How to Making automotive carpet on a budget
The flooring in my 1939 Buick was badly worn and torn. I had floor mats over the original rubber floor covering, but what I didn’t have was the several hundred dollars to have a professional shop make new floor covering. A solution came to me as I watched installers replace the carpet in my neighbor’s house.
The original rubber floor mat is deteriorating in this 1939 Buick. Since replicating the ege and ribbing of the original mat would be cost-prohibitive, the owner chose to carpet the floor of the passenger compartment.
Three men pulled up to the house early in the morning and soon began ripping out my neighbor’s old carpet and pad. It was taken outside, bundled and thrown onto their truck.
Then the three of them swept the driveway clean of all debris and unrolled the new carpet face-down on the driveway. They measured off large pieces and took them into the house. Up until this point, they hadn’t acknowledged me, but around noon, I drove over to a local hamburger stand and brought back a bag of burgers and fries for them. They instantly became friendlier and began talking to me about what they were doing.
I mentioned that I had an antique car which needed new flooring and asked if they could give me a few hints. In the end, they gave me a lot of very worthwhile information:
* Consider carpet instead of rubber sheeting. The original rubber was probably molded to fit curves and bends, and that the original rubber probably had an edge molded into it. Buying rubber by the yard at the local home building store would probably not properly lay or fit like carpet.
Plush or velvet-face carpeting is suggested for an automotive or truck application.
* Clean the driveway or the garage floor to create a large work space. Make notes and take measurements where the old carpet/floor covering did not fit well, or was ripped or torn. Patch the torn floor covering using brown paper and duct tape. This was probably the most important step, because without a good pattern, new flooring just won’t fit.
Popular Carpet Textures and Weaves
* Properly orientate the carpet, and above all, keep the knife blade sharp. That became evident as I watched them work. They regularly broke off the worn blade, replacing it with a new sharp edge.
* Do not consider indoor-outdoor carpet. Use a very good quality plush or velvet-face carpeting, but not a shag or what the carpet installers called a Berber. (A Berber carpet has a loop weave rather than a plush carpet.) Carpet comes in 12 foot-wide rolls, and the installers said I would probably not need more than one linear yard to carpet an entire car. They suggested obtaining carpet from an outlet selling discontinued or “short rolls” at discounted prices. The installers said even carpet stores and home building centers offer a very good quality carpet for about $12-15 a square yard (3 feet by 3 feet, so one linear yard of 12-foot-wide carpet is 4 square yards).
* The carpet installers suggested a nylon carpet rather than a polypropylene, although polypropylene is virtually bullet-proof and can be cleaned with almost any cleaning material. Most cars from the 1920s and ’30s used wool or cotton blends of carpeting. Synthetics were very new and in limited use at that time. Today’s nylon is better than the wool or blended carpets of 80 years ago.
* Buy a solid color with a smooth plush/velvet face instead of a pattern. Matching a pattern in a car can be very difficult.
* The edge of carpet will fray, causing loose threads around every cut in the carpet. Binding the carpet would be very expensive; it is done by only a few places that charge by the linear inch. I figured out a really cheap alternative that seems to be working well.
That bag of hamburgers paid tremendous dividends to me in information.
Duct tape was used to repair and patch my car’s original floor covering so that I would have a one-piece pattern. The taped-up floor covering was carefully lifted out of the car. Under the rubber was a padding made of a brown material. It was falling apart and left a lot of dust behind. I tried to remove it in one piece, but without too much success. Between the rubber and the padding, I had enough to provide a good pattern for the new carpet.
The front and rear seat bottom were removed to provide more working room. It also allowed me to fit the carpet under the seat.
I measured the front and rear floor covering and found that neither exceeded 36 inches, so one yard of carpet would be enough, even providing a little excess. That excess allowed me to cut the carpet 1 inch larger than the pattern to make sure that everything fit well.
One yard of wall-to-wall carpeting was purchased at a local carpet store for about $8 per square yard. The store had rolls of carpet and was willing to sell just one yard. It also supplied me with sample cards that I could take home to select the best color. Instead of selling me new carpet padding, the store suggested that I cut off a piece of used padding from a job that they just completed. They told me to look for large, undamaged section and cut what I needed. They didn’t charge me; they said it was going into the trash anyway.
Minwax polyurethane was spread on the edges of the cut carpet to prevent it from fraying.
I decided to try my luck with the padding before I cut into the carpet. I’m glad I did. I immediately made a mistake that my friends, the carpet installers, warned me about: orientation. I laid the padding face up in the driveway, and then I laid my pattern on top of it — face down. I traced the pattern with a Sharpie marker, and using a new knife blade, cut out the pattern. When I tried it in the car, I discovered that it was a mirror image of what I needed.
My mistake was not placing the pattern face up on the faceup padding. Fortunately, I had plenty of extra padding and I didn’t waste the expensive carpet.
I traced the outline of the pattern on the padding, and then traced the cut-outs for the clutch, brake, gas, dimmer switch and steering column. I had saved some large cartons and used them under the padding, and later under the carpet, so that the knife blade would not rub against the concrete driveway. I carefully cut the padding along the Sharpie marks. I then cut out the openings for the clutch, brake, etc. I cut a straight line from each of the holes to the upper edge so that I could fit the padding over the clutch, brake and gas pedals and steering column.
When I was satisfied with the fit of the padding, I went on to the carpet itself. The carpet should be cut on the backside and never on the face. I was also told that my cuts should be deep enough to cut all of the way through the jute or rubberized backing, but not deep enough to cut the pile. That took practice.
With the pattern laid out on the back of the carpet, I traced it with the Sharpie, but I gave the overall outline one inch extra to allow for errors. Then I traced the exact size outline, so I actually had two lines laid out on the carpet backing. The first thing I did was put a new blade in the knife, then I cut along the outer line with a smooth, even cut, not with a sawing motion. I then cut out the openings for the gas, brake and clutch pedals and the steering column and cut a seam to allow them to be fitted over the shafts.
I laid the new carpet over the padding and found that the one-inch extra was needed. The padding is thicker than the original, so I had to trim the padding so that it wouldn’t peek out from under the carpet. On the back of the carpet, I marked where the carpet was too big. I removed the carpet and laid it out, face down, on the cardboard. With a fresh blade, I trimmed the carpet according to the new marks. This step was completed several times to get a really good fit. The floor looked great and felt terrific with the new padding underneath.
My final step was to prevent the unraveling of the edges of the carpet, which was already beginning. I again removed the carpet and very carefully trimmed any loose threads from the edges cut by the knife. Water-based, clear Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane, a water-based polyurethane that can be cleaned up with soap and water, was then liberally spread on the backside of all the cut edges, being careful not to let the liquid get onto the face of the carpet. After letting the polyurethane dry for a couple of hours, I gave it a second coat, then a third.The first coat soaked into the carpet edges, and when it dried, provided a tough edge to prevent the carpet from unraveling.
The knife and a very sharp pair of scissors were used to trim missed threads, and then I touched up those spots with more polyurethane. I let it dry overnight, and the next day installed the new carpet and reinstalled the seats.
It looked very good, although not as good as a professionally installed carpet. However, it cost me a lot less and the quality of the carpet was much better than what I have seen in most cars.