Leather Portfolio Case for phone, notebook and pen (Part 2)

This is a “Rerun” post from the original blog – I’ll be putting these up here and there alongside the new posts but with their original date of publishing.

There were a couple of engineering issues still to solve to complete the portfolio case I’d made to carry my phone, notebook and pen at work.

First, I realised that there wasn’t enough room to slip my ID card under the right hand panel with room for the closure flap to fold over…

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…so instead I cut a slot in the lefthand panel and it tucked away neatly there, inside the notebook.

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Next, I needed to soften the hinges at the centre and on the closure flap so that they would fold easily. I consulted various guides and then foolishly decided to follow the advice of one from Wikihow and went with coconut oil. This would come back to haunt me later.

With the leather dyed and fully dried, I warmed it over a (low) gas hob and worked a copious amount of coconut oil into it, softening it quite nicely. It left a little white residue but this rubbed off quickly.

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Next, attaching the phone case. I cut down a new silicone case with a sharp blade, and gave the glue the best possible shot by roughing up the back with sandpaper and cleaning both surfaces with surgical spirit. Sadly even with a good thin covering of superglue and 24 hours for the glue to cure, it just pulled straight off.

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On to plan B, which unfortunately required unstitching and ungluing the whole right hand panel to rivet the case to it, then gluing and stitching it back in place. The result looks smart and is rock solid though, so worth the extra work.

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Next, the closure. I had various ideas for how to fasten the case shut including a Moleskine-style elastic strap, buckled leather strap or briefcase-style latches, but I wanted something that would be quick, easy and satisfying to open and close, so I went with these magnetic clasps.

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They’re less than 50p a set on ebay, snap firmly together with strong magnets and attach to the material simply by pushing two tabs through slots (easily created by the elegant method of, um, hammering a screwdriver through the leather with a rubber mallet) and then through a flat metal backplate and folding the tabs flat to lock the clasp in place.

They give a slightly industrial look on the back which I plan to cover with a leather “button” if I make these to sell, but I don’t mind it on this one for my own use.

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The second picture, unfortunately, also shows the outcome of the coconut oil method. Once cold, the oil hardens under the surface of the leather then works its way back out as a white residue, causing an ugly “bloom” on the leather.

It also lifts the dye out, which has stained various bits of (thankfully disposable) paper I’ve had tucked into the case or sat under it.

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The excess oil and dye rubs off okay with a cloth or tissue and the leather underneath looks okay, but it’s been a couple of months since I made this case and I’m still rubbing coconut oil off it at intervals – I think it’s mostly out now. Once it’s clear I’ll work the hinges again with vaseline, which apparently is the better way of softening them.

Update from the far future of 2021: It actually took over a year for coconut oil to stop seeping out of the leather. Never use coconut oil on leather, and never ever believe anything you see on Wikihow.

Even with that minor frustration, I’m really pleased with the case. And I decided to add one final bit of customisation – I’d picked up a cheap set of letter punches, so I added my initials to the inside.

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While it seems like a lot of steps, this case came together amazingly quickly in the end in just a couple of days and I’m really happy with the result – it was the opportunity to test all of the things I learned making the Leatherman Squirt Pouches. Once I’ve got the hinges working nicely I’ll probably put them up for sale as commissions, customisable to different phones – it’ll just require me to find and attach the right silicone case to each one. As there’s quite a lot of visible suede side on this case, I may also burnish the leather so it looks a little tidier.

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