Repairing Vinyl and Leather with an Iron
Making a repair on Vinyl or Leather hold and last for years is an ongoing quest for all of us automotive interior professionals. Lately I've been playing around a bit more with my iron in my repairs and have found it really has saved me on some of my repairs. It's a tool that to be honest with you I haven't used much but I guess had forgotten what I was missing.
Getting a vinyl or leather repair level and smooth can be tricky with the different foams and backing materials. By using an iron can better your chance of getting that repair level and smooth without bulging or pushing in the vinyl which can happen with doing your repairs with a heat gun and pressing your grain pad with your hand to achieve your grain.
Now one thing to remember when doing repairs on leather and on vinyl is the difference in the Heat applied.
Low Heat for Leather ONLY!
Never use a high heat on a piece of leather or you will pucker and harden it, basically ruining the piece. I try to never go over 300 degrees on any leather repair. Most all your leather repair compounds that are heat cured will cure out at 250 degrees. So no high heat on leather!
Vinyl on the other hand can handle in some cases, and I say this sparingly because it depends on the type, a lot more heat. Some seat vinyl you can usually get by with heat as high as 500+ degrees where as some door panel vinyl low heat only 300 and below. This vinyl is thinner and is sometimes backed with a foam instead of a fabric and high heat will make a small hole really big really quick giving you an even bigger hole to repair. You almost treat the thinner vinyls as you would leather.
Determination is vital though, you can usually tell by feel and sight. The fabric backed vinyl is usually thicker and used on seats and some door panels where as the foam backed vinyl is thinner feeling almost a plastic feel to it used mostly on door panels, console lids, and some dashes.
Most high heat vinyl repair compounds cure out at 350-400 degrees. One compound that is pretty much the standard is Vinyl Hyde. It's been around for years, although through the years some have improved on it's formula and have come up with some really great compounds.
Now the iron I use is a small hobby iron, it's actually an iron designed for shrink wrapping small hobby aircraft, but it works great for vinyl and leather repairs. It has a temperature range from 100 to 400 degrees, which is perfect for curing all vinyl and leather compounds. It's small enough to get into where I need it but not to small I'm there all day trying to cure out my compounds on a large repair. I've seen those little bitty round irons and really to me there just a waist of time for a professional, I guess in some small repairs they could work but if your serious about doing real vinyl and leather repairs then you really need a good iron to do your repairs correctly.
When doing an iron repair your going to need some supplies to make a good permanent repair.
What I mean is, compound and your iron won't always work for every repair.
If it's a really small area with no chance for stress then maybe but with most repairs there will be stress and by adding a couple of components to your larger stress prone areas can mean the difference between a permanent repair and a repair that is just well substandard.
The two components that I'm talking about here are your under patch material and a product called mini mesh. The under patch may not always be used due to the fact that not all cracks in vinyl go all the way through. But your mini mesh will really help in making your repair last. What this stuff is, is an extremely thin fiberglass mesh that gives your repairs a stronger hold and eliminates the weak spots in the vinyl or leather your repairing. When doing an all the way through cut or crack in leather and vinyl the under patch and over patch will sandwich the area giving you a repair that will close to disappear and will be almost impenetrable.
The under patch material I use is actually a heat activated glue back canvas type cloth that I cut to fit a 1/4" larger then the repair area. I then insert it upside down in the underside of the repair so that the adhesive is facing up to glue the area together, giving you the bond from underneath.
Other supplies that you will need to help in the process is a pair of small scissors, needle nose tweezers, a pallet knife, a chilling block, Teflon mat, a matching grain pad, and your matching water based dye mixed to perfection in your favorite spray gun.
The first thing to do is to clean and prep the area thoroughly with your prepping solution and a scotch brite pad, this will remove any contaminants and scuff the area for dye. If sanding of the area is needed then do that now. Remembering to clean again after wards, the cleaner the better when doing any type of repair.
I next do one thing that gives you a great bond for your dye during the process of the repair and that is I wipe a layer of Grip Base primer over the area. This is a water based adhesion promoter that gives the dyes and compounds something a bit more to stick to. On leather it will seal the leather helping with oil migration. I will also use this throughout my repair process if I sand the area or with leather repair when I add air dry compounds. Grip Base primer is a must when doing any repair with water based dyes.
If your working with a tear all the way through insert a piece of your under patch material with your needle nose tweezers making sure it's in contact with all the area under the split at least a 1/4" all the way around. Once in place using your pallet knife or even your finger spread a liberal amount of vinyl or leather repair compound over the area and even under between the under patch and the leather or vinyl.
Just lightly lay the iron over the area, you can slide it around during the curing process to make sure all the compound gets totally cured out. In some of the larger areas moving the iron around with a little more pressure will also help to smooth the area out.
Once your cured don't just rip the mat off, let it cool a bit or even use your chill block or even a wet towel. If your not cool you'll peel the compound up too, not so much with the mat as with your grain pad but getting in the habit of using your chill bar will save you some big headaches.
Your next step is adding your mini mesh. With this you will cut a rounded shape of mesh at least a 1/4" to a 1/2" larger then the repair area. Spread a thin layer of compound over the repair then lay the mini mesh directly over the uncured compound. Take your pallet knife and slide it over the mesh smoothing it right in with the compound. The smoother the better, clean the edges up with you finger if needed.
Take your Teflon mat and lay it over the area and repeat the curing process, this will create your impenetrable repair.
At this time I will spray a dry coat of dye over the area to see where I'm at in my repair and also to sandwich my dye into my repair. Remember your working in thin layers.
With your pallet knife spread a thin layer of compound over the area, then take your matching grain pad and carefully lay it over the area. With your iron, pressing a little harder, cure the area out. Now sliding your iron around doesn't really work with the grain pads as easily as the Teflon mat so watch out cause the pad could move so pick up the iron to move it around if needed.
Once chilled, peel off the pad slowly and see where your at. Sometimes I'll sand the area slightly to remove some of the rough areas. I'll then clean and spray some more dye over the area to again see where my repair is. This process may need to be repeated to achieve the results you want.
At times I will also combine my iron repair with my heat gun to finish the repair off. The iron at times will give you a little more pronounced grain and just doesn't get things as smooth and well just doesn't always finish it like I like it so I'll lay another thin layer of compound over the area and cure and grain the last coat with my heat gun. This all depends on the type of vinyl I'm working with too.
Lastly I'll lay a couple of more layers of dye then topcoat with an appropriate sheen of topcoat.
One other thing to keep in mind when doing the iron repair on Leather. Use a combination of low heat compounds to start the repair but finish it off with your air dry compounds. This minimizes the heat being used on the leather which can dry it out more then needed.
Always keep in mind your temperature when working with leather and take your time like with all repairs, patience is money.
Well I hope this helps you out on your next vinyl or leather repair with an iron and please don't hesitate to leave me a comment or drop me and email anytime.
Talk to ya soon,
Mike - The Interior Guy