An issue Marcie has had with Blue is the lack of an armrest for her co-pilot's seat - for some reason, a standard Ford Transit comes with an armrest only for the driver's seat. Where do you put your arm when there's no armrest? It just sort of hangs there. You can put it in your lap, but that's only comfortable for a little while. Since we plan on spending a lot of time in Blue, it really needs to be comfortable for both of us, and so we investigated how we might add an armrest to her seat.
The first solution we looked at was just buying a factory armrest and attaching it to the seat. Apparently, the standard Ford armrest is quite a high tech device. It's adjustable and can be raised up out of the way, but even so, it was hard to justify the cost to purchase and install one. The price was upwards of $600, requiring the partial dismantling of the existing seat and some reconstructive work to the upholstery. We next looked for used seats on eBay and at wrecking yards, but a seat that matched Blue's interior and that had the armrest was rare and expensive; the least expensive we found was $700. Not surprisingly, no one was excited about having us ruin a good seat by cutting it open and removing the armrest – unless we wanted to buy the entire seat. We also looked at a number of universal consoles that included armrests, but we couldn't find one that was the right size and matched the interior.
I suggested building a box with a padded, opening top that could double as an armrest and a storage area, but I was having trouble convincing either of us that I could pull it off without ending up with a big, ugly, kludgy looking thing. Then Marcie came up with a workable idea. She found a nice generic armrest that was intended to mount to the floor of a smaller vehicle. It was adjustable and had a small storage compartment. The only problem was that we don't have low slung bucket seats, so the generic armrest would be too low. If I built a smaller version of the storage box, however, we could mount the armrest on the top, and hopefully the combination wouldn't look too bad.
To build the box, I used 1x2 poplar to build the frame. The joints were made with pocket screws and wood glue. The face panels were made with 1/2” birch plywood, and were also attached using pocket screws and wood glue. When I attached the plywood panels to the frame, I debated on the best approach. Should I make the panels flush with the frame, and attempt to make the joints smooth enough so that with a little filler, the joints would be invisible under a couple coats of paint? Or should I recess the panels an eighth inch or so, making a clear demarcation between the frame and the panels? I chose the former option, but it didn't turn out as well as I hoped. I wasn't able to get the plywood uniformly flush with the frame, and after two applications of wood filler, a fair amount of sanding, a coat of primer and two coats of top paint, the joint is still visible in some places and invisible in others. Where it is visible, the joint isn't readily apparent unless you look closely, especially since the sides and front of the box are mostly hidden by the seats, but it was a good lesson for when I begin building the rest of the cabinetry. I'll either need to come up with a better technique for clamping the pieces together when joining them or resort to the second option.
The box has a hinged top so that it can be used for storage. Currently, we use it to keep our CD's and a roll of paper towels. I used a round-over bit in my router to round all the corners, and a cove router bit to make an inset on the front of the lid to make it easier to grip with our fingers. The armrest came with a U-shaped base which I removed and replaced with a bracket constructed from 1/4” aluminum. It was then attached to the lid of the box using two 1/4” bolts. Because I wasn't sure what the ideal height would be for Marcie's arm, I made a temporary spacer between the lid and armrest from a 2x4. We took the armrest to Home Depot and got a satin finish latex in a matching color, then the box and spacer were sanded, primed and painted. The final coat of paint was dry just hours before we departed on our 3,100 mile road trip from Boston to Chesapeake to Las Vegas. I used some non-skid material to keep the box from sliding around, and set it place.
After a few hours on the road, Marcie's feedback was that she really liked it, but it could be an inch lower. Once in Las Vegas, I'll make a shorter spacer. I had planned to use construction adhesive to bond the box to the floor, but the non-skid has worked quite well so far, so I may just continue using it.
The total project cost was as follows:
1x2x8' poplar, 2 @ $9.68: $20
Plywood, 1/2” x 48” x 96” birch: $44
Non-skid material: $3
Everything was purchased at Home Depot except for the armrest which can be found on Amazon at this link: