Introduction: Leather Bag With Wooden Sides 💼
This is my very first Instructable and you can’t imagine how much I have enjoyed doing it, truth be told, it was a challenge but I’ve loved every step in the journey... including the mistakes, believe it or not!
Being my 4th leather bag overall and the second of its type (unfortunately I did not fully documented the first one but I have lot of pictures to share if required) and I have a few other small projects under my belt such as a few wallets and archery arm guard you might find errors and ways that someone more experienced in leather-crafting will do differently, so I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section! Feedback is always welcome.
Last but not least, and some sort of disclaimer, even when I have seen multiple versions in different sites, with so many variations for inspiration and it is clear I did not invented this bag style, I can tell that I designed this from the scratch.
I have made the plans and sized it with my own measurements of what I considered a proper size ratio and turned out my wife loved it, and now I am sharing those plans so anyone who wants, can reproduce it.
Step 1: The Materials
- 2 pieces of 64 cm x 24 cm (in metric) ≈ 25" x 9 ½" (in imperial)
For the long shoulder strap:
- 2 leather pieces of 80 cm x 1.7 cm (in metric) ≈ 31 ½" x ⅝" (in imperial)
Ideally use hardwood such as walnut or oak, but you can use whatever wood you like, I ended up using some pretty nice pieces of pine for this one instead.
For the sides:
- 2 pcs of wood. size: 19 cm x 6.5 cm x 1.9 cm (in metric) ≈ 7 ½" x 2 ½" x ¾" (in imperial)
For the handle:
- 1 piece of the same wood. 2.5 cm x 12 cm x 2.3 cm (in metric) ≈ 1" x 4 ¾" x 1" (in imperial)
- 4 pcs O-Rings (you can also use D-Rings)
- Nails & Rivets & Clasp & Snaps
- Waxed thread for sewing
- Tragacanth gum, bee wax and/or paraffin (or any edge burnisher you like)
- Glue (lots of glue)
- Wood clear finish
- Graph paper & Cardboard (for the plans & blanks)
I used 3~4oz thick leather, ideally contrasting colors. These are the ones I used: Brown/Chocolate and Veg-Tan
For the bag body and some of the small straps using in the sides and handle:
Step 2: The Leathercraft Tools
- Cutting board
- Cutting knife
- Stitch groover
- Pricking Irons/Stitching Chisels
- Stitching Pony
- Punch hole
- Sandpaper (220 grit)
- Edge burnisher
Clamps and foldback binder clips
Step 3: The Woodworking Tools
- Table Saw
- Drill + Drill bits
- Sander Sandpaper (50, 80, 120 & 220 grit)
- Clamps, C-clamps (lot of clamps, because you can't never have enough clamps)
Step 4: The Design
I started the design with a draft of the bag, at least more or less how I imagined it, not before seeing tons of images all over the internet. Strongly recommend to do some research even before trying this one, there are plenty of examples available for inspiration.
Step 5: The Plans
Once I decided how it was going to look like, I started drawing the wooden sides in a graph paper:
Height: 19 cm (in metric) ≈ 7 ½" (in imperial)
Length: 6.5 cm (in metric) ≈ 2 ½" (in imperial)
Width: 1.3 to 1.9 cm (in metric) ≈ ½" to ¾" (in imperial)
and trust me, after a looooot of measurements based on those sizes above, the leather pieces that will be used in the main body:
Length: 19 cm (in metric) ≈ 7 ½" (in imperial)
Width: 23 cm (in metric) ≈ 9" (in imperial)
Length: 35.5 cm (in metric) ≈ 14" (in imperial)
Width: 23 cm (in metric) ≈ 9" (in imperial)
C: ((just for some little straps will be needed for the handle))
Length: 5 cm (in metric) ≈ 2" (in imperial)
Width: 23 cm (in metric) ≈ 9" (in imperial)
In the pictures you will see, some of the calculations I did for the top/front leather piece with the curved cut, which is based on a ø 19 cm (in metric) ≈ ø 7 ½" (in imperial) circle, and for the circumference diameter in the wooden sides which is ø 3.2 cm (in metric) ≈ ø 1 ¼" (in imperial)
Hint: I was using all the time my phone with the massive case I have to ensure it fits inside the bag, because if that phone fits there, almost any other will also fit. Granted this is a stylish bag and it is not meant to store a lot of stuff but I wanted it be functional as well. With that said, I think this is very adaptable to your own needs, just try to keep a proper ratio if you are going to modify the sizes.
Step 6: The Blanks
Once I've had finished the design and plans, I made a few copies of the sides, and the top/front curved cut and glued them into cardboard, then cut them to be used as blanks to transfer easily those curves into the leather and the wood later on.
Step 7: Cut and Shape the Wood, Then Paint to Protect - Sides & Handle
⚠️ If you are underage please ensure you have you legal guardian approval and adult supervision to use any power-tools. And always, regardless of your age, read carefully your tools' manual/instructions before use them. Please keep safe!⚠️
I used the table-saw to cut to size 2 (two) pieces of wood I already had at a thickness of ¾" ≈ 1.9 cm, and the handle piece. ((You might need a planer or a block/hand-plane depending the thickness you want your sides.))
With the blanks made in previous step, I transferred the curves and the position of the strap holes to the wood and then filed the pieces. No need to be too picky here, just make the general shape, the magic always happen in sanding.
So I sanded using sandpaper of different grits up to 220 grit.
Once wood felt really "soft" to the touch I applied a couple of coats of a satin water based clear finisher for woods, you can use other finishers such as boiled linseed oil and/or a paste wax, or any finisher you like as a matter of fact.
Hint: I drilled several holes to make easier the filing of the strap holes.
Step 8: Glue the Leather
Because I started with bigger pieces of leather I cut two pieces for the body of the bag and two for the straps and glued them together using a contact cement that dries pretty fast, but I let the pieces to dry all night to ensure a good bond.
Step 9: Cut Leather Pieces to Size
Once I was confident with the glued parts, I cut the pieces to size, using the measurements in the plans.
For the top-front part (Figure A in the plans) I used the blank and awl to mark the curved cut line. All other cuts in this project are at 90 degrees so a good square ruler can be really helpful.
It is really important to have a sharp cutting tool and keep it perpendicular to your leather, applying enough weight to make the cut in one pass if possible. This help a lot in the finishing of the edges. You can, and more likely will need to, sand those edges but there isn’t anything nicer than a clean cut in your leather crafts from my point of view.
For those with more experience in leather craftsmanship, you can bevel the edges now, I just decided to keep them pretty sharp and straight on this project.
Step 10: Put Some Holes in That Leather.
Using the stitch groover I marked the stitching lines in both sides of the leather and then made the holes with the diamond-shape pricking irons (I used the 2 and 6 teeth irons) and the rubber mallet.
It might look simple but this is a slow and time consuming process.
Do it right and it will worth the effort. You want those stitching lines and holes to be as straight as possible for a more professional looking on your finished product. Don't try to cut corners or speed-up in this step
Step 11: Sew (Greatest Hits Volume No. 1)
I've put some waxed thread thru the needles and using my made-only-with-scraps stitching pony (probably my next Instructable) I sew all the leather pieces together by hand.
Same than the previous and preparatory step for the sewing, this is a very time consuming process. Take your time and try to make those stitches to look as nice as you can!
Tip: As a simple rule of thumb, the length of the thread needs to be about 4 to 5 times the actual sewing line. This can increase depending the thickness of your leather.
So don’t go too short or you are going to regret that after you cover almost all the stitching line.
Step 12: Sew Some More...
Tip: Keep good tension in every single stitch you make. Lose thread doesn’t look nice.
Step 13: And When You Think You Finished Sewing... Just Sew!
Of course you can always use a sewing machine... But where is the fun, huh?
Tip: Once you complete to sew the line, it is good to do a few stitches backwards and cut the thread just a couple millimeters long and burn that little piece with a lighter. Press firm to seal your last stitch.
Step 14: Burnish the Edges!
I like to start with water and a piece of cloth to burnish the edges. I use a spray and/or a sponge to apply water on the edges.
Then I use tragacanth gum and a burnishing tool to give a better looking finish.
I honestly cannot tell how many tutorials I have already seen for burnishing leather edges but only in one I remember that it was suggested to repeat the process several times, after sanding the edges.
In my first leather projects I was doing it just once, and the results weren’t good enough until I start repeating the process.
At least this is what have improved my edges, people with more experience or better tools might differ.
In this step I added several pictures of the progress in the burnishing process, comparing always with a “raw” (not burnished) piece of leather.
Don’t forget to do the long (shoulder) strap as well.
Step 15: Oh Yeah! Keep on Sewing Baby...
Probably at this point you’ve got it, there is a lot of hand sewing in this project.
After burnishing all sides, I glued the top and the body pieces together and then guess what? Yeah! I sew them.
Tip: Before applying glue, make some good scratches with the awl on both sides for a better bond of the glue.
You can use a low grit sandpaper (50 or 60) to make those scratches.
P.S.: If after all the hand stitching your fingers don’t look like mine in the picture you are doing something wrong, just saying... yeah I know I could be using a thimble, I know -_-
Step 16: Protect the Leather (optional)
It’s always good to apply a few coats of a leather finish product, such as Eco-Flo Satin Shene, to protect the leather.
Step 17: Lets Put the Strap Holder on the Wooden Sides.
I took one O-ring and passed thru a ⅝" (1.7 cm) wide, and 4" (10 cm) long strap, previously cut and burnished as well, and passed the straps ends thru the holes made on the wood. Measured the final length I wanted those straps and made a mark.
I took the strap out cut to size and put holes with the pricking iron (4 teeth again) then put it back and glued the strap ends together and sew.
Then repeated the same for the second wooden side.
Step 18: Lets Start the Assembly! Gluing Leather to Wood Pieces
With patience, contact cement and lots of clamps, I glued first the back of the bag, wood and leather together and let it sit for quite a while. It was important to give the gluing process enough time before moving to the base part and finally the front side.
I used the blank/plan of the wooden side to mark a line were the leather needed to be glued and using the awl I scratched the wood to help the bonding process.
There was a lot of stretching on the leather piece I was doing in this step and lot of clamping as well involved to make the bag looks just nice. Don't rush!
Tip: check your glue instructions, there are so many around, and ensure you follow the indications. The one I used in this step gets tacky in 15 minutes.
Step 19: After Gluing...
After gluing, and stretching, and clamping, this is how the bag looks like so far.
Just added this step to separate the photos (too many, huh?)
Step 20: Nail It!
Using the mallet I installed 4 nails in the base. This will give additional support to keep the bag in place and a nice and simple way to prevent scratches on the base of the bag.
In the front and back I put some small (16mm) rounded-head nails for additional support as well. No matter how good it is I don’t trust just the glue to keep everything together.
Step 21: Install the Clasp.
I centered the clasp in position and marked where the holes were needed.
Then I've made the holes using a x-acto knife (some small adjustments were needed) and installed the clasp, not before burnishing the inside edge.
Step 22: Lets Do the Handle!
Certainly the pictures on this step will be the best way to explain the process, because of that I put tons of pictures.
Basically I cut and burnished a 2.3 cm (⅞") wide, and 8 cm (3 ⅛") long strap and removed with a knife around 1/4 of the inner layer (when folded this will look like a sandwich of your contrasting leather and wont be too bulky)
I also trimmed the corners with a rounded form. If you lack of a tool to cut those rounded edges, use a small circular guide (like a coin!) and do small straight cuts following the guide instead of trying to do it at once.
Keep doing small cuts and you will have nice rounded edge. You can also do some sanding to improve that rounded shape.
Then I took one of the O-rings and passed through it the leather, then I glued and kept in place with clamps, to later put some holes with the pricking irons (4 teeth) and sew as close as the O-ring as possible to allow a proper movement of the ring.
Then I repeated this process for the second O-ring.
With the 2 attachments ready, I took a 2.3 cm (⅞") wide and 6" (15 cm) long strap, and passed each one of its ends thru a different O-ring and glued, punched and sew it.
Finally glued the leather to the wooden handle and put some nails for extra support.
Step 23: Lets Put the Handle!
With the bag closed using the clasp. I marked the position of the handle straps in the center line of bag looked from the top.
I ensured the position was centered and the straps were at same distance from the border/stitching lines.
Then glued the handle straps to the top of the bag. At this point it is better to open the bag of course, and you can use clamps to secure the pieces, but ensure you use something to protect the leather, you don't want scratches at this point.
Once it was dry, I used the drill to make a small pilot hole and then increased little by little its size on the top side with different drill bits.
Then I put a rivet in each strap, not only to secure it, but for a better finishing touch as well.
You will notice in the pictures that the screw was too long and I needed to file it to make it fit properly.
Step 24: Let’s Do the Shoulder Strap.
To install the hardware in the shoulder strap I made two small cuts at 2” from each end for a better fitting of the snap and I needed to use some pliers to pass the leather strap throw the snap swivel eye.
I sanded, burnished, glued, made some holes for the stitches and obviously... I sew it!
Step 25: Nourish the Leather (optional)
Even when I already applied some leather finisher earlier in the process, I couldn't help to apply a few coats of mink oil to nourish the leather and remove any scratches.
This is an optional step, but will help to preserve the leather longer and also enhance how the bag looks. It is pretty shinny after applying at least two coats.
Step 26: Finished!!!
That’s all folks!!
If you made it all to this point... THANK YOU 🙏🏼
Step 27: [Bonus Track] Behind the Scenes.
While reviewing the Instructable before publishing it I realized I have so many pictures from this project that I wanted to share a few more.
You might have realized that some of them are staged, and it was really fun to try to take the pictures I had in my mind for the documentation process with just stuff I had around.
Also I want to emphasize "safety first" while staging some photos in the workshop (a.k.a. messy garage) I always had everything unplugged. ((Please don't get hurt for taking a photo.))
There is a picture of a failed attempt of the handle, which I broke by hammering too hard on it.
And finally there is also a few of the first bag of this type I did, brown/red version.
More than a few lesson learned with this bag, but it is just the beginning!
Hope you like it. Cheers.
Step 28: [Answering Your Questions]
I added this section after the original publishing of the Instructables to answer question or add hints/tips Or more photos as required.
@CaliforniaKate: You can see pictures of the real size of the bag with some stuff inside.
Step 5 was also updated. Hope this help you
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