Leather Surfaces + The Feels

At first, I thought this DIY was going to be about aesthetics. Then I started thinking about my motivations behind it and I realized this is about a feeling instead. It’s why I like leather in the first place… It wears in over time, and changes with the way it is used. This is the way I think about interiors, my furniture, and my favorite personal belongings. 

The fake wood veneer on this IKEA (Listerby Sofa Table) surface looks great. It’s like a picture of wood and even has relief marks on the surface to resemble grain. A person who obsesses over wood will obviously see the faux, but at a quick glance, it’s pretty convincing – Until you touch it. 

That’s when I understood my motivation. This was more about touch and a feeling than just looks. Vegetable-tanned leather is the ultimate for me… because it will age, and darken, and stain, and look a mess for a while… and then the tones will slowly come together and look like the most amazing patina you could imagine. That’s why I thought I could improve this particular piece, and I’ll show you how I did it.

How to cover an ikea table with leather

Firstly, select leather that has a firm back surface with tight grain. Loose, suede-like areas of leather won’t adhere as cleanly. I chose a 7-8 oz weight vegetable tanned leather, so it’s substantial without being overly thick. Cut your leather into roughly-sized pieces just larger than your table surface and set them aside. 

Cut your leather pieces to rough sizes large than your surface to be finished.

Next, I sanded and vacuumed the surface of the IKEA veneer. I wanted to get the shine off and get a little more ‘tooth’ in the surface so the glue would have more surface area to cling to. I poured out some leather cement, which is Fiebing’s Leathercraft Cement, and flooded the surface with glue using a leather scrap as a spreader. If you can get an even, somewhat thin layer with a spreader, that’s great. Otherwise, you can use a foam paint roller for smooth surfaces. 

Using Fiebing's leather cement

Once the glue is even, lay your leather pieces onto the glue surface. I used a brayer to smooth it out and remove any air bubbles. You can use your hand too, but make sure you don’t have any glue on you beforehand. Lay the board on a flat surface and cover the leather with a clean towel and put some weight on it to let dry. I had two shelves, so I set them leather to leather and stacked boxes of magazines on them. The more even your weight surface the better… you don’t want this to dry with an uneven surface print! Let dry overnight. 

When completely dry, flip the leather surface face down on a clean cutting surface. I’ve got a self-healing top on this workbench, but a smaller cutting pad will work too. Make sure your blade is brand new since you’re cutting stiff, natural leather. I put tape on the blade so I could press it right next to the ‘wood’ piece without cutting the table surface. Be very careful with the alignment of your blade, because it’ll go through the tape if angled wrong. Cut as slowly as you want. Concentrate on even, fluid cuts. Use multiple passes instead of digging in deep. Let the blade do the work.

Cutting the leather carefully

After the extra leather is cut, you can clean your edge with fine sandpaper and a block. It will help remove some of the furry edge and prepare the grain for finishing. Take a clean rag and moisten with water and slowly wet the leather edges. Let dry for 5 mins… the water should soak in quickly and should start drying before you apply wax. Get a small block of bee’s wax and rub into the edge grain. One even pass is enough. After applied, get a clean, dry cloth and rub the wax into the leather edge. Multiple quick passes will warm the surface and the wax will blend into the leather and ‘slick’ the edge nicely.

Wet the leather edge and apply bee's wax

The burnished edge

After the edge is sealed, reassemble your table.  If you want a little protection on the leather surface, apply a little boot oil to darken and protect. As you use it, you’ll get marks and blemishes as the surface ages. You can periodically apply boot oil if you want to continue to even out the marks. Be careful putting anything wet on the table for a while until the surface is aged, as any watermarks will be very visible in the early stages. 

The final assembly

Finished table in place