Introduction: Car Caddy (With Thanks to Ian Atkinson)
We bought a new car 18 months ago (when I say new – it was second hand, but it was a great deal & hardly used) which we intend on keeping for 20 years or more & taking us on adventures to Scotland & other mountainous areas. It’s therefore worth taking some time to adapt what, having taken it on one adventure, is already a great vehicle.
One of the things which was immediately missing was extra storage – particularly where to put a smartphone when you’ve finished hooking it up to the car’s Bluetooth & charger.
Over the last year or so I’ve been buying tools & trying my hand at leather-work & this seemed an ideal opportunity to put that to use. Prior to this I have only made two other things – one was OK, one was really great, but I learnt a huge amount. (You can see #1, my boating knife sheath & #2, my Moleskine cover, in the background of some of my photos.) This is the third. It is also only my second Instructable.
The internet was my learning portal & through that I found a great many talented people sharing what they know, but the most helpful by far was fellow Brit Ian Atkinson. I recommend his website here, his YouTube Channel here and if you don’t have the inclination to design or make your own things he sells his own patterns & products here. Without Ian’s guidance I would have made many more mistakes than I did & bought even more tools that I didn’t need. Thank you Ian.
On the subject of tools, I have listed what I used, but you could use many more and quite possibly less. I can’t pretend that some things are not costly, but as I want to both make decent stuff and be doing this a while, I have tried to spend my limited funds wisely. Again, this is something Ian can guide the novice through here.
Given that I can’t possibly teach you what to do, and Ian and others have done such a great job anyway, this Instructable will simply be a run through of what I did with what tools and materials. When it comes to learning the skills, I am not the person to teach you. I can simply show you that with the right person to watch, you can do this too. So more an Inspirationable. Every technique I used, you can find guidance on here.
- Cutting Ruler (to protect my fingers)
- Coin (for corners)
- Cutting mat
- Pencil (for its ability to correct the mistakes I made with it)
- Stanley Knife/Box Cutter
- Edge Beveller
- G Clamps
- Wool Daubers
- Edge Slicker
- Heat Gun
- Cheap Brush(es) (For applying glue)
- Scratch Awl
- Spring Clamps
- Lollypop Sticks (I use Magnum ones but other ice-creams taste OK.)
- Hammers (Different types for different jobs.)
- Cutting Board
- Pricking Irons
- Sanding Block
- Stitching Groover
- Diamond Awl (same gauge as my pricking irons)
- Stitching Pony (I made mine from old port cases – pictured is version 1 but I am currently on version 2.)
- Hole Punch
- Press Stud Tool
- Metal File
- Squared Paper (Which you can download and print as you need from a website! - linked later)
- Leather (I used 3-4mm veg tan from Identity Leather Craft - linked later.)
- Timber (I blagged an off-cut from Jewson.)
- Wood Glue
- Cling Film (Saran Wrap in the USAS?)
- Paper Towels
- Fiebings Pro Dye
- Cotton Cloths (I cut up old T-Shirts)
- Fiebings Aussie Leather Conditioner
- Contact Cement (Why I have a lifetime’s supply of 3-M Scotch-Weld is thanks to the generosity of the lady at 3M in the UK who when I said I wanted to glue my foam armour & wanted what I saw in US videos, sent me a “sample” tin.)
- Thread (I used waxed “Tiger” Thread)
- Disposable gloves
- Cotton Buds (Biodegradable)
- Press Studs
- Stainless Steel Screws
Step 1: Planning
Have a look at the vehicle layout & work out what you want to go where. I wanted two pockets to hang down either side of the centre console like saddle bags on a horse. They needed to fit my mobile phone/s in their protective cases. Your requirements will differ.
Step 2: Template/s
Make a paper template. Printing out squared paper from this website helped me to adjust angles and there was a great deal of trial & error to get things right. Paper is cheap – leather not so much, so don’t skimp on time & paper at this stage.
I messed up with the angles several times & had to start again. I can’t really give you any angles or measurements since your car & requirements will be different. I used a coin to cut consistent corners.
I made three parts - what I will call a base part & two pocket base templates to guide making my wet mould later. You can see in later photos inside the car how I had to cut around the cut-outs, knobs & buttons in the console. Again, it took several attempts.
Step 3: Leather Cutting
Transfer the base pattern onto leather – the first scary part! I also bevelled several edges at this stage – again working out which you can do now & which need to wait is important, but you need to work that out for yourself. I bought my leather from Identity Leather Craft here, but there are many other suppliers.
Step 4: Wet Moulding Leather
Wet moulding leather is a whole subject in itself, so rather than an incomplete walk though, I’ve let pictures paint a thousand words.
For the pockets I used a piece of timber as deep as the phones I wanted them to contain, plus a little either side for wiggle room/fingers. I cut a male & female with a few millimetres gap – how much depends on the leather. I also varnished the timber when I’d made the mould so the water wouldn’t soak in. Since the pockets were identical, I only needed one mould, which I used twice.
I was pretty pleased how well these turned out & I allowed just enough leather to give me adequate seam allowance when it came to stitching. Better to allow more than you think you need at this stage than waste the whole piece of leather & start again. I was lucky & had just enough.
To mould the base piece I covered my car’s centre console with cling film to protect it from damp leather, then draped the leather over it & smoothed it down. I left it to dry for a couple of hours & checked on it a couple of times. This worked fine, even though I’d not seen this done anywhere else – I made this bit up as I went along.
Step 5: Dyeing
Dyeing is another subject in its own right, so again all I will say is that you need to be careful if, like me, you are leaving the underside natural coloured. I think it is classy – even though the only bit I can see is the inside the pockets & then only if I put my head directly over it when it’s fitted. I know & that’s important – for many that’s a little OCD.
Something to note is that whilst I’m appearing to simply choose finishes & dyes based on what I’ve seen & read, you’ll see in the background of some of these photos that there are a pile of little leather squares that I’ve practised on. This is something I learnt when doing a decorative paints techniques course years ago – try out on a sample before committing. I recommend you try out finishes, different numbers of coats etc. for yourself to decide what you like and works.
Step 6: Inside Treatment
Protection is something I decided was important, since this was going to live in a car, where I will be throwing around food, drink & a host of other stuff that will ruin my pretty leather thing, so I used Tan-Kote to protect any surface that was left un-dyed. This actually caused a problem later on, which I will address in Step 11.
Step 7: Initial Burnishing
Don’t forget to burnish the edges that will be inaccessible later. On this piece I took time to work that out. On the next thing I made (my fourth leather piece) I was getting cocky & got it wrong. In this case it was the edges of the pockets that would have been hard to get to later. Spend plenty of time working this out – each piece you make will be different.
There are lots of suggestions on what to use to burnish your edges – I like water & beeswax. Just watch some tutorials & try things out.
Step 8: Finishing
For my final top coat/protective finish I decided on Fiebings Aussie Leather Conditioner. Again this is my personal preference having done my own test pieces & because I think this will provide the level of protection & good look that I was after. There is a bewildering array of products available. I’m happy with my choice thus far.
I applied this product with a bit of old cotton T-shirt & helped it along with careful use of a heat gun. My wife’s hair dryer would also have done the job, but this was quicker & less chance of grief. Proceed with caution whichever you use.
Step 9: Hand Stitching
Joining the pieces was another multi-stage process & again you will need to learn to do this from a more in depth guide than this, but in broad outline I did the following:
- Scratched the surfaces to be joined thoroughly, but neatly, before gluing.
- Allowed my contact cement to become tacky before offering up the two halves carefully.
- When gluing the pieces together I was careful to protect my treated leather from the jaws of the clamps, which I did with some protectors I made from Magnum sticks to which I glued some scraps of leather. This may be overkill, but I’m glad I did it.
[Note: In the photo of this stage, you’ll also be able to see that I’d allowed myself plenty of wiggle room in that the base piece was bigger that the pocket pieces, which were also bigger than they would ultimately be. This was to allow for later trimming & an eventual neat look. This photo also shows the only mistake I made, which was getting too excited with my edge creaser & following the original edge & not the eventual one, which would only appear once I’d glued & trimmed. Clearly I did not think this bit through enough at the outset - & I spent ages thinking about everything. If I can give you one piece of overriding advice for the whole construction, it’s don’t skimp on the planning & thinking at every stage.]
- I decide on my stitch spacing by doing a test piece & chose my thread colour to match the upholstery in the car.
Again, this part is something you need to learn by following a guide online and trying it out on a test piece. All I would add is that as a novice, my first few stitches have always been a bit ropey, so start on the bit that will be least important. Whether that is a bit that you will look at every time you get into the car, or your passenger will look at occasionally & be oblivious to how badly you messed up, I leave down to you.
Final stitching tip – if you make your own stitching pony, don’t line the jaws with felt. Really bad idea! There’s a reason mine’s the only one. Version two’s are leather lined.
Step 10: Final Finish
Final dying & slicking. As before.
Step 11: Whoops
The best laid plans… When I thought I’d finished the whole piece I went to fit it & found it didn’t stay in place. My construction was great – it’s just that in practise the physics of my slippery leather thing on my slippery centre console meant that gravity came into play & it slid down.
That meant that I needed to do some last minute adapting.
Luckily I had some stainless steel poppers, so fitted the female half of the popper to the caddy so that it mated up with the male half screwed into a safe vacant spot in the plastic of the centre consol. I say safe with zero knowledge of what was underneath my chosen spot, so having made a tiny pilot hole for the self-tapping screw to go into, I filed down the ends so they would not pierce any unseen wiring beneath.
If you have to do this proceed at your own risk – just be warned.
Step 12: Completed Project & Final Thoughts
Fit & enjoy.
I am really pleased with the finished article. I look at it every time I use the car. It matches the vehicle’s interior so well it looks like a manufactured accessory, except it’s better than that because I made it myself to my own design & it does exactly what I designed it to do really well. There is nothing I would change about it.
It looks quite good under the harsh light of my camera flash – it looks even better in reality.
It would be easy to claim that my success is down to my own inherent ability as a leather-worker, but that that would be wrong – all I have is a willingness to follow advice & have a go.
As I said up front, it was only the third thing I had ever made. (Beginner’s luck? Maybe.)
The credit for my success is the confidence I’ve developed by watching someone who not only has years of experience & expertise but the willingness to share that online in a no-nonsense way with people he will probably never meet.
Thank you Ian Atkinson – you’ve been a great teacher & my inspiration to have a go.