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Author Topic: Stitcherbob's Upholstery Tips 1-10  (Read 974 times)


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Stitcherbob's Upholstery Tips 1-10
« on: September 03, 2015, 12:33:18 AM »

Upholstery tip #1
To color your vinyl or plastic interior parts, I like 2 products:
SEM vinyl color spray and Surflex by Colorplus. Sem is a MEK solvent base and I use it for everything from hard plastic to leather. But it is nasty to smell and can blush (turn cloudy) in humid weather. Colorplus is an amazing water based coating that can be brushed or sprayed. Believe it or not, brushing some pieces is actually better than spraying! The brushstrokes go away and the part can be rubbed to a slight sheen when cured. The water base also means low odor & overspray. Sem is available in pro body shop supply houses, while Colorplus has to be ordered custom mixed from the manufacturer. Also, Colorplus has a limited shelf life and costs more, but it really performs!

At the restoration shop I subcontract for they use Fasco staplers, 3/8" crown round wire staples that don't break when you pull them out. There is a large supply of different sizes of staples at my supplier, Active Foam (800-728-4567) or on the web. I'm going to try to match the Sears size with one of theirs. BTW, they have an excellent supply of foam rubber from which you can get the densities and thicknesses to rebuild your padding (the only place I'll buy from!)

Upholstery tip #2
For clean-edged tears in soft vinyl, pull the tear together with 1/8"-1/4" wide strips of tape (I like the neon green 3M masking tape-very good adhesion) spaced out like "Frankenstein" stitches. Then, apply a vinyl cement like VLP to the exposed edges of the tear. When this cures you can remove some of the strips and repeat the process until the whole tear is gone. The VLP works like PVC cement on pipes- it melts the vinyl. So you want the smallest amount needed to do the job or you will have a wavy mess. The VLP comes with a applicator tip which is better than the others I've used, and it dries clear. I also use this to repair the piping that always comes off the side of your seat.

Upholstery tip #3
I use a lot of adhesives in the upholstery business: contact cements, urethanes, krazy glues, epoxies, etc. But I recently heard about a new "cyanoepoxy" on an ESPN auto program called CoolChem. I ordered a sample pack and was amazed It is very useful for things you would use epoxy for, with the speed of the krazy glues. It is only available on the web at, and consists of the glue and a spray activator that mists on the wet edge of the bond and sets it immediately! The activator has acetone in it, so I spray it on a small screwdriver and drip it onto the bond if the item would be damaged by it. This product has replaced krazy glue for me!

Upholstery tip #4
Not all vinyls are the same! Those available at places like the Rag Shop are low quality. For automotive use, you need to get the right stuff from automotive suppliers like Spradling, Legendary and Naugahyde. Legendary stocks a lot of original Chrysler grains. Other types are usually sold for hot rods and custom work under names like Mellohide or Rave (an amazing leather replacement). My suppliers, Active Foam, Bill Hirsch, Veteran, and Burch Supply all sell nice vinyls. Prices vary, and the rise in oil prices have affected vinyl and foam rubber costs across the board. The addition of urethanes and collagens to vinyl have taken it from the hard stuff in our older Mopars to rival leather in feel and wear resistance.

Upholstery tip #5
Comfortable seats start with a good base. This seems to be lacking in many cars, which can only lead to one thing-duct tape! To beef up the seats, you must take them down to the bare frames. Then after inspecting the springs and making any repairs, stretch a piece af burlap (sagless burlap is best, but you can glue two pieces of regular together) across the springs. Pull tight and hog ring it to the outer wire frame or onto the springs. Keep it tight! If it is difficult to attach to the base due to it's design, you can sew or glue strong listing wires into the edges of the burlap and hang it like curtain rods from the springs, bridging across the gaps and use less hog rings. Then you glue your foam cushions onto this base. This keeps the springs from cutting into the foam. If your seats need some lift, glue a 1 inch thick layer of good foam between the burlap and your molded foam. You can also cover your molded foam with a layer of 1/4" to 1/2" thick foam to puff it up a little. Dacron on top helps with removing wrinkles in the covers. The magic trick is STEAM ! It puffs old, collapsed foam back up and makes the vinyl soften up and snuggle down into place when shot into the underside of the covers. We use industrial pressure steamers, but I've been wondering if these steam cleaners they sell on late night infomercials could work.

Upholstery tip #6
A light mist of silicone spray on your seat foam will help you pull the upholstery covers on. This is almost mandatory when trying to re-use covers that have shrunken or turned hard after being on the seats for years. You can also use a plastic garbage bag, slit up one side, slipped over the cushions to let the covers slip, and rip the bag away when finished.

Upholstery tip #7
To fix hard vinyl items with foam under them, such as dash pads and door armrests, you can inject hot melt glue into the cracked area and saturate the foam. This allows you to press the repair area down lower than the surface. When the glue cools and cures, you have a depression (similar to a dent in sheetmetal) to be filled. Sand the area with 80 grit sandpaper to roughen for adhesion. Then fill the dent with flexible bumper repair epoxy, such as 3M (I like theirs because it sands easy) and smooth out. Sand this down flush and spot prime with SEM flexible primer/surfacer. To restore the grain, you can spray the primer again and when it is almost dry, press a piece of vinyl with a similar grain into the soft prime. When you pull the vinyl back it should come clean and leave an imprint. If it pulls the paint off, wipe with lacquer thinner and try again. If the imprint is too light, try pressing harder or respray the primer and repeat. Then spray the part with SEM vinyl dye to finish. Or you can have the repaired item recovered by a company like Just Dashes.

Upholstery tip #8
If molded foam is not yet available for your seats, here's how to make it yourself. First, you need an accurate cross-section of your old foam. This can be cut from a section of the seat that received less wear, or measured from someone else's foam if you are lucky enough. To measure foam that is too nice to cut up, put it on a table and stick a 6-10" long needle or welding rod through the foam in key locations to measure the depth and write it down on a piece of paper with a drawing of the cushion for reference. Use this to create a template out of cardboard or masonite. Next, obtain some medium firm polyurethane foam planks. The foam should be no thicker than 4", as this can be cut on most bandsaws or with an electric carving knife. Trace the shape of the cross-section onto the foam many times ( like cutting cookies out of dough ) laying them out to keep waste to a minimum. Cut these sections out with a wood cutting blade in the bandsaw or the electric meat carving knife. Be sure to spray the blades with silicone lube to keep the foam from dragging. After all the pieces are cut out ( and maybe some firmer foam for the ends where we always slide on the edge of the seats) spray glue (such as 3M 's #8088 General purpose adhesive) and stack the pieces together like slices of bread to form the cushions. Then trace the overhead view of the seat onto the cushion and trim it to shape. You can round the edges of the cushion with a air sander and 24 grit discs or the carving knife. When the cushion is done, glue burlap or heavy canvas to the bottom. If the seat (usually buckets) has listings that go all the way through the foam, you can slice the foam down to but not through the cloth so you can hog ring to the frame easier when installing the covers. Just follow what the factory did and everything will fit !

Upholstery tip #9
The best glue to use for most upholstery materials is spray contact cement. In our shop, we buy commercial 5 gallon pails of contact cement in spray viscosity and apply it with paint guns. This kind of glue withstands heat and weather better than anything else. The best guns to use are the cheaper Binks and DeVillbis copies usually available at swap meets, auto body supply stores, and tool mail order catalogs. Mine is a $ 59 gravity-feed gun by Husky (Home Depot) and I like it very much. We leave the glue in the guns and clean the tips only when they are clogged. I don't know why, but the name-brand expensive paint guns never work right. The glue is similar to Formica or Weldwood contact adhesives (which I use for brushing), but is thinner. When spraying glue, a narrower pattern and lighter fluid adjustment is necessary for proper coverage. Glue spatters show up through the vinyls as bumps, and can go right through cloth, causing stains. Several light, complete coats on both sides, allowed to dry until tacky is best. To re-position a mistake without ruining your materials, try heating up the area with a heatgun to soften the glue. If you use this glue on foam, go light and don't press too hard or the foam will collapse and permanently stay stuck together. Spray can glue is marginal at best, so we use it to hold things together for sewing, or for glueing foam. On cloth that is just too thin and soaks up the glue, we mist it with 3M Super 77 and spray the base (that's not porous) with the contact cement. These stick together pretty well. If you can't spray the glue or need it it a small area, brush it on with acid brushes and keep them stored in a jar of 1/2 lacquer thinner and 1/2 acrylic enamel reducer. Either of these solvents don't work alone, but together they do - go figure. Clean the tip and parts of the spray gun when they need it by soaking in carb-cleaner (the strong type with the basket in a can) and rinse with water.

Upholstery tip #10
To renew the chrome that is heat-sealed onto door panels, headrests and even the ridges on dash panels, you need a product called BARE METAL FOIL from better hobby shops. This is a self-stick, real metal foil that is so thin it doesn't appear to leave an edge when overlapping pieces. It is on a wax paperboard backing board. First, clean the piece to be chromed. Then fill any digs or sand out any scratches, because they will show through the foil. Then, using a # 11 X-ACTO hobby knife, you cut a strip of BARE METAL foil larger than the area. Then lift the piece off of the backer board with the tip of the knife and apply to the area. Buff it down with a soft cloth (t-shirt material is good) making sure it gets down into all of the detail. Then you trim as close as you can to the edges with the knife. Be careful here- the knife must be very sharp to keep from dragging the foil and so you don't have to press against the door panel to cut it. Otherwise you will have to wait for the "Replacing my door panels" tip !
This foil can be used on headrest bands and dashboards, too. When covering areas that ring around an area, the splice shouldn't be visible because, it's so thin you can lap over the starting point.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2015, 12:36:10 AM by Bob (Stitch) »
They treat me like dirt! I'm better than dirt! Well better than most kinds of dirt. Maybe not as good as store-bought dirt.Thats got nutrients & stuff
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