Repair a Leather Luggage Handle




About: I enjoy taking a pile of junk and making something unusual out of it. I like wheeled vehicles, and currently own two motorcycles, two electric bikes that I've built, and an electric scooter pushed by a soc...

Don't you hate it when this happens?  You reach down to lift your favorite vintage suitcase, amplifier, musical instrument case, or (as in this particular example) portable Victrola case, and suddenly, half your leather handle rips apart. 

Which this happens, you generally have limited choices for repair:  (1) you can try to find a modern leather reproduction (and pay very high prices!), or (2) try to fit a modern plastic handle on the case (which never quite looks right, or fits the existing holes), or (3) you don't replace the handle and from this point on carry your case much like you would carry a sack of cement (with two hands).

This instructable is about a 4th option, which is repairing the handle you already have.

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Step 1: The Problem With Leather Handles

Most vintage leather handles are comprised of a strip of heavy leather than holds the weight of the case, some sort of padding (usually leather), and a leather cover.

The strip of leather that attaches the handle to the d-rings can carry a lot of weight, and over time the leather fibers begin to deteriorate until the leather tears, as shown in the photo. 

Step 2: Take Apart the Handle

When the outside cover of the handle is removed, the internal parts look like what you see in this photo.  I've arranged the handle parts in the order that they are inside of the handle covering.  Three thick pieces of leather comprise the padding in this particular handle, with the load bearing strap (with the torn end) sandwiched between the leather padding.

At the top of the photo is what remained of the thin leather cover from the outside of this handle.

Step 3: Cut a New Strap

I cut a new strap from an old belt I no longer use.  I slit the belt to get the same width as the original strap from the old handle, and removed an outer lamination from the belt.  This outer lamination was some sort of padding to give cushion to the belt and was not needed.  I simply peeled it off.  What was left was made of heavy leather with a reinforcing fabric laminated to it.  This should be very strong.

Step 4: Assemble the Inner Parts

I folded the ends of the new strap around the original d-rings and riveted the ends closed (just like on the original strap).  I used compression rivets, but split rivets will do just as well.

Next I glued the new strap to the other internal handle parts and clamped them until the glue dried.  Pretty much any glue that will stick to leather will work for this, the glue is just used to hold the parts together for re-covering.  I used a silicone-based glue, but only because a tube of it was close at hand.  White glue would have worked just as well for this.

Step 5: Re-cover the Handle

I really wanted to cover the handle with the original covering, but unfortunately it was too brittle to save.  I had some really thin leather (vegetable tanned deerskin) from a previous project that worked out fine.  I coated the glued-up handle with carpenter's white glue and tightly formed the thin leather around the handle, trimming it along the same edge the original covering had been trimmed.  Once the glue had cured, I dyed the handle and hung it to dry.

Step 6: Install the Handle

Installing the handle was easy -- I simply attached it to the brackets on the case and re-fastened them in place.

The materials required for this project were as follows:

- a small section of an old belt
- a small piece of leather scrap
- two rivets
- a small amount of leather dye
- glue

This handle came off of an old phonograph that is over 80 years old.  I fully expect the rebuilt handle to last at least as long.  If you want to know if it works out this way, check with me on my 143rd birthday........

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    5 Discussions


    4 years ago on Step 6

    nice, thank's have to give this a try, got a few old trunk's like that..

    Phil B

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very nicely done. Back in the late 1960s and very early 1970s I was going to school in St. Louis. One of my favorite hangouts was any of the several Central Hardware stores. They had everything "from scoop to nuts." One thing they had was these handles as replacements. I think the prices were quite reasonable then.

    1 reply
    knife141Phil B

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, Phil. I used to be able to buy these at the Elliot's Hardware store in Dallas back in the '70's, but in recent years the only place I've found them is on the internet at reproduction hardware sites, and they've gotten very pricy.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, really well done. Most people would resort to rope or just scrap it all together. I love that you've documented how to repair this and give the case a whole new life again. This kind of thing is what we all need to be learning!

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks again for your nice words. I was going to wait until a cold winter day to fix this thing, but decided cold weather is still a long way off in Texas!