Is it possible to restore leather that is beyond its useful life?
To save existing leather despite the reality that the hide is technically worn out is challenging. The typical life cycle of quality leather runs about 30 years. However, it is possible to restore hides that are 50 to 100 years old or even older, even if the leather is severely desiccated, and suffering extensive damage. This moves beyond typical restoration and into the realm of conservation and preservation.
These are the assignments where the true craftsmen’s skill comes into play. Sometimes processes have to be invented to accomplish the goal. Saving the seating built into a 1953 Jaguar XK-120 is an excellent example. After almost 60 years, by any reasonable measure the seats in this car were beyond restoration yet retaining the original hide would enhance the vehicle’s valuation.
The process involved carefully disassembling the seats, including pulling and saving all of the original nails that attached the leather to the wooden seat frame. Yes, in 1953 the frame of a Jaguar car seat was made from wood. Once the skins were off the frame the real work began.
The integrity of the hides were severely challenged with cracks and tears throughout. The leather had the strength of tissue paper in some sections. A strong human being can not tear quality leather with his bare hands, yet a child could easily tear it. The original material was saved by laminating a strong, yet flexible material to the underside of each panel. This brought useful life back to the leather and allowed cosmetic repairs — fixing the tears and cracks as well as restoring the original color. Then the skins were remounted onto the wooded seat frames using the original nails.
More and more people want to preserve and conserve old leather — to keep that “look” yet resolve the problems life presents. Another example involves leather that suffered water damage on century old dining chairs where the seat tops were already structurally disintegrating before further damaged by a broken water pipe. The objective is to artistically conceal the water damage without causing further deterioration to the leather. This is truly a challenge.
It is projects like this that separates the rookie from the true restoration professional where skills are tested with out-of-the-ordinary projects. These assignments create the opportunity to extend the boundaries of a craftsmen’s technical and artistic abilities.