A USAAF case for restoration

In the past I have been asked to restore family heirlooms and I have always said no. But when a Gentleman in the USA asked me to restore his heirloom case that had been used in the second World War.

After some discussion I found that the case was used by one of “Darby’s Rangers” I was hooked and the case was sent from the USA to the UK.

USAAF 1 case

USAAF2 case

USAAF3 case

These pictures were taken before the case was sent to me on arrival I lathered it in mink oil and left it to soak for a few days.

The thread did not put up much of a fight I could possibly have just pulled it apart but the leather was thin in places and I did not wish to risk tearing it so I cut every strand by hand. After that I had to pull out all the little pieces it took a couple of days to finish it all


It still fits in its box


As the leather was well worn and following discussions with the owner we decided to line the inside in lightweight kip leather to give it some much needed support and a new lease of life.


Unfortunately one of the straps had snapped and to be brutally honest they were knackered so a pair of straps were required.

These are the tools used to create a strap one gives the neat little grove and the other rounds off the corners. I must admit I had to borrow this picture from another post as todays picture came out very dark


Here is the new strap beside the old


Time to start messing about with some dye



Getting closer



The special thread for this case arrived yesterday if anyone is interested it is Barbour four ply reverse twist linen thread the experts tell me that this is likely to be similar to the original thread.


I have started looking at re assembly I have started with the lining for the gusset piece which I have wet moulded to the shape of the existing piece.

When veg tanned leather is wet it can be moulded to the desired shape and when it dries out it will hold that shape



I have also put the internal dividers in place and left the whole thing to dry overnight then I will use a latex glue to fix the original piece to the new liner.

Here is the liner and original before gluing


I was cleaning the dividers ready to start re assembly when I noticed that the two pieces that made up each divider had started to separate in a number of places but especially along the top.



Rather than just add some glue along the edge I opened up the joint and glued as far down as possible. Then I clamped the edges down to seal the edge. I used beeswax to polish the edges then I gave the sides a polish with Carnauba wax.


In order to protect the leather I gave the heavily worn areas a touch up with some dye to restore some colour to those areas.


Adding the dye to the worn areas meant I did not have to distress the replacement straps to match


I am pretty happy with the colour match of the straps to the rear and front flap of the case.

Here is a trial fit of the front and rear sections

The next step was to begin sewing the dividers into the gusset piece for this I used my latest creation it is a saddlers clam made from wine barrel staves and a couple of pieces of  2 x 1 inch oak and a few scraps of leather.


The case has been machine sewn on more than one occasion these holes are much smaller than those required for hand sewing so I have made new holes with an awl.

After sewing the centre dividers into the gusset piece I started to work out how the back and front pieces would join the gusset piece.


I started by gluing the back panel in place and once happy with the position I allowed the glue to dry then began sewing the back panel in place.


The next step was to test fit the front panel the process was the same as the back panel gluing and the sewing.

I have had a few issues with the colour I finally realised that what I thought was due to my phone camera settings actually turned out to be a background tint in the saddle tan dye. I mixed a dilute solution of darker dye and brought the tone back closer to the original.

Here is the case fully sewn together ready to have the edges sanded and polished.







There was a hole in the top right hand corner of the front flap


Here is the original picture of the case taken in the USA

USAAF 1 case

Once the edges are finished I will give it a day or two to finally dry and then ship it back to its home in the USA

It took a little longer than planned to return the USAAF case back to its owner. But here it is in his office ready for daily use.


I think it turned out very well


3 thoughts on “A USAAF case for restoration

  1. It’s great that the descendant is able to use it every day like that. So much more enjoyable than always worrying about preservation and only getting to enjoy it by looking at it in its box every once in a while 🙂

    I think you’ve done a great job with judging how far to take the restoration – it’s a real balancing act trying to restore the case enough to make it able to withstand daily use, but not go so far that it destroys the character and patina. This looks *just right* !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael…excellent restoration of a precious heirloom! I bet the gentleman who entrusted this case to you is very pleased with the outcome. As Plume145 commented, it is a real balancing act knowing how far to go with a restoration, but I think you’ve got it just right. What a wonderful keepsake for the current owner!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary the owner told me he was over the moon with the case when he received it the final picture was supplied by him. Tbh I did not want to take on the project but the story of its use in the Second World War had me hooked. As far as I am aware it is still in daily use I think it is good for another 70 years..


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