Gluing Leather to Wood

Advice on the right adhesive for gluing up a leather desktop. March 30, 2008

I am putting a leather top on a project much like an antique leather desk top. It is a framed opening right now, but I am unsure which way is best to install the leather. Does the leather get applied to a panel and set in place, or should the recess be left off 1/16 plus or minus (for thickness of material), then the leather laid right onto that?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
On antiques it is almost always glued directly on a recessed portion of the furniture. Wallpaper paste is what my leather supplier recommends and it works very well. On new wood you would probably want to size with commercial sizing or a thinned coat of your regular paste.

From contributor M:
Does the leather for this type of application have a special backing? Or can any leather hide be used?

From contributor A:
I don't know about antiques, but I've always done it with a panel wrapped, dropped inside a frame. I believe we just used cold press glue and stuck it in the veneer press. It's easy to do and you can replace it easily if it gets damaged.

From contributor D:
No special backing, just good old hide. I don't know how large a piece you will be using. If you need a large piece, chances are the thickness will vary slightly across the width of the piece. Leather workers would use a skiving tool to thin to a consistent thickness. (I have used a sharp hand plane in a pinch.)

For smaller glue ups, I have used rubber cement. I have never used the wallpaper paste, but it sounds like it should work. I have used yellow glue many times for the larger pieces, which always worked for me.

The panel method works well for thinner leather. If you are using a thicker leather, or are having trouble forming the leather around the panel, leather becomes easier to work when it is wet. Use a spray bottle and spray both sides of the leather to make it easier to form around the panel. Don't dunk the leather, just wet the surface. Be careful, because the wet surface will scratch very easily, but this will allow you to bend and crease around the panel much easier with moisture in the leather. I know it seems like the wrong thing to do - wetting leather - but leather workers do it all the time before tooling, as this is the only way to soften the leather. As long as you use clean water, it will not stain your leather, and you can stain and finish your leather once it dries.

From contributor J:
There is no special backing, but I buy my leather from DCT Leather and it is very consistent in thickness and the service from them has always been excellent. They and other suppliers recommend wallpaper paste - it gives a long open time in case you need to adjust the leather. If the leather ever needs to be replaced it can be pulled off the piece without a lot of effort. Leather has a grain and can be stretched when installing so you need to be careful pulling.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the info. I got a good deal on a whole hide at a local shop, which is why I was asking on the backing.