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How to tackle complex leather repairs

In truth, there’s more than one way to tackle complex leather repairs. In this guide, we will show you the method that we used to repair a large star-shaped tear.

Let’s face it; accidents happen. Pets, moving, children and all manner of other situations can lead to leather damage. Left unrepaired, rips can deteriorate making a bad situation worse. Thankfully, it is possible to not only slow further damage but also to completely conceal it with a well-executed repair.

The repair process

There are 4 main steps to a repair:

  1. Clean and prep the surface – remove any silicons, waxes, oils, and soiling that may prevent optimal adhesion
  2. Anchor the edges of the tear
  3. Fill and smooth any remaining gaps and surface irregularities then texturise to mimic leather grain
  4. Refinish – recolour to blend with the surrounding areas

Equipment

Here are the tools we used to repair the multi-directional tear on the rear panel of a Chesterfield sofa.

BEFORE

Measuring approximately 10cm x 10cm x 2cm the damage included a 3-way tear, surface scuffing and missing foam padding.

Our repair method

STEP 1

Clean the area thoroughly using Spot & Prep (No.4). It is important to remove any factors that might compromise adhesion.

Replace any missing padding.

Anchor the tear into position with stitching. This can provide the strongest foundation for repairs especially when the leather is torn in multiple directions. Pierce holes in the leather first to make stitching easier. Use a curved upholstery needle and strong thread.

STEP 2

Stitching is complete. This was not a load bearing repair so a few stitches were enough. In a load bearing location, more stitching may be prudent.

Optional: We did not use a sub-patch on this job but it can be helpful when the leather needs stabilisation from behind. Glue it in place at the edges. Suitable sub-patches include, leather, vinyl, mesh, silk or interfacing.

STEP 3

Apply some leather glue into the gaps and allow it to dry. Some of the glue will seep behind and between the edges further reinforcing the join. Repeat as needed.

Using a palette knife, lay in the first thin layer of leather filler. Don’t try to fill the gaps fully. Apply pressure to push this first layer into the gaps.

Allow the filler to dry. A hair dryer can be used to speed the drying process.

STEP 4

Using a sponge or palette knife, commence building thin layers of filler to cover the tear and stitching. Experiment with wiping, scraping and dabbing methods of application.

Tinting the filler with colour is optional. It can make it easier to achieve coverage when finishing and is less aesthetically jarring should another scuff occur to the same area in the future (Let’s hope not!).

STEP 5

Continue applying coats of filler, allowing drying time between each coat.

As coverage builds, try going back to using a palette knife and white filler to more easily locate the troughs. For the next couple of applications, concentrate on filling the pits to level the repair site.

STEP 6

Sand to smooth and highlight any low spots or bumps. Run your hand over the area to detect any unwanted irregularities.

Hand sanding using 400 – 600 grit sandpaper or an electric palm sander with 120 – 240 grit pads is ideal for a job like this, where the leather is flat and taught.

STEP 7

When you are satisfied that the repair is adequately filled and smoothed, apply a final layer of tinted leather filler using a stippling motion to texturise the area.

Allow drying. Sand by hand (not machine) to render a smooth grain effect that is ready for finishing.

STEP 8

It’s time to add colour to hide the repair! Using your Leather Repair & Recolour Kit, first, apply leather primer, then a few coats of matching colour. Allow drying between coats. When the colour is completely dry (after a few days), apply 2 coats of matching clear topcoat. Blend the new coatings with the original to achieve a seamless result.

AFTER

The final result! Chesterfields are two-toned. An antiquing effect was applied to match the surrounding areas. This repair will last as long as the lounge lasts or longer (or until another major bingle occurs). It blends well and along with other repairs has helped to save the entire lounge suite from the scrap heap.

The finished lounge suite.

Tips for using leather filler

  • Filler is laid down in very thin layers. Each layer must be dry before applying the next. This is the slowest part of any repair and requires the most patience
  • Drying can be overnight or assisted by sunshine or a hairdryer. Filler is dry when it sands well. If it balls or crumbles when sanding, it’s not dry yet
  • Filler can be tinted using a small amount of leather paint or dye (depending on your job)

Factors that affect repair results & durability

  • THE LOCATION of a tear or rip may influence the durability of a repair. If the tear is in a non-load-bearing location, repairs can be extremely successful and remain intact indefinitely. If the tear is in a load-bearing location, the performance of the repair is less easily predicted
  • THE CONSTRUCTION of the piece can impact the ease of repair. If the leather is stretched taught, repairing can be easier than when it is baggy or loose
  • THE CONDITION of your leather has a direct impact on the ease and durability of a repair. If leather is strong and intact, results can be very satisfying and the repair may deliver excellent longevity. If the leather is a highly compromised state (thin, strained, damaged, oily or brittle), pleasing results may be achievable but the leather may lack the integrity to hold the repair.

Sometimes, the best possible outcome is that the damage is repaired so that the chair or lounge looks good again but is placed in a location where it is no longer used as seating.

A bit of DIY ‘magic’

Repairing is merely a process. There is nothing ‘magic’ about it. Instead, it is a matter of securing open edges, filling pits and troughs, building coverage, refining, and smoothing, and finally, concealing the damage with professional-grade leather finishing products until it blends well.

When you look at a large tear in leather, it’s easy to think that it’s all over; that the sofa cannot be rescued. However, with some patience and the right materials, incredibly satisfying results can be achieved.

For lots more information about leather repairing, leather finishing and which products are best for your job, visit https://leatherhero.com.au/resources/

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How to use Leather Filler

What is Leather Filler?

Leather Hero leather filler (Fill No.14) is a flexible, sandable, water-based, air-drying compound with excellent adhesion properties for filling surface imperfections in leather. It has a white base and comes in a variety of colours.

Compatability

It is designed to be used under leather paint to create discreet repairs and surface corrections. Due to its opaque qualities, it is suitable for use under opaque finishes and not generally suitable for use under transparent finishes.

Suitable ForNot or Less Suitable For
Finishing SystemLeather Paint (Colour No.6)Aniline Dyes & Stains (No.)
Leather Repair KitsAniline Dye & Colour Restoration Kit (No.)
Topcoat (clear coating only)
Leather TypePigmented Nubuck
Man-made leatherSuede
Aniline
Semi-aniline

Types of filling

There are 2 main occassions to use leather filler:

  1. Rips and tears: when accidents happen (scissors, knives etc) or when a tear occurs in weakened leather
  2. Surface corrections: when the surface has imperfections such as delamination, scuffs, scratches and other such textural irregularities

In this guide, we will focus on the second type of usage as it is the most common.

The finish on these seats is delaminating, making them look old and worn

How to use Leather Filler

Good surface prep is an important part of successful results, including filled repairs.

  1. Clean the leather surface with Spot & Prep (No.4)
  2. Glue closed any loose tags or open tears with Glue (No.16) and allow drying. Repeat until glueing is completed
  3. At this stage and throughout the process, you can sand to smooth the area using a 400-800 grit sandpaper
  4. Load some filler onto the back of a palette knife then drag the knife on a 20-45 degree angle across the repair area, pressing firmly and evenly so that a neat, thin layer of filler is deposited. Allow drying
  5. When dry, the filler can be sanded to smooth the area
  6. Continue applying Fill (No.14) in thin layers until the repair or surface imperfections are filled and smooth

Optional steps

  • Apply leather Binder (No.33) before applying Fill (No.14) to stabilise loose, flaking, open and porous leather. It can be sanded, helping to seal and smooth a rough and unstable surface before filling
  • Mix around 10% Leather Paint (Colour No.6) into white Leather Filler to tint it
  • Apply a final layer of filler and texturise by dabbing with a sponge to stipple the surface to mimic leather grain
  • Insert a sub-patch behind a tear. Use a palette knife or similar to flatten the patch so that it lies flat under the leather. Use Leather Glue (Glue No.16) to join a small margin of leather around the tear to the backing patch then apply more glue to join the edges of the tear back together. When the glue is cured, apply Fill (No.15) as described previously.
    • Suitable sub-patch materials include leather, vinyl, mesh, interfacing or fabric

Here we track the progress of a lounge restoration from worn and delaminated to fully refinished and vastly improved.

1) Before: Delamination
2) Cleaned and sanded
3) 2 coats of Binder (No.33)
4) Mix of Fill (No.15) and Colour (No.6)
5) Blended to create a tinted filler
6) Applying filler
7) Firm and even pressure
8) Filling in layers
9) Refinish using Prime (No.5), Colour (No.6) and Topcoat (No.7)

Troubleshooting

  • Leather filler is not designed for rebuilding missing leather. Using a patch then filling to cosmetically improve the joins is preferable to attempting to lay in large areas of filler
  • Oil in leather prevents coatings and compounds from forming a bond. If your leather is very oily, it may appear dark in colour and soggy or spongey to touch
  • Filler that it applied too thickly, may not cure. Thin layers are recommended
  • Filler that is not dry, may not sand well. Allow to cure properly then, when cured, sand as needed
  • Repaired area looks smooth. This is normal where a lot of filler has been used or when the grain is smooth. Try stippling to mimic leather grain if needed
  • Repaired area feels a little stiffer than the surrounding leather. Depending on the size of the repair, this can be the case. Cured repairs may relax as the leather flexes with use

What to expect

Leather Filler (Fill (No.14) can produce very rewarding repairs. When an accidental tear happens in leather that is in good condition, a carefully glued, filled and refinished repair can conceal virtually all evidence of the tear. When leather is aged and no longer in great condition, filling can soften textural imperfections to improve the surface before refinishing.

This Before and After comparison clearly shows a dramatic improvement in the appearance of the leather upholstery

When it comes to rips and tears, perfectly undetectable repairs are possible but rare. In contrast, results that deliver significantly improved outcomes are common and perfectly achievable in most cases. With older leather, when you aim for an overall improvement in the look and feel of your leather as well as an extension of the usable life of your upholstery, handbag or car seats, a lot can be achieved.

The finished result was very impressive and extremely rewarding