Padded Leather Armrest

After 6 years of hitting my elbow on the hard, plastic torture device that Mazda calls a center console armrest, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Some cheesy looking aftermarket pads exist and one very nice solution from a company called Leather Lids, but I'd rather make something myself than pay for a prefab cushion. I have no idea how close my solution is to any of the aftermarket ones, but I'm pretty happy with it. Read on if you'd like to take care of your sore elbow problems.

Your shopping list:
  • 1 baggy of NU-Foam or similar high density foam padding. You'll need a 11" x 5" pad to cover the armrest.
  • 1 spare armrest / center console lid (optional).
  • 2 square feet of leather in your choice of color. I'd recommend the light to medium weight (2 to 3 ounce).
  • A staple gun loaded with 8mm+ staples.
  • 1 spray can of 3M Super77 spray adhesive.
  • Newspapers, tape measures, a screwdriver for prying staples.

Padding cut to fit armrest
Step 1: Cut your padding to fit.

As you can see from the picture, you need to cut it to about 11" x 5". I had plenty of foam, so I cut several pads and used the best fitting one in the end. I suppose you could cut the leather to fit in this step too. I managed to not photograph as much of the leather work as I did the padding. My 2 square feet of leather came from an ebay seller by the name of "Dangerous Threads" who I highly recommend. You'll need about a 15 " x 9" rectangle of leather, but I'd lay the lid over the leather and make sure that measurement is enough before actually cutting.

Nufoam foam alternative padding bag
NU-Foam - great padding for this particular task.

I stumbled across this type of foam in a local craft store (Joanne Fabrics). It's surprisingly strong while remaining soft, flame retardant, and best of all, it separates easily.

Padding being ripped in half for leather lid
Step 2: Separate the 1" thick padding into something thinner.

This is why you should try to find NU-foam padding. 1" is a little too thick for padding on the armrest, so I wanted to cut it in half. This NU-foam stuff separates evenly with very little effort. I made my padding about 2/3" thick.

Edges of armrest padding are rounded to conform to the shape.
Step 3: Round the leading edges.

I just cut a diagonal angle along each edge and rounded the corners. This allows the leather to make a little more pleasing shape over the armrest than if the padding was left square shaped. And as you can see, I just taped the padding in place to do this.

Glue the padding to the cover
Step 4: Spray glue the padding to the cover.

You've got pretty much just one shot at getting the padding lined up with the top of the cover once the Super77 spray adhesive has been applied. Fly it over the cover very slowly and carefully, and start with one corner. You can kinda see how the padding conforms to the rounded top of the armrest.

Underside of stapled leather armrest
Steps 5-8: Cut the leather, staple an edge, and start stretching.

Sorry for the lack of pictures here, but you can kinda see what's going on. Cut the 2' x 1' piece of leather that you purchased to fit the armrest. As previously mentioned, you'll end up with about a 15" x 9" piece of leather. Then staple one edge to the bottom of the lid. Then start stretching like you've never stretched before. I stapled one of the long sides first, then the 2nd long side. In retrospect, it would have been easier to staple the front side (a short side) first and then do the longer sides and the back. The shot above shows the two long sides with the excess leather already trimmed off. Spray adhesive helps hold the leather that couple of seconds you need to get the staple gun into position to tack it down.

Completed leather lid all stapled and stretched
Step 9: Trim all excess leather.

Once you've got everything stapled in place as well as you like, trim off all the excess leather. The corners are the most problematic areas. I cut them as flat as I could and left them. Leather doesn't fray. We'll see how well it holds up over the next few years.

Front edge of smooth, leather padded armrest
Front edge of the armrest

You can see the armrest completed and the leather all cut and stretched here. It's impressive how well leather stretches. You want it to stretch as much as possible to keep the front and back sides from rubbing too much on the console once the armrest is reinstalled.

Back end of the padded armrest
Back edge of the armrest.

You can see a little wrinkling from the stretching here, but it's a bit more flat than it appears in the photo. The lid has no problem opening or closing. Notice how smoothly the long edges blend while the short edges have a quick transition.

Under side of installed padded leather console
Step 10: Install armrest, admire work.

All of the screws should go in through any leather that might be covering the factory holes, as long as you didn't go too crazy with the staples around these spots. I thought this shot showed some of the staple work pretty well and might be helpful to others.

Leather armrest installed
Installed padded leather armrest

You can see how nicely the armrest blends into the console. It looks like it belongs, not like an obvious aftermarket stick-on pad, like so many vendors sell.

Installed leather lid armrest cover
No more sore elbow.

It was quite easy to do this little mod. I've spent more time typing this webpage than I did stapling and stretching leather. This was cheap too, with a total outlay of $15 including leather, padding, and staples. Cheap, looks nice, easy to do: the trifecta of the perfect DIY Miata modification.

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