When it comes to choosing the right type of glue for your leather project, you need to pick a glue that suits each individual project. For the majority of the things you make you can use the same or similar glues, but there will come a time where you will be glueing leather to rubber, glueing leather to fabric or even make the mistake of glueing leather to fabric with super glue. So to help you choose the right type of glue for your project I will go through the types of glues I have used and tried out, and also help you avoid some of the mistakes you could make when glueing your leather.
You can search and find a lot of different types of glue for leather out there, and they all promise to be the best, non staining, odourless…. and the list goes on. But just like everything, a lot of people just want to sell and make money, and don't actually care about the craft. The best thing you can do is get advice from other leatherworkers about which glue to use, because I guarantee the majority will have tried many different types of glue and there is no substitute to learning by doing.
I used to search for this kind of information when I first started, and I found other leatherworkers saying a few things in videos and some blog posts, but I had to piece all the information together and buy and try all of these products, lose a few projects along the way and finally settle on which glues I thought were the best for my leatherwork.
My goal is to give you a comprehensive guide to the types of leather glue out there, what my experiences have been, good and bad, and help you decide what glue will be best for you. If you have just started leatherworking this will be invaluable, and if you are an experienced leatherworker, then I would really like to hear your comments on this so I can learn more myself, as leatherworking has a continuous learning curve. So let's get to it!
The Types Of Leather Glue
So to briefly mention about the different types of glue used specifically in leatherworking, there are three main types.
- Polyvinyl acetate glue: These are water based and non-toxic glues. You can clean this glue off while it's still wet, so small mistakes can be rectified, it takes a bit longer than other glues to dry, but it's good for small projects to glue edges together before sewing. Even after it dries, if you are careful, you can pry the pieces apart as long as too much time has not passed.
- Contact Cement: This is also known as contact glue, and when used correctly it will create a strong and permanent bond. This glue is thicker than the others, and needs to be spread evenly after application, left to semi dry, and then you attach the pieces together.
- Cyanoacrylate glue: What? Yeah that's what I thought too, this is apparently what we call ¨super glue¨. We all know how quick super glue works, and pretty much dries and bonds on contact. Superglue is something you use to do a quick and small repair, but not something you would use for larger leather projects, but it does have its uses at times.
What properties should I look for when buying glue for leather
Before getting into glueing leather to other materials and their differences, there are a few basic properties you should look for when buying your glue. You want the glue to dry clear, this is number on my list. When you glue the edges of leather together, you will probably be using clips to hold it together, and you can get a little glue push out from the pressure. If the glue doesn't dry clear, you can sand it off most of the time, but if you won´t be dying your edges and just burnishing them, then this will be seen, so always get a glue that dries clear.
The next thing you want is for the glue to be flexible. Leather is a flexible material naturally, so if you go ahead and use a glue on your leather that dries hard, you will be able to feel the difference in the texture of the wallet. Not to mention a lot of those types of glues have solvents in the ingredients that can leak through and stain your leather, so don't use super glue on your leather project (I do have one exception to this rule though).
The only time I have ever used super glue on any of my projects is when I am glueing leather together for bracelets. If you make a leather bracelet using cords, you will have a rounded hole to insert it to on the clasps a lot of the time, and for me at least, glueing leather to metal in this particular instance has worked out best for me. The bracelet will be tugged on a lot and you always open and close it, so I choose to have a very strong bond here.
The last thing I look for when buying leather for glue may seem a bit odd, but it's mostly health related. You will spend a lot of time using glue in leatherwork, and you normally have your face really close because it's all precision work, so you don't want to be breathing in glue fumes all day. I got lightheaded a few times when I was trying to save on costs by using a cheap glue, but it's worth the extra little to get a glue that has minimum odour.
How To Glue Leather To Leather - Preparing The Leather
Before getting into the glue, I just want to go over the basics of how to prepare your leather before glueing so you get the best possible bond. You see many different types of leather, some shiny, some rough, scaled etc, and not all surfaces are the same. In general, if the surface of the leather is shiny or has some type of coating, then it won´t bond well. Leather is skin, and skin is porous, if you close the pores this reduces the surface area you have to glue, and any additional product just won't do well with the glue, so your wallet ends up pulling apart when you are stitching, or just doesn´t bond at all.
The solution to preparing your edges for glueing is to roughen your edges before glueing them. You remove any coating that may be there, and you fray all of the fabrics which softens and drastically improves the surface area you are glueing. When the glue is applied and the edges put together, the fibres on both sides get entangled and glued together increasing the strength of the bond greatly.
How do I roughen the edges of my leather?
So how do you roughen the edges of your leather before glueing? There is actually a tool designed specially for this purpose, and I have tried it, it does exactly what it says, but I lose things all the time and having one more tool to worry about isn't for me, so I usually just cute my leather with a stanley knife, and then flip is over and run the tip of the reverse of the blade along the edge with pressure and roughen the edges that way. But if you are someone who likes to have a tool for everything and is more organised than I, then go ahead and buy the Leather Roughening tool.
Don't be scared to really roughen the edges of your leather. At the start I was really apprehensive about that, but as long as you are not taking layers off, the rougher the edges the better they will stick.
Lastly you want to give the edges a quick brush to remove any loose particles or dust. As with all glue, if you try to glue two dirty or dusty surfaces together it wont work well. You don't need any special type of brush here, I use a toothbrush with soft bristles to give the edges a quick wipe down and now you are ready to glue your leather pieces together.
Glueing Leather to Leather
Aleene's Leather and Suede Glue
Let's start by glueing leather together. This is going to be what you will be doing the most I assume, so what are the things we need to look for when buying a glue to specifically glue leather to leather. As we said, it needs to be clear drying, flexible and non toxic, and the best glue I used in this category was and still is Aleene's Leather & Suede Glue.
This glue is really good for lighter leather projects. So if you are making a small item like a wallet, or anything that wont be getting heavy use like a pair of shoes then I have found this glue to be the best option for lighter projects.
Bearly Art Precision Craft Glue
Another glue of note that I have used a lot on my projects is Bearly Art Precision Craft Glue. I have a few reasons for liking this one, and these really are things you only learn after going through it. The first thing is that this glue also covers all the bases of a good leather glue. Clear drying, non-toxic and flexible when dry, but this one has a couple more great features. You will be spreading the glue on your leather with your finger a lot of the time, and although it's not toxic, you don't want to make a mess or accidentally get a smudge on the face of your leather.
Bearly Art Precision Craft Glue comes with a selection of nozzles varying in circumference so you have more or less flow depending on the one you use. It's great for applying the glue with precision and to get to hard to reach places on smaller leather projects. They even had the forethought to include a custom sized needle to unblock the nozzle, and I value this. You can tell the creator of this glue knows what we need as a leathercrafter.
The last little nugget I have about this glue is its ability to not get clumpy, and when the weather is cold a lot of glued become a lot thicker, but this glue doesn't change much so I never have a problem getting the glue out of the nozzle.
Fiebling´s Leathercraft Cement
Finally on the list is Fiebling´s Leathercraft Cement, and this doesn't mean it's the worst of the three. Any one of these glues I mention would be a great choice. Fiebling´s is a favourite among many leatherworkers, and you will see the distinct yellow label in many instructional videos on youtube. Similar to the other two, you just roughen the edges, apply the glue to both sides and clamp the pieces together. Fiebling´s Cement gives a pretty permanent bond and is a very strong glue. It is non-toxic, odourless and dries clear and leaves no unsightly stains. This brand provides a large catalogue of materials for the leathercrafter so you can really trust this one.
Using Contact Cement To Glue Leather
You will see this referred to as contact glue a lot of the time, and that's what I call it too to be honest, but for the sake of using the right terminology we call it contact cement. When I first started leatherwork, contact cement was the first type of glue I used, but in a true me fashion, I never read the instructions and used the glue wrong for a long time, and never really got a good bond, so I just thought the glue was bad and didn't use contact cement again for a long time. The mistake I made when using contact cement was I never let it dry before I glued the pieces together.
You have to let the glue dry before you stick the pieces together! ?
Sounds odd right, but this is exactly how contact cement works. One you have prepared your leather for glueing, you apply a thin layer on both sides that are going to be joined, spread it evenly and thinly, and wait 5-10 minutes (depending on the manufacturer instructions), and when no longer tacky to the touch, you put the pieces together creating a very strong bond.
I was putting the glue and immediately clamping the pieces together, and although you get some type of bond, it is nowhere near as strong as the result when you use the glue correctly. This is the type of glue you would use when you want a really permanent bond, and is much better suited to heavier projects.
Contact Cement is better suited for things like when you are making belts, glueing parts of shoes together, saddle work and other projects that use heavier leather and get a lot more use than say a wallet. This is not to say that you cannot use contact cement if you are making a wallet, you can use it for most leather projects. It can be a matter of preference, and you get a feel after a while for what glue is best for what project.
Which Contact Cement Is The Best For Leather
There are a huge number of contact cement options out there, as it is not only used in the leatherworking world, but in a lot of other industries. If a glue is not made with leather in mind, some of them can include ingredients that can harm the leather, and this is not to say anything bad about the makers of these glues, they just market their glue for a wider audience, but as a leatherworker, it's up to you to find products that work best with leather.
The odour is stronger with this type of glue as the solvents are stronger, but you can still find some that don't have as strong an odour, and of course you want to be looking for a non-toxic variant if possible.
Ceys Contact Cement For Leather
Ceys Contact Cement is my first choice, and in all honesty, I have never really had a problem with it, it works great, the bond is strong and flexible, and it's pretty cheap. I also prefer to buy glue in tubes, although it may work out a little cheaper in a larger tub, I don't like using a brush and have just gotten used to applying the glue and spreading it all at once using the nozzle. It is also relatively cheap, and if you want the economical choice, you can use Ceys contact cement to glue your leather.
I could go through a lot of different brands of contact cement that you can use for leather, but I will simplify that for you. In some cases, the brand may not matter, but I like to believe that certain brands are better than others in our craft. You want a quality product, so you need to use quality material, and glue doesn't cost that much. So to save a few pence, don´t risk using a cheaper glue that ends up staining your project or reacting with your leather in a bad way.
Choose a brand you recognise, and in most cases, they will include a picture of a leather shoe, or something to indicate on the packaging that the glue is safe for leather. No need to do too much research into this one, they actually market this type of product to the correct audience.
Glueing Leather To Other Materials
Now we have gone through glueing leather to leather, let's talk a little about glueing leather to different materials. You can end up doing projects that have you glueing leather to wood, glueing leather to metal, so I tell you to avoid the mistakes I did.
Glueing Leather To Fabric
I have made wallets before where I have lined leather with fabrics, and it got pretty messy. First I tried to just put spots of glue in random places and stick it down, not realising the fabric would lift. Then I tried contact cement, but this soaked into the fabric and left stains. In the end I used Feebling´s and just put a light coat on the leather side, then used a rolling pin to make sure every part of the fabric was touching the leather and sewed around the edges.
If you are into leather repair work, doing small repairs with this type of glue is perfect. Fabrics that have lifted from leather sofas, the corner of the chair that always ends up splitting. You can perform these kinds of repairs with a patch of leather and some glue.
Glueing Leather To Wood
So when would you need to glue leather to wood? This is usually when a leather project includes a handle. You may be asked to make a leather sheath around an existing wooden one, or you might make a handbag that has a bamboo handle. You might even make axe handles that have a leather grip, and this requires a certain way of glueing.
You want as strong a bond as you can get if you are glueing leather to wood, so contact glue is going to be my choice for this one, and maybe even a little super glue at times. With something like a bamboo handle type thing, you may want to cover the bamboo with leather, in which case you would need a really thin piece of leather that would glue down pretty well.
But if you are going to glue a thick piece of leather to an axe handle, you still go with a good quality contact cement, and as well as roughening the leather side, you want to do the same to the wood. You don’t want to chip away at the wood, so something like a wire brush to roughen the area, or a heavy grit sandpaper will do the trick. Then you apply the contact cement to both sides, wait for it to be dry to the touch, like 5-6 mins, and clamp the pieces together.
The most recent example I have of repairing something in this fashion were some coasters. I made some leather coasters with a wooden base, and the edges started coming apart, so I used this method to fix them. Now afterwards I went overboard and drilled holes through and sewed them together, but that’s a post for another day.
Glueing Leather To Metal
You might not think you will have to do this, but it might be more frequent than you think. If you get into making leather bracelets, the bread and butter of many a leatherworker, you are going to have to be attaching clasps made from metal to leather. I make a lot of bracelets with cords, and I tried a lot of different glues because I just couldn’t get the bond strong enough between the metal and the leather. I wanted to be able to pull pretty hard and not feel any movement.
So after a lot of testing and scraping and testing again, I ended up using a mixture. So if I was inserting the leather into a metal hole, I would roughen the edges of the cord, and use super glue on the tip, then closer to the edge I used contact cement.
Now if you are doing a repair, this can be a little more difficult, the same concept applies of roughening the two sides, and this is a little difficult with metal, and can try with some sand paper, but in general it’s tough to stick the two together. So super glue for small repairs, and in most cases I might make a handle for a cast iron pan, but there is usually some sewing involved.
Glueing Leather To Plastic
Similar to metal, leather doesn’t really bond that great with plastic, and I haven't had much experience in this, other than some buttons I made for cushions that were covered with leather. A small project like that, I use a really thin piece of leather that's easy to work with, then just apply a small amount of super glue to the button and wrap it with the leather. But I don’t know that I would attempt any bigger project involving plastic and leather.
Glueing Leather Shoes Back Together
I haven't made any shoes, but once your family finds out you are working with leather, you become the family leather repair man. I have fixed Louis vuitton bags, jackets, leather hats and a whole list of things, but the most frequent request is to glue leather shoes back together.
If the sole has lifted up just a little bit of the shoe, then you just need to clean out the area, wipe it down, roughen the surfaces and apply some contact cement to both sides, allow the glue to be dry to the touch, then put the two pieces together, and if you can, put the shoe on and sit there applying a little pressure for about 10-15 minutes, or you can just use something heavy to put in the shoe.
For a larger repair, you may need to pull the sole off to where the bond is still strong, and do the same in cleaning the area, removing any loose materials, and I would use a good contact cement here, again applying to both sides and sticking down once dry to the touch, and maybe even a couple small tacks to give it that extra strength. But these are just my own ways of doing leather shoe repairs. I am by no means a cobbler, so don’t blame me if your uncle ends up throwing his shoe at you for a poor job !
Is Rubber Cement Good For Glueing Leather to Leather
I wouldn't use rubber cement to glue leather to leather. I was a plumber in a different life, and the solvents used in rubber cement are pretty strong. In some cases they actually melt the rubber a little to create the bond, so you don't want something that strong when you are glueing leather to leather. Scroll up to where I talk about the best glues for leather and you will get a much better idea of the suitable types of glue you can use on leather.
A Final Word About Glues And Leather
Although I could come up with endless scenarios with leather and glue in the same sentence, I hope this is enough information for you to be able to make the correct choice when you are choosing a glue for your leather project.
I want you to be able to make a choice based on the view of someone that also makes leather goods, and know that I really want you to make the best product you can, and I want to help you avoid mistakes you don’t need to make that will save you time and money.
Just remember to always do things slowly, a small mistake can cost you a whole piece of a project. Test any glue you use no matter how sure you are on a small piece of leather first, and always roughen the edges before you glue.
If you want some further tips on leathers working, check out my post about