February 22nd, 2007 : Arm Rests
I decided to take the Chevy Duty armrests I recently purchased and cover them with real leather. In the pics below, you can see the difference between manufactured vinyl vs elk leather ... and I'll tell you one thing -- it sure looks and feels a whole lot nicer!
Thanks to the curse that lies on "after market products," I fabricated two pieces of red oak to replace the cheap plastic parts that came with these armrests.
I'm trying very hard not to start rambling on about the absolute idiocy that abounds with these people who produce after market products for us; they make things strictly for show - not for use - thinking they can get away with charging high-end prices for low-end products; leaning on the fact that, more often than not, people who restore vintage vehicles never actually use them. But I won't go there. Suffice it to say that after market products should be avoided like The Plague!
A week or so ago, we were having sub-zero temperatures ... I got in my truck to do some shopping, slammed the door shut, and half the armrest came off in my hand! This thin plastic garbage they use to mount the armrest with was very cold and simply broke with the force of me slamming the door. This isn't surprising, considering the quality of the plastic and the cold temperature ... but it is unforgivable.
Anyway ... turning adversity into a blessed adventure is one of my favorite activities, so I've covered the armrest mounts (red oak) with cream elk and the armrest tops with black elk - sewn with my Tacsew.
The first thing I noticed when I first installed the aftermarket armrests was that they were sagging ... that is, if you look at the door mounts on the door of a '54 Chevy pickup, you'll see that they are set on an angle ... so, if you mount something that's at a 90-degree angle, it will droop on a downward slope. You would think that anyone making an aftermarket armrest would pay attention to such a significant detail but ... they didn't! Well ... I did!
After gluing some red oak pieces together to get the basic shape I wanted, and letting the glue set for 24 hours, I shaped the red oak, using a dremel.
Then I drilled holes for mounting and glued the cream-colored elk to the red oak.
The next task was to remove the vinyl from the aftermarket parts, separate the pieces at the seams (carefully cutting the thread, not the vinyl) to use as templates or patterns for cutting the leather, and then labeling the pieces for reference.
Note: If you do this, be sure to exercise caution when peeling the vinyl away from the glued rubber areas ... you can tear the rubber if you are pulling from the edge into or towards the rubber -- always pull away from and off of the rubbers edge ... and go slowly.
Next, I made cardboard templates for these pieces to store away for future reference -- if I ever want to make new armrests or if someone else wants them, I'll have these templates handy -- then I cut the top pieces of black elk hide.
The top pieces of black elk will all be sewn together on the Tacsew and I'll be applying french seams. What that means is, first I sew all the seams using #69 nylon thread ... there's a half-inch seam allowance at each seam and those half-inch flaps are later folded left and right of the seam and stitched down, approximately a quarter-inch to each side of the seam with #138 (fatter) polyester thread. This is an exposed stitch that adds a nice look to things ... however, when you're working with heavy leather like this elk which is 4.5 ounce leather, the edges of those flaps will show through your work. They must be made thinner, especially at the edges ... so I buzzed them down, before I did any sewing, with a dremel -- this is called "skiving."
Once all pieces were sewn, I was ready for the gluing process. If you do this yourself, you'll want to use High-Temp Adhesive for any interior gluing -- anything else will *not* hold! To order the glue I'm using, see here.
First, glue and secure the backside of the handle grip ... then gently move the leather over the top of the armrest and glue the sides and front.
Process: Mask the areas to be glued on the armrest and the leather ... spray the glue ... remove the masking tape ... wait 3-4 minutes for the glue to be ready ... line things up carefully ... and press together firmly; continuing to press and work all areas for another 10-15 minutes before moving on.
Finally, after the black elk was all sewn, I glued it to the top sections of the armrests and screwed the bottom sections to the tops. All done and ready for mounting!
Here are a couple of other views:
Note: The variations in color that you see are simply different lighting situations. In the outdoors, the cream elk looks white and the black elk looks black ... as they should. But inside, with yellow-based lighting, the cream looks more yellow and the black looks more brownish.