Motorcycle Saddlebags From Ammunition Cases




About: Dad of 2 kids, husband of one wife, owned by 2 dogs. Programmer by day, builder/modder/tinkererer by night (and some weekends). Can we do it? Yes, we can!

After pricing good waterproof saddlebags (panniers) that would fit my 2006 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD, I just decided to do it myself and save some bucks.  Have you ever tried to find good waterproof storage for your motorcycle?  Did you find that they were a wee bit expensive?  Well, either you've done something similar to this instructable or you've sucked it up and threw your cash at some vendor.
What to do?  I found out that one of my hobbies helped with this - Geocaching. 
Originally, I was going to put a few good caches around my area in ammo cases.  They're waterproof and if painted right, can be hard to find.  Since I was behind in putting the caches out there, I thought that ammo cases would be a great place to store small stuff on my bike.
Here is a picture of my '06 Vulcan 500.


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Step 1: Get Some Ammo Cases

Ammo cases are easy to find - Army Surplus stores, online, ebay, neighborhood militia group, etc...
I used a standard case for 7.62mm rounds.  They measured about 7in. x 3 ½ in. x 10 in. 
What to check:  rubber gasket inside lid, rust, and latch.  Rusty, ok - just more work.  Rubber gasket must be intact and pliable.  Latch must work.  I think I paid $7 a piece for mine from a local Army Surplus store - and they had a ton of them.
Different sizes may work, but these seem to fit my motorcycle without hampering a passenger.

Step 2: Measure and Drill

PLEASE TAKE NOTE:  THIS IS FOR A 2006 KAWASAKI VULCAN 500 LTD, IT IS ALMOST CERTAINLY DIFFERENT ON YOUR BIKE! I hate to put that disclaimer in, but you better have a pretty good understanding of your bike before attempting.
1.  Remove the bolts that attach to your fender.   This is where a passenger backrest attaches.
2.  Take a strip of wide masking tape (or painter's tape) and run it along the support (pic 2)
3.  Mark the centers of the holes for the mounting bolts and the end of the support arm.
4.  Transfer the tape to the ammo box.  Make sure you've got in the correct side - you are going to drill the side that will be attached to the bike.
5.  Punch the centers of the holes and remove the tape.  Repeat for other ammo box.
6.  Drill pilot holes, then drill out with a bit that is slightly larger than your mounting bolts.  I used a 11/32" bit for the drillout.

Step 3: Paint 'em Up

Paint it up.  Use whatever paint you think is best.  Since I go for more for quick and dirty, I used rust stop spray paint.
I'm sure it would look a lot better if they were powder coated or professionally sprayed.
Just make sure you don't paint the little rubber gaskets on the inside of the lid.  It will probably destroy them.

Step 4: Mounting Your Prize...

To make sure that you don't get any water in from the holes you just drilled, I used some rubber washers.  5/16" ID x 3/4" OD.  You'll need eight.  I also used some stainless steel washers to put between the bolt head and the rubber washer.  This helps in compressing the rubber washer and prevents the bolt head from tearing the rubber washer.
I put another rubber washer between the ammo box and the support arm of the bike.
For you whom are following along it goes on the bolt like so...  stainless washer, rubber washer, through ammo case, rubber washer, into support arm.
You may need a friend to help get the bolts into the support arm.  I had a bugger of a time getting the right side in, but the left side was easy.

Step 5: That's All She Wrote...

Mounted and pretty (well, pretty ugly).  They hold about 0.25 cu/ft total.  Enough for my rain gear, documents, water bottle, snack, etc...

Things to consider: 
Paint after drilling holes, making them lockable (see other person's instructable), protecting support arm chrome.  Add reflectors.  Flat black paint.
Good Luck!

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    10 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Great job, I added a piece of carpet cut to fit also for more noise cancelling.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    very nice... i have a Honda rebel as my only mode of transport here (gas is $5 a gallon here). there is a surplus shop by the docks in hilo so when we head over to pick up my girlfriends mothers car im going to get a couple of cans and give this a shot with some trailer marker lights as the turn signals. that should make it easier to go to the store on the. thanks


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable, it inspired me to do something similar this past weekend I documented at and gave you full props for :)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    did the same thing on an old pan chopper i had back in the 70`s. used the box [only had 1 on one side] for a lawn mower battery. couldn`t close the lid so i roped it in. was running a total loss elec sys, non- funtional gen. you can see a few pics on oldmotorcycles blog by dan. R.T.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    In the past I have also wrapped the top handles in leather using artificial sinew to "stitch" it together... it is still on there to this day and gets lots of use. Just a thought for dressing em up a bit more... Very good instructable!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I've done this for years, a few suggestions for you:
    use a piece of innertube rubber for the underside of the handle to keep the rattling down to a dull roar. same thing for the grab bar on the lock.

    use rubber washers surrounding a stainless washer for additional space and scratch resistance on the fender supports (fender strut, rubber, stainless, rubber, can, rubber, stainless, bolt)

    Adding pinstripes or led lights on the back will make it seem less utilitarian, and taking off the handles will help that as well. use a bolt cutter to cut the handle attachments.

    plastic grocery bags work nicely as bag (box?) liners add a bit of additional waterproofing, not to mention make it easier to keep your gear clean and easy to get out!

    great job!

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks reptilehead - I was thinking I could use the handles for anchor points for my helmet net-bungie-thing. I have other points I can hook to, so good-bye handles.
    One other thing I'd like to do - add a piece of steel bar 1/8" x 3/4" between the mounting bolts on the inside to stiffen the box. Maybe even 1/8" x 1".
    As far as making it look less utilitarian, I was thinking of adding the Vulcan logo or for more visibility, adding a big stick-on reflector.

    Hmmm... if I could find Candy Fire Red I could checkerboard them ;)


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    they really are tougher than you think, i laid my vstar down and had those on it. the bags took all the abuse and even the turn signals were kept intact (15 mph)
    bent the bars straight, limped it home and put on the stock ones. back to riding again!

    if anything i would make a way to keep it out of the spokes in the event of a laydown, the bars to "stiffen" the boxes i think is a bit overkill.

    I think the next time i use these (i have a wicked 'fighter project coming up) ill put on some small red or amber LED lights for turnsignals and brake lights like the harleys use.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent!! This is so much better than the overpriced plastic saddlebags that eventually start cracking at their mounting points. They look good, too. Great job!