Introduction: Brooks-like Leather Saddle From Old Mattress Bicycle Seat

UPDATED WITH STEP 10 : EDGE BURNISHING

Beeing a recent owner of a vintage CCM delivery bicycle, I wanted to install a seat / saddle that had some style. Naturally, I headed to the Brooks saddles, since I really like the style of those high quality seats. However, I decided to try to reuse an old mattress seat I had from a another bike, and turn it to a brooks-like saddle !

I couldn't find any tutorial or other instructable for such a rebuild, so I decided to make my first instructable !

If you like what you're seeing, please vote for my instructable in this spring Bicycle contest !

Please excuse my english : I'm not a native english speaker.

Of course, I can't say I was able to replicate the real brooks saddles : they are beautiful pieces of art ! See the passion they put into them :

But I love to make stuff myself... so here we are !
I wouldn't say this is an easy task. I learned and discovered a lot while thinking about the ways to transform this saddle, and it took me quite a lot of time.

I'll go over 9 steps to transform an old mattress seat to a full leather.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

To transform the old mattress seat into a brooks style leather seat, the materials you'll need will vary depending on the seat you'll work with, since each seat is different. I recommend you dismantle and analyze your seat first so you'll know what you need !

Here's what I used :

Materials

  1. Old seat
  2. A piece of cardboard larger than the seat
  3. T-hinge (that's what I used, but you can use any kind of metal plate and cut it so it fits)
  4. T plate (pre drilled or not)
  5. Long bolt, some nuts and some washers
  6. Thick vege tan leather (between 5 to 8oz.). It has to be vegetan leather, so you can mould it.
  7. Copper rivets (available on ebay or any leather specialized shop)
  8. Large pan
  9. Some coffee or other kind of leather stain
  10. Brooks Proofhide or other leather nourishing

Tools
The tools I used are pretty basic :

  1. Many clamps
  2. Hand drill
  3. Hole puncher and rivet setter
  4. Sharp x-acto knife
  5. Hammer
  6. Various common handtools, especially to dismantle the old seat.

Step 2: Dismantle the Seat

By dismantling the seat, you'll get to know it. Take your time and learn how it si built. Even though you'll change the type of support, the better you understand how the seat achieves to support the rider, the better you'll be able to make the leather version.

Don't throw anything away yet... you can still rebuild it if you decide to. Especially, keep the rubber lining of the seat as intact as you can : you'll use it to make the leather one.

At this time, keep all springs in place, since that'll make leather moulding easier.

Step 3: Cut and Form Leather

This is the fun, leather working part ! Vegetan leather is amazing to work with.

Cut the leather

Using the original rubber lining, draw a rough shape of the seat. You'll need to stretch the rubber to make the most realistic shape.

  1. Draw only half of the shape, and add about one inch (or more, especially at the nose) to the shape, to make sure you have enough leather. Leather tends to shrink a bit when forming, and you may even want it to shrink more at the end (see step 8).
    However, if you leave to much leather, the forming will be harder, because the extra material will wrinkle/wave... if this happens to you, remove some material during the forming.
  2. Report the outline on the leather, and cut the shape.

(sorry for the lack of photos here... I guess I was too much into it !)

Form the leather
You could use here many different ways to mould the seat, like using a male-female foam mould, or even by vaccum-moulding it, see step 9 for references. I chose a simple low-tech one.
However, t
he leather forming part is crucial. If I were to do it again (which I might for another seat), I'll try another more precise way of moulding. My "moulding" left some imperfections, but let's say they contribute to the seat personnality !

  1. Pour some room-temperature water in a large pan, large enough for the piece of leather, and let it soak for few minutes.
  2. Gather all the clamps you have. Lots of small ones if possible.
    Notes :
    The clamps may mark the leather, sometimes forever. Using more, smaller, weaker clamps helps avoiding this. You may want to hold the leather on the extra inch you kept.
    You can also use plastic bags that you'll tie around the seat to hold it.
  3. Place the leather on top of the seat frame, and start forming it : first by hand, then hold it with the clamps. Take your time here : the leather is very flexible and stretchable, so work it slowly to achieve the shape you want. Stretch it or compress it where needed.
  4. Pay attention to the sharpest "angles" : at the nose and at the back. I used mostly my hands for the nose, but also a broomstick and a wooden spoon !
  5. Let dry completely (about 1 or 2 days) and regularly check if the shape holds well.

Step 4: Adapt the Frame : Intro

This step is the trickiest one : this is where you might need to be creative depending on the original seat frame. Basically, this is where you turn a spring mattress into a hammock ! I tried to replicate the most well-known leather seats : the Brooks.

The fundamental design of a Brooks saddle is a leather top stretched between a metal "cantle plate" at the rear and a nose piece, to which it is attached with steel or copper rivets. Using a threaded bolt, the nose piece can be moved forward independently of the rails, tensioning the leather. It is important not to over-tension the leather or it may tear, especially at the rivets. Normally the nose bolt should not be adjusted unless the saddle becomes noticeably sagged, in which case it should only be adjusted in fractions of a turn until the top is comfortable again. – From wikipedia

For the backplate, you'd be able to use the original frame, without too many mods, but you'll have to recreate a nose piece.You can find detailed picture of the system online easily (like here, here or here), simply Google "Brooks tension".

Local bike shop (or online) option : fast and not-so-expensive
If you want to save time, and if you're lucky to have a brooks reseller near you, you might want to find out if you can use a brooks nose piece. They come in different shapes, and one may fit your needs.

However, mattress seat usually have a larger nose, that may not allow you to use a Brooks nose piece.

The "real-DIY" option : my way
Since I couldn't be sure that I could find a suitable Brooks nose piece, I went on and built it myself from simple metal parts. Follow the next two steps :

  1. Adapting the nose
  2. Creating the nose piece

Step 5: Adapt the Frame : Adapting the Nose (Tension Shackle)

I had to build the tension shackle. This part :

  • holds the tension pin (the bolt)
  • is where the tension pin "pushes" the nose-piece from

I used a T-hinge I had around, since it was very close to the final shape I wanted : some kind of triangular shape that'd be bent around the frame. Here's what I did :

  1. Cut some groves to be able to fit the piece between the two horizontal rods.
  2. Half-bend the piece
  3. Cut the piece to the desired shape
  4. Insert and give it the final shape
  5. Drill a hole, using the existing hole (on the back of the piece) as a guide. (step not shown)

Step 6: Adapt the Frame : Creating the Nose Piece and Tension Pin

The nose piece-tension pin combination is what allows you to tension the leather. This is necessary for a setting it up, and adjusting the saddle as the leather will get slack after some time. This is how it works :

  • the tension pin is fixed to the nose piece so it cannot rotate
  • by screwing or unscrewing the nut that rests on the tension shackle, the nose piece + tension pin will move forward or backward, to adjust the tension of the leather.

You may want to build your nose piece differently base on the specifications of the seat frame you have.

The nose piece needs to be strong : I used a thick T-plate as a starting point.

  1. Bend the plate to the desired shape (pic 3)
  2. Cut the unneeded parts ans smoothen the edges (pic 4)
  3. Drill the necessary holes (see notes on picture 4... I only had to drill one) :
    - one for the tension pin
    - one on each side, and one atop of the tension pin's one.
  4. Drill two or three (to a larger diameter) nuts that's serve as thick washers, since I figured it could be useful to have some way to better hold the tension pin (the bolt) in place. (pic 5-7)
  5. Put everything into place (see notes, pic 8-10)

Step 7: Attach the Leather

We're almost done !

  1. (pic 1) check if the leather piece fits nicely on the frame and the new nose piece.
  2. (pic 2) drill holes on the back plate, if necessary
  3. (pic 3-5) mark the holes and punch them
  4. (pic 6) I used some screw to temporarily hold the leather to mark the front holes and test the setup and cut the extra leather. Using larger screw could be an alternative to rivets
  5. (pic 7) Set the rivets into place.

ADMIRE YOUR ALMOST FINISHED WORK !

Now all you have to do is stain and nourish the leather.

NOTE 1 : I later added a tension string below the saddle like some original brooks saddles. See step 9 for final images.

NOTE 2 : You may want to burnish the edges before remounting the seat but after staining it. See step 10.

Step 8: Stain and Nourish the Leather

At this step, there are many options. I decided to go for a simple and cheap stain : coffee, and for a simple and not so cheap way to nourish : Brooks Proofhide.

Staining with coffee is a bit long, and won't turn the leather very dark. You'll have to stain it multiple times. You could use shoe polish here too.

NOTE : You may want to burnish the edges before remounting the seat but after staining it. See step 10.

!! Warning !! : if you use warm/hot coffee, your leather will substantially shrink and harden ! You may ruin your seat this way. However, this can be useful if you fear the leather is too slack and the tension pin need to be set almost at its max length.

For nourishing, you can use various products, I figured one of the simplest way would be to use proofhide. You can find alternatives online... but I chose to buy it from my local bike shop !

See Brooks maintenance page : http://www.brooksengland.com/getting-in-touch/faqs...

Step 9: Conclusion + Inspirations and Ressources

There you are ! Adjust the seat, and go ride your bike. The leather will take some time to take its final shape but should become confortable.

I decided to add afterwards a tensioning lace underneath for a more precise fit. This can be easily done using any lace and a hole puncher.

What I learned

  • The leather forming part is crucial. If I were to do it again (which I might for another seat), I'll try another more precise way of moulding. My "moulding" left some imperfections, but let's say they contribute to the seat personnality !

NOTE : I haven't riden this seat much, since I built it just before winter... I'll make an update on this instructable when I can to give some feedback !

What I haven't done yet :

I still have to burnish the edges of the leather. I'll do it as instructabled here.

Inspirations and ressources

Brook rebuild

https://www.instructables.com/id/replace-a-leather-...

Brooks remake. vaccum moulding. homemade rivets.

http://www.bicycles.net.au/forums/viewtopic.php?f=...

Detailed flickr brooks galery. Plastic bag moulding
https://www.flickr.com/photos/43734695@N02/with/8...

Brooks remake. vaccum moulding. adapted screws.
http://www.lfgss.com/conversations/148675/

Rivets setting at Brooks

Detailed brooks pictures
http://ofmadventures.blogspot.ca/2013/09/brooks-b...
http://nplus1bikes.blogspot.ca/2010_09_01_archive....
http://ofmadventures.blogspot.ca/2013/09/brooks-b...

PARTS
http://www.wallbike.com/
http://www.brooksengland.com/catalogue-and-shop/s...
http://www.wallbike.com/

Step 10: Update : Burnish the Edges

As I mentionned in step 9, I still had to burnish the edges... something I should've done at step 7 or 8 : after staining and before remounting the seat. Doing it afterwards like I did was much more trouble !

That's how we learn !

So, the edge burnishing process gives a better finish to the leather and, from what I've read, makes it also more durable. It looks indeed much better I think : compare pic 1 and 2 !

I used the technique depicted here : https://www.instructables.com/id/Wooden-Leather-Bur...

  1. Get or make a wood burnisher
  2. Edge and sand the edges (pic 3-4)
  3. Burnish them

I also added some black shoe polish (pic 5) to enhance the burnished effect. Using shoe polish isn't very effective and if you want to get a real black edge, you'll have to use black stain. You can see the difference in pictures 6 and 7.

Comments

author
TorBoy9 (author)2015-04-27

Thanks for a really indepth instructible.

Leather is timeless and I love it. The moulding step for leather is called "blocking". You could wrap your metal frame in a plastic bag before blocking so that any metal parts do not rust. You could try carving or stamping your leather before you block it, to give it added personality. For example you could imprint your initials, or a design of some kind. Leather stain is much better than coffee, faster and deeper. Leather conditioner is very important because if the leather gets wet it might deform. The conditioner will coat the leather with wax, preventing it from getting wet. Otherwise, a very nice instructible.

author
tomatoskins (author)2015-03-28

This turned out looking so cool! Thanks for sharing!

author
P-Y (author)tomatoskins2015-03-30

Thanks ! As I just updated the last step, I think it will look even better when the edges will be burnished.

author
Tater Zoid (author)2015-03-28

You did an amazing job on your first Instructable. I look forward to your future creations.

author
P-Y (author)Tater Zoid2015-03-30

Thanks ! The next one should be very different... not bike or leather related !

author
jmdushi (author)2015-03-29

You did a great job, I always like it when people reuse things specially when it turns out this beautiful. Great instructable too.

author
P-Y (author)jmdushi2015-03-30

Thanks a lot !

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