Introduction: Laptop Satchel

My laptop died after only ten years, and the replacement was a quarter of the size and just flopped about in my laptop case. So I needed to make a carrying bag for it, and I decided that I wanted a hard-shelled case with padding on the inside to protect it.


Plywood scraps leftover from building an electronics component cabinet.

Fabric and upholstery foam scraps leftover from building a blanket chest.

Webbing scraps left over from building an exercise machine.

Black paint left over from an underappreciated work of art.

Cork tiles left over from when someone installed the kitchen in my house half a century ago.

An old leather belt which had held up my trousers for a quarter of a century but which was now rather tatty.

Step 1: Cutting the Wood

There was nothing terribly special about the design here. I managed to find a strip of scrap plywood which was _just_ wider than my new laptop, with perhaps a quarter-inch extra each side.

I used the actual computer as a template, adding the width of the ruler (about an inch) for safety.

Once I'd got one face cut, I used that as the template for the other piece.

The laptop is rather wedge-shaped, so (again) I used the computer itself between the two faces to determine how wide the strips of plywood needed to be for both the narrow and the wide sides. (N.B. the photographs of the edges were taken after the cork lining was added as we needed to get the sizing right.

The fact that the edges were different heights was kind of useful, as the strip of ply which provided the material for them was nowhere near square, and the height difference allowed me to get the pieces I needed from the board I had.

Step 2: Fitting the Cork

The cork tiles I found in the back of the cupboard were a couple of uncut ones, and two which had obviously been failures of trying to fit around a door architrave.

The full size ones each provided most of one large face, with the trimmings providing the remainder of that face, and general scraps covering the sides and base.

I used the faces of the sides as templates to cut the cork tiles.

I did some experiments with the glues which I had at home, and found that ordinary wood glue (PVA) worked very well in the test pieces I glued. As always with PVA, use it sparingly, spread it evenly and use every clamp which you have. If you didn't have any clamps, then holding the pieces in orientation with tape, jacking your car up and lowering the wheel (gently!) onto the boards until the glue sets would give an adequate joint.

Step 3: Corking the Sides

I stood the sides and base on their edges in the correct orientation and ran a pencil along the top of the cork layer of the two large faces.

Transferring these markings to the cork tiles provided the required strips of cork, plus the little extra pieces. As with the large faces, I put the biggest pieces towards the mouth end of the satchel so that the joins are far down and out of sight.

The pieces of cork were glued on as before and left for the glue to cure.

Step 4: Assembling the Carcass

With the case dry assembled and held with clamps, I drilled pilot holes for some thin screws.

To enable me to remove the computer from the case, I marked out a hand notch on one of the large faces, stacked the two faces together and cut them both using a jigsaw.

Then I applied glue to the various joints, added the screws and then clamped it all up and left it for the glue to cure.

Step 5: Prepping for the Covering

The fabric covering on the case would hide most cosmetic issues, but any discontinuities in the surface would cause stress and lines in the cloth.

First, I gave the outside of the carcass a good going over with a sander. Nothing subtle here.

Then I took a quarter-round bit in my router and ran that over the external angles, being careful to not round over the open top of the carcass.

After that, I took some wood filler and filled in the screw holes and also smeared it all over any gaps in the joints. Once that had dried, I sanded it off.

Then I masked the top of the inside using tape, and applied one coat of primer and two of flat black paint to the top of the case and the outside of the case over the top couple of inches. This was to hide the edge of the plywood and prevent any visual "flash" if the fabric ever peeled away a little at the top.

Step 6: Covering With Fabric and Sewing Cushion

The second photograph shows the collection of bits which were left over from the blanket chest. By sheer good fortune, the biggest bit was long enough to cover the height of the case, with a fold around the base, and long enough to go all the way round it.

I used some spring clamps to hold the fabric to the case while I worked out the best way to fit it all, leaving the join on one narrow side where it would be less noticeable and where the strap attachment would give some extra strength.

I used some brown thread (can't remember what it was left-over from) to put a hem at the top of the covering, and used some white thread to put a temporary seam on the other edges to help keep them under control during the making.

There was an embroidered robot patch kicking around, so I marked where the centre-line of one of the flat faces would be and then sewed the patch on there.

To give the laptop some extra cushioning in the case, I found a wedge of upholstery foam, sewed a cover for it and then jammed it into the case. It could be removed by hooking out with a coathanger or something, but other than that it is very firmly fixed and lets me drop the computer all the way down without worrying.

Having marked the proper location for the fabric against the carcass, I masked off each side in turn, sprayed it with a contact cement and then carefully put the fabric onto the wood. I only put glue on the wood as 1) the fabric is adsorbent enough that it doesn't need a double layer 2) the application doesn't need the ultimate strength that you get from a double layer and 3) it allowed for the odd minor slip during application (I was lucky this time).

Once the fabric was in the correct location on one surface, I used a wallpaper seam roller to flatten it down good and hard, and then moved onto the next face of the case.

I had planned to so something fancy with the base, but the fabric had a selvedge (pure luck) on that side, and I found that it actually looked OK once it had been glued and flattened down.

Step 7: Adding Case Attachments

Since the case was going to be stood on the ground at various times, I decided to put metal corners on the base to protect the fabric. They were just screwed in place. I'm afraid that I can't remember where I bought them, but I'd guess at and I'd further guess at "not a lot" for the price.

To attach a strap to the case, and allow it to be adjusted for length, I decided to use a pair of D-rings at each end. The green fabric I used was not really strong enough, so I grabbed about eight inches of nylon webbing which I had and sewed a covering sleeve to go around it. One advantage of having kept _every_ bit of fabric not used in the original project was that I had some long, narrow strips of cloth which were perfect for making the sleeve.

Once I'd fitted the sleeve over the strap, I cut the whole thing in half and used a candle to melt the end of the nylon strap to prevent fraying. There was no need to get fancy with the ends of the sleeve, so I just tucked them up inside themselves over the end of the strap, slid the D-rings on and folded the thing in half.

Two screws with flat washers held each sleeved strap to the case and looked ridiculously good for the effort involved.

I had been using the same belt for twenty-five years, and the holes for the buckle were becoming rather worn out, so I took the belt to a shoe-repair place to get new leather, and then realised that the old leather would be perfect as a strap for the case. I threaded it through the D-rings at each end and it was good to go: strong, flexible and with a story.

Step 8: Boo-Boos, Corrections and Improvements

Probably the biggest problem with this is that the scrap I used to make the front and back of the case was not quite large enough. If the board had been an inch or so wider then I would have constructed the carcass so that the sides were thinner strips which were sandwiched between the large faces, rather than wrapping around the outside. This would have given much greater strength to the case when lying down flat.

The scraps I used were (as shown in the second photograph) rather "scrappy" indeed.

When adding the cork cushioning to the base, I allowed for the thickness of the large faces, but forgot to allow for the thickness of the cork lining on the sides. Fortunately, I was able to trim off the over-length piece with a sharp knife, and the problem is hidden by being at the base of the case, and underneath a cushion.

The pieces I cut for the carcass really were not up to carpentry standards, and I had to do a lot of sanding on a belt sander (sixth photo) before the base of the case was sufficiently squared to allow the case to stand upright (seventh photograph).

I think that if I were to make another one, I'd rout out the finger groove for grasping the laptop, so that there was still some support for the covering fabric at that point.

I had originally planned to have some find of lib over the opening, but I couldn't work out exactly what I wanted, and one isn't really needed. I've carried this thing quite a bit and never had any problems.

Lastly, I had never sewn on an embroidered patch before so the poor robot is a bit skew-whiff. The sewing got better as the project went on, so I am confident of doing it well the next time.

If you've read this far, thank you, good luck in your making, and please do share your work :-)

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