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Leather Table Top Issues

Tips on using leather for a desk or table surface, with a discussion of some of its drawbacks and limitations. March 26, 2009

We need to make a 42 x 90 table with a leather surface. I am wondering what adhesive to use. Should I worry about backing material? What about seaming? Our leather supplier has already warned us they may not have a hide big enough for this table. Our construction will be either MDF core with phenolic surfaces, or MDF with veneer. Is one preferable to the other? I would appreciate advice from anyone with experience using leather as a work surface material, as we have none.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
Have done two smaller tables (both on sanded plywood) and a small desk (with veneer on solid wood core). Used 3M spray adhesive and vinyl wallpaper paste (not both together). If you use waterbase, do not allow leather to stretch, because it will then shrink on drying (major substrate warp). It goes down well with a rubber hand roller.

As a work surface it is not very durable. (Some faults differ with thickness, oil vs vegetable tan, and surface glazing). As a writing surface it is traditional on drop front desks where it is very thin and most likely worked well with fountain and dip pens, but tends to mark badly with ball point if the writer bears down. It stains fairly easily and watermarks from vases and sometimes glasses. Vegetable tan absorbs grease and dyes like a sponge unless seal coated. It will stain from iron objects that have rusty bottoms, and things set on it which have small feet leave dents. The thicker the leather, the worse the faults. Also if used in a home environment that includes a cat, be aware that cats will sharpen their claws on it in preference to any other thing in the house and can wreck a leather top in minutes and shred it to the backer in a few days.

That does sound like a gloriously large expanse of leather. Are you wrapping the edge or using it as an insert field? If the latter, you may need to pare down the thickness along the edge to match veneer thickness.

The only literature I know of using leather as a surfacing material is bookbinding. TALAS sells supplies for such and books.

From contributor M:
I have done several desks and tables using leather. It seems to me the size you mention is a little large for a single hide. I have never been in the situation of seaming two hides together and imagine it may be difficult to get something to look really good. Personally I would do it in two fields with a wood divider the same thickness as the skiver. I have used double strength wallpaper paste generously applied, which will allow plenty of time for adjustments (a must in my opinion). I usually trim the leather with a razor blade once the leather is laid and the paste not fully dry. Again, the leather I have used is pre-stained (and gold leafed if applicable). After it has dried I shoot it with a couple of coats of sealer rubbed out and then lacquered. If it is laid on wood, do not apply too may lacquer coats, otherwise crazing may occur.