Leather Repair | How to Repair Worn Leather Steering Wheel
I wrote a post a while back about how to repair a worn leather steering wheel and have gotten a lot of traffic to it but to be honest with you it's what I call a quick fix, not a good permanent fix like what a person really needs in this business. So today I'm gonna write it a little different and give the right way to repair a worn leather steering wheel.
All the leather in today's vehicles are being dyed with a water based dye. It's not only safer for the environment, which we all know is really big right now, but it's also more flexible and better for the leather itself.
My last post I wrote I gave you a quick fix using a solvent based dye. Now I'm not saying that if you were in a pinch that using a solvent based would be a bad thing, but like I said it's a quick fix, nothing you would really want to do for a customer that's expecting a long lasting repair.
The basic's are the same as far as the use of a drop cloth to avoid over spray getting on the instrument panel, and the prepping is kinda the same too. But what I'm here to do is to show the right way to do this.
So with that said here we go.
After you've put your drop cloth behind the steering wheel, wrapping it around so that no over spray will get where you don't want it to, take a scotch brite pad and my prepping solution and clean the leather steering wheel really good making sure you get the back of the steering wheel too. Nothing bugs me more the to see a steering wheel that has been repaired and all they have done is repaired the front. When you look through the windshield from the outside what do you see, umm the back of the steering wheel, so clean all the way around.
Once you have it clean, it's time to address the wear that has been done to the leather.
If the leather has frayed then that frayness (not sure if that's a word but it fits) needs to be sanded down smooth. You do this with a combination of the use of different grits of sandpaper, dry and wet sanding, and the use of leather filling compounds.
What I will do is start with a heavier grit, 240 usually but sometimes even a 120 to get there a little quicker. Wet the paper with my prepping solution and start sanding. The prepping solution will break through the dye that is already there and actually smear around bit, use this to your advantage, it kinda works as a filler and helps to smooth things out quicker. Sand until it becomes dry. Then move up to a finer grit like 400, and do the same. If it's not as smooth as you want then move up to an even finer grit sandpaper like a 600. At this time you can still use the wet sanding technique or you can dry sand it, this will depend on the amount of damage your dealing with.
Once you have the area fairly smooth, you need to seal the leather with your water based grip base, this will not only help your compounds to stick better but make your repair easier to work with and last a lot longer in the end. I do this by taking my grip base in a small squirt bottle and put a small amount onto a folded wet paper towel then wiping it over the leather steering wheel.
After you have sealed the leather it's time to break out your leather repair compounds. Now I have found that applying it with your finger is the easiest then trying to use a pallet knife, kinda hard to curve your pallet knife around such a tight curve. Compounds that I use the most on leather steering wheels is the old Leather Crack Filler or I'll use Viper Products Leather Extreme Fill. Both work really well with applying it with your finger and both stay put really well too. I mostly use the Leather Crack Filler first then if I need to fill smaller imperfections then I'll use the Leather Extreme Fill. I've found that the Leather Crack fill just works the best, it sands out nicely as well as stays put when sanding too.
The biggest thing to remember in repairing a worn leather steering wheel is to get it as smooth as possible, the less amount of leather repair compounds you use the better. It's just less to go wrong later and you have a better chance of the dyes sticking in the end.
One other tip I can give you is on the Chrysler leather steering wheels and it's on these only I have found this. Not really sure why they do this but they do. The dye actually balls up and makes the steering wheel look really rough. You can sand this if you want but I have found a better way of dealing with this without wearing your arm out trying to sand the dye down smooth. Take a terry cloth towel and some lacquer thinner and rub the dye off with the lacquer thinner soaked towel. This will take it right down to the leather and make it nice and smooth. Sometimes you will have to sand a bit after wards to get the raw leather smooth but you will surprised at the time and energy this will save you. Once your done you can fill and seal the raw leather then dye to match.
After all the imperfections are sanded, filled and smooth, you will need to prep the leather for dye. I will wipe the leather steering wheel down with my prepping solution careful not to rub the filler out then apply another coat of grip base. This ensures the dye will stick and not come off later down the road.
Now it's time to apply your water based dye to match.
You can do this a couple of ways, either wipe it on or spray it on with either a paint gun or a preval. I almost always spray my dyes, it just seems to look better in the end and less dye is wasted, but that is totally up to you. I have found it's easier to also run the vehicle while your dying the leather steering wheel because you can position the wheel where you need it and your not trying to dye with your gun upside down. Remember the back of the leather steering wheel too :)
Some people after dying will stop and call it good, which is ok because the dyes I use are ready to spray and really don't need anything else. But I like to topcoat all my dyes with a clear water based topcoat, to me it just gives more of a barrier to wear and makes the repair last longer. I use a low gloss topcoat applied with a spray gun just like the dye.
Now I still don't stop there either...This is a little trick I came up with kinda on my own. I found that some of the leather steering wheels after being repaired and dyed just felt dry and didn't look natural. What I do is apply a water based leather conditioner and then I apply a leather wax or chap wax. What this does is not only restore the oils lost in the repair process but make the leather steering wheel look and feel factory. The wax also protects the leather from water and lotions that may get on there later. It just makes the leather look and feel new again!
Products that I use in all my repairs are from one of I think is the best on the market, Viper Products. I have used a lot of different products in the past and have found Viper has a higher performance dye and compounds then any other I've used before. So go check them out, I really think you will be impressed!
Well I hope this helps more then my last post on how to repair a leather steering wheel. Just remember to take your time when doing any repair and use a water based dye on the leather, not only is it safer for you and everybody else but I promise you it will look better in the end and last a lot longer which is what you wanted in the first place.