This is my take on Carleyy's amazing Instructable, the Suitcase Picnic Table and Speaker System. I thought the idea was really clever, particularly because it so elegantly solves the biggest hurdle to actually going on a picnic - the packing. Cooking is easy, the picnic is fun, but figuring out how to lug all the food, plates, drinks, and utensils is a hassle.
My build follows many of the steps that Carleyy outlined in her guide, with a few tweaks based on my circumstances. My suitcase was in pretty bad shape, so I relined the interior and exterior with new fabric. I also chose to make my own folding hairpin legs for the table instead of wooden legs.
I hope you enjoy my version of the Suitcase Picnic Table!
Obligatory Contest Plug: this instructable is entered into the Remix contest. If you like it, I'd appreciate your vote!
Step 1: Step 1: Prep Your Suitcase
First, you need a vintage hard side suitcase. The best suitcases are constructed of wood - beware of stiff cardboard cases, as they will prove harder to use as a table, and generally indicate cheaper construction. I found mine after looking for a few months at a few local thrift shops. There were other suitcases in the stores during that period, but I was picky so it took me a little longer to find the right one. My case appears larger than Careyy's and it is much more suited to car picnics (i.e., drive to a pretty spot and lug the case over to it) rather than strolling with it across the city to your favorite park. I personally envisioned this case as the perfect accompaniment to a Shakespeare in the Park performance with a few friends.
To prep your suitcase, assess it's current damage. In my case, the lining was stained and torn, so I removed it entirely. Mine was mounted on a paper backing, which was easy to tear out, but yours may prove more difficult. With the lining removed, I thought I had fixed the old and musty smell many vintage suitcases have. Not so - the smell seemed to have permeated into the wood itself. I erased the smell by placing a few tablespoons of baking soda inside and leaving it for a few days. I repeated this for a little over a week, and the smell had mostly disappeared.
Next, my suitcase had some rubber trim to protect the corners. It was attached via stitching that actually went through the wood. Unfortunately, this high-quality craftsmanship meant that I had to snip the interior string loops along each corner seam to pull the trim loose. I liked the trim, so I set it aside for future use.
Finally, I had to repair a few splits in the wood sides. I filled in the gaps with Titebond wood glue and clamped them tight. After 24 hours, the glue had set and I could remove the clamps and sand down any extra glue that squeezed out during the clamping process.
Step 2: Step 2: Make the Table Legs
My favorite change to Carleyy's original picnic suitcase is the legs. Carleyy used wood table legs with locking brackets she found at Home Depot; I found neither at Home Depot. Instead I found some 1/4" nickel aluminum rods, and I thought of my favorite table legs, the hairpin leg. Having taken metal fabrication classes at college, I figured I could create my own with just a bit of effort.
The easiest way to start is by determining the maximum length leg that can fold into your suitcase. In my case (no pun intended*), I could fit 12" long legs. The legs are shaped like a right triangle, with the shortest side locked up against the interior of the table when folded out, the perpendicular side acting as the main support of the leg, and the hypotenuse acting as a support brace. There is also an additional section of the rod bent perpendicular to the triangle plane that serves as the rotational axis and mounting point for the leg. Hopefully the pictures make this a little more clear.
After marking off the various lengths (2.5" for both the rotational section and shortest side, and 12" for the main support side), I set up a makeshift bending jig using a heavy table vise and a section of scrap copper pipe. Make sure to cover the teeth of the vice with a soft cloth, or else you risk digging gouges into the rod. Place the rod in the jig and tighten at your first mark. Slide the scrap pipe around the rest of the rod and bend it down, using the vice as the fulcrum. Aim for 90° - you may have to bend slightly past 90 because of metal's natural spring back. Remove the leg from the jig and rotate it 90° so the bent portion is parallel to the vice opening, then retighten at the next marking (2.5" down). Repeat the bending process.
You should now have a 3D table rod with 2 90° bends in it. Adjust the rod's positioning so that the vice grips it at the next marking and bend 90°. Your rod should now be shaped as in picture 8. Adjust it to fit so that the bend is pointing upwards and located at the very tip of the vice. Bend the rod down and under the hook shape so that you're left with a rod shaped like that in picture 8. Finally use lock cutters or a similar metal shearing hand tool to snip the left-over rod right at the "juncture" between the hypotenuse side and the rotational axis section (see picture 9).
Remember to turn the rotational axis the other direction on two of the rods so they are mirrored. It can be complicated, but you need to visualize how the legs will rotate and where they will lock in to get the right direction in your bends to produce the necessary legs. Repeat to produce 4 hairpin legs.
Step 3: Step 3: Add Interior Padding
I planned on directly lining the interior with the new fabric lining, but realized that the padding would make the interior feel better. I made padding by cutting up a white fleece blanket I found in an Ikea clearance bin. I measured the width of the suitcase (22") and the top bottom and large rectangular sides (18"+4"+3.75") and cut rectangles of fleece padding that large. I placed it into the interior (top, bottom, and large side) and stapled it in place with a staple gun. I stapled at every edge, including the sloping edges between the top & side and bottom & side. You should be left with padding that smoothly covers the major surfaces (excluding the small sides) and exists as a single piece. Repeat for the other side.
Step 4: Step 4: Add Interior Lining and Exterior Fabric
To make the gingham fabric lining, I cut a large rectangle of fabric the same length as the padding, but with the length of the two unpadded sides added to the width (approx 26" x 34"). I laid hot glue gun beads down the 4 edges of the large rectangular side and pressed the fabric tight. Be careful as the glue can be quite hot, and easily burn you through the thin gingham fabric. Next, fold up the top and bottom sections of the fabric and glue them, using a thin bead of hot glue at the very edge of the case. Finally fold up the smaller sides along the unlined side of the case and glue them in place. The corners will have excess fabric - I solved this by folding it using a "military fold" style over fold where you fold over the extra fabric and tuck it into the corner. It just takes a little bit of playing with to get it to properly lay flat.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the process of adding the exterior fabric, but luckily it was pretty easy. My suitcase had been quite abused on the outside, with multiple tears of it's exterior covering. I decided to continue the suitcase feel and chose a canvas fabric in a bright white to go with my color theme. Luckily the previous covering was easy to copy right off the suitcase. It was merely one large rectangle covering the top bottom and large side, and smaller individual rectangles covering the smaller sides. The exposed wood was hidden by the rubber trim (as seem in step 1, picture 5). I cut the canvas to the same dimensions as the existing covering, and then glued it to the suitcase directly over the current coverings.
Step 5: Step 5: Add Hardware and Trim
We're getting close to finished now. I liked the trim details (rubber external trim, metal internal trim covering the edges of the suitcase that seal together, so I decided to paint them all bright red. The metal painted easily, but the rubber needed several coats of spray paint to adhere strongly. Once they had finished drying, I added the metal interior trim back to the case. This was quite difficult, as they fit very snugly, and ensuring that all the interior lining and exterior covering fabric was tucked inside the trim took a really long time. Eventually I did manage to get the trim properly secured around almost all the edges (one of the bottom edges was a lost cause, but I figured 7 out of 8 wasn't bad). I glued the rubber trim (now red) back into place on the outside of the case, covering the exposed wood.
Finally, this is when you should attach your table legs. In reality, I drilled the holes earlier, then lined the inside and had to re-drill the holes. Doing that step now would be much better. Line up your table leg so that it fits snugly in the very corner of the suitcase, and test that it can fold in and out of the case. I used small brackets that I found at Home Depot with a half-circle bend that the rotational axis of the leg fits in to secure my table legs and allow folding. Mark the attachment points and drill the holes. Make sure that your drill bit is very sharp, as the interior fabric can snag and twist if it's too dull. Then attach your legs in all 4 corners. I used simple pan head bolts and hex nuts to secure the mounting brackets.
Step 6: Step 6: Food Storage and Tableware
Finally, add your food storage and tableware holding sections. This is highly individualized to what you want to bring on your picnic. I added 3 mason jars for salads and similar side dishes, two large sandwich style tupperware containers, 4 plates, 4 glass, space for a wine bottle (and a water bottle reused from an old milk bottle), and space for a blanket to sit on. I chose not to mount my speakers to the case as I liked my speakers to be more portable (sometimes we play frisbee or move away from where we set up our picnic originally). Instead, I attached ribbons to tie them to the case. Most of the storage is attached via ribbons and tie downs, or elastic. I'm still looking for a better solution for the cups, currently we just wrap them in the blanket so they can't move around and break other storage pieces.
I hope you gain some valuable ideas from my implementation of Carleyy's Picnic Table Suitcase!