Breaking in a Saddleback Briefcase


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.

Edit: There’s a lot of commentary online about how this is cheating the aging process. There are methods to truly doing this and will create an immediate aged look. I’m not trying to accomplish that with my briefcase. Instead, I’m looking to break it in quickly so that it’s truly functional as an every day bag. For a bag that’s marketed to fit Apple products, I’m pretty sure most users aren’t mountain climbing with their briefcases. This method was intended only to do the initial break in, like a new pair of baseball gloves. It’s the years of use that will later add the patina.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Daniel Hoang Saddleback distressed

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.

  1. Use Clamberlain’s Leathermilk cleaner to clean up all the grime. You want the leather pristine.
  2. Use their leather conditioner or water protector. The latter will darken the leather slightly.
  3. Rub the edges of the leather with some beeswax. I use Otterwax which is a blend.
  4. Let the bag dry out overnight and buff it to a shine with a cloth.

Daniel Hoang Saddleback Edge Finish

Other approaches

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Expose the bag to water. Walk in the rain. Strap it to the hull of your kayak.
  4. 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.

Switching to the Saddleback Briefcase from the Messenger

I like things that last a long time and age well. There’s something about owning something for so long and seeing that story in the scuffs and patina of the object. It also teaches you something about patience. Natural patina takes time. The wear and tear of every day life adds to the story. Of course, there are ways to artificially age objects and create that “distressed look.” I’ve tried it myself but it only leaves you empty, a feeling of manufactured story telling.

My first leap into this obsession started with my Saddleback Leather Messenger Bag I got on September 2013. I wanted something to replace my typical nylon laptop bags. New, the bag is super stiff due to the pigskin lining they use. It makes the interior really resilient and easy to clean but it also means the interior likely will look new forever. I got a chance to take the bag with me on a trip to Sayulita Mexico to break it in. Over the course of the next two years, the bag really broke in, especially as I bang it around from daily work. It softened up really nicely.

Daniel Hoang Saddleback Sayulita Mexico

A few days ago, I decided it was time to jump onboard and switch to the larger briefcase (top left in the picture below), along with a few other obsessive-compulsive purchases (the pouch and the travel case).

Daniel Hoang Saddleback Christmas

I personally like the “new leather” where they’re less selective about cutting out stretch marks and scars in the leather. The Internet went on a big rampage and fuss over this change but for me, that’s why I love these bags. I know that these are not the best bags that money can buy. I had my eyes set on a really expensive briefcase from Marcellino or JW Hulme. While both are beautiful and professional, I ended up again with another Saddleback because I wanted something I could rough around and be okay with that. To me, the high end bags are like buying a premium luxury car. It’s capable but you really won’t want to take them off road. Saddleback is like a rugged Jeep that you feel okay knocking around and know that it’ll look good banged up. My briefcase shows some slight stretch marks on the back but the rest looks pristine. The second change that Saddleback made was a more suede-like pigskin instead of the plasticky lining. This was the deal maker for me. I like this softer and more natural look than the previous generation styles.

Like my last experience with my messenger bag, this unboxing experience was the same. It comes out really stiff and not really usable out of the box. Here’s my break in procedure. I roll it around, jump in it, hit it, scuff it up a bit, and then stuff as many magazines and books as I can in it and leave it hanging over night. The weight stretches out the bag a bit. After three days of this, it’s softened up enough that I feel like I can start using it as my every day carry. For the next couple months, I plan on being a little rough on the bag including tossing it in the car and tossing onto the ground. No need to baby it.

Like a nice leather pair of shoes, it’s going to hurt for a few weeks to months but the effort is well worth it. Here’s a pair of undyed leather shoes I got in Italy in May 2014. It started out as a really light yellow color. I wore this pair painfully through Venice and Rome on the cobble stone walkways. After months of sun exposure, dirt, rain, and wear, it fits like a charm.

Daniel Hoang Italian Leather Shoes

Back to my Saddleback briefcase. I made a few modifications. The edges are unfinished intentionally. The owner says it’s to show the quality of the leather. Frankly, finishing leather edges is a lot of labor and would add significantly to the price. Unfinished edges are fine, look rugged, and fits within the design of the bag. In this case, I wanted my edges slightly finished. I rubbed it lightly with some high grit sandpaper, wet it down with some water, and ran it over with a cocobolo wooden burnisher on my dremel. The high friction and heat causes the leather to harden up into a nice rounded edge. I then hand rub the edges with a bar of Otter Wax.

If you read the reviews on the Saddleback bags, the common theme is that they’re heavy. I look forward to packing it with my work documents and equipment and lugging it out in 2016. My 2016 resolutions is to be mentally and physically resilient. This is a chance for me to test out that physically resiliency.

One week in with the Apple Watch and I’m a believer

There’s something about jumping into a first edition product. In 2007, it was iPhone and 2010 was iPad. I’ve now added Apple Watch to the mix of devices. As with all first generation products, there’s a lot of kinks to be worked out and features and functionality to be developed. Lets talk about the ecosystem of devices from desktop to wearable. First off, the MacBook Air is my working laptop (Surface Pro 3 for work). The iPad fits in between my iPhone as an in between product. Finally, the Watch is now an always on be device. That’s just a lot of devices. Is it really necessary and do we really need (an iPad and a Watch)?

Will there be a day when all these devices become one? My prediction for hardware is no, but yes for software. The spectrum of devices is useful so that we can customize our personal work styles. If you typically work at your own desk, then the laptop becomes your go to device. If you’re mobile a lot, perhaps a tablet will be sufficient for the work on the go.

Since there’s no shortage of reviews for Apple Watch, I’m not going to add yet one more review. Instead, I’m going to highlight my learnings since putting my Apple Watch Sport on.

Notifications – This is where things can go overboard. Instead, I have my notifications setup to only ping me for VIPs. It’s a great way to get a light “tap tap.” The fitness tracker features is also a good reminder via the tap to get up and move. It’s also great at letting me know that I get next to zero exercise each day.

Phone and Messaging – With the Watch, I’m finding myself not holding on to the phone all the time. I get pinged when a message or call comes in. I rarely take calls on the Watch unless I’m scrambling to find the phone.

Home Automation – At this early stage, I’m able to flip my lights on and off to different scenes via Phillips Hue. It’s seems overboard until you’re on the couch holding a baby and your phone is in the other room. I’m also able to control my Apple TV via the remote app. In my car, I have an Automattic dongle installed and Apple Watch shows me the last location I parked (super useful when you’re forgetful).

The Watch is like having someone tap you on the shoulder, giving you a wink, and letting you go on with your business. It’s a very subtle and gentle reminder. Most importantly, it’s not all up in your face. It’s been a bit more than a week and I am completely sold. It’s not just another unnecessary device. It’s a partner with your phone, humanizing the crackberry-mentality.

Five things I learned as a new father

It’s been exactly four weeks since my son Oliver came to my life. These four weeks have flown by so fast and I’ve watched a tiny newborn become a grown infant.

1. We adapt very fast

I need a lot of sleep to function (more than 8 hours). I was hoping to get one more weekend to recover from project work but of course, Oliver came three days early. Around midnight, we raced to the birthing center and at 2:23 AM, I saw him for the first time. For the next several days, I was running on adrenaline. At day four, I crashed. Even then, sleep only happened in small naps. My wife and I became irritable and cranky. Now at week four, life is “normal.” I’m able to function well with just three hours of sleep and sporadic naps during the day. There’s something to be said for the human desire to live and our ability to adapt to changing demands.

2. You are not the center of the universe

The little guy doesn’t care that you have an important meeting coming up. He doesn’t work with your schedule. I had no control over anything. Accepting that freed me from the illusion of control.

3. You can’t do it all, prioritize

When your day is taken over with constant diaper changes, feeding, and napping, there’s little time for any frivolous activities. It’s hard to dedicate time to complete to-do’s so you quickly learn to focus on the most important things first. In the first few days, we were still on our rhythm of keeping the house tidy and taking care of chores.

4. Take care of yourself first

Like they say on the airplane, put on your oxygen mask first before helping out others. If you’re passed out, you aren’t much use. I quickly learned that this is a marathon, not a sprint. That means taking me time to recharge, saying no more than yes, and being healthy.

5. Do what matters

Finally, all the goals I had went straight down the drain. Climbing the corporate ladder, getting accolades, and hobbies no longer were as important. So much of our lives is filled up with useless activities. Oliver isn’t the center of my world but he now taking up a good chuck of my focus. That means legacy projects are now off the books and a new set of priorities will come out.


Life changes are coming

When life happens, it happens all at once. Just this first part of the year, I finished my first client engagement where heart was the central theme, recognized by Consulting Magazine as a Rising Star 35 under 35, and welcomed Oliver Hoang to the world.

I’m able to final pause and reflect on what exactly happened. The foundation of life and career had already been built. This is after many years of sacrifices, hard work in my 20’s, and disciplined behavior, I was ready to transition into my next stage in life. I found myself not relying on intelligence and logic to solve problems but more on my instincts, experience, and emotions. In my early 20’s, this was either lacking or I viewed it as a weakness. Now that I’m more experienced, a bit wiser, I rely so much more on what my heart tells me than what my head tells me.

So much of life for me is about purpose, something greater than just me. Everything had seemed become a rat race, whether it be climbing the corporate ladder, meeting metrics and goals, or simply just surviving the work week. Mentally and physically, it had become so draining.

I was later fortunate to work on a project for a healthcare organization focusing on building out their mission message. For me personally, the mission resonated so well. They were there to provide care, and having a baby on the way made that so much more relevant. I learned to stay calm in the wake of madness and chaos. The world was too chaotic to add yet one more thing in there. Instead, I stood my ground. I stayed focused.

The future is bright for Oliver and I’m even more excited to see how he’s going to change the way I see the world.

Consulting Mag 35 under 35

Point B recently nominated me for Consulting Magazine’s 2015 Rising Stars of the Profession: 35 under 35. I’m proud to announce that I was accepted into this amazing list of consultants. This award comes just two weeks before the arrival of our first baby. I’m proud to represent Point B with this award after a great 2014 for me.

I wrote a short post last year about Point B becoming a 100% employee-owned company and how my peers were so supportive of me taking time off to travel to Italy.

Behind an award like this is our stellar marketing team, my mentors, directors, peers, and past co-workers. All their support opened the doors I needed to through to be recognized.

Thank you to everyone that had a part in this recognition.

Italy vacation 2014

After a long time since our last long vacation, we finally found some time to get a three week vacation to Italy. Thuc put together an amazing literary to visit many places throughout Italy.

Note: I’m not done adding commentary to the images below.

Layover in Amsterdam and Rome. We took a half day layover in Amsterdam to visit the city and get a preview. I love the people, orderliness, and politeness of the people. Definitely will have to come back again soon. In our last vacation, we took a 6 hour layover in Rome and got a chance to whiz through the city. This time, we took more time to visit the landmarks.

Photo Jun 17, 9 07 02 PM

Positano in the Amalfi Coast. After a few days in Rome, we took the train to Salerno and then a ferry to Positano. I’ve always wanted to visit one of those cities hugging the mountain next to the sea. Our bed and breakfast was situated at the highest point in the city. After a very expensive cab ride up, we finally figured out how to use the local bus. The first night, we walked down 1700 steps down to town for dinner. When I got up to pay, my legs gave out and I hobbled back to the bus stop.

Photo Jun 17, 9 08 41 PM

Capri From Positano, we took another ferry to visit the Island of Capri. It’s another beautiful place with very high end shopping. Photo Jun 17, 9 10 44 PM

Florence We took the ferry back to Salerno and then a train to Florence. We weren’t big fans of the city but I loved the statue of David. It’s incredible to see in person.

Photo Jun 17, 9 12 54 PM

Tuscany After a frustrating lesson that you can’t hail a cab in Florence, we finally made it to the car rental shop and got a Fiat to drive to Tuscany. It’s been 15 years since I drove a manual and was a fun adventure to drive out of Florence and then into the countryside. Photo Jun 17, 9 14 41 PM

Pisa We stopped for a bit just to take a snapshot of the leaning tower of Pisa. It was definitely a sight to see but we wished we had more time to visit the rest of the city.

Photo Jun 17, 9 17 23 PM

Cinque Terre We made it to Cinque Terre by train. We stayed in the middle of the five towns. Photo Jun 17, 9 18 38 PM

Milan On the way to Venice, we took another stop in Milan to visit the city. It was definitely the most modern of all the places we visited in Italy. Photo Jun 17, 9 19 53 PM

Venice Our last destination was Venice, my favorite of all the cities.

Photo Jun 17, 9 22 35 PM

Back to Rome We took a long train ride back to Rome and spend a few days before we flew out. Photo Jun 17, 9 25 19 PM