Wooden Laser Cut Backpack

Day 1

I want this to resemble a classic school-style backpack, which can be broken dwon into two main sections. There is a larger back section that curves at the top and creates the main compartment, and then a smaller, shorter front section. In the interest of saving myself some time I decided to use a slightly altered version of my living hinge handbag design for the front section. This let me focus mainly on the tall section. I started with a long narrow rectangle, and put living hinges in the center so it could bend over, and box joints on either side to slip into corresponding spots on two square front and back panels.

I went into my first version thinking the concept could go either way; it might be good, but it might be awful.

To be honest I really disliked this at first. While “backpack like” the silhouette was kind of cheesy looking to me (or something), and it was much too jiggly. In hindsight its not so awful but I disliked this one so much that I put it down and decided to wait to pick it back up on another day.


Day 2

To tackle the jiggling issue I shortened the section of living hinge, and then also reduced the density of cuts. I figured that these two tweaks paired together would do the trick.

I decided that one of the biggest things contributing to how much I disliked the backpack’s  silhouette was it having two pieces of wood laying flat on top of each other, front and center. Practically speaking, its redundant; and visually it was making the bag look like two things squished together, rather than a single cohesive shape. I added box joints to the back section of the front pocket, so that it would merge the two pieces, into one piece.

I figured this had a good chance of not working and/or looking ugly,  but I ended up loving the silhouette of this second backpack iteration. The shape improved tremendously between V 1.0 and V 2.0; little changes make a big difference.  That being said, I still didn’t really have a plan for how the back main pocket was going to open.

Plan A was to have the front panel flip down, which was admittedly only a lukewarm concept. You wouldn’t really be able to see inside and it would be a pain to get your hand in since it’s small.

Michael had the idea to split the top narrow living hinge section into two pieces so it would open from the side, and the hinge would unfold over the top. Duh! Such a better idea than what I had planned. I made the change in my design in illustrator and then got version 3 printing. I knew that the functionality would be there with this concept, but I was nervous its be an eye sore since the two layers of wood would stick out a bit… but if anything I thought it added to the design. It looked really cool and if anything… I LIKED that it was off center. It added something.

I called it a day at this point but was finally feeling excited about this concept. To be honest until about this point I wasn’t sure if I was going to either bother finishing it.


Day 3

Getting a bottom onto this required getting box joints around the outer edge of the design for all of the existing pieces and then also measuring out a piece to fit into the bottom and magically complete the puzzle. This took me an embarrassing number of tries to get right but point is… we got there.

… and then it still needed changes. Just a few tweaks this time but when it gets down to the details like this I start getting antsy. It needed

  1. Two small round magnets on the main closure flap. The rectqngle wasn’t leaving enough wood in place, and I was worried it’d be flimsy and break on me
  2. There were a few gaps in the box joints to close up.
  3. Holes incorporated into the back panel to accommodate straps

I did those things and then the design was done… and I was ready to step away for the day again. Sincerely… the bottom piece took so many tries I lost count. I was tired today or something.



Day 4

The first goal for the day was getting this cut in my final material.

Any hardwood sanded to exactly 1/8” thick would work. It needs to be fully finished ahead of time, and also have a masking material on it to protect that finish from the alser. I’m using Glowforge Proofgrade Medium Walnut to save myself some time.

I figured this would go off without a hitch…. But I must have nudged an arrow key or something when putting in my settings for the living hinge because the hinge printed off center by a hair; just enough that the hinge didn’t work. Another setback ugh.

Luckily I had some extra walnut and it ended up just being a blip and I had the full set cut in walnut pretty soon after. It was exciting to peel off the masking and reveal the final color that this was going to be. It was also exciting because it meant I could turn my focus to picking out my accent leather colors.

I always buy leather in scrap mixes from Amazon. I’ve never had a bad batch and this one had patent leather hot pink leather in it… so naturally I picked that one out of the bunch.

The accent leather pattern is just as cropped version of the same pattern I used to cut the walnut so that the stitching holes will all automatically line up perfectly for me.

And then I didn’t end up loving the  pink leather with the walnut. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either to me. Actually… I think the main issue was the texture but either way I decided to scrap the pink leather.

Instead I was drawn to a taupe color that paired really nicely with the tones in the walnut. I really wanted this to have a colorful element and my eye went right to a piece of aqua leather and I decided on a two-tone concept. On each closure the bottom piece will have aqua leather as a pop of color, but the more prominent top half will be the taupe.

I cut the leather out and then turned my attention over to putting together a lining pattern for the front pocket.

I made a lot of these a few months ago when I made my original living hinge handbag so I was feeling pretty confident I could get this right in one try… but I was wrong.

Also its so late at this point and was exhausted so I called it a night. It was a really touch-and-go build day between the walnut mis cut and switching leather, but all in all  got a lot finished.


Day 5

Sometimes a good night sleep really is all it takes because the next morning I was able to get the pattern fitting perfectly into place in one try. It took me only about 10 minutes and I had a chipboard prototype fitting perfectly into the walnut shell.

I went ahead and cut this in black leather. Anything laser safe that wont fray would work here but I had leather… so I went with leather.

As part of my pattern I position stitching holes in the leather so this could be hand sewn together and eliminate the need for a sewing machine.

I hand stitched up my pieces before noticing a silvery piece of leather draped over the walnut backpack. I realized quickly that I chose the wrong color and needed to switch over to that silver leather for the lining instead.

More touch-and-go.

But in the end it was well worth it because I breezed through cutting and sewing the silver leather (I had practice now) and it blended perfectly with the other colors I had going on.

To round out my day of leather sewing I sewed each panel of accent leather onto the holes in the walnut shell. I used metallic embroidery floss to do this because its pretty and this isn’t a spot that needs as much durability as the lining.

The taupe sections of leather are cut to wrap all the way around the walnut shell. This means I can slip the magnets into the holes cut in the walnut, and then effectively sew them into place so they don’t move. This worked out perfectly.

The other half of the magnet closures, the ones corresponding with the aquae blue accent leather, are going to require some glue.

There is an engraved divot cut into the walnut that im filling with 5 minute epoxy and then pressing my magnets into. (I was sure to glue the right side of each magnet!! Subtle but important detail.) This hardened up quickly for me, and I finished my day with fully functioning magnetic closures.


Day 6

I was really into how the aqua leather was looking and wanted to add some more of it in a more visible spot.

The back of the front panel seemed like a perfect spot for it.

I quickly did up the file for it and got it cutting on the laser.

My plan was to glue this to the top curve of this panel. However, the wood already has finish on it so I roughed it up with sandpaper to prep it for wood glue (in just the section that required it).

I used a foam brush to get a thin layer of wood glue on there and then pressed my leather into place. Little detail that makes a big difference here, I left the laser masking on the leather piece. This will make sure I don’t accidentally smudge wood glue onto the leather to keep it looking nice and clean.

While that dried I turned my attention to the loop on the back of the bag. I cut a thin strip with stitching holes on the laser and then used a power drill to get corresponding holes into the walnut on the back of the backpack. I added these to the laser design so that in the future they’d just be on there and handled in the laser, but for this time the drill worked perfect.

I used a running stitch to stitch the loop into place.

And then by that time the glue up was ready and I could remove my masking material and see how it all looked.

This was a good day! Everything went how it was supposed to.


Day 7

I was really happy with how the wood glue worked out on the decorative front panel and felt comfortable enough with it to use a similar method to glue my front lining into place on the front flap.

A couple of key things here:

  1. the wood needs to be roughed up
  2. because I’m gluing the finished side of the leather to the wood I need to rough that up as well.

This made things a little bit stressful because I wanted to be sure I was roughing up exactly the right spots and not ruining all of my hard work.

A few things that helped a lot at this phase were using my living hinges as a reference to make sure I was laying this in perfectly square, and using painter’s tape to precisely map out exactly where I needed to rough up, and where I needed glue. I could move the painter’s tape around a few times, try folding up the bag, and adjusting as needed before going in with the sandpaper. I also used an awl to really get this scuffed up.

To get weight on there as the glue set I used a drill bit set. It happened to be the perfect size for me and then I let this first side dry for a few hours.

Then I could glue the other side. This side was ven tricker because theres less wood and leather making contact and I can’t get any wood glue on the living hinge sections or they wont flex anymore. There wasn’t any trick to this beyond going really slowly and taking my time mapping things out with the painter’s tape before scratching up my material.

A good glue up needs pressure and since this is a hollow bag with a flexible wooden shell, there wasn’t anything to apply pressure against. I cut up some scrap wood and stuffed it into the pleats in the bag and this gave me the solid wood to comfortably apply weight on top of as the glue set.

While that hardened I needed to tack the very top flap into place. This can’t be glues because it needs to flex a little bit when the flap opens and closes, so I am putting a lose stitch from the lining to a single stitch in the metallic thread holding the accent leather in place. This worked perfectly, holding the leather lining securely but also allowing some movement.

Day 7 wasn’t the most “fun” day in that the bag looked basically the same at the start and finish of the day. However, the lining was securely in place so it’s a lot more functional now.


Day 8

Glue Up Day!

This was exciting. I had all of my puzzle pieces assembled and ready to go. Because I was designing this as I went I wanted to give myself the opportunity to change one piece of the wood at a time if needed, so I saved the glue up for the very end.

If I were to make another one of these I’d probably glue first, and then stitch on all of the leather because then I wouldn’t need to worry about the glue smudges as much. Because there’s leather on here if glue goes where it isn’t supposed to I can’t really sand it off.

Another thing: Titebond IIi here. And nothing else. This glue up needs to be fully waterproof because it’s…. ya know…. A backpack. An added perk is that it has a slightly slower dry time which will make it possible for me to really take my time and be neat about it.

That being said I kept water on hand so I could wipe away any smears as I went for a clean seam.

I carefully added clamps to this and let it sit for a couple of hours to harden up before removing them.

I was feeling really antsy to have this done at this point. I was loving how it was looking and couldn’t wait to pull the clamps off.

For added sturdiness I wanted to pop a lining into the larger back compartment as well. I cut this in the laser on brown leather and then used the same gluing method to get it into place, burnishing the corners into the corners of the wooden interior with a square edge of scrap wood. I added a rim of epoxy to the very edges of the liner because it seemed like a good idea. This didn’t look perfect, but it felt nice and durable which was more important to me in this case.

… and then I let it dry overnight.


Day 9

A pretty easy breezy day!

All of the glue was dry so. Could thread my straps into place. I am melting the edges of thjis with a torch to prevent fraying, and hand stitching these into a loop using the waxed thread I have on hand.

And then this thing was done! I will absolutely be making use of this in place of a handbag this summer.


Final Thoughts

Making this backpack was quite the stop-and-go design process. I had more than a few moments of wondering why I thought this was a cool idea in the first place or if it would even work. That being said… I’m really glad I stuck with it. This finished product is so cool and I can’t wait to use it.

I’m going to make a second one of these using that pink patent leather that I cut and didn’t end up using, along with the black leather I started stitching but ultimately steered away from.  The files at this point are made and that was the hard part! So I can’t wait to do it again.

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