Leather Desk Top Replacement

Jan 4, 2014 | Office, Projects

Tackling replacing our leather desk inserts was the biggest pain in my arse, especially since there were no good (*realistic*) tutorials out there.  All the tutorials made it look so easy when really it was a project that took a lot of swearing time.  So here is what it looked like before I dove in:

Desk Before

As you can see the leather was rubbed off in places and it was tacky (i.e. sticky) so that when I put a piece of paper on the desk and left it there for more than a few minutes, pieces of the paper would stick to the desk when I tried to lift the paper off.  That nuisance alone made the desk completely unusable.  The leather was also pitted and bumpy in places so we couldn’t write on the desk without looking like we had doctor handwriting.   I really wanted to salvage the desk since we have the matching filing cabinet and both pieces are really nice.  We got them off of Craigslist for a steal but I didn’t know if I’d be able to find another desk that was as nice as this one for the price let alone a desk and cabinet combo set.

And here’s what it looks like after replacing the panels:

The panels are now shiny and pretty and black and fitting for the one of the first rooms you come to when you walk in my house.

New desktop panel

I knew it would be a big project, so the first thing I did was to call around to find out how much it would cost to get it professionally done since this one seemed over my head, but everyone I called said they didn’t do that kind of work.  So, I had no choice but to do it myself.  I found a youtube video that got me started: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQDSUQcnOv0

The video was a good jumping off point, but it was really a lot harder than the video made it look mostly because the leather was a lot thicker than I initially thought.  

You can see the thickness here:

leather thicknessI wanted to replace the panels with leather, but after researching and finding out the panels are about $300-$400, I went with imitation leather that looked like leather for about $50 total.   I love the results especially since you can’t even tell that it’s vinyl (although I put a big piece of glass over the top of the whole desk so that helps).

Okay, now to the nitty gritty of replacing the leather:

First I stripped the old leather.  To strip the leather, you’ll need a sponge, water, a scraper, and an Exacto knife or razor blade.  Let me tell you right off the bat that if you can lift or unscrew the panels from the desk, DO THAT!  I didn’t know until I was done with the first panel that they could be unscrewed from the desk and that made my life so much easier.  If the panels don’t come off, then it will be hard to impossible to strip the leather from the sides of the panels which makes it impossible to tuck the new leather/vinyl in between the panels and desk. 

The process of stripping the leather is fairly easy, just super time consuming.  Start by scoring the leather with a razor blade and go deep.  Leather is a lot thicker and tougher than it looks.  Then get the area damp so that the leather is softer to cut into strips.  By scoring the leather first, you allow the water to seep into the leather rather than just sitting on top of the leather.

When the water has soaked into the leather, cut the leather into strips and start pulling the leather off the ply board that it is attached to.  The leather should be glued and stapled to the ply board so it might take a while to pull the leather off.  Continue getting the leather damp since that helps. Also get all the staples out using a flat head screw driver.

After all the old leather is gone, and the ply board underneath is dry, sand the ply board.  You might have to use wood filler if some of the ply board came up.  Just apply and sand down the wood filler after it dries.  By the time I was done, the ply board was still rough to the touch but not bumpy.  The vinyl that I used had a spongy backing so I knew that I didn’t have to get the surface perfectly smooth.

After the ply board is not rough anymore, cut the vinyl to the same size as the boards with about an inch on all sides for stapling.  I used a liquid glue for applying laminate to countertops to glue down the vinyl.  It worked great!  After applying the glue and smoothing down the vinyl, you need to staple the vinyl all around the board with a heavy duty stapler and make sure that you either staple on the sides or the underside depending on where the last staples were.  Mine were on the underside.

Then you just pop the panels back into your desk and screw them in again and you’re done!

As I mentioned, I put a piece of glass on top of my desk because I’m not sure how vinyl will hold up to constant writing and I’m not replacing the vinyl again any time soon.

This was one of those projects that was necessary but soooooo…. boring, but by the time I was done, I was really happy with the results.  The only thing I miss is the gold leafing around the panels which I guess I could figure out how to do, but honestly, I’m so glad that the project is done and looks this great, that I don’t want to push my luck!

Here’s the beautiful after:

Whole desk

Now on a non-boring note, we got a new puppy and he’s so cute!  Meet Billy:


We got him after our sweetie dog Butterball died.  It was a really hard time for our family especially since our other dog, Bandit, missed his brother so much.  It’s always hard finding the best time to get a new dog after the death of a dog that you loved so much, but all of us really needed another little friend to help us heal.

Billy is a puggle (just like Butter and Bandit) and loves to chew any and everything including my camera strap when I’m trying to take pictures for my blog!  We’ve had him for a couple weeks and he’s so sweet and Bandit is now playing with him and grooming him.  It’s so nice to see Bandit (and the rest of the family) happy again!