Suede Seat

Leatherworking can be a fun and relaxing hobby, so I incorporated it into my main hobby, building custom minibikes and motorcycles.

This project is a handmade vintage-style suede seat for a custom minibike, but I've included pics of several more seats I've made to show other types and styles of seats. There are many variations of stitching, lacing, mounting and materials, and they can be combined in a number of ways to create a personal style of one's own.

Pic1- This vintage-style minibike seat begins by cutting a half-inch thick plywood base, sized to compliment the symmetry of the bike it will be mounted on. I painted the wooden base to seal the pores. Foam is then glued to the base with contact adhesive, and excess foam is trimmed away. I use a bandsaw to cut the base, and also to trim the foam, using the plywood base as a guide. Foam density is a personal choice, depending on how soft or firm you want the seat to be. I like to laminate different densities of foam, allowing a firm layer on top that can be shaped or rounded on a bench belt sander. This also allows the seat to better retain it's original shape.

Pic2- On this particular seat, I had forgotten to drill the mounting holes through the base before I glued the foam on. I chose to drill the holes and install the tee nuts without removing the foam, but this is the side the foam should have been glued onto. It still works. In my defense, I make most of my seats with metal bases, and you'll see some of them in later pics.

Pic3- I use several different types of leather, some new, some cut from old jackets or other sources. This alligator skin is near the top of the price range for leather, but there are much cheaper sources. This project uses a new suede welding apron purchased from Harbor Freight. They cost only about $9, and are almost a square yard of decent-quality suede. The garish yellow color fades with age, and softens to a nice buckskin color and feel.

Pic4- I start with side panels, rough-cutting them with scissors and gluing them to the foam with contact adhesive. I use the adhesive soaks through and stains the material if too much is used. The adhesive isn't needed to hold the seat together, only to aid in the construction of the seat. The stitching or lacing added later will keep the seat together.

Pic5- If the base is wooden, and the bottom of the seat won't be in plain view, I use staples to attach the side panels to the base. Other methods will be shown in later pics.

Pic6- I use this brand of contact adhesive for laced or stitched seats. It's only $5 per spray can, but I never use it for seats that need some help from the adhesive to retain their shape. It degrades quickly under heat, such as sunlight hitting the seat for long periods. 3M brand, at twice the cost or more, works much better, but isn't always necessary. This brand does work well for holding the pieces in place during construction, and allows them to be peeled back easily during lacing or stitching. If you've never used contact adhesive before, please read the's temporary or permanent depending upon the drying time you allow, and we want temporary when using it to make a laced seat.

Pic7- I cut and adhere a top piece, then trim all the edges to match evenly. I use scissors, even though many professional leatherworkers and seatmakers say that scissors should never be used to cut leather. They also recommend plastic lacing, because the edges are a high-wear area, and real leather lacing as shown in the photo wears out quickly and stretches. I always use leather laces, and never plastic. There are ways around the wear and stretch problem, and they'll be shown in later pics. A small prong-type electrical connector crimped to the end of the lace acts like a needle, and greatly speeds up the lacing process. I also use a small needle-nose pliers.

Pic8- Leather punches come in a variety of styles and quality. I use a very good quality rotary punch because I make a lot of seats and vary the size of the lacing, so the different sizes contained on one tool is handy. I went for quality because if this tool gets dull, it's a nightmare to use. Leather is very resistant to of the reasons it makes such a good seat material.

This pic also shows underlayment...strips of material under every seam to hide the interior of the seat that may be seen through the punched holes. Underlayment can also be used to subtly contour the seat. This seat has a 1" strip down the center that slightly raises the top piece up to form a stripe. Designs such as maltese crosses can also be cut out and underlain to subtly show through as a raised area if desired. These designs can also be stitched or laced onto the outer skin if a bolder look is desired. I personally don't do it, but it is popular.

Pic9- I punch a few inches and lace as I go along...hand punches can cramp your forearm if you're not used to using them frequently. I try for holes evenly spaced, located directly across from each other. Spacing depends on the size of the lacing material used, and the amount of lace I want to be seen. I sometimes vary the lacing pattern, as seen here...this saddle starts off with a double-lace cross pattern up the front seam, and then the two separate laces that were used to create this starting pattern are separated, one sent down each side to form a single rolling lace. There are a tremendous number of lacing patterns...I like the simple ones because I sometimes re-lace due to wear.

Pic10- I rejoined the laces running down the sides to form another cross pattern in the back, matching the front. The cinches I use to hold the laces together can be seen here. These are copper cable cinches from Ace Hardware. I never use knots when using real leather lacing. The cinches allow me to tighten the lacing as the saddle breaks in, and re-lace any areas that wear out. I usually pre-stretch the laces and soften them with mink oil before lacing. A cinch on the side is where I chose to start a new piece of lace...the 6ft bootlaces I used weren't quite long enough to finish the saddle in one go.
The little minibike seat featured in the project took about 4 hours to complete, and the material cost was roughly $20.

Here's some others...

Pic1- Here's a similiar seat being made by a 17 year-old for his modified 1964 Fox Campus. He's also stretched the frame and made a springer front fork for this bike.

Pic2- This seat is similiar, except the seat base is metal. This bike is tiny, and the training wheels really function.

Pic3- This is a sprung bobber style seat with a metal seat pan. The bottom of the seat is leather also, because it can be easily seen.

Pic4- Suede motorcycle seat made from an old jacket. The seat pan is fiberglass, a kit from an auto parts store. The pan was molded around the frame of the bike, and sits inside molded fiberglass bodywork also done to this bike at the same time.

Pic5- Same seat mounted on the bike. The gas tank and rear fender were molded with fiberglass to contain the seat. No mounting just drops in place. Yes, this is the second seat made for this bike...someone stole the first one. If you're in a Tiki bar in the Florida Keys and you see a guy with this seat sitting on the bar next to him, say'll be my youngest son.
Kenny and I met in Joliet...we both took the leatherworking course so we would have a skill other than burglary. We've both made a few seats since parole, but we still enjoy hooking up a chain to the burglar bars on the back of a pool hall, and yanking those suckers off. Kenny goes in and steals all the 8 balls for his collection, and I load up the burglar bars to chop up for minibike parts.

Think I'm kiddin'?