Introduction: Travel Bar

About: I'm a visual artist and fashion designer. I make pretty things. I post pictures of what I make on my website:

If you are content to drink beer or wine, there are plenty of options for drinking on-the-go or to grab something on the way to a party.  For those of us who prefer something a bit more complex we find ourselves often disappointed by alcohol options at parties or find it is too much work to bring all the necessary accouterments to make what we like to drink.

The Travel Bar inside a suitcase is a way to always have exactly what you need to make more complicated drinks anywhere. My case is designed to make 3 different whiskey based drinks and has enough glasses and coasters for 6 people.  

For more photos of the finished case and higher quality photos, please visit my personal blog by clicking here

Note:  Some of the photos/steps may seem out of order.  I made this suitcase for the Instructables Show and Tell at the Craftsman Experience studio.  To properly document how I made the case I had to take it apart at times after completing steps and reassemble while taking photos.

Step 1: What It Is Built to Carry

To begin with, you must locate a good suitcase for this project.  I strongly recommend a hard-sided suitcase and to avoid anything that is soft or fabric.  A lot of the stability of the case comes from the suitcase itself so starting with something sturdy will lead to a successful project. 

I created this case to hold supplies for a few types of whiskey drinks specifically.  This case was built around the objects I wanted it to carry so before I started I searched my local stores and purchased the objects needed to complete my vision.  This included bottles to hold the alcohol and mixers.  I might change the brand of whiskey to carry or the company may change the size/shape of their bottles and I didn't want those things to effect the future usability of my case.

Here is a list of items the case is set up to hold:
- 2 large bottles (one for whiskey, one vermouth)
- 2 medium bottles (one for lemon, one bitters)
- A shaker
- A set of 6 glasses
- A jigger
- 3 glass jars (for cherries, sugar, and orange slices)
- A set of coasters
- Tongs for serving sugar
- Straws
- Stir sticks

Step 2: Supplies (and Tools) to Build the Box to Hold Everything

Before heading to the hardware store to purchase the boards to build the box it is a good idea to plan a tentative layout and figure out how deep you need each side to be to hold everything effectively. 

Here is a list of supplies I used: 
1/4" Thick Board (I used aspen boards)
Wooden Dowels
Wood Glue
Wood Veneer
Wood Finish
Construction Adhesive
Skirt Hooks and Eyes
Barge Cement

Tools needed:
Saw (Hand Saw and/or Table Saw)
Laser Cutter or CNC Router & Small Chisel or Drill & Small Chisel
Utility Knife
Rotary Cutter
Cutting Mat
Leather Needle & Thread
Pen or Pencil

Step 3: Prepping the Suitcase

Once you have located an appropriate suitcase do anything you need to prep it for modification. 

In my suitcase there was a divider that wasn't going to work with my plans for the finished case so it had to go!  Some pulling (with the pliers) along with a little bit of cutting and it was free.  I tore the fabric covering the hinges in the process but I had already planned to cover it so it didn't matter.

The divider clipped into the frame with two rotating clips.  Those I could not remove and had to work around.

I glued fabric into the case in places that will show at the end of the project.  Gluing new fabric can happen at any point in the construction process right up until you place the wooden boxes into the suitcase. 

Step 4: Figure Out What You Are Working With

To begin officially planning the layout, you need to find the space and shape you are working with.  I placed the suitcase with the open side down onto large scale paper and traced around each side.  I then removed an amount equal to the width of the metal frame from the traced shape to find the finished size/shape of the inside of the case.  I marked where metal clips were so I could work and build around them.  At this point I moved to the computer to create my layout but you could very easily plan your shapes on the paper pattern you just created (or chart it on graph paper). 

Also, measure the depth of each side of the suitcase.  A depth adjustment between the two sides of the cases may need to be negotiated.  To fit the glasses on the left side of the case the shelves needed to extend past the edge of that side of the suitcase.  The shelves on the right side need to be less than the depth of that side to accommodate the extra space the left side shelves need.

Step 5: Using a Computer Drawing Program to Build the Layout

If you don't have access to a good computer drawing program or are planning to make this with hand tools, you could easily work on paper to create the layout.

I used Adobe Illustrator for creating my layout but I'm sure other drawing programs could do this, also.  I had 1/4" thick stock to work with so I created template shapes to work with. In the drawing program I made boxes that were 1/4" x 1" to copy/paste when drawing my layout so the width of the stock was always taken into consideration. 

The paper pattern was used to determine what was my usable space inside the suitcase.  I start by creating a box in the drawing program for my usable space.

I copy/paste the stock template shapes to denote what will be my wood stock just inside the box I've just drawn.  I stretch long direction to match the length of the side.  I do this to all sides to create a box to work inside. 

Every time I decide to place a wooden support inside the box I repeat this copy/paste/stretch technique.  By keeping with this, I know that I have enough space for the supports and whatever it is I'm trying to hold. 

Now is the point to begin making final layout decisions based on the exact size and shape of what you want to carry.  In the drawing program, make boxes that are the height and weight dimensions of the items for the case.  I used a bit of a color-code system to help myself keep things straight.  The purple rectangle represents the shaker, the blue rectangles are the glass bottles for alcohol and mixers.

Create the shelves and supports needed for the layout.  I placed a support piece between each bottle as well as a shelves for things to sit on.  Leave a bit of space on either side of each object so you can easily place and remove the objects.

With the space at the bottom, I'm going to create a drawer.  For the drawer to work properly, it can't be as wide as the rest of the box (it will catch on the frame of the suitcase).  Eventually I will add bit of support below the drawer casing but that comes in during final construction.

The opposite (left) side of the suitcase will hold glasses, a jigger, jars for cherries, sugar, and orange slices, a set of coasters, tongs for serving sugar, a drawer for tooth picks, and 2 pockets for straws and stir sticks. That is a lot of stuff but luckily it is all quite small and fits together nicely. 

The layout really depends on the objects you find and wish to carry.  Here is how I determined how to hold my objects:

To securely hold glasses made of real glass create little cutouts for the bases to sit in.  I used one layer of stock as a proper shelf and glued a second layer to the shelf with half-circle channels just large enough to fit the base of each glass.  I spaced the glasses evenly across the self with a bit of room on either side.  The distance between the shelf supporting the glasses and the shelf above the glasses is just barely wider than the height of the glasses.  This will lessen the chance of the glasses from tipping out.

I ran rectangular dowels between each glass as an extra spacer to prevent the glasses from hitting one another and breaking inside the case. 

I was lucky in planning my case because the jigger was the same height as the jars for holding sugar/cherries/orange slices so I could place all of those objects on a shelf together.  I placed dowels between the jars also. 

With the remaining space, I created a layout to efficiently and securely hold the other objects. Make it work.

Step 6: Finger Joints - a Laser Cutter Friendly Building Technique

At the hardware store I picked up stock in a variety of widths.  3.5" (9cm), 2.5" (6cm). 5.5" (14cm) and I found 3" (8cm) wide stock at an art/hobby store.  I used stock that was 1/4" (.6cm) thick so 5.5" (14cm) wide stock was as wide of a piece as I could get easily in store.  The back of my case is obviously larger than 12.5x5.5 so I needed to piece together a few panels to create the back.

I used the finger joint technique for the construction of this project.  I chose a consistent joint size to use across the whole project - making small adjustments to areas that overlap or might give me trouble.  Some of the pieces will be placed at right angles to others so I chose 1/4" as the depth of the finger joint - the depth of the stock I'm using.   I decided to make the width of the finger joints 1/2". 

The idea in creating finger joints is to make two pieces that interlock perfectly so they can be glued together.  Material needs to be removed from one piece and left intact on the opposite piece so the two panels interlock.

I used this technique for every piece on the project.   The selves and supports were created in the same way.  I cut joints on one edge of the shelf and correlating holes in the back panel of the box as well as on the side supports. 

The construction of finger joints is not that dissimilar to putting together legos - they press together and if cut well fit very tightly. 

At this point, you need to start thinking about the depth of each side of the case.  Things to take into consideration:
- Depth of objects
- Inside dimension of the suitcase
- The stock you are using

This is the point where you figure out exactly how deep each shelf will be.

While creating the layout on my computer, I used a color-code system for the different widths of wood so I could quickly identify the depth of shelves and side panels.

Step 7: Cut a Test

I had my wood pieces laser cut.  There are services online that will cut your shapes and send them to you.  I have access to one for personal use so I unfortunately cannot speak to which service will work best for a project like this.

One thing I cannot stress enough with a project like this is make a test sample out of something light weight and easy to cut like chip board so you know if there are layout or sizing errors.  Even if you use a laser cutting service, you can print out a cardstock/paper model on your home printer for a test run.

Step 8: Initial Assembly - Back Panels

Once you have all of your wooden pieces cut it is time to assemble.

For my project I needed to piece together the back panel.  I'll walk you through the way to glue finger joints together as it will be the same process throughout the construction of the box.

Place a dab of wood glue in each valley point of the finger joint on each panel. 
Place the panels together adding the sides of the boxes (without glue!) to make sure there the back isn't glued together so tightly that the sides won't fit in on final construction.
Clamp the pieces together to encourage a good glue connection.

At this point you will want to finish the back panel with a technique of your choosing. 

I decided to cover the back with the same fabric that I used to re-line the suitcase.  I added a bit of glue around each of the finger joint points for shelves and placed the set the fabric in place.  Once the glue was dry I went through and cut the fabric away from the holes so I can place my shelves using a straight edge blade and scissors with a sharp point.  I also trimmed away the fabric from the finger joints around the edges that will join with the side.  After doing a couple test fits and adding the sides in for proper spacing it became clear that I needed to glue the fabric along the edges as well or they would be pushed into weird positions during final construction.

Step 9: Prepare the Shelves and Supports

Prepare the shelves and supports.  Test the fits of each joint to make sure everything lines up and sits how it should.  Finish the shelves in the manner of your choosing.  I covered the top of each shelf with wood veneer.

If you used the cut-away glasses holder method I suggested during the layout, glue your pieces together.  I cut holes for the dowel supports.  When I glued the shelf to the glass holder I had the dowels in place to make sure everything was lined up just right.

When I placed all my shelves together with the sides in place the glasses didn't fit exactly how I hoped.  Upon further inspection the was a little bit of variation in the sizes of the glasses and the laser cuts at a slight angle.  A little bit of sanding and the glasses fit perfectly.

Step 10: Construct the Drawers

I made 2 drawers for my case.  Neither was as successful as I hoped. I should have made them slightly smaller than the frames they were designed to fit into so I had to do a lot of sanding and a bit of re-gluing to get them to fit right.   The construction techniques and shapes worked just fine (it was only an issue with the size I made each drawer). 

The large drawer in the bottom of the right hand side of the case was designed so that the drawer front was large enough to cover the frame that holds the drawer.  Therefore the drawer bottom and side pieces need to be smaller than the drawer front.  I designed the drawer front to hold finger joint connection points slightly inside the edge of the drawer.

Place dots of glue in the valleys of each finger joint piece.
Match the parts together to complete the drawer.
Clamp in place until the glue is set.

Step 11: Decorative Touches

At a few places inside my case I wanted a bit more decoration.  While I was layout out all of my pieces for laser cutting I created cutting files for wood veneer.  I selected two types of wood veneer that are close in color for a subtle design but are still different enough to show a clear pattern. 

By designing everything in Illustrator I knew the exact size and shape of each piece I wanted to add veneer to.  If you aren't working with a computer you could also draw your design on paper and trace off each piece to cut by hand. 

I did a rough layout of each of the veneer pieces so I knew everything was there and in the right place.

Apply a thin consistent layer of wood glue on the surface you are gluing to.  Carefully place the piece of wood veneer.  I used stacks of washers to hold the veneer flat and in place as I added pieces of veneer.

Step 12: Assembly

Once everything is properly prepared for final assembly it is time to put everything together.  All the shelves and supports should be assembled and then attached to the back panel. Then place the sides of the box.  Glue and clamp in place.  I had a few of my objects in their rightful spots to make sure that In the clamping/glueing process shelves didn't end up too small to hold their objects.

Below the large drawer support I glued two rectangular dowels to the bottom of the support.  These will lift the drawer up so it isn't sitting on the suitcase and it will be much easier to use.

Step 13: Support Straps

In places where things may roll away (like the shaker) or may fall and break when the case opens it can be helpful to add a strap to hold things in place.  I used navy blue leather.  Vinyl would work and you could use a woven fabric but be sure to finish the edges in some way if you use a woven fabric.

After a lot of searching through craft stores and hardware stores, I settled on using skirt hooks and loops for the closure. 

The holes on the metal loop part are very close together - too close for drilling holes into wood.  I attach the metal loop piece to a square of leather and then attach the leather to the wood.  Drill holes in the wood that match the holes punched in the leather and sew the leather to the wood. 

Create strap of fabric long enough to be attached to the wooden case and hook to the loop.  At one end of the strap attach a metal hook with consideration taken to the angle, side of the leather, and overall positioning of the strap.  Attach the strap to the case.

For the straps that hold my glasses in place, I wrapped the dowels in leather and attached the hook to that piece of leather. 

To hold the tongs, I made a loop of leather.

Step 14: Finishing Touch - Leather Coverings

There are many small finishing touches I added to improve the aesthetic of the case. 

I covered the exposed wooden dowels with some of the leather.  Barge cement plays well with leather so it is a great option when gluing anything to leather.   Using a toothpick, spread barge cement on the wooden dowels.  Wrap with leather and clamp in place until set.

Step 15: Finishing Touch - Wood Veneer Edges

Most of the edges are a bit burned from being cut by a laser.  These edges could be sanded and finished or trimmed with leather but I decided I wanted to place a bit of veneer for decoration. 

I had my veneer pieces laser cut.  If cutting by hand pre-cut a whole bunch so you have lots to work with once you start applying glue to your surfaces.

Apply a smooth coat of wood glue to the surface you want to add the veneer to.  Carefully place your veneer pieces.  This process might take a while as clamping tends to push the pieces out of position and you are better off just holding them until the glue sets enough that they are unlikely to move.

Step 16: Finishing Touch - Leather Handles

The drawers need a way to be pulled open.  For this project I added leather handles to the drawers.  I did not use pre-made metal handles because they aren't flexible (may interfere with the case closing) and they are a hard surface that a glass object could break on if they hit just right. 

I used a similar technique to attach the handles as I did for the hooks and loops.  I pre-punched holes in the leather to create stitching points, transferred the marks to the wood, and drilled holes.  I then used a needle and thread to sew the handle to the drawer fronts. 

One of my drawers is pretty narrow front to back.  I used a curved needle to sew the handle to the drawer front.

Step 17: Finishing Touch - Covering Remaining Spots With Fabric

Despite the fact that the wooden box fits very tightly into the suitcase, some of the outside edges still show.  I covered the exposed wood with some of the same fabric I used to line the suitcase. 

I used a bit of E-6000 glue to hold the fabric in place.  I added glue along the front edge of the case and very carefully folded the fabric and glued it in place along that edge.  After that was set I added more glue toward the back of the case to tack the fabric in another spot.

Basically, any unfinished wood that is visible when the wooden box is in the suitcase should be finished in some way - I added fabric.

Step 18: Last Steps

Once you are happy with how everything is put together and finished you can place the wooden boxes inside the suitcase.  Use some sort of heavy duty/construction adhesive to hold the wooden boxes into the suitcase.

For more photos of the finished case and higher quality photos, please visit my personal blog by clicking here.

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