Leather Inset for a Desk Top

Ace advice for applying leather to a desktop. April 20, 2011

I'm interested in doing a leather inset in a desktop. I think I know how I want to do it, but I would like to hear from any who have done this.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor M:
I have learned from a leather master (dying breed) some great pointers about leather inserts. Here are some guidelines to go by.

1. Substrate should be a stable product - plywood or MDF - and should be set down the thickness of a nickel from the perimeter framing.

2. Pre-finish the perimeter, seal the underside, and prime the top of the substrate with a primer such as BIN 1-2-3 (water based). Do all three steps as close to the same time to prevent the substrate from cupping.

3. Use wheat-based wallpaper paste as your adhesive and use a spray gun as an applicator. Size the underside of the leather a couple of times as the rough surface is very porous - allow plenty of time to dry. Mask off the perimeter while the sizing is drying. Then spray the substrate and leather with the adhesive. Let both surfaces become tacky before applying the leather.

4. After laying down the leather evenly by hand, use a soft rubber j-roller to even it out. Get as close to the perimeter as possible.

5. Here is the crucial part - cutting the leather! Use a small, thin knife that is beveled on one side to trace the perimeter. Then you can use the roller to stretch and force the leather into any crevices created by slight faults while trimming.

6. There are many ways to color the leather with stains, dry pigment glazes, etc. - but the thing that is most crucial is to use leather lacquer as the topcoat, and don't put too much on. This lacquer is formulated to be flexible enough to write on the leather without chipping, but if you put too much on, it will chip off.

If you plan on buying a pre-sized and tooled leather, I suggest getting the leather first and planning the top around it, because it is a very unforgiving medium.

From contributor K:
That is some ace advice - thanks for sharing it. I've never wanted to do leather, but I feel like I could at least give it a go now.

From contributor G:
Please add one more thing. What material is being used as sizing on the surface and on the underside of the leather? Is it a light spray of the wallpaper paste or a wallpaper surface prep size? Would thinned out hide glue do, I wonder? Also, what do you used as a leather top lacquer?

Thank you so much. I have installed small desk writing inserts several times and it has always been very difficult. Your way sounds so much better!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the info. I was going to use pre-finished leather. Wallpaper paste is interesting. I'll probably do a test run.

From contributor M:
Lightly sprayed coats of the wallpaper paste are used for the sizing of the leather. As far as the lacquer, I used whatever he gave me in a coffee can - it had very similar working properties to nitrocellulose lacquer.

From contributor T:
Hide glue works great - we use it on leather. Also, rubber cement works well.