hen I got my Saddleback Briefcase, I went on a process to break it in so that it’s more manageable as an every day bag. Out of the box, Saddleback products are beautiful but very stiff. My last bag, the messenger, took a solid two years to break in. I’m hoping to accelerate the process this time with my briefcase.
The following procedures may void your warranty. Do so at your own risk. Shh… don’t tell Saddleback about this, my warranty is probably void now. I didn’t buy the bag for the 100 year warranty. I bought the bag because I know this is one I don’t need to baby and it was built to take the beating.
Break in procedure
- Stuff the bag with books, magazines, and as much weight as you can. Hang it for a couple days. This will stretch out the bag a bit and loosen it up. I had double finding a place to hang that much weight so I rigged up a 2×3 that saddled across two saw horses and hung my bag on that.
- Rub a thin layer of rubbing alcohol on strategically placed areas you want “distressed.” Fold up the bag and make as many wrinkles as you can. Check out this great article by Chamberlain’s Leather Milk.
- Drag the bag in some dust and gravel. My basement has a pile of concrete dust and chips from a demo project. I roughed up the bag in the mix. This creates scratches in the leather and will scratch up the hardware a bit. Go slowly so you don’t create more damage than you want. Some people recommend using sandpaper but I’m not a big fan because it creates artificial scratches.
- Clean it up with a damp rag to remove the dust and gravel. Spray the bag down with some water. This is going to dry out the leather and cause damage. On lesser products, I’d be afraid of causing structural damage but as a testament to Saddleback, their products are so rugged this barely puts a dent in it. Let the bag dry out completely.
- For the next couple days, keep massaging the bag. Bend it, fold it. Toss it around. At work, I keep it under my desk as a foot rest. My shoes then rub up on it all day long.
- Repeat this procedure as many times as you’d like until you get the desired effect. The alcohol, dust rub, and wetting and drying is damaging the leather. It’ll make the leather brittle and crack. Again, my bag showed no signs of this.
Clean and condition
Now that your leather is broken in, distressed in some areas, and thirsty for necessary oils, it’s time to condition it back to life.
- Use Clamberlain’s Leathermilk cleaner to clean up all the grime. You want the leather pristine.
- Use their leather conditioner or water protector. The latter will darken the leather slightly.
- Rub the edges of the leather with some beeswax. I use Otterwax which is a blend.
- Let the bag dry out overnight and buff it to a shine with a cloth.
The best way to get that aged look and beautiful patina is to use the bag. Here are a few ideas to really wear in the bag.
- Fill the bag with stones of varying sizes and roll it around the yard. This will create wear on the inside and create a tumbling action.
- Fill the bag with construction tools and and use it at a job site. I’m a DIY remodeler so it’ll likely be my home or friends home.
- Expose the bag to water. Walk in the rain. Strap it to the hull of your kayak.
- In the Summer, leave it out in the sun for some UV exposure. Use the bag as a cooler for Summer picnics.
Here’s my briefcase after the break in. It slouches and just flops down because it’s so soft. The scratches are barely visible after the two coats of conditioning. Now off to soak in some rays on a sunny day.
I also didn’t like the handle in the briefcase. My messenger handle was made of just leather and had a pleasant creaking sound when it moves. The briefcase handle has a small pvc pipe in it to hold its shape and to give it strength. It also made it really rigid.
I tried a coping saw but that cut the leather. I then used some tin snips to cut kerfs in the ends of the pipe. Using some needle nose pliers, I was able to twist and snap off pieces. Eventually, I was able to use a pair of pliers and muscle it out.
I’m sure I’ve completely voided my warranty now but I think my briefcase is now officially broken in, edges dressed, and the handle soft. For a basically brand new bag, it feels like I’ve had it for years. Now to use it daily and build the character naturally.