The prospect of turning a seat out of a car into a piece of furniture sounds alluring, but it's more difficult than you might think to pull it off with any degree of polish. Nevertheless, after more hours than you might expect, I did it. I visited a junkyard, pulled and bought a seat, built a custom wooden stand using basic tools, and put it all together to make a comfortable addition to my living room.
Here's how I turned a Honda Accord seat out of a junkyard into a reasonably well executed lounge chair for around $50 all in. Since I found online how-to guides woefully lacking, here's an in depth look into my process.
Choosing your seat
Even with my meager woodworking skills, the hardest part of the whole project turned out to be finding a good seat as a starting point. I ended up visiting two junkyards on three occasions before I found a seat that I felt would be worth the effort. Lowballing Craigslist sellers will be easier than tramping around a junkyard, but I chose the hard route.
I came up with a few specific requirements for me to pounce. It had to:
- have manual seat adjustment
- be free from major blemishes
- predate in-seat airbags
- look cool
Some of these are more important than others. But, for various reasons, this whittles down the sea of junkyard cars to a small subset. I was looking for a pre-2010 mainstream car, most likely with more durable cloth instead of leather. It's also worth noting junkyards upcharge for both power and leather in a seat.
The manual seat adjustment is the most important qualification. Many seats cannot be easily removed from a junkyard unless you can slide them away from the bolts holding the rails in. Furthermore, you don't want to have to hook up a power supply just to get the seat back tilted like you want it.
Though I am not, in fact, a 90s baby, I did try to remove a power seat from an 80s Mercedes only to be flummoxed by the last bolt; the seat was in the wrong position along the runners and, try as I might, I could not work my way around this issue. Mercedes' famously durable MB Tex seats are one of the few non-cloth seats that are commonly found in junkyards in good condition, but most are powered.
Seat rail conundrum
Before you choose a seat, check the precise location of the seat rail mounting brackets.
Most passenger cars have the outside edge mounted to the floor and the inside edge mounted to the transmission tunnel. This means your stand will be trickier to make. However, on some seats, the sliding seat rails can be omitted entirely for simplicity.
Most trucks, SUVs, and minivans have relatively flat floors and therefore have mostly symmetrical seat slider rails. This vastly increases the simplicity of attaching the seat to a custom base but these seats also tend to be more boring in appearance and less supportive.
Pulling the seat
In my case, I located a confusingly clean 1993 Honda Accord Coupe.
This particular car had a surprisingly intact interior in a rather fetching shade of 'ox blood,' albeit with some fading.
I made the mistake of forgetting to take the plastic covers for the edges of the seat sliders. These can be tricky to remove without breaking them, which I did. I remembered to take the bolts I removed with me, though I didn't end up using them.
The driver's seat will always be more worn than the passenger seat. I pulled both but ended up only buying the passenger seat due to budget limitations. This particular junkyard wanted $38 a seat after I declined a sketchy "warranty," so I only bought one. Buying the seat was the most expensive part of the project by far.
Building the frame
I am not experienced in woodworking but I did have access to a set of high quality tools and a stash of random scrap wood and screws. The most significant tools I used were these:
- miter saw
- cordless drill
- cordless impact driver
- sundry drill bits, sockets, etc
- a large number of clamps
Since I exclusively used random 2x4 cutoffs to build the stand, a can of black spray paint and some adjustable padded furniture legs were the only things besides the seat I bought.
In the case of this Accord seat, using the existing seat sliders was the easier path forwards, so I had to work with the asymmetrical mounting holes. Therefore, I set the seat up so they were level and worked out how I could reconcile the one irregular mounting point with the three identical others.
I worked backwards from the seat to the floor, checking for levelness at every stage to eliminate potential wobbles. First, I traced the angle of the metal bracket onto a sheet of printer paper. I then cut a test piece at that angle with the miter saw to check for fitment. I securely screwed these legs into place and found with no lateral bracing the seat was remarkably stable. I'm not particularly proud of this sloppy cutout to accommodate a protruding part of the rail, but it's not very noticable.
I quickly added some lateral bracing to keep everything in place (seen here after paint job). You can see here how the one oddball mounting point necessitated a different design.
I found a small piece of 2x4 with a finished edge that worked well as a decorative kick plate. I cut and glued it to dry overnight. I am inexperienced, so I messed up the fitment slightly. Nothing some putty and paint can't fix (not that I bothered with the putty). I used the cutoffs from the vertical elements to triangulate the corners.
At this stage, it was nearly wobble-free. I added some adjustable screw-in felt pads (not shown) to the bottom to protect the floor and eliminate the last bit of shakiness. A light sanding and some black paint hid the worst of the amateur fitment.
The finished product
I am elated that I was able to produce such a functional and interesting piece of furniture. For little outlay, I was able to learn a lot and gain confidence in my abilities to undertake a DIY project.
Given my nearly complete lack of woodworking experience, I made plenty of mistakes. For one, I really should have extended the stand backwards a bit so it's less tippy with the seat moved backwards. It's far more stable than it looks, but it could be a little more fool-proof. Additionally, I did make the seat a little low, but it could be extended upwards without too much trouble.
I would highly recommend you give a similar project a shot. It was not overly difficult or overly expensive. All it took was patience with myself to learn my limits.
This thread was a little long but I never saw any discussion of how difficult it was to find an appropriate seat in my research. This challenge needs to be discussed. Have any of you ever completed a similar project? Let me know.
I am by no means a tinkerer, but I decided to improve my chair by fixing a number of design problems inherent in the previous iteration of the wooden base. This involved taking it apart and completely redesigning it.
By far the biggest problem is that I failed to make the chair an appropriate height. I had wanted it to be somewhat low, but in the end it was too low to be comfortable.
I had noticed that it was about three inches lower than a particularly comfortable lounge chair I had sitting next to it. Evaluating my options for how to expand the wooden base to gain a few inches, I chose to cut new legs down to the decorative kick plate instead of tacking on height below this point.
you can barely the seams in the kick plate where three pieces of wood are glued together
The biggest limiting factor was the amount of material I had, as I had committed by this point to only using castoff hardware and wood scraps. I had 6" of extra wood that had that same decorative finished edge, which determined the amount of height I could gain at the angle of the legs.
Compromise was inherent in this math, but fortunately the peculiar irregularities in the seat slider bracket lent themselves well to a satisfactory design. I managed to double the height of the wooden base using pieces from the old iteration plus an additional 4' of 2x4 pine I found.
In the above picture, anything painted black was used in the old design.
My subpar woodworking skills did let inaccuracies flood into the execution, many of which you can spot much easier in these photos than you can in real life. But I was able to elevate the top of the cushion from 11" to 14", a huge difference in livability. In the process, I created a more aesthetically pleasing product whose jankiness is less visible.
Ultimately, this is still a low cost low effort weekend project by a complete novice. The many mistakes I have made should actually encourage you to get out there and try something you've not done before. Because, despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them, I have quite an attachment to this unconventional homebrew chair project.
Now we'll see how long I allow the seat slider rails to remain rusty.