Learn The Art Of Making Your Own Leather Motorcycle Seats

(Image Credit: Jalopnik)
(Image Credit: Jalopnik)

You can usually find Tim “Vander” Vanderbas chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap beer at his shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But he’s also working on some of the most artistic and meticulously executed motorcycles coming out of New York.

Vanderbas has been included in prestigious shows from the Brooklyn Invitational to Born Free. He sort of embodies the “built-not-bought” philosophy, and likes to have put his hands on everything he rides. At his shop, Vander Built, we saw some cool motorcycle parts coming together by hand.


Vanderbas walked us through how he makes his motorcycle seats while we paid him a visit. If you’re inspired to take a crack yourself, here are a few bits that might help you on your way:

Seat Pan: If you don’t have the tools to make your own, try starting with a raw pan with foam like this one from Biltwell.

Leather: You can get leather from plenty of places, but I’d suggest checking out Relicate Leather for color matching and custom “Moto Cuts” sizes.

Double Loop Lacing: Tandy Leather Factory offers a book on fancy lacing as well as needles and hole punches. To encourage people to get into the craft, they also have an extensive collection of videos available for free on their site.

If you do attempt to make your own leather and laced seat using Vanderbas’ tips, we want to see it!



Full grain leather is extremely rare and generally comes from the cow that stayed in the barn while the others went outside. Only the best leather - that which has neither insect bite marks, barbed wire scratches, etc. is fit to be full grain leather.

The feel is difficult to describe, but it just feels natural. This is because there isn’t any plasticky coating on full grain leather like you find on top grain, split grain, and bonded (the plywood of leather) leather.

Most folks have never actually sat on full grain leather. It is a rarity in furniture and cars, limited to high end (Rolls/Bentley) makes and specialty models (Ford F150 King Ranch, Volvo S/V70Rs) because the supply is limited and expensive. My wife and I went shopping at Ethan Allen and I was amazed that: (1) Their $10,000 sofas were not full grain; and (2) They did not have any full grain furniture in the store.

You want to ball on a budget? IKEA, yes IKEA, will sell you a full grain leather sofa (Stockholm, IIRC) for $1600 which is simply a steal. It is well made and ours have lasted for 4 years and simply look fabulous despite being host to a bullmastiff and children. Most online commentators think they are selling it for that price just to make it in style magazines/websites/etc. because most manufacturers can’t even buy the leather for that price. IKEA also sells a few other full grain pieces.