Tool Bag – This One’s For Me!

So this one’s for me.  Here’s how it happened.

I wanted to make myself a small tool bag inspired by the saddlery trainer at the Walsall Saddlery Training Centre.  Christer (the trainer and a friend) had made himself a tool case when he was studying saddlery some years ago and I really liked the design.  I had been thinking about it but as often is the case I didn’t really have any serious plans to make the tool case any time soon.  Too much else to do.  However I was invited to use some of the Walsall Leather Museum workspace for my work and I did not feel comfortable displaying my tool containers which were plastic shoe boxes in a museum where everything is at least 100 years old!  This motivated me to take the matter more seriously and this is how the project began.

When designing a bespoke item the first thing I look at is the user and the use.  I knew what I like in terms of aesthetic but I also needed something that would fulfil my (quite lofty) requirements.  Very quickly the project went from a small Gladstone styled case to a larger tool case with enough space for all of my old hand tools.  I wanted easy and quick access to my tools and didn’t want to have a second set of tools for my workshop.  So I decided that my tools would be mounted on to boards which could be slotted into the tool case or removed and hung on the wall in my workshop.  This is how the design was born.  Quite a matter of function.

The project commenced.  I have used 3.5mm thick russet leather along with solid brass hardware as usual.  The gussets are made of antique solid mahogany boards from an old desk.  I wanted this piece to show off some of my skills so I figured out a way of attaching the wooden gussets to the leather while still having stitch lines all the way round.  The effect from a front view, I hope, is the appearance that the leather has been stitched to the wood.  This tool case was built on the fly.  I had a rough idea of shapes, dimensions and features.  Something that Christer advised was to not skimp on the design and to make it a little ornate.

As I was making the case I realised it would be quite heavy and I do walk with my tools often.  Hence the idea of attaching back pack straps rather than shoulder straps.  The weight was also a major consideration in the design of the handle and its attachment which, for extra strength, ended up being five layers of thick leather and the thickest point.  At some point I realised that the stronger I made it the heavier it got.  A big lesson in design.

I wanted the lid to be removable so that it could be taken off completely and even used as a container for tools used while working.  This is why the handle had to slide flat.  The tray sits on top of the inside of the case and provides extra space for odd shaped or ad hock items.  Again this is made with the same antique wood as the gussets.  There are a lot more details and considerations in the design which are too numerous to mention here.  Please feel free to get in touch to discuss these.  I have no plans of repeating this design although there has been some inspiration from the project that has given me an idea for a handbag design.  Watch this space!

Although the tool case is in full use I am still making adjustments and changes.  For example the rear panel that attaches the back straps to the case was stitched on with one stitch line originally.  It was immediately evident that this was not enough so recently I added a few more stitch lines to distribute the weight (not depicted in the photographs below).  I am still not convinced and may redo the whole attachment.  I am also thinking about making it lighter.  The only option I can see is to use a lighter wood for the internal tray.  Besides this I have yet to burnish and finish the edges of the straps and the sides of the case and the inside might need some adjustment to make more space.  As it is it can carry almost everything I need for any project along with my laptop, papers, a small cutting board and other small bits and bobs.

This was the largest and most time consuming project so far.  Much learned and much gained.  I hear sometimes that the craftsman usually never uses his craft for himself.  My late father, a GP (physician), rarely used his knowledge and skill on his family for sure!  Yet here I am with a tool case that I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life and perhaps be passed on to someone who will benefit from it and appreciate its maker when he is long gone.

I hope you enjoy the photographs below of my work-in-progress and in-use tool case.