How to refinish a leather top table

Written by f.r.r. mallory
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How to refinish a leather top table
Leather top. (Background from a red leather. image by Egor Tkachenko from

Leather topped tables once were popular items often used as writing desks. Usually the leather is inserted into a wooden surround and it may be glued directly to the wood. Sometimes the leather has gold embellishments that are painted or embossed onto the leather surface. Over time, leather will dry out, crack, deteriorate or rot. Often a certain amount of recovery is possible if the damage is minor.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Leather cleanser
  • Sponge
  • Cotton swabs
  • Towel
  • Rags
  • Leather conditioner
  • Leather fill pen (optional)
  • Leather repair kit (optional)
  • Leather finisher

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  1. 1

    Clean or restore the finish on the wooden portions of the table. Be careful not to spill paints, stains or wood finishes onto the leather surface.

  2. 2

    Clean the leather top surface using a leather specific cleanser. Use very little water when cleaning leather as it will lift the dye and dry out the leather. The water will attach or bond to the oils that remain in the leather and as the water dries it will take the oil with it. Use a leather cleanser to remove dirt, grime and grease but not strip the leather.

  3. 3

    Sponge the leather clean to remove the unwanted materials. Use a sponge with the cleanser as your applicator. Use a soft sponge and be very careful around any gold embossed areas, as a leather cleanser may remove them.

  4. 4

    Apply the cleanser with a cotton swab in very small areas.

  5. 5

    Dry the leather with a towel. Examine the surface of the leather. Use permanent markers to touch up areas where the dye is missing. Use leather fill and repair kits for small holes (follow the directions of manufacturers).

  6. 6

    Apply a good leather conditioner and finish after your repairs have dried.

Tips and warnings

  • It is often a good idea to buy scrap leather that is similar to the top you are repairing so that you can test fills and dye pens on the sample. These scraps are often sold in bags at craft and leather stores or can be found at any upholstery shop that works in leathers.
  • You should be able to immediately see results from cleaning the leather. If the leather is in reasonable condition you will not need to replace it. If it crumbles as you clean it, photograph any existing gold design and then scrape off the leather with a wide putty knife and order a new insert with a replicated gold design.

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