Introduction: Leather MD Briefcase (Doctor's Bag)

Picture of Leather MD Briefcase (Doctor's Bag)

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

Picture of 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

Contact cement

Step 2: Dye Leather

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of Coffee Break

Step 8: Prepare Front and Back

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

All done!


Jimodoh (author)2017-04-03

Hello Phiske! This bag is incredible! I would like to make this bag for my brother who is graduating Med school this year. I was wondering what type of thread you have used?

Thanks again, keep up the great work!

AnijsRadijs made it! (author)2017-02-19

Thanks so much! Made an interpretation of your bag. The tutorial was a great and inspiring.

nautilu007 (author)2016-10-31

Thank you :) I used stainless steel - about 20mm bright and 2mm dick. Stainless steel is more stable than normal black steel.

nautilu007 made it! (author)2016-10-30

Hey there :) I would like to thank you for your nicely made instructions and photos. Your work is really wonderful, and the end product is amazing :)

I did my version (with some changes and modifications) of your "Doctor Bag" so here are some photos.

One more time - Thank you :)

Phiske (author)nautilu0072016-10-31

Nice job! What did you use for the frame?

ewhipplebottom (author)2016-09-18

So for some time i have been needi g a travel bag for my larger leatherworking tools and extra things. I am watching doctor who series nine at this moment while searching for what to make. So when i came across this sweet bag, that reminds me of the mary poppins carpet bag, and saw you watching doctor who also, it was serendipity. I am going to make this case, add a few extra pockets and compartments and i think i will be quite pleased!

jayduck9 (author)2016-09-04

Holy Cow! You make it look easy! Your work is beautiful and thank you for the great pictures, and Dr.Who. I'm going to try this out. Thank you again.

frenchjedi (author)2016-03-07

absolutely beautiful job and fantastic instructions. I don't suppose you Would have the templates available for the sizing?

rbutuc made it! (author)2016-02-26

I Made it :) Thanks a lot for tutorial, Phiske, its very useful! I use your advice and made this beauty, with some little changes. Its my first doctor's bag, and i'm very happy :)

P H Ng宝 (author)2015-11-14

Beautiful! Well done! Very good and clear step-by-step instructions. Thanks for the great steps and it's on my to-do list. Love the design!

FlishS (author)2015-10-30

i love it

FlishS (author)2015-10-30

i love it

PaigeGrel (author)2015-08-26

I love this instructable. This is my favourite kind of bag and I love the finished product, it's stunning! Could you do an instructable on making the frame as well?

Philippos Trelos (author)2015-07-10

Extremely well done and wonderful instructable. Thank you!

cravecreate (author)2015-05-25

Thank you for such a detailed and easy to follow instructions!

cmitchell44 (author)2015-04-17

I was just curious about how much time u actually spent on making the bag. It looks amazing

ajenkins10 (author)2015-02-24

This inscrutable has kept me coming back for 6weeks now. I'm off to get some leather and get started. really inspirational. thanks. I used your sheet metal technique in a rigid ammo case I made and it worked wonderfully. thank you for the idea.

diy_bloke (author)2015-02-06


opus56 made it! (author)2014-12-17

Thanks for the instructable...I'm really happy w/ how the bag turned out. Was definitely a fun project.

opus56 (author)2014-11-27

First, your work is outstanding! Second, a quick question, you used a saddle stitch for the handles...did you do the same when stitching the frame to the main body and the bottom to the sides? Thanks!

caracoda (author)2014-11-03

Congratulations with the first prize! The bag is really great and it is on my list "to make"! Best wishes!

honeycat155 (author)2014-10-23

WOW,this is incredible. you are so gifted. very beautiful

rachel (author)2014-10-21

Wow this is amazing. Gorgeous, inspiring work - I'm putting a folding top bag on my to-make list!

TheCommander (author)2014-10-18

I too have an affinity for doctors bags, tremendous job on your instructible.

kholmes (author)2014-10-16

Is there a pattern for this case?

Dr. Gonville Farnsworth (author)2014-10-15

Wow. Fabulous work. I am a real sucker for leather cases and when they have a classic design it is even better. I want two variations of a case similar to yours. First would be what is sometimes referred to as a universal case for holding tools. Parat is a brand that makes a number of such cases. They usually have a single top that folds over the front of the case but the front of the case will also fold down to expose the interior for easier access.

The second would be more like your bag but shorter and wider for holding straight razors or double edge razors, shave brushes, shave soaps or creams, and various other necessories for a proper wash bag for travel. Sorry to ramble on but your work has inspired me to attempt making my own eventually. Most leather workers I have approached about this said it was not feasible. Thank you again for sharing.

Thanks so much! I loosely use the term "Doctor's Bag" as you explained what a proper doctor's case should be like. Would be fun to make the kind you described. It would be quite time consuming to prototype it so that's probably why they said it wasn't feasible. I would definitely like to make the second case you described. It would be a useful item. cheers!

Thanks for the nice response. I feel your case is well engineered and maybe made from better materials than the one I have included here. This is a tool case pure and simple. Yours is much nicer and the inspiration for a nice wash kit. I still want the tool bag custom made though!

VexFX (author)2014-10-15

Beautiful work and great description of your process. Bonus points for watching Doctor Who while making this. I've recently fallen in love with leatherworking, and hope to try something like this some day. Thanks for sharing!

Phiske (author)VexFX2014-10-15

Thanks a bunch.

Start on a small case and work your way up if you don't have a lot of experience. That way you won't spend a lot on leather and hardware for a bag that might be sub par. Post a leather project, I'd like to see it. I'm still learning too :)

Phiske (author)Phiske2014-10-15

just realized you did the awesome plague doctors mask. So...disregard my last comment . You got the skills so go for it. Awesome project by the way!

VexFX (author)Phiske2014-10-15

Thanks, it was a lot of fun. Now I just need more leather-working tools and some free time!

VexFX (author)Phiske2014-10-15

I only have one instructable so far, and it's a leather project. Hope to do more soon.

The Rambler (author)2014-10-14

Gorgeous work as usual. I'm always inspired by the things you make.

Phiske (author)The Rambler2014-10-14

Funny, I was just looking at your page of instructables this morning. Thanks for the praise!

The Rambler (author)Phiske2014-10-15

Cool! Thanks for checking out my projects. And trust me it's well deserved praise.

Lederhart (author)2014-10-14


Moosedoom (author)2014-10-14

This is amazing & would look like a work of art with some good tooling. Awesome work!

Phiske (author)Moosedoom2014-10-14

Yeah I've done some tooling and enjoy it greatly, but I think it ruins the look of a classic bag like this. It has to be done on the right project or it can quickly look dated. I've found that most of my customers prefer no tooling on an item like this but do like it on smaller items. I'll post a tooled project soon.

Thanks for the comments!

rayshaw (author)2014-10-14


Phiske (author)rayshaw2014-10-14

Thank you!

Carleyy (author)2014-10-14

This is beautiful! Nice work!!

Phiske (author)Carleyy2014-10-14

Thank you so much!

Jack Moran (author)2014-10-13


Phiske (author)Jack Moran2014-10-14


ffrisell (author)2014-10-14

Very impressive work and an enjoyable instructable!

Phiske (author)ffrisell2014-10-14

Thank you! love your knife instructables!

ббат-очирын (author)2014-10-14

Beautifully made

Thank You!

DirtyTom802 (author)2014-10-14

You are a true craftsman!!! Absolutely stunning. Looking forward to more instructables. How many hours do you have invested in the project?


About This Instructable




Bio: Whatever you do take care of your shoes
More by Phiske:Tooled Leather BriefcaseCarved Vegetable Ivory (Tagua) BraceletKnife Making With Basic Tools
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