How to Replace Leather Inlay

Sep 11, 2017 | Furniture FAQs and Tips | 12 comments

How to replace damaged leather inlay

How many of you have seen damaged leather inlay on pieces brimming with potential, but have no idea how to fix it?

I totally get it! I used to wonder how in the world I was supposed to fix those areas too. Today, I’m sharing an easy way to fix all of that!


What is leather inlay?

It’s basically a piece of leather or vinyl that is glued on to the top of a piece of furniture and surrounded by a raised strip of wood.

My former method of handling these types of pieces was to rip the leather off (which took forever) and remove the pieces of wood on the edges.  I never wanted to keep the leather because it tends to have gold trim around the perimeter, which I really don’t like.

I don’t know why it took me so long to learn the proper way to replace these panels, but I’m so glad I took the time to do it for this piece!


my project piece

I found myself riding home at the end of a frustrating day, and I decided to stop at Cricket’s Antiques and Garden Market for a little retail therapy.  Even if I don’t find project pieces there, I still like to go visit, chat with the merchants and look at their pretty things.  I found this gorgeous table in the barn section, and it had the dreaded leather inlay on top.

I was on the fence as to whether or not I should buy it.  I loved EVERYTHING about it – the shape, the legs, the casters and the drawers – except for that pesky leather inlay!  Something clicked in my head and I felt like a literal lightbulb went off.  It was time to learn how to replace leather inlay so I didn’t have to pass up beautiful pieces like this one anymore!

Removing the inlay 

Work began with gently removing the original leather.  I did this carefully with a pair of needle nose pliers.  I needed to keep the original piece in tact so I could trace the new piece using this one as a template.  It came off very easily because the glue underneath had worn out over time.  The wood underneath was in great shape, despite the leftover adhesive.


Sanding the wood under the veneer

While there were bits of leather left and lots of glue residue, the wood itself didn’t have any holes, splitting, or uneven bits.  I took the table outside and used my DeWalt orbital sander to remove all of the old residue.  I used 80 grit sandpaper it worked like a charm!  You can see the clean surface on the left and the original on the right in this photo:

It took about 5 or 10 minutes to get the top looking like this:

If you’re going to do this on one of your pieces, your goal is to have a clean surface to work with – no leftover adhesive or bits of fabric.  You don’t have to get it to a smooth finish as if you were refinishing a wood top.  It’s OK if it’s a little rough.  I left mine at 80 grit and it was fine.

Getting supplies

The next step was to make a couple of errands.  My first was to Joann Fabrics.  I went to the very back of the store near the batting and foam.  There was quite a selection of vinyl to choose from!

This camel color vinyl caught my eye.

I liked this one too, but it had a burgundy tone to it and I didn’t want anything reddish.

I kept going back to this selection.  It was super soft and there was something about the pattern that I really liked!

I had half a yard cut for me and it was on sale for 50% off!  Plus, Joann has coupons that you can use for a single cut of fabric pretty regularly, so check their website or their phone app for savings.

I went down the upholstery aisle and looked at their selection of nailhead trim.

I settled on the antique gold for my piece.  I’m not a huge fan of brass (unless it’s paired with navy) and I didn’t want silver.

As you saw in the previous photo, the trim was about $22.  You get 5 yard’s worth of trim and I used another 50% coupon to pay for this.  It’s also a nice classy touch for upholstery, so I’m sure I’ll use it again!

cutting new inlay

Once I had my goodies in hand, I headed back to my workspace and started cutting a new piece of leather vinyl.  I used a rotary cutter and a cutting mat.

Whatever cutting implement you use, make sure it’s sharp!  Leather vinyl is a bit tricky to cut.  I laid my original piece over top of the replacement piece and cut it to size.


choosing an adhesive

The research I did online suggested that I use wallpaper paste to adhere the leather vinyl to my wood surface.  I tried that and was not happy with the results.  It didn’t seem to stick at all, so I used what I had on hand – good ‘ol Mod Podge!

Guys, this stuff is amazing.  I use it for decoupaging antique sheet music to the fronts of dressers and now, it’s going to be my go-to adhesive for leather inlay replacements!

I was pretty heavy-handed with the Mod Podge and I spread it out on my wood surface with a chip brush.  Then, I carefully lined up my replacement piece of vinyl and used a brayer (roller) to smooth out any air bubbles.  You can purchase a brayer in any craft store that sells Mod Podge.  Usually they’re together on the same shelf.  If you don’t have one, use a rolling pin!

I went back with a utility knife to trim some excess vinyl from the edges.  As I smoothed out the piece across the top, I found that it stretched a bit and needed to be trimmed.

The result was an exact fit!


Installing Nailhead Trim

It was time to install the nailhead trim in between the leather vinyl and the lip of the wood to hide the seams.

My Dad gave me an extra hand with this step, because as I unrolled the nailhead trim, it was a bit unruly.  I had to mold it a little bit and manipulate it so it lined up straight along the seams.

As you can see, every 5th tack has a hole in it.  That’s by design.

This is where you place the extra tacks that come with the trim.

I used my super cute pink hammer from K-Mart and gently tapped each tack in place, securing the trim.  (See?  You don’t need fancy tools!  Use what you have.  I LOVE my pink tools!)

Here’s how the nailed-in tack compares to the dummy tacks in the rest of the trim.

I worked slowly and carefully around the entire perimeter.  My Dad held the trim down and I twisted and placed it where it needed to go.  It took about 15 minutes to do the entire top.

Now I know the trim isn’t 100% straight, but I’m OK with that.  The top itself isn’t totally straight and when you’re working with old furniture, sometimes things are going to be a little off.  I think it looks SOOOO much better than it did before and I’m so proud of myself for learning how to replace leather inlay!  Hopefully this little tutorial will inspire you to do the same.


Update – The Reveal

Here is how this little table turned out.

Antique writing desk with replaced leather inlay
Doesn’t this table/desk look so much better now?
Look at that new inlay!

You can read more about the reveal of this table/desk in this blog post!

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I'm Jenn Baker - Milk Paint lover, photographer, blogger, and QVC Guest Host. Click below to learn more about me and my creative business.  LEARN MORE ABOUT JENN

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