Author Topic: Leather writing surface on fall front desk  (Read 7746 times)

Bob Seibels

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Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« on: March 07, 2012, 11:41:37 AM »
I am making the Glen Huey "New England Secretary" in mahogany, and am planning to actually use the desk for writing.  I want to add a desk leather to the inside of the fall front, but I can't figure out where it should go (see photo).  The fall front is ~ 36"L x 14"W.  The hinges stick in 1-1/2" and the lock 2" from the edge, leaving only about 10" for the leather insert, which I think is too narrow.  Should the leather be notched out for the hinges and lock?  How close to the edge should it be? Should it also extend over to the other side?  Or, should I forget this idea and just go with a writing pad.  I really like the way desk leathers look, but I'm not sure working around the hardware is the way to go.
Bob Seibels
Curator of Birds (Retired)
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Columbia, SC

Jack Plane

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2012, 06:53:40 AM »
Ten inches sounds about right. I have seen a skiver laid around the lock and it didn't look well.
Regards, Jack.

Jeff L Headley

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2012, 07:27:37 PM »
There are different leather surface treatments that should be considered. Many upholstery leathers will scratch and mare under use from pencils, pens, letter openers, and such. Most leather suppliers ( We use Asher Leather from Texas) offer a desk top leather which is usually a little thicker with a different surface treatment than upholstery leather but is meant for writing desk (tables with leather insets). If your leather spans the fall board and writing surface ( which many do) you could see the under side of the leather when the lid is in it's closed position and the thicker leather isn't conducive to bending. I do find this looks better but is very subject to wear over the years but we should all be gone by then. How will you be fastening your leather to your wooden surface?

Bob Seibels

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2012, 09:09:04 AM »
Jeff,
The leather I am considering is from a desk leather supplier in Pompano Beach.  He has been mentioned in some previous posts on the forum.  I have some samples of his materials en route, but he has told me that the leather is ~ 1/16" thick.  I haven't decided on the adhesive yet, but I have read that both hide glue and wallpaper adhesive will work.  Which would you suggest? FYI, I am using only hide glue to construct the piece. 
Regarding using one piece to span the gap, I don't really like the idea of seeing the  underside of the leather when the desk is closed. How would one deal with the hinges and lock?
What about using baize instead of leather?  Are there any advantages/disadvantages to this material?
Bob Seibels
Curator of Birds (Retired)
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Columbia, SC

Bob Seibels

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2012, 09:14:43 AM »
Correction: the supplier I mentioned is in Jupiter, FL.
Bob Seibels
Curator of Birds (Retired)
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Columbia, SC

Jeff L Headley

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2012, 10:05:42 PM »
Baize or felt (colored) is quite common cut in and around your lock and hinges. I have seen Federal desks with an inlaid wooden inset where the felt or leather would be. Very attractive and utilitarian with a minimal cost. I hope this helps but if you have any questions just ask.

Jack Plane

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2012, 04:03:20 AM »
Skivers (flayed  sheepskin) are what was traditionally laid on writing surfaces. If your supplier is talking in the region of 1/16", then he's on the right track (you don't want a thick spongy leather or the pen could go through the paper). Flour paste was again the traditional adhesive for laying leathers and baize. I have seen tables and desks with re-laid leathers stuck down with hide glue and they're an abomination to clear up. Wallpaper paste is a good substitute for flour paste, but it only takes five minutes to make flour paste.

I wouldn't lay baize on a writing surface for the same reason I wouldn't use thick spongy leather.
Regards, Jack.

R Bohn

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2012, 10:49:47 AM »
Hi Bob
   I have been getting my leather tops from DCT Leather  http://www.dctleathers.com  for years, no problems. They have special leather and finishes for writing surfaces and offer gold leaf tooling for a small fee.  They will also send an installation guide and samples. I have never tried hide glue on leather, I think it would be hard to control.   Randy
Restoration and Conservation of Fine Antiques Serving Museums, Dealers and Private Collectors Nation wide since 1979

Bob Seibels

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2012, 08:49:20 AM »
Thanks to all of you for your advice and suggestions.  I'm still weighing my options here, and luckily I've got a while to decide since I haven't even started the upper portion of the secretary yet.  I'll update this string when I've crossed the bridge.......

Bob Seibels
Bob Seibels
Curator of Birds (Retired)
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Columbia, SC

dkeller_nc

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2012, 08:51:42 AM »
Bob - Since this has been more than a month ago, it might be a bit too late to chime in.  But if you haven't laid the leather for your writing surface, and you wish to use a modern adhesive that is a litle easier to use than wallpaper paste or fish glue, you can use 3M #77 spray adhesive.  It's available from the home center store, and it could'nt be simpler - just spray the contact side of the leather, and when you've got a good, even coverage, simply stick the leather down.

#77 is quite strong, particularly for a large surface like a writing leather that isn't under too much shear stress.  But it is reversible - just about any non-permeable surface that needs to be removed can be;  one simply gently works one corner loose, and peels the surface back.  The residual adhesive can be easily removed with kerosene, paint thinner, or laquer thinner.

3M also makes an irreversible, permanent spray adhesive - but I wouldn't recommend it.  When 3M says "permanent", they're not kidding!
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

Bob Seibels

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2012, 12:37:29 PM »
Hello dkeller_nc,
Thanks for your response.  No, I have not laid the leather yet - I haven't even  bought it.  I actually have a can of the 3M #77 in my shop, which I use for sticking sandpaper to granite tiles for sharpening, among many other things.  It sounds like the perfect product to use, and when the time comes, that's what I'll go with.  Good  idea!

Bob Seibels
Bob Seibels
Curator of Birds (Retired)
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Columbia, SC

Dan_B

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2012, 05:42:28 AM »
Does the leather generally go to the edge of the battons (left and right) and then between the hinges and lock?
If you are using a water based adhesive, would you seal the wood with coat of shellac first?
I am worried introducing water to one side of the fall front might make it cup, or do the battons prevent that
I assume the front side and and exposed inside (battons etc) are fully finished before you install the leather.
Thanks
« Last Edit: May 25, 2012, 07:45:37 AM by Dan_B »
Dan

ttalma

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2012, 09:03:44 AM »
Bob, if you haven't purchased the leather yet you might want to contact Kittinger (http://www.kittingerfurniture.com/). Our chapter went on a tour of thier factory a few weeks ago. The tour was by the owner, they had a special machine built to do the gold embosing around the edge. They also use real hides that still have the subtle color variations. Real nice. We asked if they would sell just the embosed leather and they said they would.
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Dan_B

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2012, 03:51:37 PM »
Does the leather generally go to the edge of the battons (left and right) and then between the hinges and lock?
If you are using a water based adhesive, would you seal the wood with coat of shellac first?
I am worried introducing water to one side of the fall front might make it cup, or do the battons prevent that
I assume the front side and and exposed inside (battons etc) are fully finished before you install the leather.
Thanks

Another question, would an 18th century craftsman, instead of taking the time to excavate a recess for leather insert with a hand router, perhaps had his battons 1/16th thicker on the inside of the fall front and then adding a piece of wood between the battons top and bottom to "create" recess. the top and bottom piece would define the size of the recess and perhaps be just wide enough for the lock on the top and the hinges on the bottom.
Dan

Jack Plane

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Re: Leather writing surface on fall front desk
« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2012, 07:47:35 PM »
Dan, I'm sorry I couldn't respond to your email; your ISP doesn't play nicely with mine and my reply to you was bounced back.

The majority of the writing surfaces I see (desk falls, writing slopes, library tables pedestal desks etc.) are veneered, so creating the recess for the leather is relatively straight forward and not restricted to any particular area by cleats or battens etc.

The solid timber slant front desks that I have encountered (usually oak) have been executed in one of several ways. The actual leathered area is usually much smaller than the total expanse of the fall and is either recessed into the main board, or just the outline of the area is fielded to ensure the edges of the leather don't present an obstacle.

I have also seen the cleats (battens) forming the end boundaries, and I've also seen falls where the main board is entirely framed, in which case, the main board was made thinner than the surrounding frame to account for the thickness of the leather.

I posted recently on my blog about laying leathers... http://pegsandtails.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/l-for-leather/. I hope the information is of use to some here.  

It's not necessary to seal the recess prior to pasting as the moisture involved is minimal and drys rapidly.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2012, 07:50:40 PM by Jack Plane »
Regards, Jack.