Introduction: Wacky Wheelchair Flip-up Armrest

Back when I was just starting college, I decided I wanted to learn how to play the electric guitar. Unfortunately, when I tried to hold a guitar, I found that my wheelchair's armrest on my left side was always in the way. At first, when I started to play the guitar, I'd have someone remove the armrest on the left side of my chair. However, being use to the armrest there, I'd find myself very nervous about falling out of the chair, and it was quite a struggle to remove and re-attach the armrest. To remove the armrest, you had to push two buttons and lift the armrest at the same time. This removed the entire armrest including the side of the chair. To put the armrest back on, you had to hold the two buttons while lining the armrest up with the poles on the side of the chair, and slide them back in place. This was not going to work if I wanted to take classes on how to play the guitar, so I had to come up with another solution. That is when I had the idea for flip up armrest.
 

My solution was to attach a piano hinge to the armrest of the chair, so that when I wanted to move the armrest out of the way, I simply flipped the armrest up. When I needed the armrest to lean on, I could easily put the armrest down myself. This simple solution I found not only allowed me to hold the guitar to play, but worked so well for giving me more mobility, that even though I no longer regularly play the guitar, I still have these modified armrest on my new wheelchair. I find that when I am painting, or need to pull up close to a table, it is often nice to flip the armrest up and out of the way. When I am riding in a van or need the extra support, it helps to have the armrest to lean upon. The biggest benefit however is when I am being picked up out of my wheelchair. Before, my body would often painfully press into the armrest when someone tried to pick me up. I would sometimes get caught on the armrest, causing the person to have to sit me back down. Now, when I am being lifted, the armrest flip up out of the way allowing a caregiver to lift me without the armrest being in the way.
 

It should be noted that this will not work for all wheelchair armrest. My wheelchair is a little peculiar in that I have larger than average armrest and that I am physically rather small for my size chair. I would also not recommend this for someone who leans very heavily on their armrest or needs the armrest for supporting their body.

 

Materials

Piano hinge

saw or metal snips

metal file

Drill gun

Pliers

4 screws and 2 nuts

Optional washers

 

Step 1: Step 1: Remove Current Armrest and Measure

Most armrest are held on by two screws on the underside of the armrest. If your armrest is not held on by screws and is a permanent fixture of your wheelchair, this modification may not be possible. Carefully remove the screws holding your armrest to the chair. Hold on to the screws in case you need to return your chair to it's prior condition.

Measure the length of the supporting pole that the armrest was bolted onto and the length of the armrest.

Step 2: Step 2: Cut the Piano Hinge

You will want to cut a piano hinge that is just slightly shorter than the length of the armrest, approximately the length of the underlying support pole. Cut the piano hinge very carefully using either a saw or metal snips after securely clamping this hinge for cutting. Be sure to wear protective eye gear and take every precaution when cutting metal such as wearing gloves and making sure the hinge is secure before cutting. Typically, the metal for a piano hinge is rather soft and they are made to be cut. Another reason for using a piano hinge is that this type of hinge is very long and very thin. It is also very bendable making it perfect for this application. Most piano hinges come with pre-drilled holes that run along the hinge. Ideally, you want to line these holes up with the screw holes that already exist on your armrest. Rarely is one fortunate enough that both holes will line up perfectly. If both holes do not line up, line up one hole, then mark on the piano hinge where the second hole for the armrest lines up. Using a drill, make a hole at this mark. Make sure that the hinge is the right length by using one screw to temporarily hold it in place and line it up with the armrest. Make sure the hinge does not extend beyond the armrest.

The piano hinge will have some very sharp corners after it is cut. Once you are certain the hinge is the right length, remove it from the chair and use a metal file to file down any sharp corners.

Note: Avoid drilling into the wheelchair as this may void warranties. By using the pre-existing holes of the armrest, this piano hinge will be removable. As long as you don't damage the armrest in attaching this modification, you can always put the chair back into its prior state. If you must drill a new hole in the wheelchair, be certain to measure very carefully before doing so, and check your chair's warranty.

Step 3: Step 3: Attach the Hinge

Attach the hinge first to the supporting pole of the armrest using a nut and bolt. The bolt should have a flat flush head, otherwise the hinge will not be able to fully close. Tighten securely to the supporting pole of the armrest tightening the nut and bolt. Once the hinge is attached to the supporting pole, make sure the hinge can still open and close.

The next step is optional, but recommended. The hinge is flat, but the pole it is attached to is rounded. This makes the hinge stick out slightly which could possibly scratch the person in a wheelchair if they were pressed into it. Using pliers or a hammer, carefully bend the hinge so it is curved to match the curve of the pole. Be very careful to ensure this does not effect the hinge's ability to open and close.

Step 4: Step 4: Attach the Armrest

The last step is to simply screw the armrest onto the top half of the hinge. Once it is attached, the armrest can swing up or down. The armrest may be slightly higher than it was previously, and it may rest at a slightly different angle. It may take some adjustments to correct the angle the armrest sits by either slightly bending the hinge or loosening or tightening the bolts. Adding washers can also help with making minor adjustment corrections.

Step 5: Safety Notes

As the armrest is no longer directly mounted to the frame of the wheelchair, you will have slightly weakened the armrest and the weight it can support. You may notice that over time, the armrest will begin to bend slightly downward. This can usually be fixed by tightening the bolts as they will work loose over time. You will want the armrest to have a slight downward bend so that the armrest will not flip up when you go to lean on it. If you lean heavily on the armrest, and require the armrest to keep from falling over, it is not advisable to make this modification. In my particular circumstance, I lean very heavily on my right arm, and almost not at all on my left side. Therefore, I have only made this modification on the left side of my chair. If significant weight is placed on the armrest, the hinge will bend and may need to be periodically replaced.  If you suddenly fall against the armrest, it could flip up unexpectedly. Overall, I think the benefits far outweigh these issues.

Comments

author
MamaSmurf (author)2010-12-12

Ever thought about how to design a shopping cart so that wheelchair customers have an easier time using one? I work at a shopping center and the baskets don't fit well on the lap and the carts are hard on the shoulders if you push one.

author
DarkRubyMoon (author)MamaSmurf2010-12-12

Hi! Yes, I have actually given some thought to this. It is especially difficult in grocery stores for individuals with disabilities to use carts to carry lots of items. For the most part, I rarely do the shopping, so I haven't given it as much thought as I would otherwise, though I do have a few ideas. The biggest problem is the diversity of styles of wheelchairs. What will work for one wheelchair is not likely to work for another. I'll keep thinking on it and post an instructable if I come up with a good solution and let you know. :) Thanks for the comment!

author
DarkRubyMoon (author)2010-05-24

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