Build Your Own Custom Leather Motorcycle Seat
Whether you have a sick chopper, vintage Schwinn, or are just curious to get your hand stained with some leather working 101, you may find these tips and tool suggestions helpful. Enjoy!
- Biltwell Slimline Solo Seat, raw pan with foam
- 4-5oz Vegetable tanned leather: leather is pricey and sold by the hide. You can also check a local shop for smaller scrap pieces
- Spray Adhesive (I use an upholstery adhesive, but any quick tack spray will work)
- 1/2 yard Muslin: inexpensive cotton used for patterning, available at any fabric store (any scrap fabric on hand will work).
- Tailors chalk (or a marker)
- leather blade (or an exacto knife)
- leather punch (or an awl)
- Sharp scissors
- Rivet Gun
- Rivets: Aluminum, size 1/8 medium
- Flat Washers: SAE zinc #8
- Dye Sponge (these are denser than household sponges)
- Leather Dye (water based)
- Leather Finish (matte)
- Dish (for water based dye, anything will work)
- Garbage Bag
- Clean Rag
- Attach foam to seat pan using a light coat of spray adhesive.
- Cover seat with muslin. Stretch tightly over seat.
- Using tailor’s chalk, trace the edge where the seat pan meets the foam.
- Lay muslin flat.
- Make a second line on muslin pattern, 1.5” out from your seat edge line, to allow enough leather to wrap over the seat to the back. THIS is your pattern cut line.This will give you enough material to wrap around the seat to secure it using rivets.
- Transfer muslin pattern to a clean, unblemished piece of leather. Cut leather. Remember, leather is expensive, measure twice, cut once!
- Soak the cut leather in the sink until it is soft and pliable (a minute or two).
- Blot dry with a towel. You want it damp, not dripping. The leather will now be completely maleable to the seat pan form.
- Spray a light coat of adhesive on the seat foam, and stretch the leather over the foam. Make sure you have an even amount of excess leather on all sides. Turn seat upside down (from this point on, place a clean towel under the seat to avoid stains).
- Mark (on the backside of the leather) the center rivet hole at the back end of the seat. Using a leather punch, make a hole the same size as the hole in the seat pan. Place a flat washer on the outside of the leather.
- Line up the washer, leather and seat pan hole and secure with a rivet.
- Flat washers are used to prevent the leather from tearing as the leather dries and shrinks.
- Once the back center rivet is in place, stretch leather across the seat foam, and secure a flat washer and rivet the front of the seat. Continue on, stretching.
- (don’t strong arm it, but rather smooth it from side to side) securing rivets around the seat in a criss cross pattern (top to bottom, left to right, etc).
- Wheh. Leather attached! Spray a small amount of adhesive between each rivet.
- Using the rubber mallet, tap the leather flat all the way around the seat pan. As the seat dries, it will retain the shape you are molding now.Smooth the leather flat at the seat front.
- Fold the leather over from each side towards the rivet and tap as flat as possible.
- Cut along the pencil line using a sharp blade.
- Make light cuts and go over them several times, so as not to scratch the seat pan. Ok. You’re 90% done. The seat is covered!
- I mark all of my seats with my awesome custom Via Meccanica company logo (thanks Greaser Mike!). Even though you would tool leather first, while it’s flat, and then stretch it over the seat pan, this tiny 1” stamp is easy enough to tap into the seat pan once I am completely sure of where I want it to hit. Custom stamps can be purchased online. I got mine from the nice people at Steel Stamps.
Part 3: Time to dye!
- Cut a piece of scrap leather. Put on gloves (this dye is meant to stain leather, dig) and cover your work area with the garbage bag. Using a sponge, dampen the leather evenly with water.
- Apply the water based dye in a quick circular motion. Water based dyes are meant to soak into the leather, not wiped away immediately. Continue in a circular motion until the entire seat is covered evenly. Let your test piece dry.
- Buff the leather with a soft, clean rag. Apply an even coat of leather finish, also in a circular motion and let dry. Buff again. Let the piece dry entirely.
Corinna Mantlo runs Via Meccanica, a Brooklyn based custom Bike & hot rod upholstery shop. When not slaving away at the shop, she hosts a weekly, free film series Cine Meccanica; is the founder and organizer of the infamous Booze & Yarn free knitting class, and blogs simple living tips over at Happy Homesteader Magazine.
While it’s not making her a millionaire any time soon, she has always taught and supported DIY.