Adjustable Arm Rests

Yes, I know real Westfalias already have adjustable arm rests. But, as I had replaced the original seats with F**D seats, they do not adjust. Sure, they swing up out of the way, but they only sat at one height when swung down. Very uncomfortable - too narrow, too short and too high.

So a project to build new arm rests from scratch - and it took longer that I thought it could! It involved hacksawing, filing, grinding, milling, drilling, lathing, thread tapping, MIG welding, silver soldering, wood carving, glueing, contact cementing and fabric cutting and sewing.

Click on the image to see it full size.

Adjustable Armests

The Plan

This project took more drawing, planning and laying awake nights than any other on the Westfalia! Corel draw came in very handy.

The circular steel plate is 5mm thick and 4 1/2" diameter. The other steel piece is 3mm thick and the same size. Four 1 1/4" screws hold it to the wooden frame.

The Plan Part 2

The Inner Workings

The main body is made of 1/2" plywood on the inner side, 1/8" ply on the outside and 1" X 1 1/8" cedar for a frame. The cedar was recycled old window frames! The framework is glued together, the inner ply and frame are glued and screwed together, the outer cover is only screwed on.

The left hand steel plate allows adjustment of the armrest height.

The right hand plate allows it to be swung up out of the way. A pin sticking out of the seat back frame slides in the arc cut in the plate.

More of the Workings

The knob turns a solid rod (recycled photocopier parts), which turns the flexible shaft to turn a threaded rod inside the armrest. The rod pushes against a fixed stop on the circular plate, raising or lowering the arm rest in respect to the circular plate.

The flexible shaft was needed to align the knob in the centre of the end of the arm rest while the threaded rod is nearer the bottom. (I know VW didn't resort to such complications, and neither did my Plan A.)

Padded and Upholstered

The shafts in this photo now have the flexible shaft exposed. It is actually speedometer cable. The picture above shows them covered with 1/4" plastic hose for more rigidity.
A washer and circlip prevent the rod from being screwed out too far and coming out of the nut, something VW didn't think of!

The sides, bottom and end of the wood are covered with one layer of 1/4" closed cell foam. The top is covered with two layers for a more 'cushy' feeling.

The upholstery fabric was the only cost for the project - and that was a shocking price of $45 for less than 1 metre. I made the patterns, but my wife consented to sewing them after seeing the mess I made of the prototype.


At the top is the original arm rest that came with the seats. I couldn't believe they could be so uncomfortable.

The bottom home made one is longer by over 4 inches, slightly wider and flatter on top so the arm rests comfortably on it.

The patterns, templates and prototypes

From the Corel drawings, patterns for the steel pieces were made out of old cereal boxes. Then the first prototype for the circular plates was made of acrylic for two reasons - it's easy to drill and file, and I could see through it to check fit.

The arm rest was made of wood, and and there were some modifications made along they way!

The knob was made of 1" grey plastic (free from a scrap bin) on a lathe and indentations milled into it. Even that took two prototypes!

Brown paper patterns for foam padding and the upholstery cloth required several versions before the fit was correct. Then a sample covering was stitched in cheap fabric. (That's the one I made such a mess of, my wife took pity on me for the real ones.)

The range of adjustment

Six turns of the knob raises the end of the arm rest about 2" so if the seat back is set more vertical, the arm rests can still be kept horizontal.

When flipped up, the increased width just fits between the seat back and the door pillar, and the length brings it just below the seatbelt swivel.

The owner takes no responsibility for anyone else making these modifications.
Photos provided by owner. Contact the postmaster for permission for use.

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Last updated December 5, 2016

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