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Getting custom seat foam cut


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I'm working on a car for which I can get manufactured upholstery sets, but I can't buy manufactured seat foam.  Every local automotive upholsterer that I contact says "Oh we can't make foam for car seats."  I see guidance and instruction all over the web about shaping foam for car seats - I can't figure out why the professionals say they can't do it.  I'm usually not satisfied with my own work when it comes to surfaces or shaping, so I'd be happy to pay someone else for a good job.  But how can I get one?  Am I asking the question wrong, somehow?  Does anybody even have any recommendations for a shop in the central PA area that would do this right?

 

Thanks...

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The right tool for the job is a Foam Rubber Cutter. Bosch used to sell a model 1575A, which has been discontinued. The replacement is the GSG300, which is a tad pricey at about $800 list. Either find an upholsterer who has one or search ebay, Craigslist, Searchtempest, FB Marketplace, etc for a used 1575.

 

There are also other vendors who sell foam cutters. Acu-Cutter has several model that are downright reasonable, starting at $240.

 

https://acu-cutter.com/

 

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I have made foam seats for many years.  An electric carving knife cuts foam very nicely

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Upholstery shops use a serrated bread knife. Or an electric carving knife if you have a lot to do. Sometimes you have to glue different thicknesses of foam together to get the right contour. Or put a layer of soft foam on a layer of harder foam if there are no springs underneath.

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The shop I worked at in the 80s in used an electric knife, of the sort intended for the Thanksgiving turkey. They work great for carving urethane foam into the proper shape for a seat. I don't recall if they work on real foam rubber (pincore). I have never even seen that thing Joe posted, but I'll bet it does a nice job. The local suppliers of foam back then used hot wire cutters on cutting tables to make nice perfect rectangular pieces of foam to ship out.

 

I would guess the reason a shop won't do it is they have no idea how to make a 3d piece that someone could just take home with them that would work properly. I have no idea how to do that. It would be a bunch of trial and error with a pre-made reproduction cover, fitting the foam to the available space, on-off, trying it, etc. If the covers were made from scratch, it would be a bunch of pattern making and shaping at the same time the covers were being made. If you were having them make the covers, or having them install the covers, it might be a different story.

 

 

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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Yes, in this case it's a '72 Fiat 850 Spider.  Hard for me to consider it an antique when I drove them as used cars in the late '70s, but now...  But people must be restoring a lot of cars from the '50s, '60s, and '70s that have bucket seats - they must be able to find shops that will make new foam.

 

Places I go to seem to think it would be better for me to bring them the covers, too.  I guess there are people who do custom work that i just can't find.

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1 hour ago, Rusty_OToole said:

Upholstery shops use a serrated bread knife. Or an electric carving knife if you have a lot to do. Sometimes you have to glue different thicknesses of foam together to get the right contour. Or put a layer of soft foam on a layer of harder foam if there are no springs underneath.

I use an electric meat carving knife, works great, mine gets hot if used for a long time, cuts very straight as long as its not pushed, let it float in.. If you want to form boughts or any shaping, put a new 36 grit sanding disc on the Makita, be careful, she's hungry. I use high density foam which probably helps shaping. Do it outside very messy.

 

-Ron

 

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2 hours ago, StanleyRegister said:

Places I go to seem to think it would be better for me to bring them the covers, too.  I guess there are people who do custom work that i just can't find.

 

When I was doing this sort of work (long ago), the only thing I remember reproduction covers being available for were Volkswagen Beetles and 65-66 Mustangs. They were nice, original looking, and cheaper than the labor and materials to make them up from scratch. When there are reproduction covers available, and there are for many cars now, you would be money in the hole to do it any other way, unless of course custom is what you want.

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9 hours ago, Rusty_OToole said:

Upholstery shops use a serrated bread knife. Or an electric carving knife if you have a lot to do. Sometimes you have to glue different thicknesses of foam together to get the right contour. Or put a layer of soft foam on a layer of harder foam if there are no springs underneath.

This is all I've ever used to work with foam and my best source for nearly free seat foam is the U-Pull where you can get a seat with good foam and rotten fabric in the shape, or workable to create the shape you need for cheap.  

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3 hours ago, Digger914 said:

This is all I've ever used to work with foam and my best source for nearly free seat foam is the U-Pull where you can get a seat with good foam and rotten fabric in the shape, or workable to create the shape you need for cheap.  

 

Cool idea, thanks!

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Theres a small shop in an old service station on 472.  Between Willow Street and Quarryville, closer to Quarryville. I have not used them but did stop and talk about getting some door panels made. He seemed receptive to the idea and appeared to have skills. May want to stop by there. I apologize I dont know the shops name, but if you drive by you will know what it is when you see it.

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9 hours ago, rocketraider said:

Did she know you had it?!🤫

 

Hi Glenn,

 

I frequently forget to immediately put things back where they were, or where they belong, so my mis-deeds do catch up with me. 

I've learned that seeking forgiveness, or "acting" foolish works better than asking permission.

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Edited by Marty Roth (see edit history)
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13 hours ago, Marty Roth said:

In the past I've used my wife's electric carving knife -

works well on turkey, also :rolleyes:

You should hear my wife when she sees car parts in the dishwasher!!

 

Sorry for the hijack.

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Friend bought a cheap powder coating kit back when they first came out and made the grievous mistake of using the kitchen stove to cure his newly powdered parts.

 

His wife made it clear if it wouldn't fit in a junky toaster oven, it wouldn't get powder coated...😬

 

Plus she got a new stove out of it!

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12 hours ago, Digger914 said:

This is all I've ever used to work with foam and my best source for nearly free seat foam is the U-Pull where you can get a seat with good foam and rotten fabric in the shape, or workable to create the shape you need for cheap.  

 Measure your seat and find a rear seat that matches as close as possible. Rear seats usually get very little wear. Or take the passenger side if you have bucket seats.

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Regardless of front or rear, wear is not the enemy of modern foam.  I guess I preach this a lot, but modern foam is not meant to last.  It’s rated as 8 year, 10 year, 12 year foam, as that’s the outer life of most foam since it’s made for furniture.

 

Two times in the last month, friends have contacted me saying “hey, my seats are collapsing”.  Foam.

 

I know this comment won’t stop anyone from using it, but when I see it being used in an old car I cringe.  Cotton and horsehair will last 100 years, foam, less than two decades.

 

 

 

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We used the electric carving knife approach. Just recently saw what a friend did to get a better contour for his butt when he sat down. He used a hole saw and did a pattern on the bottom side so it was less stiff in the middle. I didn't ask how he decided on size and how many holes, maybe trial an error till it felt good.

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I managed to get an electric carving knife for my shop too.   i also point out that

foam can be finished shaped with coarse sandpaper too.  It's also true that foam

ages out and seats form the 70's & 80's need foam replacement too.

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2 hours ago, trimacar said:

It’s rated as 8 year, 10 year, 12 year foam, as that’s the outer life of most foam since it’s made for furniture.

Thats why furniture foam should not used, it's very poor quality. I only use high density marine grade about four times as expensive and I'll gonorreah ya it'll last longer than ten years. I've seen fifty year old cushions in boats that were still in good shape.

 

3 hours ago, trimacar said:

Cotton and horsehair will last 100 years, foam, less than two decades.

Have a look at this one. I have another original horsehair seat in worse shape than this. Horsehair and cotton rots, falls apart and falls down under the leather, very well known issue. If the seat is used a lot it gets all out of shape. You're probably looking at seats that were redone recently.

 

image.jpeg.38db3c64c563ce9b4637915cba0a57fd.jpeg

 

 

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The enemy of urethane foam is moisture. Water causes it to rot, and there is water in the air. It's not a matter of if the foam will fail, but when.

 

Back in the 80s there was a fad for a while where automakers would make a headliner out of foam and fabric, rather than suspending the fabric on traditional bows. Sometimes this was glued to a cardboard shell, sometimes directly to the interior sheet metal. These headliners were notorious for falling down into the face of the driver when the cars weren't very old, and drivers using pins, glue, tape, etc trying to keep the headliner up off of their head.

 

Sometime in the 90s, I was repairing this mess in one of my own cars. I was shopping for foam and glue. I was talking with a foam supplier about what glue I should use. This car had the foam glued directly to the sheet metal, so I couldn't just do it out on the table with my glue sprayer like I would have done if it had a cardboard shell. I needed to work in a full interior with dropcloths and masking, and somehow keep the glue mess under control. That probably meant aerosol cans. I knew from experience 3m Super77 would never hold with the weight of the material pulling down on it, and I was asking if he thought I could get away with using 3m Super90 without pockmarking the fabric.

 

He told me it didn't matter what glue I used because it was just going to fail again. Condensation builds in the headliner and gets the fabric slightly damp, and the foam rots on its surface, turning to powder. The fabric falls down with the glue still attached to it. It makes no difference how good the glue is because the foam is going to turn to powder right underneath the glue. He may have suggested some particular foam for a headliner, but was adamant that from a rot standpoint, it made no difference. They are all urethane, and all subject to rot from moisture. It would fail again, and sooner than later.

 

When I got back to the shop I took a closer look, and that is exactly what had happened. The glue and a powdery residue were still attached to the headliner fabric. I have looked at many others since, and it is always the same. The glue didn't fail, it fell down intact with the headliner fabric.

 

Have you ever seen a old car, perhaps a 1960s or 1970s model, in otherwise fine shape that is getting orange foam dust all over the carpet? The same thing happens in a seat. Condensation gets up underneath the seat and attacks the foam from below. The foam might be still solid up on top where it is protected by the upholstery, but it is slowly rotting underneath and falling out the bottom.

 

By the way, urethane foam burns like gasoline. I wouldn't really want it in an antique. On some cars it is unavoidable, but I wouldn't be in a rush to use if it weren't necessary.

.

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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13 hours ago, trimacar said:

but modern foam is not meant to last.  It’s rated as 8 year, 10 year, 12 year foam,

 

That really doesn't sound too threatening to a 72 year old.

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When I did my car there were three options for seat foam. Good, Better, Best. I opted for the best. Seats are nice and firm. I will save for an extra month or two if I have to get the best product available.

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