Introduction: Reconstructive Surgery for a Suitcase
Suitcases with wheels and extendable handles are a boon to travelers. But, something heavy resting on your suitcase can bend the telescoping handles during your flight so they no longer extend. That is what happened to this suitcase.
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Step 1: Examine the Damage
The telescoping tubing for the extendable handle is below a zippered lining. By opening the zipper, the mechanism is visible.
It was not just that the tubing was bent. Its mount was shattered, too. In the larger rectangle you can see the plastic is broken so one set of tubes is now free floating. To the right of my index finger you can see a long crack that breaks the mount into two pieces. Part of the socket for the right tubes is broken away. The smaller rectangle shows a dimple in the tube from a bend caused by something heavy on it. This all happened during only a one hour flight. Normally, we have no damage to our luggage. The rest of the suitcase is too good to discard just yet.
Once a humorous flight attendant apologized for the delay in taking off. He said, "The machine that normally rips the tags from your luggage is broken and the crew had to do it by hand." The damage to this suitcase lends credence to his statement.
Step 2: First Step in a Repair
The first step is to remove the broken tubing mount. Drill out the peened rivet heads.
Step 3: Drive Out the Rivets
I used a small punch and a hammer to drive out the rivets. If they do not come out fairly easily, check to see if you need to drill away some more of the peened part.
Step 4: Straighten the Tubing
Check the tubing by eye or with a straight edge. I used a "C" clamp, a small wooden block, and a heavier piece of wood to straighten the bent tube set. It is necessary to push the tube set past straight because it will spring back a little. This is also not exactly rocket science, either.
Step 5: A Second Bend in the Tubes
I was surprised to find a second bend in the tubing. This one was not lateral, like the first bend in the previous step; but was from the back of the suitcase inward. I placed the heavier piece of wood from the previous step under the outside of the suitcase. The block visible in this step is directly above the heavier piece of wood. I bore down with the palms of my hands and the weight of my body to straighten the tubes as best I could. Suddenly I was able to extend the handle to about half of its normal full travel.
Step 6: Bends and Bulges
With a little muscle I was able to extend the handle fully. There was a bulge in the side of the more heavily damaged tube when fully extended. I pressed the bulge back in as close to flat as possible with a "C" clamp. I also used the pieces of wood and the "C" clamp to straighten this tube. The previous attempts at straightening had a positive effect on the tube inside the suitcase, but this tube inside it was still bent a little.
Step 7: Replacement Mount
I considered using a couple of pieces of wood 1 x 4 inches and 1 x 3 inches to anchor the tubes to the bottom of the suitcase on the inside. If I did not have a welder, that is most likely what I would have done. The additional graphic for this step shows how two wood pieces could be used. The 1 x 3 has two square mortises in it to receive the ends of the steel tubes.
But, I was able to use a piece of old bedframe and some 1/8 x 3/4 inch strap iron to weld up a replacement for the broken mount. I formed the sockets for the tubes from strap iron bent around a solid piece of square steel bar the same size as the steel tubes. I used a carbon arc torch on my arc welder to make bending easier and more precise. See my previous Instructable. https://www.instructables.com/id/Make_a_carbon_arc_torch_for_your_220_volt_stick_we/.
There is always the risk that adding anything metal to the structure of a suitcase increases the curiosity of TSA (Transportation Security Administration) screeners. But, I figure the increased strength in the suitcase structure is worth it.
Step 8: Install the New Mount
Here you see the new steel mount installed. All that remains is to vacuum shavings from the suitcase and to zip up the lining.
Step 9: The Handle Works!
If you compare the photo in the Introduction, you can see how much more the handle extends after straightening the tubes and making a new mount for the tubes. It is not quite as smooth to extend the handle as when this suitcase was new, but this suitcase will serve us for quite a long time, yet, at least until the zippers wear out.
Step 10: From the Outside
I used finish washers and bevel head screws for a nice finished look, as if anyone looks at the bottom of a suitcase, anyway. I used self-locking nuts on the inside. The ends of the screws are flush with the face of the nuts, so nothing can catch or be damaged by the screws extending beyond the nuts.
Step 11: Another Victim of the Airlines
Most wheeled suitcases have plastic extensions to make the suitcase stand up straight. These are easily broken off in flight.
Step 12: Replace With Wood
When half of the extension support broke off of another suitcase, I replaced the whole support with a piece of wood and painted it black. Some of the paint has begun to wear off. I drilled out rivets as described above.
Step 13: What Holds It in Place?
I used a piece of aluminum inside the suitcase and sheet metal screws to hold the extension support in place. So far, no one from the TSA has left a note that he or she looked inside to see what the metal might be.
It is a shame to discard a good suitcase just because of some damage to plastic parts or bent handle tubes. I am pleased to extend the useful life of these two suitcases. We do use them often.