Saturday, May 9, 2015

Seats Repaired While You Wait

 Seat cushions in these old cars often need new covering material (agasote, naugahyde, whatever) but usually the rest of the structure is OK.  And it's not too hard to remove the old material and attach a new covering; I've done it quite often in my workshop.  But last year we discovered one in the 309 with a broken transverse slat that could not easily be fixed, and it was replaced with a spare.  Inspired by the example of Tim Peters rebuilding much longer seat backs and cushions for the 24, I hopefully decided to scrap it for parts, and see just how these Hale & Kilburn cushions were assembled.  It turns out to be a more complicated design than I had thought. 

Before we start, the underside of a cushion looks like this.  The far side is cracked in the middle, and there are some other defective crosspieces and springs.  But this gives you a good idea of the general structure.  Removing the new (c. 1985) naugahyde for reuse is simple though time-consuming.  Underneath that, there is a layer of felt and horsehair, easily removed.  After that it gets hairy.

Next the wooden frame is disassembled.  There are five spring assemblies with five springs each.  The springs along each edge are attached to the transverse slats with staples, and these have to be pried up to fold the slats back.  Now the wood pieces are held together only by two layers of canvas, nailed and glued.  Much of the canvas is pretty weak.

 The springs look like this (still upside down).  The end is bent over and goes into a hole in the slat, then stapled somehow.  I am not really sure how they attached all those staples to a completed frame.  The top end of the spring is riveted to a metal plate for each assembly. 

When the seat is turned over, we need to remove two layers of canvas with some more horsehair in between.  On top of each plate is a layer of burlap, and then along both sides there is a strange assembly of little pieces of wood glued to canvas, and held in place by the rivets to the tops of the springs. I'm amazed by how many steps there are to the construction, and how many man-hours it must have taken to make each one.

The inescapable conclusion is that it's a waste of time to scrap any of these seats for parts, because the whole frame would have to be disassembled just to replace something.  Luckily, we have a good supply of extra seat cushions (and backs), most of which, from car 300, we bought from Mid-Continent a couple of years ago.

Here we have a stationary corner seat from the 319 that obviously needs repair before we can put it back into service. It's one of those patched with duct tape back during the Red Green era.

Fortunately the structure appears to be fine; as usual, only the covering was failing.

So all the little tacks are removed.  The wood is basically good, but the corners often start to split a little, so I apply some epoxy to hold them together firmly for the new tacks or staples.  And the naugahyde from the walkover cushion above can be reused.

Since I have a nice new staple gun, and that's what the pros use nowadays, the material is stapled.  A few tacks are needed at the corners.  There's remarkably little material left over from cutting down a two-person walkover to a single corner seat.

And the finished product looks like this.


Anonymous said...

Are you now a professional seat cover replacement expert - Metra should could use someone in their upholstery shop?

Randall Hicks said...

We actually do have upholstery experts to handle the great variety of seat coverings in use on different types of cars, but I'm not one of them. John McKelvey, for instance, does this sort of work every day, mostly for the steam coaches. And Tim has done an excellent job in completely rebuilding the 15' long pieces for the 24. But sorry, Metra will just have to fend for themselves.