Sometimes we have to repair a leather good. Other times we are working on an exciting project where gluing pieces will help make sewing easier, or join two leather pieces into a finished design. Knowing the right ways to approach it make gluing leather really easy.
Gluing leather is done easily with a clean work surface, the right tools, and the right glue. Just prepare the glue, apply it evenly, roll or hammer it down, then let it dry (from minutes to hours depending on the glue). Store the glue adhesive properly and it will be ready for the next project.
A few basic yet important steps are key to a good gluing process. Let’s explore how to do it so the project comes out looking great.
How to Glue Leather Overview
Gluing leather is essentially joining two pieces of material with a smooth layer of adhesive. The important parts involve choosing the right tools, glue, application method, and good execution. Once you get the hang of it it’s pretty easy, and can add a new skill into your leather working set. Gluing leather is a great way to join pieces for sewing, or finished products that need to be strong and flexible.
Leather Gluing for Sewing vs Joining Material
Gluing leather can be done for a few different reasons. Sometimes, it’s just to provide a temporary bond to test where piece can fit together. Light glues that are easy to remove, and have light adhesion work great here. This is like a common Elmer’s or PVA glue.
If you’re looking to sew material, glue might be used just to hold it in place while being worked through a machine. In this case, a glue is needed that will not move under the machine, though doesn’t have to be super-strong, as the stitching will do that job. An adhesive like a Tandy Eco-Flo Leather Weld works well here.
When you’re using glues/adhesives to join leather permanently and the glue with be the primary mechanism holding the materials together, contact cement is usually the best option. It is very strong, flexible, water resistant, and will bond the leather permanently. Barge All Purpose Cement is a quality option here.
How to Glue Leather in 10 Steps
1. Prepare the Work Surface
A large, flat, open work surface is usually best for glueing. A workbench or table are great options. Often, putting some paper down on the surface is a good idea so it catches any glue that might drip during the glueing process. This can help protect the surface and keep it clean for other projects.
Ensure there’s enough room for tools and physical workspace. Sometimes, being able to move 360 around the table can be helpful when trying to hold/apply things throughout a project. Often though, this is just a luxury and not a necessity. As long as you have enough room to freely work, you should be all set to go.
2. Get the Right Tools
Working with leather glue involves only a few tools, though they can be really helpful in leading to a nice result. Let’s check them out and see how they work. Some are also noted in my article about all leather working tools (click here to take a look).
Leather Glue and Adhesive
There are many different types of adhesives available that work well with leather. Some are temporary, with a tacky result that can be easily moved and reapplied. Others are stronger and more difficult to remove. Some glues expand into the materials as they dry. And yet others are extremely strong, considered permanent. For very strong glues, they bind so tightly that trying to remove the adjoined pieces will likely damage the leather. If you’d like to learn more about which leather glues work best for different projects, click here to read my article about it.
Helpful Leather Glues to Start With
Here is an easy-reference table with paid links to items that I trust – these are great glues to start with.
Leather Glue Pot
Glue can be a really helpful addition to your leather working tool set, though a common issue is that they dry out quickly if sitting out open while you work. A glue pot is a small plastic holder for glues and adhesives that is air tight. Glues can be stored for long period of time in glue pots.
When you want to use the glue, an air-tight cap unscrews open, revealing a brush and portion of the glue. The brush can be dipped into the exposed glue and applied to the leather. Once finished, just screw the air tight cap back on and the glue will remain in great shape for the next use. Glue pots are a helpful tool to have if you do a fair amount of glueing while working with leather projects.
Leather Glue Spreaders
Leather glue spreaders are commonly a flat-edged tool made of plastic. They allow for even spreading of glues over flat surfaces, allowing the layers to be very thin, or glue focus on a particular spot. after used, they can be washed and reused, as maintaining the clean edge is very important to a smooth spreading of the glue.
Glue brushes are also an options when spreading glue. They are dipped into a liquid adhesive and then applied to the leather. They allow larger volumes of glue to be applied more quickly, though aren’t as precise as the glue spreaders. The spreaders are an easy way to target glue placement and preferred volume.
Hand Leather Rougher
In some applications and on some projects, an effective way of joining leather can be via glueing. In order to help ensure a strong bond between surfaces, glues generally benefit from having a rough area on which to form their bond.
When finished leathers are mostly smooth, a hand leather rougher tool digs into and scratches up the leather, creating a rough surface. This newly-roughed surface will greatly help the adhesive set into and join the leather pieces once dried. Hand roughers are relatively common in saddle making and related work.
Leather Edge Clamp
Leather edge clamps are specialty tools that are usually made of steel with rubberized clamp jaws. The jaws are smooth so they don’t mar the leather, and the rubber coating makes it even less likely they’ll leave any marks. Plus, the rubber coating helps with gripping the leather securely.
Edge clamps are useful for holding glued leather pieces together securely while the glue dries. They can also be used in various instances when holding a piece of leather tightly with one hand is more advantageous using a tool than it is by only a hand.
Some edge clamps are used for flattening leather. Others are made of metal. and yet others are finished with a layer of leather on the flat jaws to ensure a soft and non-marring surface when in contact with leather working pieces.
Leather weights are small metal devices used to hold leather in place when cutting, stamping, punching, or gluing. They have smooth, polished surfaces so they will not mark or mar the leather when placed on top of it. They are often made of brass or steel.
“Placing leather weights can help flatten the material into a more even working surface.”
When cutting or gluing thin leather materials, they can easily shift. Placing metal weights on top can help hold them in place for a stable, more even cut. When cutting thicker leather materials, they might have a natural bend to them. Placing leather weights can help flatten the material into a more even working surface. Leather weights come in various sizes from a few ounces to a few pounds.
Many things can be used as leather weights, as long as their surface does not scratch the leather. If you’re looking for well-balanced, nicely-machined, and high-polished weights, dedicated leather weights could be a helpful addition to the leather craft tool list.
Leather Working Shoe Hammer
Leather working shoe hammers are used often for hammering over stitching, tapping through sharp folds, and securing glued leather pieces together. They feature a wide, heavy steel head that produces a deep, steady impact. Used frequently in shoemaking work, they are also a popular choice for those working in saddlery, luggage making, or making bags.
Leather Working Metal Roller
Leather working metal rollers are used to smooth out layers of leather that are glued together. Since leather can be thick, and also usually has a nicely finished, smooth surface, a special tool is helpful here.
“Bubbles and air gaps are removed, which contributes to a nicely-finished and fine looking end result.”
The metal roller is comprised of a solid, heavy metal cylinder attached to a handle. When pushed or pulled, the roller rolls over the leather, applying pressure and helping ensure a tight adhesion between leather layers. Bubbles and air gaps are removed, which contributes to a nicely-finished and fine looking end result.
Lint-free rags, such as microfiber cloths or old cotton t-shirts, can be very helpful. They can be used to wipe up glue and sometimes, to help smooth it down.
A wire brush is a tool, usually with a wooden handle, that has metal bristles. They are firm, and rough. Often, these are used to brush a leather surface to roughen it up. This make the surface more porous and uneven, which helps glues and contact cements adhere better to the material. This works just like the hand leather rougher.
3. Prepare the Leather Surface
Rougher surfaces generally adhere better to glues, since the rough surface provides more area for the glue to stick to. When gluing leather, it’s especially advantageous to rough the surface up so that all the little leather fibers are exposed. This makes glue, and especially contact cement, very effective with leather.
In some cases one might want to leave the surface smooth, for example if it will later be sewn, or want a very tight tolerance between material. However, where possible, roughing the leather up with a wire brush or hand leather rougher will be a big help.
In general, the leather surface should be clean and free of any dirt and debris. If it’s not, for unfinished leather, rubbing some deglazer (such as Fiebling’s leather deglazer) on it will help remove finishes and grime that might be there. For a gentler approach, a damp, lint-free cloth can be used to remove light dirt and debris.
For finished and delicate leather, a lint-free, damp cloth can be a big help. Once the surface is clean and prepped, it’s time to glue.
4. Prepare The Glue
Some glues come made very thick and viscous. Often, they can be “thinned” to be a little more liquid, free-flowing, and dry with less bulk. They will still retain their strength. Glues and contact cements can be thinned with special thinners made for thinning glue.
Often, each manufacturer’s glues have a specific material composition. Thus, each manufacturer might sell a thinner that is most effective with their glue. It’s not recommended to mix manufacturer thinners, as it won’t lead to the best results. For contact cement, a general rule-of-thumb is to use 2/3 cement with 1/3 thinner. Each manufacturer might have different recommendations, so read the guide/instructions that likely comes with the cement/thinner to help ensure the ratio is right.
“Glue pots can store prepared glues in an air tight container so they don’t dry out.”
Once the glue is ready, it be used. If unthinned, some folks keep it in the original tube and can apply it from there. Others prefer using a glue pot. Glue pots can store prepared glues in an air tight container so they don’t dry out. Many have integrated brush for easy application.
If you thin glue or have a large amount and want to store it in smaller containers, glass works great. It’s usually better than plastic, allowing glue to be stored for long periods of time. Then for your next project, already-prepared/thinned glue will be ready to go.
5. Apply the Glue/Adhesive
Now the fun part! Gluing 🙂
So we’re ready to go. Applying glue is pretty easy. Start by applying glue to the center of the piece that it will be spread across. This will allow the majority of the glue to be in the middle, which can then be worked with evenly around the surface. If started towards an edge, it might be more difficult to spread it evenly, or some might even drip onto the leather’s edges or table top, both likely undesirables results.
A leather glue spreader can be used to spread and thin the glue out from the middle of the piece, working towards the edges. A glue brush can also be used. Some are just paintbrushes used for glue, others and integrated with a glue pot, and others come built into the glue container, often such as with contact cement.
Whatever method you prefer, spread the glue smoothly and evenly across the surface. when using glue, only one surface needs glue applied to it. When using contact cement, BOTH surfaces need the contact cement to be applied to it. The next step will be needed if you’re using contact cement.
6. Let the Contact Cement Dry
When using contact cement, the adhesive needs to partially dry (about 20 minutes) first BEFORE joining the materials. Again, with contact cement BOTH surfaces have the cement applied to them. In that drying time they’ll get a little tacky. Then, they surfaces can be joined together.
If you’re working with a very heavy weight leather, or one with a very rough and porous surface and want supreme bonding strength, consider applying a coat of contact cement then letting it dry (about 20 minutes). Then, apply a second coat of contact cement to the surfaces. The first layer of contact cement will adhere to the leather, filling some gaps/pores in the surface. Then, the second coat will provide a more flat and even layer of contact cement to bond with. It isn’t necessary, though can help work better.
If you’re in a hurry and want to speed up the 20-minute process for contact cement to become tacky, have a fan running nearby, or use a hair dryer directly onto the cement. This will speed up the process, saving some time.
7. Push the Leather Layers Together
One you have applied the glue, or contact cement (and the contact cement has had some time to become tacky), it’s time to join the leather pieces together! Important here both for results and aesthetics is that the bond is as smooth, even, and tight as possible. We can use a few tools to help ensure this.
First, hand press the leather together. Make sure everything is lined up how you’d like it, and press with your hands. OK! we’re strong, though some tools can definitely help. If you’re joining flat pieces, a leather roller can be used to roll across the surface (that doesn’t have glue on it) to press even the glue layer, and push air bubbles and excess glue towards the edges. This is an easy way to get quality and consistent results.
If you have a hammer with a wide head, such as a leather working shoe hammer, it can be used to tap the leather together, also working out excess air and glue. If needed, a scrap piece of leather can be places between the leather being glued, and the hammer, to help reduce any hammer marks on the finished leather piece.
Also, the hammer can be helpful when gluing leather to curved, or tight, hard to reach places. This happens sometimes in shoemaking, where hammers can be a quite a helpful addition to the gluing process.
8. Secure the Leather in Place While it Dries
Now that we’ve got the leather glued and evened-out, we can secure it for drying. This will help keep the glued surfaces secured in place while drying, ensuring a tight bond.
This can be achieved using a few tools. One option is a leather clamp. This will keep the pieces highly clamped together during drying. Another option is using leather weights on top of the flat leather pieces to hold them in place.
As a helpful tip, anything wide and heavy can be used, such as a brick or heavy books, as long as you place something strong and non-marking between it and the leather being glued. For example, a scrap leather piece that will not imprint a pattern onto the surface of the leather below it. One has to be careful it’s not too heavy, and the leather surface is protected. Though, leather weights don’t need to be fancy or expensive.
Another option is a vise. While they are designed with teeth in the grips, layering a piece of leather between them and the pieces being glued can help protect them. Using a vise as a leather clamp is certainly do-able, just be very careful with the pressure, that it doesn’t mar or deform the leather underneath. Or worse, press so hard it shifts the leather out of place.
Often, a leather clamp or leather weights work great and help produce easy, consistent results.
9. Glue Cleanup
Now that the leather is set, clean up any excess glue before it dries too much. A lint-free cloth can be used to wipe glue away from surfaces and edges. If the glue is already a little tacky, dampening the rag might help. Further, some glues and contact cements can be rubbed off with an eraser. This can be a huge help, just make sure to rub gently and that the eraser doesn’t leave any marks or damage on the leather under it.
If you’re using any glue application brushes that will not be stored in an air-tight container, wash them thoroughly, then let them dry.
If you used a glue pot, ensure there is no glue around where the brush joins the pot, or around any threads if it has a screw-on mechanism. Then, tighten securely to ensure it’s air-tight and the glue will last. Similar, is using a contact cement that has a built-in brush, ensure to clean any cement that gets around the threads at the top of the can. This will ensure the can can be unscrewed in the future.
“For glues in tubes, pots, and cans (especially those with built-in brushes), store the contact cement upside down.”
For glues in tubes, pots, and cans (especially those with built-in brushes), store the contact cement upside down. This will keep the contents closest to the top of the container and from drying out around where it screws together. Sometimes, this is the first place adhesive containers dry out, and thus the glue right around there drys the container shut. Doing this can help keep then functional and accessible. Put the upside-down can into a plastic zip bag and seal. So, if something does leak, it’s not all over the shelf or workbench.
Also, when using this method, make sure there is enough glue in the upside-down container to cover the brush, so it doesn’t dry out at the tip. It’s all a fine balancing act 🙂 Though when we appreciate how effective great glues can be, we’ll want to have/store them well for easy use (and cost savings) next time.
If you’re storing mixed or thinned glues, glass is usually better than plastic. It will retain moisture a little bit better, and thus the quality of the glue, over time. Small mason/canning jars can be great for this.
10. Let the Glue/Adhesive Dry
Great! The hard work is done, now you get to relax while it dries. This can be just a few hours for some glues, to 20-48 hours for some heavier glues and contact cements. The hard work is done, now let the glue do it’s work and you’ll have nicely joined leather pieces.
Leather working offers many different methods of joining material, such as riveting, eyeletting, snapping, and sewing. Gluing is another option that have money benefits when used in the right places. Hopefully your next project that uses glue will go great and result in a really nice finished leather piece.
Options for Great Leather Glues
Here is a walkthrough of some popular leather glues, tests on their effectiveness, results, and recommendations.
What is the best glue to use on leather?
The best glue to use on leather, for general fixes and bonding, is Tandy Leather Eco-Flo Leather Weld adhesive. while not as strong as some contact cements, it is eco-friendly, dries clear and flexible, and works for most day-to-day project needs.
Can you use Gorilla Glue for leather?
Generally, Gorilla Glue is not great for use on leather. Some versions can work in a pinch for minor repairs that don’t need to be flexible. However, some expand and can lead to undesirable results. Leather-specific glues work much better.
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