Chapter 26 - Upholstery

My plan from the beginning was light tan leather on everything, a walnut dashboard and matching sticks. I wanted that foam I saw at Sun & Fun which kinda retains its shape. Paintwork plan is white (of course) with brown & orange accents. Inside glass areas, inside the nose etc. will be a light brown textured effect.

I liked the "crinkled" effect I saw on someones plane at Sun & Fun, but I'd want to carry it on past the recess so it acts as a stuff retainer. I'll be doing all the uphostery myself. [Scratch that. I made a deal with Lois. See below][Scratch that too. I went to a professional upholsterer.]

Dashboard and Trim

I've always thought I'd have a walnut dashboard like in a Rolls Royce. I plan to mount the instruments in the plans dashboard, then add a sheet of clear acrylic with champhered edges around the holes. I will add lighting at the edges of the acrylic so the champhers will light up the dials. Over the top of the acrylic will go a 1/42nd inch veneer of real wood covered with a high gloss "pouring" polyurathane as used for those bar tops with embedded pennies. I searched local stores and mail order lumber houses looking for the right walnut burl veneer. Eventually I ordered 9 sq feet of dashboard quality sequenced walnut burl from Certainly Wood, 716-655-0206 Fax: 716-655-3446 E-mail:'ll use the same wood for accents around the windows and headset jacks plugs, on the sides of the longerons, etc. August '00 was a slow month. It gets so hot on the patio that I can only be productive for 1/2 hour at a time, then I have to go inside and cool off. Also, work commitments kept me from the project quite a bit. To keep me busy I prepared the dashboard. I cut the clear acylic to shape and roughed it up for a good bond. After considering lots of different glues for sticking the veneer to the acrylic and ended up using good old MGS epoxy. I painted the acylic with mgs and layed the burl veneer on top, covered it with plastic and inverted it on a table top. I had to piece the veneer a little at the bottom of the center support. I weighted this for a flat cure. The epoxy soaks through the veneer a bit, but this is no problem. It disapears when you add the polyurathane. After cure I inverted the panel again and used Build 50 polyurathane (home depot - comes in a box with two tubs of resin and one of hardener) to cover the face of the panel. I've used this stuff before while making a chess set and a pine kitchen table. The results are fabulous. You just pour it on, spread it around and let it flow level for a perfect bartop type finish.

To get rid of any air bubbles you sort of breath heavily close to the surface. Either the heat or the C02 bursts the tiny bubbles in a quite spectacular way. Unfortunately I missed a few, and a bug landed in the stuff before it dried. I waited 2 days, sanded the gloss smooth and gave it another coat. Note: You have to let the Build 50 cure for a couple of days before touching it. If you pick it up before that your finger prints will show permanently. This is another reason why I had to add a second coat. I was wondering what to mount the veneer on for the walnut trim. The acrylic I used for the dashboard was too thick. I considered 1/16 ply but didnt have enough. Melamine would work, but its heavy. Hmmm? What can I used that's perfectly flat, strong and thin. I searched all around Bill's shop and came up with nothing. Aluminum? Nah. I need something that will bond well to fiberglass. Hmmm. Eventually it struck me. "What about fiberglass?" I layed-up a single ply of UNI on plastic on top of a sheet of melamine. Once this had tacked up a bit I layed the burl veneer on the glass, covered this with plastic, then another sheet of melamine and weighted it for cure. Once this was cured I gave it a coat of Build 50. I now had an 18 * 40 sheet of finishing material which I cut up with the band saw and floxed in place around the windows, along the longeron sides and in various other places. Later note: My first attempt at this didnt work very well. The veneer didnt stay flat and started to peel.


Once the armrests were done and the only thing left to go in the cabin was wire, I got some foam backed headliner material from an upholstery store. I tested a small piece for fire and found that it didnt burn very easily. My first experiment was the headliner for the turtleback. I cut a piece of headliner to fit the entire area, stuck it up. I used some spray on upholstery glue from pepboys and it seems to stick very well. Then I cut out the windows and trimmed the headliner as needed. I plan to make window trim with the walnut, but I'm not quite sure how yet. Next I did the inside of the canopy. I brought the canopy into the living room for this exercise. It was nice to work in the cool for a change. After the canopy was done I found a place to store it behind the front door. I won't need the canopy again until it's time for final gloss paint, and there's no point in putting it back on the plane until this is done. [later note: Wrong! I'd forgotten the canopy latch and safety catch. I had to peel back a bunch of the headliner to do this installation].

I mentioned the headliner to Nat. He told me I was crazy - I didnt need the extra weight and that it would fall off on my head at the worst possible time. A few months later on I had the canopy fitted and the headliner fell off overnight. After a few months of muttering I scraped all the foam residue off, zolotoned the inside and decided that my Cozy would be like all the others. A few months later, as with many issues in this airplane, I changed my mind again. This is the experimental catagory - right?Determined to make the bird fit my mental picture of what I wanted it to look like, I went back to the same store and bought more of the same foam backed headliner material. (Note: I plan to fireproof the headliner with a spray on product). This time I bought spray-on glue from the upholstery store. This is the kind of glue that doesnt dry out - it just stays sticky. I had figured out a way to do the window edges... while in Bill's shop I noticed some 3/4 inch real wood iron-on edging strip. I borrowed a bit, sneaked off with Char's iron and tried it out. It stuck solid. Next I had to work out a way for the edging strip to hold the foam backed liner in place. I experimented on some old cured epoxy (a failed nose wheel cover) until I had it working. The method I ended up with was a bit painstaking, but it worked. Once I had the liner cut to size about 3/8 shy of the edge I slit the foam on the inside and peeled it off the cloth leaving a 3/8 edge of cloth with no foam. The upholstery glue allowed me to stick the edge down so that I had 3/8 of uncovered epoxy, and 3/8 of unbacked foam, then a bump where the foam started. Now I ironed the edging strips in place (after staining them to match my walnut interior and panel). The edges stuck nicely butted up to the bump and gave me a fairly professional looking finish. The corners around the windows were a bit tricky. I had to cut multiple small pieces of wood and work my way around. I was quite proud of the result, but then Nat's words came back to me... "It'll fall on your head". Hmmm. What glue can I get that won't dry out and let the headliner fall on my head, probably during a night instrument approach in a thunderstorm. It dawned on me that the canopy was MADE of epoxy. I peeled the headliner back and painted the canopy with epoxy, except at the very edges where I decided to let the still tacky upholstery glue do its work. It took two squirts of epoxy to give the whole canopy a light coat. Then I carefully layed the liner back down and rubbed it all over to get some epoxy on the back of the foam. Maybe the foam will eventually disintegrate from the heat of the sun, but I dont think the epoxy will ever let go. I have my headliner. Putting headliner in the turtleback was a little more tricky because I couldn't easily turn it upside down. I had to keep pushing the headliner back up as the epoxy dried, but eventually I got it firmly stuck. As an architech friend once said when he saw a porch I'd built... "Enjoy it while you have it!" If this doesnt work I'll have to scrape the canopy clean (again) and repaint it. If it does I'll have a nice looking soundproofed cabin. Time will tell. In five years (or less) I'll come back to this section and tell you if it worked.

It didn't work. A couple of months sitting in the Florida humidity on my patio was enough. The edging strips started to peel off. I'd originally tried to do the trim in real walnut veneer like the dash, but hadn't been happy with the results. I decided to try this again, with a slight variation of technique. This time I made paper patterns for all the window corners and used these to cut out the veneer shapes with scissors. [I've noticed that the veneer cuts nicely with scissors and doesnt crack once it's absorbed a bit of the Florida humidity] I was a bit unhappy about the rim around the turtleback. When the canopy is open this rim is very visible. I tried zolotone, headliner material and edging strip and they all looked tacky. The obvious thing to do was use walnet veneer to match the longeron sides, but I couldnt get it to lay flat. Finally I found a solution. This time it wasnt one of those final solutions that gets revised the following month (there have been many of those). This final answer was definatey the FINAL answer. (but see below). I microed the rim to give me a flat surface. A compond curve, of course, but flat in the sense that a 3/4 strip of walnut would lay flat across it's width. Once the micro cured and I'd sanded it "flat" I duct taped the lip and glassed one ply BID over the duct tape. Once this cured I trimmed it to fit the edges, removed it and layed it flat on the bench. This was the shape I needed in walnut. I roughed up the cured glass, painted it with epoxy, layed it on top of the veneer and traced the shape. I cut the shape out of the veneer with scissors, painted the glass with epoxy, layed the veneer piece on top and weight it down with a flat board. Once this cured I trimmed the edges and floxed the veneered glass piece in place on the canopy rim. When the flox cured I rubbed the veneer down gently with 320 grit, cleaned it off and gave it a coating of build 50. It took a couple of coats with a sanding between, but I ended up with a very nice finish to match the panel. I guess this all sounds like a lot of work to add additional weight for cosmetics. Once I'd figured out the best method it didnt take long, and the effect is exactly what I'd imagined when picturing my plane, even before the plans arrived. That's the whole point isnt it. You spend many hours dreaming and planning what you're plane is going to look like. The beauty of home building is that you get to fullfill those dreams. I'm sure a professional airplane finish shop could have done a nicer job for $30,000, but the overall look is just what I wanted, and it cost me less than $100, plus a few (read many, many) hours of my labor.

Window Trim

After the success with my turtleback rim, I decided to rip off the ugly stick-on wood trim and replace it with walnut veneer to match the panel. I floxed the pieces in place and clamped them in position. Once cured I sanded the walnut to hide the edges and joins, then painted them with Build 50 bartop epoxy.

Next day - disaster...
Well not disaster, exactly, but not at all good. The build 50 had gone sort of black and oily and hadn't cured properly. I'm guessing, but I think the problem was caused by the weather. It was a humid stormy night, and the veneer may have been a little damp. Whatever the reason, I was left with a black sticky mess which covered the wood grain. I scrapped, sanded and dremelled (with a soft sanding attachment), sanded and scraped some more for about 3 days until I got back to the bare wood. had to be laboriously scrapped off. This will be the only Cozy with hand finished walnut trim. I'll bet that Rolls Royce don't put as much effort into their trim work, but then again, they probably do it right the first time.

Once I'd scraped the veneer trim down to bare wood I gave it another coat of Build 50. Next day the results still weren't up to even my low and getting lower standards. There were dust and dirt specks in finish, and lots of runs. I rubbed it all down again. This time using 320 grit wet & dry. This worked better and only took a few hours. I've come to the conclusion (yes I know you'd figured this out 3 pages ago) that bar top epoxy is great for horizontal surfaces like a panel on the bench, but just doesnt work on something with compound curves. I was ready to spray the Zolotone clear coat on the fresh zolotone in the back seat area, so I resolved to mask the canopy up and give the trim a squirt too. I'll let you know how it turns out.

It worked! Finally I got the finish I was looking for. The Zolotone clear coat dried to a high gloss and didn't run. Unfortunately, all the sanding and scraping had removed the veneer in a few spots and the epoxy backing showed through. While I was messing about the humidity, and probably the wet dry sanding had got under the wood and buckled it here and there. Finally, some of the Build 50 had wicked under the masking tape and stained my headliner in a few areas. I guess, to a professional upholsterer, my walnut trim will look like a clusterfu.k. Well, to them I say, it's MY clusterfu.k and I like it. It's has a hand finished look. You might call it the ultimate hand job. Anyway - it's done, and it's time to move on to more serious stuff.


I thought of getting the panel professionally cut, but the layout evolved asI went along, so I just cut the holes with a hole saw and a dremel. For labelsI considered all sorts of fancy ideas, but defaulted to the $9 dymo labellingmachine which imprints letters in sticky back plastic. At first I consideredthis temporary, and I may replace it one day, but I actually like the block raisedlettering. I gives a kind of military feel to the panel. An additionaladvantage is that the raised letters could be used as brail by any blind pilotswho happen to fly my plane. Perhaps more likely, you could feel the letters in total darkness. Ihope I never have to use that feature.


During Sun & Fun '99 I saw some really nice leather at a good price. In Apr 2000 it was still too early to get the leather, but I did take note of the name of the color I liked (traditional adobe) and the name of the company (B. & B. Aircraft Supplies. 913-884-5930, fax 6533). Finally, in August, I called Dan Brown, the owner. He was very helpful considering I called the day he got back from OSH, and dug out a hide of traditional adobe for me. Has has more of the same dyelot so I'll be able to get another if I need it, so long as I don't take too long to find out.

Seat Foam

I saw a mail list message from Steve Wright mentioning that Sally at Bestco, (310-214-8986), in Torrance CA had temperfoam at a good price. I'm told this stuff was designed for the Apollo program and is an excellent shock absorber as well as being really comfortable. I ordered one sheet (80 * 36) of blue and one of green. When the foam arrived I called Sally to ask the best way to cut it. The answer was a serrated bread knife. So... when Char wasn't looking I swiped a bread knife from the kitchen (She'd finally got it back after my blue foam cutting days) and cut the plans pattern for the seat foam. Wow! I'm on the last page! What a pity I haven't done all the pages in between. I took the pilot seat foam out to the plane and sat on it. Perfect! I'm sure I'm going to thank myself for getting this foam every time I fly. I invited Char to try the seat but she refused. It took a while, but I finally realized why - she wants to loose some weight before trying the seat. You see, the foam leaves an impression when you climb out. The impression gradually goes away after a minute or so, but this isn't fast enough for Char. This is probably why she didn't like the pour foam in a plastic bag idea I had wanted to try earlier. Opps.

I stored the foam under the bed. Two years later I got it out to take to the upholstery guy. It had lots of little cuts and pin holes in the surface. The cats had been sharpening their claws on it. Ah well. No-one will ever know once its covered with leather.


I hadn't really planned to do all the upholstery until after first flight, but I needed to do something in between all the other bits and pieces so I decided to get on with it. Char is concerned that anything that's not done before it flys probably won't EVER get done. She's probably right. I decided that I have enough on my plate with the painting and remaining mechanical and electrical work, so I recruited a helper for the upholstery. A freind was experienced with sewing, but she didn't have a heavy duty machine. I found a used cast iron 1938 heavy duty machine in the local sewing machine store for $75 and cut a deal. Lois does my upholstery for free, and she gets to keep the machine. Works for me! I gave her one of my Saab 9000 turbo rear headrests to practice on.

About 6 months later my headrest test was half done, so I gave up on that plan. I know what kind of help to expect when paying peanuts. I was resigned to doing the job myself and making a fair to reasonable mess of it. I spotted an auto upholstery shop in West Palm which also advertised aero work. I stopped in and chatted with Dan, the owner. I bought $2 worth of piping from him. "Do you know how to use this stuff?" asked Dan as he handed it over. "Nope. I didnt even know what it was called until 10 minutes ago", I said. Let me show you, volunteers Dan. he fished out some scrap vynal and some piping and ran it through his sowing machine. In a few seconds he had a nice piped seem. Looks pretty easy I thought.

Later discussion at home (mentioning no names) made me think that doing the upholstery myself wasnt a very good idea. I reupholstered my Piper Cherokee once. The job cost me about $50 and looked it. Maybe this is something I better have done professionally. I went back to Dan with pictures of the cockpit, my precut temperfoam and my leather hide. He was very impressed with the quality of the hide - said it would have cost him about $400 plus. Dan wanted to know what kind of look I wanted, so I showed him the inside of my Saab 9000T (minus rear headrests).

It was Friday late afternoon. Dan gave me a "look", got himself a beer from the corporate fridge, gave me one, and invited me into his "office". We chatted about a 172 he'd done for a guy who then offered him a ride. Seems he enjoyed getting his hands on the controls. I offered a ride too. We discussed details like how wide the panels should be and what sort of seem stitching he should use. I showed him where I'd need a notch for the landing light controls and where the curve would be. Dan grabbed some foam and vynal and made me a sample of what he was proposing. In the end I told him to just use his best judgement and make it look nice. The seat cushions would be the first job. He would do the work personally. If I like the work, and the price, then we'll talk about the console, armrests and headrests. Dan can be reached at Wholesale Auto Upholstery Inc. 561-684-7511. email He's a real nice guy, an ex-marine and, as of next week he'll know how to do Cozy IV seats.

The following week I picked up the seats. As expected, the work was first class. The only problem was that I hadnt really given Dan much input about the curved position the seats would be in, so he hadnt allowed for the bend. The leather bunches up a bit where the seat curves. Dan suggests that I use the seats as they are and let them "settle" with use for a month or two. Then he'll do whatever adjustment is needed to make them fit into the curve just right. One evening, after talking with Cozy Girrl, Chrissi, about camping at Sun & Fun, I realized that the front and back seats would make a perfect camp bed when laid out flat. I could even make straps to clip them together using the clips Dan's going to attach to hold them down to the seat. Perfect. I'll let them bunch up a bit.

Dan, Dan the upholstery man

This heading will mean something only to people who ever played rugby in their youth. If you're intrigued, do a search on famous rugby songs, or ask me and I'll give you a rendition of the original verse.

Dan showed up one weekend to look at the work he'd have to do in situ. We discussed how the interior would be done and agreed that I'd call once I was ready to go ahead. I was currently held up by budget and the need to get all the AC and heater pipes installed, the center console rebuilt, and some wiring tidied up before proceeding with the upholstery.

Sandable Foam

I thought I'd finished sanding. Dan showed up with sandable foam for the upholstery. The stuff is about 1/4 inch thick, white and a little rubbery. He glued it onto the seatback top with contact cement, then proceeded to rub it down with 50 grit sandpaper. The result is a soft backing for the leather. Dan left me enough foam to do the armrests and promised to return.

Over the next few weeks Dan and I worked on the upholstery together. I did the prep work, then he took the removable parts away, then brought them back finished. Dan did the work on parts that couldn't be removed, and the overall picture started to emerge. Like everything else, the upholstery plan sort evolved. Char wanted elastic restrainers for the baggage area. I liked the "gathered" look. We were quickly running out of cow, so Dan found some vynal that matched perfectly, and we used this for the back armrests. Now one will ever know.

One evening I walked over to the plane and lifted the canopy. I immediately noticed a smell. Not a bad one this time - a good one. I called Char over to take a sniff. "New car leather" she said.

Rear Headrests

I tried out the rear seats and two things occurred to me. First, as I stood on the left seat to get in and it cracked under my weight, was to rebuild, then add some support to the sides of the rear seats. The second thought, as I settled into the right seat, was that the rear passengers need headrests. Also, looking into the plane with all the leather seats in place, the bulkhead in front of the firewall electrical area looked a bit bare. Of course, the rear headrests would have to match the front ones. I'd ripped (rather than removed) the front headrests from the back seats of my '86 SAAB 9000T. No problem. I'd since lent / given this car to my son-in-law and replaced it with an '89 model Saab 9000T. So...I had another pair of matching headrests. I went out of the car and de-installed the rear headrests. No-one will ever notice.

I dug holes in the cosmetic bulkhead to support the headrests, drilled and tapped the supports and inserted a bolt for adjustment. This bolt also stops the headrest from going back too far and impacting the battery. Nat's going to go beserk when he sees the headliner and the headrests in the front, so I guess the back ones wont make any difference. Sure, when I throw them up in the air they dont stay up. In fact they come back down pretty quickly, but then again. so do 280 horses.

The cow goes to New Orleans

The upholstery job spread itself out over about 4 months. It's quite amazing how many individual parts needed covering, and how intricate the work turned out to be. Another factor in the slow progress was that this had become more a labor of love than a income generator for Dan. We agreed up front that I was in no big hurry and he'd fit me in between jobs. "Real work" like upholstering a Rolls Royce, would take priority, and I got bumped quite a few times. The plane tended to get done on Saturday mornings and Dan's pride of workmanship began to show. At last, at the end of August '03 Dan installed the panels above the rear armrests while I used his special tool to put the snaps on the stick boots. The rear panels were a bit tricky because the elasticated baggage area sides needed anchoring on both sides. Dan normally uses staples or rivets for this, but I wouldn't let him anywhere near the fuel tanks with his staple gun. The staples probably would not have penetrated the inner skin of the tank, but I didnt feel it was worth the risk, so we glued everything at the back. SO, if you ride in the back of my plane - dont pull on the baggage area panels.

Dan and I ended up good friends. While we worked we discussed where he'd like to go for a trip in the Cozy. The conversation went a little like this....

How far can we go?How much does you're wife weigh? 130#, you, 175, plus Char & I hmmm.... How about anywhere in a 600 - 800 mile radius? New Orleans? I've never been there.Sure, we can do New Orleans in one hop, but lets make it a weekend.OK, maybe we should do a short trip first to make sure Mrs. Dan likes flyingOK, Fort Pierce Tiki bar, then if that works out, we'll do New Orleans.Done.

As we proudly surveyed the final results, I said to Dan that I didn't realized how much work it was going to be. "I did." he said, simply. I don't know how much weight it all added, but I got my wish. The plane looks like the interior of a quality autombile. Much better than many in fact. I asked Dan what he would quote to do the work for a "regular customer". His answer was $2,500. But ... if you're ex-military, especially a marine, easy going and prepared to pitch in and help, you'll probably be able to talk him down some. If you want good work, Dan's the MAN!

After Dan left I finished off the work I'd been doing on the pipes in the rear armrest and installed the rear seats. The armrest is almost level with the seats, so a large person will be able to "spread" across the back seat. I sat in the back and found it very comfortable, if just a little short on headroom. I'm not sure the headrests are going to work for everyone, but I like them. I'm left with one remaining item in the upholstery department. The spar hole covers. As you'll see in the pictures above, there's a pretty good sized gap between the top of the seats and the bottom of the firewall cover. I think I'd like a cushion above each seat. This will mount on the spar with velcro so it's removable and can be used as a bolster if needed. At some later point I'll get Dan to make me the cushions in two colors to match the trim around the sides. I think this will "finish off" the back nicely.

I made small fiberglass covers for the fuel return lines and fuel capacitance senders, and covered them with some left over leather. It just happened that these items were in the dark brown area and the covers were light brown so I got a contrasting look. I described this to Char when I got home and she looked doubtful. "How does it look?", she asked. I hesitated, then said "it looks....... done".

Cozy Cover

I read that Marc Zeitlin got a cover for his Cozy from the cover girl, Dorothymarie Dickey so I went to her web site intending to order one. The web site says she doesnt make covers for Cozys. Huh? I sent her a note asking if this was an old web site, but no, she said - she didnt like the way Marc's came out so she's not making them any more. Hmmm. I sent a begging letter asking her to change her mind, and promising not to use the cover in public until she agreed it was ok. Dorothy is VERY proud of her work and it took a bit of persuading. I think the fact that Char volunteered to do the tucking and pinning required to make it fit helped a lot. Dorothy sent a cloth pattern with instructions and pictures showing how to adjust it on the airplane. I left the plane all buttoned up one Sunday so Char could do her thing with the pattern while I was away during the week. Once the pattern's done, Dorothy will make up my cover. I decided to have it done in a Union Jack design.
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