Reconstructive Surgery for a Suitcase





Introduction: Reconstructive Surgery for a Suitcase

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

Suitcases with wheels and extendable handles are a boon to travelers. But, something heavy resting on your suitcase can bend the telescoping handles during your flight so they no longer extend. That is what happened to this suitcase.

Step 1: Examine the Damage

The telescoping tubing for the extendable handle is below a zippered lining. By opening the zipper, the mechanism is visible.

It was not just that the tubing was bent. Its mount was shattered, too. In the larger rectangle you can see the plastic is broken so one set of tubes is now free floating. To the right of my index finger you can see a long crack that breaks the mount into two pieces. Part of the socket for the right tubes is broken away. The smaller rectangle shows a dimple in the tube from a bend caused by something heavy on it. This all happened during only a one hour flight. Normally, we have no damage to our luggage. The rest of the suitcase is too good to discard just yet.

Once a humorous flight attendant apologized for the delay in taking off. He said, "The machine that normally rips the tags from your luggage is broken and the crew had to do it by hand." The damage to this suitcase lends credence to his statement.

Step 2: First Step in a Repair

The first step is to remove the broken tubing mount. Drill out the peened rivet heads.

Step 3: Drive Out the Rivets

I used a small punch and a hammer to drive out the rivets. If they do not come out fairly easily, check to see if you need to drill away some more of the peened part.

Step 4: Straighten the Tubing

Check the tubing by eye or with a straight edge. I used a "C" clamp, a small wooden block, and a heavier piece of wood to straighten the bent tube set. It is necessary to push the tube set past straight because it will spring back a little. This is also not exactly rocket science, either.

Step 5: A Second Bend in the Tubes

I was surprised to find a second bend in the tubing. This one was not lateral, like the first bend in the previous step; but was from the back of the suitcase inward. I placed the heavier piece of wood from the previous step under the outside of the suitcase. The block visible in this step is directly above the heavier piece of wood. I bore down with the palms of my hands and the weight of my body to straighten the tubes as best I could. Suddenly I was able to extend the handle to about half of its normal full travel.

Step 6: Bends and Bulges

With a little muscle I was able to extend the handle fully. There was a bulge in the side of the more heavily damaged tube when fully extended. I pressed the bulge back in as close to flat as possible with a "C" clamp. I also used the pieces of wood and the "C" clamp to straighten this tube. The previous attempts at straightening had a positive effect on the tube inside the suitcase, but this tube inside it was still bent a little.

Step 7: Replacement Mount

I considered using a couple of pieces of wood 1 x 4 inches and 1 x 3 inches to anchor the tubes to the bottom of the suitcase on the inside. If I did not have a welder, that is most likely what I would have done. The additional graphic for this step shows how two wood pieces could be used. The 1 x 3 has two square mortises in it to receive the ends of the steel tubes.

But, I was able to use a piece of old bedframe and some 1/8 x 3/4 inch strap iron to weld up a replacement for the broken mount. I formed the sockets for the tubes from strap iron bent around a solid piece of square steel bar the same size as the steel tubes. I used a carbon arc torch on my arc welder to make bending easier and more precise. See my previous Instructable.

There is always the risk that adding anything metal to the structure of a suitcase increases the curiosity of TSA (Transportation Security Administration) screeners. But, I figure the increased strength in the suitcase structure is worth it.

Step 8: Install the New Mount

Here you see the new steel mount installed. All that remains is to vacuum shavings from the suitcase and to zip up the lining.

Step 9: The Handle Works!

If you compare the photo in the Introduction, you can see how much more the handle extends after straightening the tubes and making a new mount for the tubes. It is not quite as smooth to extend the handle as when this suitcase was new, but this suitcase will serve us for quite a long time, yet, at least until the zippers wear out.

Step 10: From the Outside

I used finish washers and bevel head screws for a nice finished look, as if anyone looks at the bottom of a suitcase, anyway. I used self-locking nuts on the inside. The ends of the screws are flush with the face of the nuts, so nothing can catch or be damaged by the screws extending beyond the nuts.

Step 11: Another Victim of the Airlines

Most wheeled suitcases have plastic extensions to make the suitcase stand up straight. These are easily broken off in flight.

Step 12: Replace With Wood

When half of the extension support broke off of another suitcase, I replaced the whole support with a piece of wood and painted it black. Some of the paint has begun to wear off. I drilled out rivets as described above.

Step 13: What Holds It in Place?

I used a piece of aluminum inside the suitcase and sheet metal screws to hold the extension support in place. So far, no one from the TSA has left a note that he or she looked inside to see what the metal might be.

It is a shame to discard a good suitcase just because of some damage to plastic parts or bent handle tubes. I am pleased to extend the useful life of these two suitcases. We do use them often.



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    I have this problem on my luggage bag, particularly step four with a dent halfway down the tubing. Will this remove the dent and make it 'pop back out'? I notice that it is clamped at an angle and looks like its more for straigtening the tube rather than removing the dent?

    2 replies

    It appears from the photos that you are able to remove the tube from the suitcase. I was concerned the problem would be somewhere inaccessible. 1) Could you simply replace the tube with a new piece of square tubing? 2) Could you drive a square piece of steel into the tube to push the dent back out? [This would be risky because the square steel would likely become lodged in the tube you are trying to fix, and you would need to be able to drive it out with another rod from the other end.] 3) Perhaps you could use a Dremel tool and a cutting wheel to remove the indentation. Then just leave an opening where the dent was, or have someone weld a patch in place with a MIG welder. Those are my ideas.

    Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the great suggestions. getting a new piece of tubing seems to be somewhat of a mission, ill probably have to try a few more providers her locally. Ive tried driving a wooden dowel through, it did minor removals but im probably going to need a better cross-section. Agreed and noted i already had to drive the dowel out with another dowel once i got past halfway :)

    Im going to give the dremel idea a try, in theory it should be fine, ill let you how it goes or if something else worked for me.

    images of the current predicament

    I've decided to stop paying to check. My TravelPro roller has little extended feet to right it when full. They make it too long for carryon requirements. How do you retract them? they have been out so many years I don't remember how!

    1 reply

    I am totally unfamiliar with your luggage. I did find a web site for Travelpro (dot) com. Inside the Customer Service tab there is an option for Contact Us. I was hoping to find owner's manuals for download, but did not see any. Perhaps someone else will see this and answer your question. You could also post an inquiry in the Community pages here at Instructsbles. Someone may be able to help you.

    I wish I would have found this last night. I assume there's one or two luggage makers that supply resellers because I've got a Sharper Image "bullet-proof" suitcase that the airlines ripped the handle off of. I tore into it last night and found it odd that they used so many rivets. I didn't have any damage to the tubing aspects of the suitcase but they did rip the handle off that engages and releases the locks. I got to the point of dis assembly and replaced the internal rod with all-thread but my dilemma now is that I've got no idea what the internal aspects of the OEM handle look like.

    Is there any way you could post or explain how the handle works? I know that the internal rod has to be pushed down to make the latch dimples pull in so the handle assembly can be pulled out but I'm kind of stuck on an idea to make a handle with a button that has fixed internals that will push down on the all thread when I push a button on the handle therefore releasing the locking mechanism so I can extend the square tubing in order to pull the luggage as it was meant to be pulled.

    3 replies

    I am not familiar with your handle releasing mechanisms. I would play with it to see if I could determine how it works. Then I would construct something that does the job well enough.

    Perhaps someone else will see this and be able to help you. Also, go to the Community Forum and post there. Although I almost never take the time to go there, others do monitor and follow things there.

    Thank you Phil. I'm reconstructing by deconstructing. Since the handle was completely ripped off by the airlines there wasn't much to go on but seeing your handle made sense. The good news is I think I've resolved the issue, the bad is that in order to avoid the airlines from ripping off the new handle I'm constructing it from PVC so don't be surprised if you see me on the news being detained for having a piece of luggage with a non-factory handle.
    To release the clips and thus raise the handle, there is a rod inside both pieces of square tubing which are inside the two main pieces of square tubing.
    I may just do my first instructable in an effort to compliment yours so others will have a solution to the entire system.
    I appreciate the fast response.

    We have been traveling and I was concerned that I was slow in responding. I am glad you deciphered the workings of your handle release and made it work again. I think you have the ingredients for a good Instructable. Let me know when it is published and I will link it in my Instructable so people who find mine will also find yours.

    We did that once..added a block of wood to the bottom of the suitcase because the little legs broke off. Eventually that got twisted off too but it sure added more years and travels to it. Nice work.

    I wonder if you have a solution to what I like to do a telescoping handle. I am boarding a plane that allows a 16X14X12 max, single carryon. I do have a checked luggage ($$) but my carryon will have a laptop, Nook, more electronics, chargers, etc (the heavier things) and would like to use my wheeled backpack (one my kid no longer uses). The problem is the height is 22" and I need to get it down to 16" (from wheel to top of handle) . I don't know the specs of a telescoping handle or how it exactly is built, but do you think I can "saw off" the bottom of it, reattach, and not destroy it? Just a thought and wonder if you happen to know. Else I would have to carry it and my back won't like it though. Thanks.

    1 reply

    How about a handle that breaks like a knee in the middle for folding, but locks when extended? The knee joint could be a pin or screw through the handle at the middle ends of the two sections. The locking device could be a sliding metal tube on the top half that slides downward over the joint by gravity to make it rigid enough. You would need a wide spot or pin to keep the tube from sliding down too far.

    I love your ingenuity. Absolute genius! Would these modifications add more weight to the bag? Airlines usually have weight restrictions for checked baggage.

    1 reply

    Thank you for the compliment. Any added weight has to be very minimal, certainly not enough to make the suitcase too heavy. My wife always weighs the suitcases packed to be certain we have a few pounds as a buffer in case there is a difference between scales.

    A few months ago I wanted to transport a metal lathe with a cast iron bed about 27 inches long overall. I used a hard shell suitcase for the lathe and its various sections removed from the lathe. A 1/2 horse electric motor went into a soft suitcase mounted to 1/2 inch plywood cut to just fit inside the suitcase. We tied one of those canvass web belts around the outside. I also left notes for the TSA to explain to them what they were looking at. They opened both suitcases and left their brochures. But, the lathe and motor arrived intact. When we changed planes in Denver I was eye to eye with the guy who put the soft bag on the belt. He could have been more careful and a decorative band around the motor get bent, but that was all.

    Well done, Phil. I had to do a repair like this a year ago or so. It is unacceptable the way the airlines mistreat people baggage.

    4 replies

    While I don't know much about it, but I'd have to guess the airlines are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to baggage handling. A kid glove treatment that protects the luggage, may take so long, the customer would complain. Perhaps the baggage manufacturers, could design a stronger telescoping design? Of course that may add to the cost of the luggage, creating a new course of complaints. Anyway if I knew all the answers, I'd be the richest most powerful person on Earth. In the mean time you we going to have to rely on those like Phil B for after the fact solutions. :) Good job Phil...

    I agree Static...I saw a TV program about how luggage is loaded onto aircraft. It made me think differently about the type of bag I would use when I travel. Bags are stacked on top of each other so if your bag is a hard shell type, half empty and at the bottom of that stack chances are it will crack because there is nothing to support the weight of all the other bags on top of it. At least 650lbs /300kgs of weight including movement inside the can whilst in flight.

    During my college years I worked in both a United States Post Office and a grocery distribution warehouse. In both places I saw people who were efficient and yet careful with boxes and people who were sloppy and rough in their treatment of other people's property. I have watched workers place baggage onto the conveyor belts taking luggage up into the belly of the plane. They always seem to drop it about six inches onto the belt. They could just as easily place it on the belt without the drop. Anyway, thanks.

    Thank you, Rimar. I thought about filling the space between the two tubes with a piece of oak so it runs the length of the suitcase. That would add a lot of strength for the tubes. But, 95 percent of the time we have no damage to our luggage.