Attaching Leather Seat Bottoms

A discussion of practical methods for attaching leather to wood for chair seats. February 14, 2010

I need to attach basic leather seats to some stools. I've never done this. Does anyone have advice for me?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
I have pressed leather to MDF with cold press Titebond in the vacuum bag and it works great. Are your seats flat?

From the original questioner:
The idea is to adhere it to the frame and leave the middle to support itself. I expect the leather to kind of conform to a butt over time. Totally flat would be hard on a butt, but I will not rule it out.

From contributor J:
You could try gluing it to the frame, but my preference would be to wrap it around the outside and fasten it to the bottom, either staples or upholstery tacks. Make sure you ease the inside edges of the frame too.

From contributor C:
I think gluing it is not a good idea. You should find another way to do it.

From contributor W:
Gluing it to the frame is a bit dicey. How about a thin brass plate all the way around with big screws like they used on the back?

From contributor F:
It probably is glued and secured in some other way. The glue will prevent wrinkling and shifting but itís not enough to hold it, as contributor W implies. We've done table tops and leather upholstery for stuff like beds, but not an unsupported seat.

Based on what we have done here is how I would approach it. It seems that the leather is wrapped around a frame which is inset into the chair seat's frame. I would further presume that it is supported from below (a rabbet). In this case build a hardwood frame allowing for the thickness of the leather. Apply dilute white glue across the top and outsides of the frame, stretch the leather across and wrap around. Staple the leather on the bottom using 22ga upholstery staples every inch or less. If you don't own an upholstery stapler, there are decent air gun models out for dirt cheap. Set the frame into the chair seat and screw in from the bottom. The clamping action of the frame to the seat should prevent tearout.

You need a really good hide for this and make sure you don't use the part from over the joints, which is weaker. Make sure you discuss the application with whoever you get your leather from. I don't know where you are but we have sourced from the Hide House in Napa, CA and been very satisfied.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everybody. I'm fairly confident that it is just glued. I've seen it done a couple of times and remember that there are some specific details to the process (which I cannot recall). I will do a few experiments and write back what I end up doing.

From the original questioner:
I tried several different glues and they all kind of failed! I tried Titebond 1, 2 and 3, three different epoxies, two different cyanoacrylates and Roo Glue. They all adhere the surface which isn't really strong on leather. There may also be some treatment to the leather which doesn't agree with those glues. Luckily, I had a "duh" moment and tried the most obvious glue which is hide glue. It seems to work pretty well! It is made out of cow, after all. Scoring the leather with a razor also helps let all the glues penetrate into the fibers of the leather.

It's not perfect though, and I want the leather to lay flat and not wrap around. The final solution is to rabbet a slight amount of the inside edge of the frame and staple nylon, burlap or some other tear-resistant fabric into the rabbet. The leather then gets glued onto the frame above the fabric, which will allow me to sleep knowing that I don't need to depend on the glue alone. Thanks for everyone's help!

From contributor M:
The way I would do this in my shop is rabbit a 1/2" wide x 1/4" deep around the inside of the seat frame. Get some heavy canvas and staple it into the grove. You can double the canvas if you need more strength. I would use a minimum 1/2" staple. Stretch the canvas so it is really tight. Then use 1/4" foam to fill the inside over the canvas. Then get some barge cement. It is found at leather stores. Cut the leather so that it is 1/2" larger all around. Take some sand paper and rough up the inside of the leather and the top of the chair frame rails. Apply the barge cement to the chair and the leather. Wait 5-10 minutes. Put the leather on the front and clamp it down with a piece of wood on top of the leather to protect it and give an even pressure. Stretch the leather back and do the same for the back and then do the same for the sides. Keep it clamped overnight. Remember that the barge cement is a contact cement so once it is down you cannot readjust it. The canvas will be the support for the seat not the leather.

From contributor M:
Forgot the final step. After the clamps are off take a sharp razor blade and very carefully cut off the excess leather. There are also very different qualities of leather. The best leather for this job would be belt leather. It is very thick and heavy. It acts more like a piece of plywood than leather. It is very expensive but worth the price. Finding a wholesale leather shop in your area would be the best bet.

From contributor U:
I think I would definitely stay away from gluing it if you can. It's a tough call.

From contributor R:
You should use upholstery tacks or a staple gun to attach the leather.

From the original questioner:
Just to update, I decided to route a slight recess across the frame, stretch and staple some jute webbing across the opening, and glued the leather on to the un-routed section of wood with a thick cyanoacrylate (it was designed for gluing skin, after all). I tested the glue by just gluing a leather seat onto a frame with no reinforcement and using this stool as my shop chair for a month or two. No problems with it, just sagging a little.

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