Leather car steering wheel and shift boot/knob

Picture of Leather car steering wheel and shift boot/knob
Given that I drove the same car for over 10 years, certain parts are getting a little worn around the edges. For instance, my shift boot is a piece of vinyl. It's been coming apart at the seams and started to get annoyingly stiff up around the neck. I've started to look for replacement leather shift boots, and as expected found tons of them all over the Internet. I picked out ones that specifically claimed to fit my car, but then it occurred to me that it may not fit right. I don't use the OEM shift knob and the original boot never cinched at the neck right for my shift knob anyway. So a pre-made shift boot may fit well to not too good ugly. Given that most likely, I'll need to modify ones that are premade, why not just sew one together myself. Just need to cut and stick together 4 pieces of material. How hard could it be?

Well, that single question to myself started this whole leather thing, and I eventually ended up with a leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel in addition to the original project, the shift boot. I have never thought about a leather steering wheel, and my plastic wheel was just fine, however most cars today at least have leather as an option for the steering wheel. So figure why the hell not.

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures while doing the boot and shift knob, but those where easy compared to putting together the steering wheel.
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ccuneo1 month ago

Hi Cohn! Great tutorial and awesome result! I need to ask you a question, i made my design in four pieces, and as you i made the cuts, where a piece meets the other piece, round, to make the inner shorter than the outer side of the design. But i need your help in knowing how much shorter should it be.



COHN (author)  ccuneo1 month ago

I think I wrapped a scrap piece of leather around a part of the steering wheel and tied a string around it. Then tugged on the leather until I was happy with how it sat and marked where the string intersected the leather. Think this should give you the cut you need no matter the size of the wheel or the consistency of the leather.

agis686 months ago

this is great instructable thanks for sharing

nhickey1 year ago
Hi Cohn.. This instructable made me sign up to say what an awesome job you did! I'm going to give it a go on my Hilux. I'm guessing it's essential to take the steering wheel off, would I be right?.. I'd probably prefer not to if I can help it. Excellent job tho!
COHN (author)  nhickey9 months ago

Not sure if you tried doing it yet, but I would say you can do it while leaving the steering wheel on, but it's definitely easier to position the wheel then to position yourself while sewing the wrap on.

Sarek4 years ago
Awesome write up! I currently have an S2k that I was going to send out the wheel and knob to get custom red and black leather to match my door panels. I'm now contemplating doing it myself!

I'm very grateful to have found this instructable. How has the stitch held up these past few yrs?

Thanks again for the drawing, that made things much clearer and easy to understand. I've already copied into my pic file (if you didn't mind).

Great job. I'm going to go practice sewing now :D

COHN (author)  Sarek4 years ago
Hey, I’m glad people have found this process useful.

Because I used a regular sewing machine, I could only use “heavy duty” upholstery sewing machine thread, which is not the same as actual upholstery thread. It’s not as thick and therefore, probably not as strong. However, because it’s thinner, it actually sits into the leather more. Plus the inside of the wheel probably don't get as much wear as the outside.

I’m happy to report that there’s no fraying or problems with the stitching since finishing the wrap.

Good Luck if you're going to try it.
I have a suggestion for another thread that might be better in the long-term. While upholstery thread is great for many applications, I would recommend using a UV thread for long-term durability if it will be exposed to frequent sunlight. It is a step up, offering more protection against UV rays, and should last quite a bit longer before sun rot becomes an issue. It's used in outdoor applications such as tents, boat covers, sails, and awnings. You can find it in a variety of weights, some of which will work nicely with a normal sewing machine, and some meant for a heavier machine. It is a more expensive thread, but may well be worth the investment, so your stitching doesn't deteriorate before it's time.
COHN (author)  Jamie Marie1 year ago
That's interesting, I've not aware of these threads. I was only able to find black nylon at a local fabric shop. What kind of store sells these? I was trying to find heavier weight furniture upholstery thread but only saw it online. Didn't want to order something that might not work with a regular sewing machine. I even had issues finding a leather sewing machine needles. Actually the blue thread is for wrapping guides on fishing poles so have no concerns with it discoloring nor has it, but it can't be used on the sewing machine. It would untwist from the friction while pulling through the leather, stitching by hand was okay.
You can get the UV thread from a company called Sailrite, as well as standard size leather needles. (A lot of places sell the thread besides this one company, but they've got good info on their site to help you decide what you need.) They have info on each of their thread descriptions about what size needle should be used with it, as well as fabric weights, so you should be able to determine if you can use it on your machine. I don't have first-hand experience in this area, as I use my industrial machine for leather, rather than one of my standard ones.

I hadn't considered discoloration of the thread when I suggested this thread, though that would be important. What I was thinking of was the strength and integrity of the thread over time. For someone who parks in a garage most of the time, I shouldn't think it would matter too much, but if the car is sitting in the sun much, it might be worth spending a bit more on the thread, so all the hard work put into it will last longer.
Sarek COHN4 years ago
Thanks for the update, I will also be using a regular sewing machine for the project. I'll let you know when I get a chance to finish. Thanks again for posting!
markey19791 year ago
I know this is old news, but I would just like to say thanks. Your finished product looks awesome. I am a civic man myself, but Preludes are cool too. I actually like your body style better than the later ones....
tinker2343 years ago
wow very nice i was wondering were do you buy raw leather
It's amazing what a fine job you did on your first attempt.
COHN (author)  Ricardo Furioso3 years ago
thanks man!

appreciate it.
Closer4 years ago
I wonder how a callous plane might work for the skiving,
COHN (author)  Closer4 years ago
That's a good idea, it just needs to be sharp. I noticed that the softer the leather, the sharper the knife has to be.
Closer COHN4 years ago
Yes. The thing I am thinking of may be better know as a corn plane. The blades it uses are minature razor blades so they are very sharp.
COHN (author)  Closer4 years ago
Sounds like it should work fine. If you do get around to trying it, let us know how it goes.
PITKINH4 years ago
If you use fabric to make the pattern, instead of paper, it will be more exact.
ProfJunieB5 years ago
Excellent!  Thank you for the time and effort to put this up.  Especially for the illustration on the final stitching.  I'm working on walker and cane handle covers and this helps beyound measure!  Thank you.

By the way, this is the only comment I have ever made in the many years as an Instructable viewer.
jmt31288!5 years ago
all i have to say is wow dude..... wow. i need to know how did you stitch the leather again?
COHN (author)  jmt31288!5 years ago
Sorry, should have actually took a video of this, it is kindda hard to describe. I'm attaching a higher res pict of step 7, it's a little clearer. Let me know how this work out.
jmt31288! COHN5 years ago
no i think a vid would work better cause i tried it and i am confused by it
COHN (author)  jmt31288!5 years ago
I didn't know that my picture would get resampled, otherwise you would have been able to zoom in to see the details. Anyway, did a sketch that should clear things up. Have you already used a sewing machine to put a row of stitching on both sides of the seams?
stitch pattern.jpg
vadios COHN5 years ago
This picture makes everything clear! thanks ;) 
jmt31288! COHN5 years ago
OHHHHHHH so you needle thread on eather side like over under, then you thread between the thread that you threaded over and under between the over thread. so the thread that is outside the leather connects the two threads like a chain linked fence.
whiteoakart5 years ago
If this is your first leather wrap job, you have been quite successful. The finished wheel looks great. I am an automotive interior designer and I have seen less professional pieces come out of production studios. What experience do you have that helped you pattern the leather?
COHN (author)  whiteoakart5 years ago
Thanks for the complement. I was actually a little bummed it didn’t turned out perfect. Now that you mentioned other works you’ve seen, it kindda hit me that it could have turned out a lot worst. I’ve used a sewing machine once before. I made this reinforced slip holder for an expensive camera lens filter. That probably help, other than that, I just took a practice run with scraps in each step before doing the final piece(s). During the whole process, I knew the leather needed to be tight on the wheel. Driving would be annoying if the leather slips and slides. Sounds like you have a fun job, you work for a shop or a car company?
I work for a small engineering firm, Griswold Engineering.  We contract out to car companies and other manufacturers.  It is a pretty fun job.

How did you know to use this particular stitch on the steering wheel?  I am amazed you were able to pull this off so well.  You must have a very good sense of how things are made.  I know you are new to Instructables.  Do you make a lot  of things by hand?

COHN (author)  whiteoakart5 years ago
Sounds like you have a job that some would kill for.  I’m an architect by trade, suppose I’m a tinkerer during my free time.  I do have and use a bunch of stuff I’ve made, unfortunately have even a bigger bunch of stuff that is half made.  I’ve been looking to get into electronics and welding perhaps one day and Instructables is just an awesome place to find peoples sharing project like these and then some.

Did some research, actually was trying to find the way MOMO did their butt seam, with no visible stitches. No luck, so I’ve settled on the weave. I suspect they just glue it, but didn't trust my gluing to hold up.  I actually came across an article on a long time ago showing a pro re-leathering a wheel using this stitch. Then I worked backwards and figured out the steps needed to achieve the weave.
rwdavis05 years ago
Very Nice Job! I have been thinking of what to do with the cracked and rather shoddy steering wheel on the 1965 Austin Healy Sprite that is my never ending project car - now I know how to recover it in style. Thanks.
I like how you added something in there like the thumb rests, not really for me, but something custom.
Jiffilude5 years ago
yeah its pretty pricy to put a s2k on it and they run upwards of 250. but right now im redoing the crappy center console that came with mine (its a 93) so you might see an instructable for it in the coming month P.S. the guys on preludeonline would love this, i dont think there has ever been a thread about redoing the stock wheel, there has been one about someone who will do it for $$ but not a DIY one.
COHN (author)  Jiffilude5 years ago
Look forward to see how your console comes out, hope it turns out spiffy. Maybe I'll throw a thread in that group, not sure on how many will actually do this, kindda tedious, at least the way I’ve done it. By wrapping the whole wheel, except the airbag, probably took twice the planning and time as just doing the wheel by itself. To me, it wouldn’t look as good otherwise.
Jiffilude5 years ago
wow that looks amazing, nice car by the way; i love my prelude. maybe with a little practice i will try this
COHN (author)  Jiffilude5 years ago
Nice to see a fellow luder on this site. I was planning to post this on a prelude forum, but I never got an activation message from that site. There's a bunch of luders out there (esp. 4th gen) that wants a better steering wheel, but don't what to give up the airbag. From what I can find out, only one from an S2000 fits. I even had a momo wheel at one time. Felt good, but no airbag, cruise, or even horns( unless I cut and splice the wire harness).