Introduction: Bison Leather Briefcase
Leather Working is a great skill to know (because you can make all the cool things) and it's a heck of a lot of fun to learn. If you're just starting leatherworking, this project is probably a little much to take on, but honestly it wouldn't take you long to get to a point where you can make this or something like it.
I started leatherworking after being inspired by a Leather Doctor's Bag Instructable. At the time it's something I was far from making, but it gave me something to dream about. So, hopefully, for those of you who are new, this gives you some inspiration, and more than anything let's you know that you could make something like this in under a years time. And for people who already leather work, hopefully you pick up a few tips here and there throughout this tutorial that help you refine what you're already doing.
Also, if you are someone who leatherworks I'd love it if you checked out my blog (especially if you're new). I've tried my best to write a lot of helpful material for people just getting into leather working, so making something like this quickly becomes a reality.
Tools You Need:
- Something to cut the leather with. (i.e. rotary cutter, leather craft knife, round head knife).
- Rubber Hammer
- Diamond Chisels
- Scratch Awl
- Rivet Setter and Anvil
- Edge Paint Applicator
- Sand Paper (150 grit and 600 grit)
- Piece of Canvas Cloth
- Craft Spong (to apply glue)
- Binder Clips (lots and lots of binder clips)
- Stitching Awl
- Bone Folder
- Edge Beveler
If you're unsure what some of these tools are and would like to know more, here is a quick overview of the basic leather working tools.
Supplies You Need:
- 5oz leather
For this bag I used two different kinds of leather. The first was a tumbled bison leather, which most of the bag is made with. Because it's been tumbled the leather is rather soft and pliable. For the parts of the bag that needed to be a bit more firm, I used another 5 oz leather called Chromexcel Horse Butt Strips. It's what I used to create the straps, handles, and attachment pieces. It's a firmer leather that won't stretch out and has a nice smooth finish, which contrasts well with the bison leather. 5oz is also a little bit to thick wrap something in (which is what I did for the handles) so I ended up having to reduce the thickness of the leather to 3oz for that part.
I used two different glues for this project. One to glue leather to leather, and another to glue leather to a backing. For leather to leather I used Seiwa Leather Cement from GoodsJapan, but any glue cement should work. When it came gluing leather to a backing I used contact cement.
For hardware I used matte nickel rivets, two 3/4 inch Dees where the straps will attach, two 1.5 inch swivel snaps to attach the straps to the bag, one 1.5 inch belt buckle for the straps, four 1 inch square loops to attach the handles to the bag, and finally a really long zipper that I would later trim to fit the bag.
I used two different backings. One backing was used to help the cloth be less translucent and the other was to reinforce the pliable bison leather. I used a standard iron on backing for the cloth and used Peltex 70 to back the leather. I'm not 100% sure I would use the Peltex again as I found it too spongy.Supplies You Need:
- .6mm Ritza Thread
- Vernis Edge Paint
- 3-5oz Scrap Leather, used for filler
Step 1: Cut Out the Backing and Leather
I drew out the pieces of the bag onto the Peltex. After cutting them out I placed them onto the leather and traced them. In this picture you can see two main body pieces (16"x12" with a .5" taper), the front pouch (16"x8" with 1" used as a turned edge), the 1 piece gusset (39" x 4"), and the straps that will go over to top of the bag... though those didn't need to be backed so I'm not sure what I was thinking.
The pieces that you don't see in this picture are the inner pouch (16"x10" with 1" used as turned edge), the pencil pockets 6"x 5"), and then the attachment pieces for the handles, dees, and zipper pull.
A small mistake made cutting turns into a giant freaking headache later. Check out this blog post to make sure your cuts are nice and clean.
Step 2: Glue Backing Onto Leather
This is the first time I have glued a backing to leather, so I wanted to try out a few things that I had heard work. Clearly the rubber cement did not work, but the DAP Contact Cement and the Seiwa Leather Adhesive both worked well. The contact cement was cheaper, so I used that for the majority of the gluing.
Contact Cement works best when you glue both pieces, allow to dry, and then stick together. The pieces I backed were: the outer pocket, both sides of the main body, and the gusset.
After placing the pieces together, I set a stack of books on top of them while the glue adhered. Once dry, I trimmed off any excess with my round knife.
Step 3: Making the Handle: Filler
I set those pieces aside, and then started on the handle. I wanted them to be sturdy, so instead of using a cord to make it, I used a leather filler. I cut out a bunch of strips of leather from scrap pieces of 5oz veg tanned leather I had laying around. Some of them I had dyed already, others hadn't... but it doesn't matter because this filler will be wrapped in other leather.
I angled the edges of all the strips of leather so the sharp angle wouldn't poke out of the handle at the end. After each piece had been cut out (6 in total) I sanded the top layer of the leather, which helps the glue adhere.
I glued three together for each handle. Once dried, I trimmed them up with a knife, rounded them out with an edge beveler, and finally sanded them with 150 grit sand paper to make sure they were smooth.
Step 4: Making the Handle: Outer Leather
Next I needed to cut out the leather that I was going to wrap the filler in. For each handled I used a DIMENSION piece of horse chromexcel. As I mentioned before, this leather was too thick. It was 5oz when I needed it to be 3oz or less. To reduce this I skived the leather day.
Skiving can be a trying process, but I wrote about it a little bit here.
After skiving, I cut pieces out of the end to fit the hardware that would be added later. Generally when you make handles, you can just make it with a rectangle, but this handle was thicker than normal. The hardware used to attach the handle to the bag would have been huge if I did not make these cuts on either end.
Since the ends will be touching the hardware, it needed to be painted before it was folded over, so I painted just that part.
Step 5: Making the Handle: Preping to Wrap
Before the leather is wrapped around the filler, it needs to be prepped with holes for stitching and have the hardware installed.
Using a divider, I mark out my stitching lines. Then using a diamond chisel, I make the holes. Finally I mark out the spot for the rivet (.5" in), glue the edges that will get folded over, install the square loop, and fasten it into place with a rivet.
Step 6: Making the Handle: Wrap the Filler
Now that the wrap is ready, I loaded it up with glue and placed the filler inside. To hold the leather closed while the glue dries, I place binder clips along the entire thing.
Step 7: Making the Handle: Stitching.
Once the glue had adequate time to dry (I gave it about 30 mins), I started stitching. I have already put the stitching holes on one side as a guide, but still need to make holes on the other side. To do this, I use an awl while stitching.
If you're unsure how to saddle stitch, check out this video.
With the stitching finished, I trim off the excess leather.
Step 8: Making the Handle: Wet Forming
I then soaked the entire handle, making sure to rub the water into the leather because it takes awhile to soak all the way through. Once the leather is completely soaked, you're good to go.
I tie the hardware together and make sure I'm happy with the shape of the curve. Then it is set aside to dry (this takes a good 6 hours or so). After it's dried, the handles are done.
Step 9: Making the Handle Attachment Piece
Next I make the piece of the bag that will be connected to the hardware on the handle and then sew into the bag. First I cut out a piece of 5oz leather that is 1/8in shorter than the main piece to be used as a filler. This gives the item a pucker and some depth instead of it looking very flat. I then glue in the filler and edge paint the part of the edge that will be touching the hardware.
Once that's dried I glued the piece around the hardware, then using a smoothing tool, I smooth the top piece of leather around the filler. I left excess on the top part of the leather. Because of the filler, the top part will be slightly bigger than the bottom. Since I cannot math that hard, I just leave excess and them trim it after it's been formed around the leather.
I then mark my stitching lines, punch the stitching holes, punch the rivet hole, and stitch the piece together.
If you decide to use a rivet and stitching like I did in this situation, it only strengthens the bag if the stitching and the rivet receive stress at the same time. So it's important to stitch the parts that come before the rivet before putting the handles on the bag (mostly because it's almost impossible to put stitching in at that point).
After this point I also painted the edges of the entire handle.
Step 10: Attach the Handles
I then rivet the handles on the each body piece of the bag. Once riveted I stitch them into place.
The stitching hole that is parallel to the rivet hole is where you want to start putting the stitching into the body of the bag. At this point, I've put stitching holes into the connecting piece but not the body of the bag. I use an awl to create the rest of the holes.
Step 11: Backing the Fabric
At this point, I cut out large squares of fabric that are slightly bigger than the pieces of leather that I've backed.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the tutorial, my fabric was a little too transparent. I backed it with a light backing to make the fabric less see through.
Once the fabric was backed, I then ironed this onto the backed leather. The leather was backed with a fusible backing, so all I had to do was iron it on. I ironed each piece of backed fabric to the backed leather, except one of the body pieces. This needs to be set aside and have a pen pocket installed prior to being ironed on, otherwise the stitching for the pocket would show on the outside of the bag.
Step 12: Making the Inner Pocket
I chose not to back the inner pocket because I wanted it to remain a bit looser. To make the pocket I first turned the top edge. I glue the first two inches, then fold it over, making sure to make a perfectly straight line by lining it up along my ruler.
After the edge has been turned, I apply pressure for about a minute to help the glue adhere.
I then skive the very edge, so that the edges of the bag won't look lumpy later
Then I mark my stitching lines, punch my stitching holes, and stitch closed the turned edge.
Finally, I glue just the edges of the pocket and place it on the back side of one of the body pieces. Again I use binder clips to help the glue adhere while it dries.
Step 13: Making the Outer Pocket
This process is almost identical to the previous. The only difference is that there was a backing put on it.
Step 14: Install the Pocket
To create the pen pocket, I used a 4"x5" piece of bison leather with rounded corners on the bottom. The back side of this part of the leather was especially fibrous, so I applied some gum trag and matted the fibers down with a wood slicker.
I then mark my stitching lines, and glue only the backside of one of them, starting in the middle.
I then line up the pocket and lay it on the leather. Then, for the stitching line I glued, I punch the stitching holes and stitch it in.
Next I glue the next stitching line, but when I lay it down on the leather place it over a pen, and then make sure it's lined up well with my ruler. Once the glue has dried, I will again punch holes and stitch it into place. I continue this process until the entire zipper pocket is stitched into place.
I then iron on the fabric to the backed leather body piece. Afterwards I trim off excess and this piece is ready to go.
Step 15: Creating the Zipper Pull
At this point, both the front and the back body of the bag are finished, both on the inside and out. Now I began on the zipper, which will connect these two pieces. I start with the zipper pull. The metal pull, is a bit smaller than I hoped, so I fix it by making a leather pull. I first cut it out from the 5oz horse butt strip that was been skived.
After I'm happy with the shape, I trace it onto leather and cut out the backside.
I then punch a small hole for the rivet. This rivet will go through the small hole that's in the metal pull.
I glue each piece, but only glue the bottom part of the pull, so I can still slide the metal pull into the leather one.
Once the bottom part has dried completely, I then glue the top part and place it around the metal pull.
I rivet the leather, closing it around the zipper, and let the glue dry. Once that's done, I mark my stitching lines, punch the holes, stitch it closed, and paint the edges.
Step 16: Creating the Zipper Strap
These are the strips of leather that run along the top part of the bag and hold the zipper into place. This is cut out of the 5oz horse butt strips and these pieces have not been skived.
At this point I also cut out two strips from the bison leather, that will back the chromexcel strips. The chromexcel will be on the outside of the bag, and the bison will be on the inside of the bag.
I paint the edges of the chromexcel and bison strips. Then I glue the edge of the chromexcel strips and place the zipper on, making sure only to glue from where the stitching will start. If I don't do this, glue will get all over the exposed part of the zipper and that looks ugly. I then apply pressure to help the glue adhere.
Next I glue on the bison strip to the backside, making sure to leave an inch unglued. Later this space between the two straps will be glued around the main body pieces of the bag.
Finally I will taper down the end of the straps and round off the sharp edges by cutting around a washer.
Step 17: Adding the Ends to the Zipper Strap
This is the tab that will go on either end of the zipper and snap into the bag. I cut them out, paint the edges, and buff them with a canvas cloth.
Next I sand the ends of the straps where the tabs will be attached (again to help the glue adhere) and trim off the excess zipper. I then glue on the tab and skive down the ends of the strap so the edges don't look wonky.
Finally I glue a square piece of bison leather on the underside, trim the excess, and install a snap. This snap will later attach to the gusset (or side piece) of the bag.
Step 18: Installing Hardware and Finishing Edges on the Gusset
These small pieces will go on either end of the gusset. It's where the shoulder straps for the bag will be attached. I edge paint the part of the leather that will touch the hardware. Then I glue and press together firmly.
Next I glue it to the gusset, centered and 5" down from the top. I rivet it in place, mark my stitching line, punch them out, and stitch it in place.
Now that these are in place, I need to fix up the very ends of the gusset. This part of the design is really important. I didn't want to sew the zipper into the side of the bag, but instead wanted to go beyond the gusset. This allows the bag to open wider. While the rest of the gusset needs some excess that will be folded and then be used to stitch the bag together, the top part of the gusset will not need it. So I cut off that excess. This edge will be exposed, so I needed to create something to make sure it wasn't.
To do this, I simply reinforced it on either side with the skived 3oz chromexcel leather. So I traced out the four pieces and then cut them out
Cutting out rounded edges can be tricky, but you can read a guide about how to do it here.
I then stitched them into place and painted the edge.
Step 19: Installing the Zipper Strap
At this point all the pieces have been created: the zipper strap, the front and back body, and finally the gusset. All that needs to happen now is that they are glued, stitched, and edge painted.
I started with the zipper strap. I now placed glue in between the flaps I previously created. Once glued, I placed the body pieces in the flaps on either side. After the glue dried, I then stitched it together.
Step 20: Installing the Outer Pocket
Next I glued the outer pocket onto the front of bag. I want the front pocket to have some space in it to hold things, so the pocket was cut longer than the front part of the bag. Then when it's glued, the sides are glued first, followed by the bottom of it.
At this point I realized I had forgotten to round my edges, so I do that now using a washer.
Step 21: Gluing the Bag Together and Painting the Edges
The final part is gluing the entire bag together. I glue the gusset in three parts. First the right, binder clip it up, and then let the glue dry. Then I move to the bottom and finally the left side. After all the glue has dried, I'll put the stitching in. I did a similar thing I did earlier, where I punched the holes using a diamond chisel on the front and back pieces, and then made holes through the gusset as I stitched.
Once it was all stitched up I edge painted the edge. You can see a bit of my process here. I add a layer of paint then smoothing out with sand paper and then repeat the process until I'm happy with how the edge looks. In this case it took about 3-4 coats. And the better cuts you make the fewer layers you're going to need.
And that's it! I cannot believe you made it to the end. To reward your tenacity, here is a picture of the bag next to my dog, Theo.
Second Prize in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016
5 years ago
6 years ago
This is very impressive work!
Your description is very interesting an so detailed! Thank you for sharing :)
6 years ago
Really nice job...a briefcase anyone would be proud to carry!
Reply 6 years ago
Thank you! <3
6 years ago
This is one of the finest leather working instructables I've seen. Fantastic work! :)
I'm feeling inspired. I really need to get some leather working tools!
Reply 6 years ago
Thanks so much! Super glad it inspired you. That was my hope when I posted this. And actually I just started selling leather working starting kits on my blog. So if you decide you need those leather working tools, check it out: goldbarkleather.com