Convertible Briefcase/Backpack




About: Whatever you do take care of your shoes

I've always wanted to create a convertible briefcase/backpack and just wasn't sure about how exactly to construct it. I did some brainstorming and came up with this idea. It's a basic briefcase that has a removable strap that doubles as your shoulder straps when reconfigured as a backpack. As far as dimensions and stuff go I just laid it out on a big sheet of paper and just started building.

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Step 1: Tools/Material

I have quite a few leather tools that I've procured (mostly from Tandy Leather Factory) over the years. The tools shown aren't all that I have but are the most used (Forgot my strap cutter). You can get by in the beginning with just some basic tools such as a utility knife, straight edge, makeshift awl, stitching needles. But as you expand in your leather working you'll definitely want to get more tools. This will greatly improve the fun and quality of your work. You'll also need sponges and rags for dyeing. A cutting surface is essential. I have 4 plastic kitchen cutting boards screwed to my worktop for cutting. Get a couple books to look through too. The ones shown are my favorites ( available here )

I also use a Dremel with a flexible shaft that I've had for some 14 years. These come in handy for tough leather if you have a hard time getting your stitching awl through. Just pop a 1/16" drill bit in and you're all set. You can also use it with a small sanding drum to even out glued up edges such as at the gussets or on the handle.


8 oz. Leather

leather dye

leather finish

3- 1" buckles

6- 1" Dees

1- 1 1/4" Dee

2 Swivel snaps (to attach shoulder strap to bag


Thread (I use super thick waxed synthetic)

Step 2: Design

I did some sketches on paper and then I did somewhat of a scale drawing. I then transfered all those dimensions to a large sheet of paper and used that for my pattern. I'll later transfer that to a piece of grey board as a permanent pattern.

The main body measures 15" x 34 3/4"

The side gussets measure 4 3/4" x 10 1/2" along sewn edge. I added another 2" for the flap so stuff won't fall out if laid on its back.

The placement of the buckles, handle, and billets were located as I built it. You'll see in further steps. I'll do it this way when developing a new bag because I like to mess around with the placement of the different design elements as I go.

Step 3: Cut It Out! and Burnish

Once you have your pattern figured out cut out all your pieces. I didn't have an exact dimension on the main body piece but would figure it out as I went. I made the bag basically out of 3 main pieces: 1 the Body (wraps around from front to back to the flap) and 2 gussets (side pieces).

I like to cut out all the pieces that I can right away and burnish all exposed edges that won't be doubled up like where the gusset and body are joined. Or burnish all edges that will be difficult to do later.

Typically I dye my leather before this step but I was trying something new this time...and found out that I don't like doing it this way.

Step 4: Form the Gussets

Use a v gouge to cut a groove about a third of the way through the flesh side of the leather where your gusset needs to bend. It's about 3/8" in from the edge. Then thoroughly wet the leather. A cellulose sponge is great for this. Once saturated bend and tap with a smooth faced hammer and then smooth the leather with a bone folder or a smooth piece of plastic.

Step 5: Fit Gusset

Here I used office binder clips to temporarily hold the bag together as i located the handle in the center of the top and to mark where the flap would meet the front. Mark it lightly with a scratch awl. You can then transfer these marks to your pattern to be able to make the same bag again.

Step 6: Make Your Handle

This is a pretty simple handle. Just cut a strip of heavy leather 1" wide and 16 1/2" long then fold it twice. Slip on two 1" Dees and then cement and stitch. Burnish edges.

Attach a strip about 1 1/2" wide to body of bag as shown in pics to attach the handle. Make sure to stitch and rivet the center section first and then slip your handle on and finish stitching.

Step 7: Add Dees and

Two 1" dees are used for the handle in previous step

Two 1" dees are used on the back towards the bottom outside edge. These will be the position of the straps when used as a backpack. These are put into a small strap that is stitched in between the body and the bottom protectors.

Two 1" dees are used on the side gussets for the strap to attach to when used as a briefcase.

These can all be attached before the gussets are cemented in place.

Attach one 1 1/4" Dee to the back in the center towards the top. This will be used when the bag is converted in to a backpack.

Step 8: Add Your Straps and the Buckles

I know I keep using the same image but I didn't take a pic for every process. Here though you can start to attach your straps for the buckle closures. You can just run them long and then trim them to length once you have the gussets stitched. Add the small straps with the buckles also.

Step 9: Glue Up the Gussets

Cement the gussets on to the main body of the bag.

Step 10: Stitch and Finish Edges

Saddle stitch the gussets to the main body and then finish the edges. Even them up as shown in the pics and then burnish.

Step 11: Make Strap

Make a 1" strap with a strap cutter or a straight edge. make 2 shoulder pads about 2 1/2" x 6 or 7". Use an oblong punch to cut out slots for the strap to fit through. Finish the strap and then add the hardware

Attach it to bag and use...

Now their are two ways to use this bag; As a briefcase or as a 2 shoulder backpack. To convert the briefcase to a backpack you need to undo the swivel snaps from the gusset dees and attach them to the dees on the lower back side of the bag. Then undo the buckle for the strap and run it through the center Dee on the back.

Presto chango!

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24 Discussions


1 year ago

I want to make this but since I'm a beginner, I found the instructions hard to follow. I'll try!


3 years ago

This is stunning


3 years ago

Do you also source your leather from Tandy Leather?


4 years ago

Great job on this instructable! I want to make this!



4 years ago on Introduction

i have been very curious about making my own stuff because i live in a not so populated area and the shops are quite limited... so i was wondering where do you live and if all these materials are available to you? or are they bought online? either way i love them and as a diy person, please make more of these, you are our beacon of light :D

This is a lovely case and worth the work you put in. It might help anyone courageous enough to try to make one if you gave an idea of the overall dimensions. You give lots of sizes for the subsidiary pieces but not for the overall bag. I love the look and smell of leather and the way you let the beauty of the material shine here.

2 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for your input! I edited step 2 to include the pattern dimensions for the main body and gussets. I had planned on including them but was at my compu and didn't have the measurements when writing it up. Thanks!


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

For a prospective hobbyist, do you have any books you'd recommend? This looks like a fun past time, so I'd love to find a good starting point. Thanks for sharing! Beautiful work!


4 years ago

Beautiful !
Respect !

The Rambler

5 years ago on Introduction

I saw the first image in step 6 under the title "make a handle" and for half a second I mistook the stitching pony for a handle. Which just made me think that I bet if you did a bag with a wooden handle it would look really awesome. Something about mixing leather and wood in a project is just so appealing to me.


5 years ago

Wow! Fantastic work. Your skills are impressive.


5 years ago on Introduction

Thank you for a great build and sharing it with us. What a beautiful briefcase, I have bookmarked into to my every growing list of 'to make'.


5 years ago on Introduction

Great how-to article! Although I am afraid without the pattern given it is hard for inexperienced leather workers to make on of these briefcases. Still, very good tutorial!

2 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Agreed, I love this design, and want one badly, but have neither the time nor the tools to complete this to my satisfaction. However, if I had the *plans* i could take them to the local leather shop, and convert my money into their time, and get this lovely item.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks! Just added a few dimensions to make it a bit easier. My original idea was to show how to design a bag as you go. But from the look of your user image you probably are an experienced leatherworker too. Being that the main body is three pieces and the main piece just wraps around this can easily be adjusted to fit your needs. Post an instructable! I'd like to see your work.