensions that I think are correct. If I mention any other measurements along the way don't follow them. Follow the pattern!
The PDF files are 1:1 so you can print it and cut it if your wish.
Step 3: Dyeing and Conditioning
After a lot of experimentation with how to apply dye, I came across the Molotow transformer markers. They have a 250ml bottle where you can attach a 50mm wide head. This works really well and compared to soaking a rag with dye there is almost no mess. A friend of mine once told me that leather dye will make a HUGE mess if you were to spill it all over your table. This has off course never happened to me as I am very careful and never make mistakes.
What ever method you chose it takes some time to dye a piece this big and you have to go over the same spot multiple times. I try to divide the piece into smaller sections and take one at a time. Unlike using a rag, going in a circular motion does not work well. You need to go back and forth, up and down, and if you're feeling wild you can even go diagonally.
As you can see there is quite a difference in the colors of the main piece and the gusset after dyeing. I thought that when they dried the colors would be more or less the same but this was not the case. All I had to do was to apply more dye to the main piece. Be aware that even though you use the same dye the end result will not necessarily be the same on different types of leather. Almost 500ml of dye was used total. I know a lot of people prefer fieblings professional dye but after trying both I prefer "ROC leather dye". This is very fortunate as it is not possible to buy the professional dye in my country (when I tried it, I ordered it from the US which was very expensive).
After the dyeing and drying process, the leather needs to be buffed to get rid of any excess dye. Use a old rag for this and spend some time buffing the leather. I think I spent 5 minutes on the main piece.
After all the dying it is time to condition the leather. I use a conditioner that consist of Vaseline, neatsfoot oil, beeswax and sap. Apply it using an old rag and let it sit for several hours. The leather will soak up most of the conditioner depending on how much is applied. Finish by removing the excess with a clean rag.
The back side of the straps will sometime be visible so I chose to dye them as well. I did not apply conditioner after dyeing it.
When dyeing leather the edges always seem to curl up a bit so it is a good idea to make the piece you dye a bit bigger than you need it to be. This along with the fact that the leather can shrink or warp when you dye it is the reason I dye before I cut. On smaller pieces it does not matter that much, but with big pieces like this it could effect the dimensions.
I used a combination of these three dyes:
80 % ROC Yellow brown
15 % ROC Red brown
5% ROC Tan
Step 4: Gusset
The good news about the gusset is that is it a lot easier to make then you might think. Don't get nervous about making the folds. Things don't have to be super accurate as wet leather is very forgiving.
The gusset piece was cut oversize which turned out to be a very good idea. It had warped quite a bit so I had to trim both sides to get a straight edge.
My steel ruler is 1m long and therefore not long enough to cut the side of the gusset without having to move it. The trick I use to move the ruler is to place a second ruler (in this case a square) right next to it. You then hold the square in place and slide the ruler down where you want it to be.
Last time I made a gusset I used a v-groover to help bend the gusset into shape. This time I will just mark the folding lines and not use the groover. The leather is so thin that this should not be a problem.
With the lines in place you can begin the "pre-folding" to make the actual shaping of the gusset much easier.
With all the lines "pre-folded" the shaping can begin. You start by folding the sides of the gusset up in a 90° angle and then begin to push up the bottom folds. It is not an exact science so you just have to try to make the folds bend the way you want, making constant adjustments.
My initial plan was not to wet the folds. It turned out to be necessary in order to make the tight folds needed. I only wet the "triangles". This made it a lot easier to make the folds.
The corners of the gusset needs to be shaped so that it is possible to sew around them. Using both a bone folder and your fingers you mould the corners, so that there is a edge all around the corner fold.
When the leather has dried you can cut off the ends to the correct length, fold them and sew them. When folding the ends remember to wet the fold line to make it easier.
Step 5: Partition Board
The width of the partition board has to be a bit smaller than the width of the briefcase. In my (brief)case 42,5cm. The height can be the full length of the gusset or a bit shorter. I chose to make it a bit shorter. The corners at the bottom are cut off so that they do not collide with the folds in the gusset. The top edge is beveled and burnished. To add functionality to the bag a pocket and a pen holder will be sewn on the board. The pocket is cut according to the pattern and the edges are sanded and burnished. Because I am using thin leather, it is not possible to bevel the edge but a light sanding will do. The edge is then burnished as normal but instead of having the leather hanging over the edge of the table it is now a few mm from the edge.
Now the holes are marked with the pricking iron 4,5mm from the edge. Next time I will make it 3,5mm instead.
Because the pocket is not cut with 90° corners I use a square to align it with the edges of the partition board. This results in a pocket that extrudes from the board making it easier to excess.
To hold the pocket in place before sewing I punch in small nails. For the pocket I used round nails which of course gives round holes. To avoid this next time I use them I used a dremel with a sanding drum to make the profile diamond shaped.
Sewing on the the pencil holder is done in two steps. First you sew on the edge that's right next to the pocket. Then you place a pen in the holder and punch in a nail to hold it in place before sewing.
Step 6: Sewing Partition Board to Gusset
In all projects there are things you do not look forward to. Gluing and sewing the partition board to the gusset is one of them. The reason is that it did not went well last time I did it. I had huge problems keeping the edge of the partition board up against the gusset. When I then sewed it I did not penetrate the board having to pull out stitches and forcing the partition board in place. It was a real mess.
Having learned from my mistakes I now have a thought of bullet proof approach... I hope. The ingredients to success are lots of contact cement, two strips of wax paper and four paper clamps.
Last time I think I was a bit stingy with the contact cement. This time around I made sure that there were plenty of surface covered with glue. I marked a line around 7 mm from the edge and sanded it to help the cement get a better grip. The folds of the gusset were also covered with a fair amount of cement. Make sure that you do not go all the way up to the top unless your partition board also does.
To avoid that the sides would get stuck while inserting the partition board I covered them with a strip of wax paper held in place with paper clamps. This worked exactly as I had hoped for. The partition board glided right down the gusset without issues.
After removing the paper clamps in one side you pull the wax paper up a few cm and press and pinch the gusset around the partition board. Make sure that the partition board goes all the way out to the gusset.
Let the cement dry for several hours to make sure all the tackiness is gone. 24 hours is best.
Scribe lines and sew it together making sure that the front side of your stitching is also the front side of the bag. Begin with the bottom and then the sides.
So as it turned out I did not had to worry about this step as everything went very well.
Step 7: Straps
First the straps need to have the edges done. This means bevelling and burnishing.
My setup for this is to hold them in place by pressing them up against my cutting board. To prevent the straps from falling on the ground I place a clamp on the table which it slides under.
The beveling is easy as long as your tool is sharp. You should be able to take of the entire length of the strap in one piece.
The straps are long so there is plenty of time practicing your burnishing skills! Also you should burnish one end of the strap and on the short shoulder strap you should do both ends. Make holes for the buckles and snap hooks according to the pattern if you use the same size hardware as I do. With the holes in place you should dye them so that they don't stand out too much.
Make the lines for the pricking iron and mark the holes.
I skive the last 4 cm of the straps and dye around the edges especially near the bend. I use black because I had in my marker. If your are very particular you should technically use the same dye as was used for the rest of the leather.
You can now wet the bends and wrap it around the buckles and let them dry before sewing. You could chose to glue them together depending on how you plan to sew them.
The belt keepers are cut with a strap cutter and then skived down from 3,5 to 2,5mm. I don't have a skiving machine so I made my own very primitive one. I wouldn't use it if I had to skive a lot but for these few pieces it got the job done. Be VERY careful around this thing. It will cut you up in a heart beat if you mess around!
Burnish the edges and you can cut it to size using the technique shown in the pictures. I'm always amazed of how short it needs to be but the method works every time.
The ends of the straps need to be cut to a point. I chose to simply cut the sides in a bit.
Also the strap needs holes. I find a distance of 2,5 cm between each hole suitable. The pattern shows where the holes should start but you should double check that this fits your bag as well - remember, every bag is unique
Step 8: Sewing the Straps
Sewing the straps is like sewing a belt because it actually is a belt! Be careful that the threads do not cross in the first stitch where they go over the side. I like to pre punch all the holes and then place the belt loop. This way the holes are on the back side where they need to be and I can adjust the awl when piercing the belt loop. The first side of the belt keeper is easy. The other side is more challenging but I found a method that makes it easier.. Before we come to that, however, I would like to mention the way I go from one side of the belt to the other. Instead of having to use two threads I twist the thread and sandwich it between the leather and continue the sewing on the other side.
Most tutorials suggest that you push the belt keeper out of the way and pierce it from the front side. When I do this the stitching on the back side is not even. Instead, I pierce from the back side using the pre punched holes as a guide. This way the back side stitching becomes nice and even.
The running belt keeper is simple to make. To make it easier you should make this before you sew on the hardware so that you can simply slide it on the strap.
The snap hooks are done the same way but without the keepers.
The total length of the thread needs to be 75 cm.
Step 9: Top Straps
Before making the handle it is a good idea to make the top straps as this affects the size of the handle.
Depending on which iron strip you use the dimensions will vary so make the necessary changes to your design.
I could not find a 20mm D-ring with a shape I liked but did I manage to find a nice buckle and with the help of a small bolt cutters the problem was solved.
I used the iron strip to mark where the holes on the top should be and then I use a wing divider to mark the "bottom" holes. When punching the holes make sure you are dead center or the edges will not line up when the strap is folded. To ensure that the leather will not crack in the surface when folded you need to wet it.
With the strap folded you can insert the screw to help hold the shape while drying. Also you can trim the ends but you should wait a bit before you trim to the final length.
The chicago screws has a finish that leaves much to be desired. Hit them with fine grit sandpaper and finish with a polishing and you will be able to see your own pretty face in them.
Step 10: Handle
The handle is made by wrapping a leather filler with another piece of leather. Use contact cement to glue together pieces of leather 1,5 cm wide and 14 cm long to the combined thickness is around 1 cm.
You can then mark the filler with guidelines. Start by cutting the sides and then the top and bottom. With the basic shape done you now begin to round the edges with whatever method you wish. I used a safety beveler for the most parts and finished off with coarse sandpaper.
The filler was cut to long to begin with. Therefore the ends needs to be trimmed the the correct length.
With the filler done we can begin the handle cover. Mark the leather with all the lines from the pattern then cut the semicircles and skive the ends. Also but 3 grooves where they need to be bend. The edges in the curve needs to be burnished and dyed now as it is much easier before the D-ring is in place.
Submerge the handle cover and attached the D-rings. Put in the filler and start the sharpening with your thumbs. I do not have a wide smooth pliers so I attached leather to a regular pliers. You press in the sides against the filler so that you get a flat edge along the sides for the stitching. Also you curve the handle.
You can now apply contact cement to the wet leather and when the cement is dry glue the handle together. Next time I think I will wait until the leather has dried before applying the contact cement.
With the handle glued together trim off the sides, sand it, bevel it and burnish it.
I actually made 2 handles. The first one did not work out. I had made it too long and it was not possible to shorten it. Also the filler was too big so it would not have worked anyway.
Step 11: Front Piece
So it turns out that the gusset was bit too big. If you want the final width of your bag to be 43 cm then you should not make your gusset 43 cm wide ( I'm talking about the distance between the two lines that was scribed across the gusset 43 cm apart) I should be maybe 42 cm instead.
The front piece needs a hole to fit the lock in. If you buy the same lock as I did you can use the measurements on the pattern. If not you are on your own.
The strap holders needs to line up with the holes in the top strap. To find our where they should be lay the top strap "assembly" on the front piece and mark where the center of the "strap slots" are.
To cover the back of the lock I form a piece of leather (the same as used for the gusset) by wetting the leather and pressing it down against the lock. I cut it out in a circle with a diameter of 8,5 cm and skive the edges before cutting to the final shape of (7,5 cm diameter).
Rivet the lock in place using the same technique as with the catch. Apply contact cement to the lock cover and front piece and glue in place. After it has dried you can sew it.
Step 12: Strap Holder
The strap holders are made from left overs from the straps. The ends needs to be burnished and holes are marked with the pricking iron. It is not necessary to have two lines of stitching on each side but I think it looks good. When I'm sewing it I might questions my choice but that's too late now!
Step 13: Sewing on the Strap Holders
Before the strap holders can be sewn on we have to determine where they should be. To do this we use the top assembly and mark holes in the center of where the straps will be. The center of the strap holder needs to be right on top of the center mark. I want them to be 4 cm from the bottom edge and luckily they need to be exactly 6 cm from the side.
To make the sewing easier you need to tack them down with a nail. Do one side first and then place a strap underneath, tack it down and sew it. When sewing make sure that you always begin from the same side. This will ensure that sewing will be the same on all 8 stitching line.
The total length of the thread needs to be 45 cm.
Step 14: Sewing the Front Piece to the Gusset
Before sewing can begin you need to glue the front piece and the gusset together. To be able to the it accurate lay the front piece on the table and cover it with wax paper. This way you can lay the gusset on top without having to worry about the glue bonding in places you don't want. Start at the top of the gusset working you way down just around the corner. Then begin with the other side of the gusset and do the same. Take care that the edges align. This way you don't have to sand too much to get a smooth edge.
The reason why you glue the bottom last is that if the gusset is not the exact same length as the side of the front piece you can hide the extra (or less) material by forcing the leather to either stretch or compress a bit.
When the cement has dried sand the edges, scribe a stitching line around 5 mm from the edge and mark the holes with the pricking iron.
Sewing begins the top of the gusset and the thread should be long enough to reach beneath the second strap holder. This way you can hide this change of thread under the strap and only use two threads to sew the entire length. The reason I don't sew using only 1 thread is that is becomes too long.
Marking the holes and sewing took 1½ hours just for reference.
When you have finished sewing you can bevel the edges both front and back and burnish the edges.
Step 15: Back Piece
Just to be sure that you don't make the piece to short cut it 2-5 cm longer than needed. The last briefcase I made could have used a few extra cm. so I did not know exactly how long the finale piece should be. Therefore I added 5 cm to work with.
The way you chose to round the corners on the flap have a huge impact on the expression of the final bag. I chose a simple "quarter circle". One thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the transition from the rounding to the straight edge is very smooth. If not it will make the bag look "handmade" in the bad meaning of the word and we do not want that. Also you should mark the center of the front to help position the lock... I forgot to and it made it a bit more difficult.
With the corners rounded the edge can be burnished but only on the actual "flap part" as the sides will be burnished after the gusset have been sewn on. Also the bottom edges needs to be rounded and the strap holders needs to be sewn on just like we did on the front piece.
To determine the length of the back piece close the lock and allow enough room in the top so that the briefcase can expand when full. Then cut the end off. To find the actual "top" of the briefcase you can either estimate it or you can calculate it. To calculate first measure the distance from the "hole" on the lock to the bottom edge of the front piece(17 cm). Then measure the distance from the hook of the catch to the bottom edge of the back piece (54 cm).
What we want is the distance from B to D and divide by 2 to get the position of C.
Length from B to D = 54-17 = 37 cm
Length from B to C = 37/2 = 18,5 cm
Length from C to E = 17+18,5 = 35,5 cm
This means that the top of the bag will be 35,5 cm from the bottom edge of the back piece.
Now we are able to position the top strap "assembly" and make the holes for the screws before sewing it on. I made a major mistake when making these marks. I thought that I would just scribe a line across the entire width of the bag because it would be covered by the top assembly. This if of course not the case. Sure some of the line will be covered by the top straps but underneath the handle you will be able to see it. Damn!
At the same time scribe two parallel lines 2 cm from the center line and connect the ends with a wing divider. Then mark holes with the pricking iron.
When attaching the top assembly do it without the metal bar at first. Otherwise you will not be able to pierce the leather with the awl. Sew it in place and attach the metal bar. Remember to put Loctite threadlocker in the screw to ensure that they don't come loose.
Step 16: Sewing on the Top Strap and the Metal Bar Cover
When I fitted the top assembly I decided to color the inside black as the light color of the leather was showing a bit too much. When putting it back on leave out the metal bar as will be in the way when sewing. Pierce the holes while it lay on the table with cork underneath. Sewing the top strap is like sewing the straps. You just have to be extra careful that the thread does not cross when doing the stitch that goes over the edge. To sew this each thread was cut 59 cm long.
The metal bar cover is simply a piece of leather with the edges beveled and burnished without dye.
With the top straps in place we are ready to sew on the metal bar cover. Dont forget to put on the metal bar and put loctite in the screws. It would have been a good idea to make marks before sewing on the top straps but I forgot. Instead I pierced the leather a few places along the line to se where the stitch would be. I then made a line 3 mm from the holes. Sand where the metal bar cover will be and apply contact cement to both pieces and glue together. Trim the ends and stitch it in place.
Step 17: Sewing the Back Piece to Gusset
Sewing the back piece is exactly like sewing on the front piece. The only difference is that you have to measure where the gusset should start as you don't have a fixed starting point. If your front piece is 31 cm high then your starting point should be 31 cm from the bottom of the back piece.
Step 18: Shoulder Pad
The shoulder pad is very simple to make. Make holes that fits the strap and glue it together with another piece of leather, stitch it and finish the edges. One thing to remember is not to apply cement to the area just below the cutouts for the straps. The top layer is the same leather as the rest of the bag. The bottom layer is the same as the gusset. The bottom layer has the flesh side out. This is to help create friction so the it does not move around on the shoulder. I chose not to dye it mainly because it is not possible to give it a good buff without smoothing out the surface. Without the buffing the dye could rub and we don't want that.
Step 19: Adding Custom Stamp
At work I have access to a formlabs 3d printer and a press. This enables me to make custom stamps. Dr. J.O.D wanted his initials on the flap and name on the short part of the shoulder strap.
I made the impression on the strap first. I applied water but later found this could be left out. The impression was great but it was just a tiny bit out of alignment with the edge. This was okay as the impression will be hidden behind the long part of the shoulder strap.
The initials will not be hidden so any mistakes will be almost fatal! I spend a long time positioning the stamp to make sure it was dead center and parallel with the edge. My hands were shaking when I applied the pressure but luckily everything turned out to be great!
Step 20: Sewing
Sewing is a big part of this project so I will show you how I do the basic saddle stitch. This stitching is as much a design element on the bag as anything else. Taking your time making sure that you are performing the exact same motion over and over again ensures a consistent stitch. There are many different preference regarding the appearance of the final stitch where non is more correct than the other. I prefer a slanted stitch without the use of a stitching groove.
You have already seen how I scribe a line with the wing divider and mark the holes with the pricking iron so I'll skip that part.
I prefer to pierce the holes with the awl before sewing. I found that this way I get a straight line of holes on the back side as oppose to making one hole at a time. If I make the holes while the piece is in the stitching clamp I hold a cork on the back side to prevent the leather from distorting. An alternative is to have the piece laying on the table with a large piece of cork or underneath.
One of the keys to nice even stitching is to make each hole at a 45º angle. This off course only makes sense if you use a diamond shaped awl. To help insure a constant angle I have made a small dot with a marker on my awl shaft. When piercing this dot has to point upwards. Some people use a round awl or a dremel with a small drill bit to make the holes. I have never tried it but I know I will not be able to archive the look I want using these methods.
Go through the pictures for descriptions of each step or simply watch the video. The gunk you see on the awl when I pierce the leather is small pieces of contact cement. That happens when the cement becomes to thick. There are two solutions to this problem. Buy new contact cement or put thinner in it. I chose the first.
Step 21: Burnish
There are a lot of edges to burnish on this bag so I thought that I would show you how I do it. Well that is actually not that easy to do because I always end up trying different things and going back and forth between step. These are the steps I go through:
- Wet the edge with a molotow marker filled with water.
- Lightly Wet
- Wet the edge.
- Burnish with canvas cloth
- Apply leather hardener with a molotow marker
- Let dry for several hours
- Sand the edge with sandpaper grid 80 or 180
- Dye the edge
- Wet the edge
- Burnish with canvas cloth
Repeat step 8-11 until edge is as smooth as desired. For an ultra smooth edge you can finish of the last few "repetitions" using 400 to 1000 grit instead of 180.
Sometimes I finish by applying beeswax and then burnish with the canvas cloth. This gives a bit of greasy feel. I also tried wetting a rag with the leather hardener and running it over the edge (this works best with a ultra smooth edge)
My burnishing method does not differ much from how most people burnish. There are some differences that I would like to highlight.
Firstly I use Molotow markers to apply all fluids to the edge. As with the dyeing it just makes things so much easier. Some people insist on using a felt rag in a clothespin or something similar but I find this to be cumbersome. Especially when applying the dye you want something that does not deform or have stray hairs going everywhere.
Talking about the dyeing another crucial step to get a crisp line is to burnish the edge of the edge. I use a dremel with a homemade burnishing wheel made out of some kind of very dense wood. You could use a bone folder or even a pen instead. I have never seen anybody do this but I really like the method. The cleaver reader might ask "why don't you just burnish the hole edge before dyeing?" Good question! When burnishing it kind of seals the edge making it harder for the dye to penetrate. That is the reason why I always sand the edge before applying dye.
The last thing I want to mention is the fact that I sand after I burnish with the canvas cloth. This does not seem to be common practice. It does however make perfect sense to me. To get a smooth edge you need to get rid of all pits and valleys. The valleys will be taken away by the first sanding but to get rid of the pits you have to remove "a lot" of material. Unburnished leather is too soft to sand to a smooth finish so the only way around it is to do it after you have burnished. This might be different if you have access to some sort of belt sander but as I only have sandpaper and muscle power I really don't know.
Step 22: Concluding Thoughts
When I look back it wasn't really that hard to make this briefcase. As long as you take your time, measure twice and cut once and pay attention to the details you should be fine. That being said I do not recommend this as you first project. You need to have made a few smaller project where you can practice the basic leather working skills. A wet formed phone sleeve incorporates many of the techniques I use so that would be a good starting point.
Regarding taking your time I think I spend somewhere in between 60-100 hours making this briefcase over the course of the last 8 weeks (if you ask my wife I bet should would say it was much longer!)
If I left something out or if you have any questions about how to make the briefcase feel free to ask. I will do my best to help you out.
As a requirement when entering the EPILOG CONTEST you have to state what you would use the laser cutter for. A laser cutter would make me able to cut out intricate shapes that would be very difficult or even impossible with a knife. Having access to a 3d printer I know what this kind of technology can do the the creative process and having a laser cutter would really help me create new things. Also the ability to engrave leather would be really cool to play around with and I'm sure that you could make some really awesome stuff.