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02-16-2008 01:53 PM The Chevy Bench Seat - Part 52
The seat is done.

As this was my first automotive upholstery project, I really had no idea what all was entailed, or that it would take me as long as it did to complete. Part of that was the fact that I was also doing this as a school project, so most of it was done in class. Looking back on it, it wasn't really all that difficult a job to do. I know this was a simple project, and I have no delusions as to my skills, talent, or ability - I'm still a beginner, and I know that. I do know, however, that I can now move on to other, more complex projects, and have confidence that I can finish them. I also know where to find help if I should need it. Trust me, with a little patience and the right tools, you can do this.

The hardest part of doing this project was the sewing. I had done upholstery before, as I used to upholster dental chairs in a factory, but I had never run a sewing machine before. It's intimidating at first, but it can be mastered. The three most important things are practice, practice, and more practice. Learn how the machine works, how to thread it, how to wind and install the bobbins, and how to change the presser feet and needles. Then just get some scrap materials and sew. Learn to sew straight lines as well as curves. Draw lines on your material and learn how to follow them. While it's difficult at first to sew a straight line, I had more trouble with my corners. It's all about practice. You'll catch on, and you'll see it's actually pretty fun.

Some of the sewing on this seat could probably have been done on a home machine, but not all of it. The thread, vinyl, foam, and cloth are thicker than what a home machine was designed for, and at times I was sewing through several layers of those materials - a lot more than a home machine can handle. My advice is to find a used, industrial, walking-foot machine (preferably one that will reverse for lockstitching,) and learn how to use it. Check the auction sites, garage sales, online stores, and local sewing machine repair shops that specialize in industrial walking-foot machines. Bargains are out there - I've seen several for less than $500.

The big puckers on the driver's side front corner were a result of me rushing things, and not making the proper relief cuts in the vinyl as I sewed the boxing to the insert. Because of that, the vinyl stretched just enough that the corner is actually too big to fit the foam properly. Steam and manipulation has taken a lot of that out, but it's still very obvious that not all is well. Lesson learned - slow down and do it right.

To sum up, I have a total of $160 in the seat, including vinyl, fabric, scrim, thread, consumables (like tailor's chalk, pencils, SEM products and such,) and tools I had to buy to finish it. By comparison, my instructor told me an upholstery shop would have charged between $375 and $500 for the same job, depending on a few variables. I also have about 40 hours of labor in it. I know a pro can do a bench seat like this a LOT faster than I did, and with a LOT fewer man-hours involved, but remember that it was a class project as well as my first project, so I couldn't do it all at once. I was also learning the entire process as I went along, and that would slow ANYONE down. I also know that I won't have to buy those tools again for the next seat, but I included them to give you a rough idea as to what doing something like this would cost should you want to try it yourself. Those tools make up about $30 of the total cost. Obviously, the cost of the sewing machine, school provided supplies, the Seat-a-lator Dan graciously sent to me, and my class tuition isn't included.

I'd like to thank DanTwoLakes - not only for his contribution of the Seat-a-lator, but for all of the long-distance help, guidance, advice, and encouragement he gave me. I'm serious when I say I couldn't have done it without him. Thank you very much, Dan. If there's one thing that you've taught me, it's that I can do this.

Picture 1: Before. This seat was nasty. The cover was stained and torn, the foam inside the pleating on the passenger's side was soaked with oil, the foam under the rip on the driver's side was deteriorated and crumbling, and it just generally gave me the creeps. I had my doubts, and really believed that it might be beyond salvage.

Picture 2: The finished seat, ready to be installed. I'm very pleased that the pleats lined up very well. That was the part I sweated the most. I basically copied the pleating pattern of the original and eliminated the welt, using a Lap Fell (or Topstitch) seam instead. I also changed the color of the plastic parts using SEM products as well as changing the color of the vinyl and fabric. The truck this seat belongs to is the parts donor for my GMC project, which I'm still gathering parts and tools for, so it's not going back in. I was going to sell it, but I'm now going keep it, and make a frame for it to use it as a garage sofa instead - that's why I didn't sew the seatbelt grommets into the cover and install new seatbelts. One has to have a place to sit and cogitate over their next project, and this will do just fine.

Picture 3: Just another shot of the finished project. That big pucker not withstanding, I'm very pleased with the overall appearance of it. Thanks for following along. I hope this will encourage you to give this a try. It's really quite satisfying to look at the finished product and know you can do it yourself. You'll quickly begin to understand why upholstery is so expensive when you see what all is involved. It's a lot more than just a bit of vinyl and some staples.

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  [Entry #52]

02-16-2008 01:39 PM The Chevy Bench Seat - Part 51
The first step of final assembly was to corral all of the hardware and find a large enough table to do the assembly. I did this at home, so that meant setting up my folding table in my wife's craft room again.

Over the years I've spent too many hours/days searching for hardware and such when I forgot which jar, tub, or can I put it in, or where I put that jar, tub, or can. To cure that problem, I went out and got one of those cheap little cabinets with plastic drawers in it - the kind for storing screws, nails, nuts, bolts, and such. Now when I take something apart, I drop the hardware into separate drawers, and include a note in the drawer that describes what the hardware is from, and where it goes. I can't tell you how much easier this system is when it's time go put something back together. Not only was all the hardware together, but I had all the right side hardware separate from the left side. That eliminated the need to stand there scratching my head trying to remember which bolt went where.

Picture 1: Attaching the seat back to the bottom. I laid the back on top of the bottom as if the back were folded forward, and located the proper holes in the frame. With those holes located, I cut a slit in the vinyl, just big enough for the bolt to pass through, directly over the hole, then inserted the bolt and tightened it down. That's all there is to it. I know - there are a couple of wicked puckers on that front corner. More on that later.

Picture 2: The corner caps were installed next. I touched up the screws with a bit of flat black spray paint, then baked the paint on in the oven after it had dried to cure it.

Picture 3: The seat adjustment track was installed next, including hog ringing the cable to the frame along the front edge. With this, the seat is finished, and ready to be installed in the truck.

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  [Entry #51]

02-15-2008 07:15 PM The Chevy Bench Seat - Part 50
With all the hog rings installed on both the seat bottom and back, the job is almost done. All that's left to do is to steam the corners and work out any wrinkles and puckers, attach the back to the bottom, install the corner caps, and install the adjustment track.

Picture 1: The finished seat bottom, puckers, wrinkles, and all. A bit of steam and persuasion will work these out.

Picture 2: The finished seat back - ditto on the puckers and wrinkles here too.

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  [Entry #50]

02-15-2008 07:12 PM The Chevy Bench Seat - Part 49
With the J-channel installed and a couple of hog rings holding the cover on in the front, it was just a matter of pulling the cover tight and hog ringing it into place. Start in the center of the front of the seat, and work your way down the sides, and around to the back, pulling the cover tight, and working out as many wrinkles and puckers as you can. Skip around a bit - meaning that you should install a hog ring in every second or third slot, and go back and forth from one side of center to the other. Doing this will insure that the cover isn't pulled too far to the left or right side of the seat bottom, making the finished cover appear to be off-center.

Once the cover was firmly attached on all four sides, I went back and installed all of the hog rings in the remaining places where they're needed. I left one hog ring out along the front edge of the frame. If you remember, the cable for the seat adjusting track passed through it, and I have to install that track before I can put that hog ring in. This whole operation took about 15 minutes - not including the time I had to wait for the steamer to warm up.

The seat back was even easier to do. I turned the cover right side out, then just slipped it over the seat back. The bottom of the cover, along both the back and front of the cover, has listing wires that are hog ringed to the frame. Start in the center of the listing on the back of the cover first, and work your way outward along both sides of center until the cover is pulled tightly. Then go back and fill in any missing hog rings. Then go back and do the front of the cover the same way.

Picture 1: Hog rings installed, and ready to go. Notice that I'm installing them in such a way that the ring circles the listing and the frame. If you don't capture the listing and just put the ring through the vinyl, the vinyl will rip loose and flop in the breeze. Install the hog rings wherever you find a slot in the frame - they're there for a reason.

Picture 2: These slots along the inside edge of the frame are the slots you're looking for. On this frame, there were about 24 of them, spaced along the front and side edges of the frame. Some frames don't have slots like this, and instead rely on you to attach the hog rings directly to the frame or spring wires. Hopefully you took lots of pictures of the seat before you stripped the old cover off to help you locate where new hog rings should go.

Picture 3: Installing hog rings along the bottom edge of the seat back. Secure the cover in place in the center of the back panel, then skip around from left to right until the back of the cover is completely fastened. Keep the listings pulled tight, but straight, evening out the cover laterally, and working out any wrinkles or puckers as you go. Then go back and do the front of the cover the same way.

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  [Entry #49]

02-15-2008 07:06 PM The Chevy Bench Seat - Part 48
Back to seats themselves. With the covers sewn and the frames assembled, it's time to pull the covers over the foam and frames, and then hog ring them into place. This is pretty straightforward. I laid the seat bottom cover, turned inside out, over the seat bottom, then started gently folding it over the edges of the foam, applying a bit of steam here and there, and working slowly. It is very easy to rip the cover at this point if you pull a piece in the wrong direction, so do be careful to pull along the seam. If the vinyl still feels too tight, apply a bit more steam. I don't have any pictures of the steaming process, as it's a job for both hands, and once you start, you can't stop to take pictures. Suffice to say that I basically steamed all of the corners, one at a time, then pulled them over the foam and frame.

Once I had the cover pulled over the seat bottom, I turned the whole thing over, and put a couple of hog rings in the front. Then I turned to the J-channel in the back, and attached it to the frame. There's no secret to getting it slipped over the frame - you just have to work at it. Once the J-channel was attached, I moved back to the front and sides of the seat, pulling the vinyl tight to work out any wrinkles and puckers, then hog ringed it into place. Each seat is different, and the number of hog rings needed will depend on the frame, as well as the vinyl. Some newer seats don't even use hog rings, relying instead on J-channels and something that resembles industrial-strength Velcro.

Picture 1: The hog ring pliers with a hog ring in them, and ready to use. These pliers belong to the school, so I need to get a set of my own. I do have a pair for putting the hog rings on chain-link fencing, but they're not the same. They'll work in a pinch, but they're not the preferred tool for the job. The pliers used in fencing are made to fit the heavier gauge of the galvanized hog rings used. As I said, they'll work in a pinch, but they're not the preferred tool.

Picture 2: This is what an installed hog ring should look like. It's crimped shut enough to secure the vinyl to the seat frame, but it's not crimped all the way closed. There needs to be a little bit of give in the vinyl, and the rings need to be able to move around in their slots if need be.

Picture 3: The J-channel installed on the back of the frame. Do yourself a favor and mark the frame as to where the J-channel goes when you take it off during initial disassembly. When you go to put the new cover on, you might not remember exactly where it goes, and there might be a few places that look like they're likely candidates. A paint pen or sliver Sharpie will do the trick.

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  [Entry #48]

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