Friday, April 30, 2010

The Animal Hospital of America

Advanced Leather Solutions (ALS) has established The Leather Animal Hospital of America.

A company in the UK, Omersa, creates wonderful leather animals.  They've been in business since 1927 and have clients all over the world with many in the USA.  To offer services to the aging leather animal population of North America, ALS has agreed to open the Advanced Leather Solutions Leather Animal Critical Care Unit (the ALSLACCU) in Hayward, California.

The Public Relations Director for ALSLACCU stated, "Our goal is provide critical services that care for, repair and restore these magnificent beasts." 

On hearing the good news, a Leather Animal Society spokesperson said, "It's about time someone has stepped up. Society needs these kinds of services.  After all, how we care for our leather animal friends indicates the state of our civilization."

Here is a link to the original manufacturer's web-site:   After entering their Show Room, Click on the Animal Hospital button and then the Animal Hospital of America.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jaguar XK-120, 1953 Leather Restoration Project

At Advanced Leather Solutions, we sometimes find ourselves in projects that test the boundaries of our experience and skill set, requiring new and inventive strategies and chemistry to complete the project.   The leather restoration of a 1953 Jaguar XK-120 seats was such a project.  The client's goal was to save the original leather.  This then became a leather conservation and preservation project.  

The leather seating was in a very serious state of deterioration with many fissures and cracks into as well as completely through the leather. Most people would have said that the only way to "restore" these seats was to replace with new leather due to the extensive deterioration.  However, with a classic car, our first priority is always to save and preserve the original leather, as this is integral to the valuation of the vehicle. 

We have recently completed the project.  The process incorporated both traditional and new chemistries and techniques, including the resolution of oil saturation, fiber separation and break-down, finish failure, pH damage, and other issues. 

The result was both a structural and aesthetic success, while retaining the original materials, and it's  "antique" patina. We documented the process via video. The video is available for download (please note, this is a non-streaming 241Mb mpg file, and may take a while to download, depending on your connection speed). Right-click on the following link, and choose "Save target as" (IE), or "Save link as" (Firefox, Chrome) from the menu, and save to the location of your choice on your hard-drive. download link.

If the download link doesn't begin bringing the video file into your computer, then click on this direct link:

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hand Wiped Coloring Affect

Sometimes we'll encounter leather that has been colored with a base and print technique where the print coat is applied partially with a hand wiped affect. This give the leather sort of a European hand rubbed look. Through use, this print coat will be worn away or may fade from sun exposure.  Looking at a protected area on the piece will show the original color and how the mottled affect renders.  To mimic the original look requires some creativity.  First the base coat has to be right and then not only does the print coat color require precision, but application technique is critical to allow the color affect to render correctly.  Check this YouTube link to see such an example that we just created for one of our DIY Leather Solutions clients.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Leather Rhino Restoration

From time to time Advanced Leather Solutions gets involved with some interesting projects that are outside the bounds of our standard leather furniture restoration process. The rhinoceros project is a clear example.

The beast is 60 years old and has been kicking around the client's house for many years. It came to us in a serious state of dis-repair, missing its tail, eyes and its horn broken off. Here is a video posted on YouTube showing the before and after condition.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Friday, April 23, 2010

What's in a DIY Leather Restoration Kit?

The simple answer --- Advanced Leather Solutions includes everything necessary to get the job done.

Our kit structure is not about quantities of material as much as it’s about making sure they are the RIGHT materials for a specific leather restoration project (e.g. colored matched to specification, appropriate primer for the leather, etc.). As professional leather furniture restorers with 21 years experience in doing this work for our clients, we know what works and what is a prescription for failure. With our program the client is tapping into our professional experience, not just buying products. With our program, we are involved as much or little as the client desires. We think of the project as the client being our hands on-site. This is a key reason why we have had enormous success with this program.

The additional beauty is that the system is water based, so safe for the environment and safe to use in a home.

Now, on to the details....

Each color restoration system is custom tailored to the specifics of that client's furniture. We manufacture most of these components in our shop. We're not a reseller. We're the manufacturer. But, more importantly, we make this material for our own professional use. As leather repair and restoration specialists we could buy from any other supplier. However, we choose to make our own for quality control and effectiveness purposes.

Here are the contents of a typical kit for a configuration like a sofa, love seat, chair and ottoman:

1. Custom Base Color - matched specifically to your leather. - 128 oz. The coloring chemistry is our unique blend. We buy raw materials and blend them for best performance and spot-on color matched to the client’s color.

2. Custom Print Color - matched specifically to your leather. - 64 oz - This is an optional component if your leather has a mottled coloring affect that we are matching. When we examine your sample swatch, we analysis the color to determine if it's required.

3. Deep Penetrating Moisturizer - to improve the suppleness of your leather. 16 oz. This is a specialty product unique to our company.

4. Oil Extractor - To address any body oil issues in the leather furniture. If this step is omitted and there are body oils in the leather (very common) then it’s the place any system will fail. - 32 oz. We created this product and it is not available from any other source.

5. Primer - This sets up the leather to accept the color. Proper priming is essential to quality color adhesion. 48 oz. This also is a unique creation of ours and not available any where else.

6. Sanding pads - This is necessary to knock down chaffing that is usually evident on the high wear areas like the top of the seats. Also, it’s to be applied as necessary between each color coat to help get you to a more factory like result. These are a specialty product manufactured by 3M and not commonly available.

7. Priming Pad - This is like a heavy duty Scotch-Brite like pad made by the abrasives company, Norton, that you will use to drive the primer into the high wear areas like the top of the seats. (Not commonly available.)

8. Priming glove - This is a great tool to use in the priming step to ensure complete priming in creases, etc.

9. Foam brush color applicator - This are not the ordinary foam brush. These are the best money can buy. Most foam brushes will not hold up to prolonged use. These do.

10. Foam block applicator - This is a unique specialty product we manufacture for ease of application. It's a closed-cell foam color applicator that we contour and cut such that it fits neatly in your hand. You cannot buy this any place as we are the only company that actually makes them.

11. Tamping tool - This is another unique product we create that allows for best results when creating a subtle mottling affect on leather.

12. Tamping tub. - This carries the print color.

13. Polishing Paper - This is a unique tool that improves the end tactile result. Polishing paper is another specialty product made by 3M but is not widely available.

14. Final Dressing - This chemistry imparts a silky smooth feel to the leather and the last step in the process. 16 oz. This also is unique to us.

15. Written Instructions - 30 pages pictures, a flow diagram that shows the overall system and each step in the procedure.

16. DVD(s) - We include a general DVD with each kit. We include specific targeted DVDs as necessary. For example if you have cat scratches we have a DVD specific to correcting cat claw damage.

17. Latex gloves - While this is water based chemistry, we include latex gloves to protect your hands.

18. Practice leather. - Each kit contains a section of practice leather so you can practice any step off of your furniture if you desire.

19. Full telephone or video conferencing support (if you have that facility) at any time before, during or after the project.

The kit will include specialty items if necessary. For example if the client has an open seam, we include the sewing tools necessary and show the client how through a DVD.

A client can purchase each of these items separately from our web-site. With the Kit System concept, we package them specific to the target configuration. As a bundle, the client is generally saving between 25% and 50% versus the "a-la-carte" approach.

Finally, if a client brought their pieces to our Hayward, CA Advanced Leather Solutions studio to restore (professional restoration is 4 – 5 times more than the cost of a kit), the client could care less what materials we consumed in the process. In that context we think of the DIY System similarly. The client is paying a fixed fee to get the job done. We deliver far more than is necessary to ensure the client has enough material to complete the project. This means the kit becomes a built-in maintenance product going forward as the client has the color.

Back to the basics- What’s in a kit? This simple answer applies. The kit contains everything I would need if I walked into a client's home to do this job for them. At the end of the day, we set this system up to maximize the probability of success.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When does it make sense NOT to repair damaged leather?

Look carefully at this photo...

This is a close-up taken of a leather seat cushion damaged by a dog claw that penetrated through the leather. However, look at the surrounding leather. The color coating is coming apart because the leather itself is disintegrating. This leather is known as a "split-hide." Simply put, its an inferior grade that lacks the tinsel strength you would expect from leather.

The damage is too severe and the integrity of the leather too weak to be able to hold a repair. Any repair effort would fail in short order because of the inherent weakness of the base leather. The only viable solution is to replace the afflicted panel. That would cost upwards of $1,000. as the piece would have to be disassembled to get at the defective panel. It just doesn't make sense to invest that much additional into an inferior piece. So, the piece is destined for an early entry into a landfill.

Here's a picture of the full piece. It looks inviting. The damaged panel is the back panel of the left facing seat cushion.
The novice consumer would have no way of knowing that they are purchasing an inferior product as it would look on the surface no different than quality (top grain) leather. Through use, the inherent weakness shows itself. If this was a top grain leather, the dog claw would not have been able to penetrate and the leather as you see it in the photo would not be disintegrating.

In our Hayward, CA leather furniture restoration studio we often see pieces that are more than 50 years old exemplifying the excellent durability one should expect from leather furniture. However, in today's world of cheap manufacturing techniques intended to maximize profits, the public is often being sold "leather" that has a life expectancy of only a few years.

If you are in the market for leather furniture be sure that you know what you are buying. Ask the question: Is this top grain leather? If you are uncomfortable with the response, then don't purchase it.

To learn more about leather and its properties, cut and paste this link into your browser.

Advanced Leather Solutions is a resource that will be able to answer your questions about leather. We're here to help.

Copyright 2010 Kevin Gillan

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Does leather conditioner clog pores?

I've heard some strange theories about the care and maintenance of leather. Recently, it was brought to my attention that there are people who hold the belief that conditioners are bad for leather as it will "clog the pores." I have no idea how they come up with their theory. Clog the pores? What does that mean? Is the leather going to develop a "black-head" or a pimple due to clogged pores?

Here are the facts. Keep in mind that the cow is dead. The pores are non-functional. The animal isn't sweating anymore. There are no more body oils being produced by the animal. Nothing is coming up from inside the skin through the pores. What's to get clogged?

Furthermore, a pore is just one structural element found across the topography of a hide. Looked at under a microscope (even a simple magnifying glass) will demonstrate that the pore structure represents a small percentage of the overall surface area. Leather is absorbent across its entire surface, not just the pores.

If you put a massive amount of a heavy, greasy substance as some leather conditioner manufacturers propose, the real problem is that the skin can't absorb it. So it dries on the surface and leaves the leather feeling sticky, gooey (clogged pores?).

Consider the following:

1. Leather has about 25% moisture content coming out of the tannery.
2. That moisture evaporates to the atmosphere at a rate based on 3 variables: A) humidity B) temperature and C) porosity of the hide. (An unfinished leather will dry out faster than a finished leather because it loses moisture at a more rapid rate as the natural skin surface is not coated. A finished leather has a coating that will hold the moisture in longer. In both cases moisture is lost from the suede side as well.) The more heavily finished, the slower the rate of moisture loss. The corollary is that a heavily finished leather will be less absorbent of any moisturizing agent. If its slow to go out, then its also slow to go in.
3. As the leather loses moisture, the fiber bundles lose its internal lubrication, the leather stiffens. Furthermore, it loses a portion of its mass, consequently shrinks.
4. The purpose of a conditioner is to re-instill that lost moisture - improving suppleness, prolonging the life of the leather. Period.
5. Don't replenish moisture (don't apply conditioner) and it surely shortens the life of the leather as the leather desiccates.

pH Balance

What is far more important is to understand that leather is acidic (4.5 to 5.0 oh a pH scale). A lot of harm is done by applying a chemistry that is not pH balanced to leather as it will induce a chemical reaction breaking down (rotting) the fiber structure. Consider body oil accumulation - some people are very caustic (pH below 3.5), causing the demise of the leather. Advanced Leather Solutions cleaners and conditioners are pH balanced to leather, thus helping to correct any pH imbalance combating the rotting affect.

Museums use non-volatile moisturizers.

At the conservation and preservation (museum) level, it is true that a standard grade conditioner MAY do more harm than good. Once leather gets to a certain level of moisture loss (estimated at below between 5 and 10%) then adding a greasy conditioner at that point may render the leather to mush. (Think about cardboard when it gets wet). So the goal is to make sure the moisture content of leather never gets to that low a level by regularly conditioning your fine leathers.

Most conditioners are made from organics like neatsfoot oil which is also the "natural oils" infused into the leather at the tannery. Organics are volatile, meaning they evaporate, which is the fundamental reason why leather needs moisture added from time to time.

A non-volatile moisturizer is a synthetic and does not evaporate. However, they are very expensive so the tanneries generally don't use them. Advanced Leather Solutions has developed a Deep Penetrating moisturizer which is a non-volatile conditioner. It's a highly specialized chemistry that acts like countless tiny ball bearings infused within the fiber structure. In that sense its not a liquid (doesn't evaporate). Once applied, you don't have to continually moisturize as there is no loss to the atmosphere.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Leather Jacket Reconditioning

One of the benefits of my position is that I receive regular emails from our clients extolling the virtues of our products. It’s fun to hear how a client can take a Salvation Army find and return it into something resembling its former glory with a simple procedure.

Here is the short but powerful testament to what our SG – 50 leather care product can do to a well worn leather jacket.


SG-50 does amazing things! Softens, darkens, adds suppleness - look!

--- BC, Chicago

Look at this one picture associated with that statement. The client took this picture after she had applied SG – 50 to the right facing side of the jacket and a little bit to the upper left facing side.

There is photo sequence taken by a client of Advanced Leather Solutions demonstrates the revitalizing properties of our premier leather care product - SG - 50. Check out how you can improve the look and feel of a well worn leather jacket.

For a complete set of the photos, cut and paste this URL into your browser and it will take you to Picasa where you can see all of the pictures taken by the client.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Monday, April 19, 2010

Print Coat Failure

One of the more common problems we see from our clients is “Print Coat Failure.” Look at the photo below. See how much lighter the tops of the seats are compared to the front face of the sofa, below the seat cushions. While this is a solvable problem, its roots are in how the leather was processed at the tannery.

Here is the content of an e-mail sent from someone who has this problem.

You have what's known as a "Base and Print" coloring strategy used on your leather at the tannery. While this is a common coloring strategy, There are about a dozen manufacturers that buy form tanneries where the coloring system does not hold up to normal use conditions. We've seen this type of color coating failure dozens of times before. The culprit is combination of:

1. Poor wear resistance of the top coat.

2. Poor adhesion of the print color coat.

Both are a function of the tannery that produced this leather.

Definition of terms:

Top coat is a clear coat that is the primary protective coating. It covers all leather surfaces and should provide chemical and wear resistance.

Print coat is the outer color coating in a two color system. The inner color coat is called a base coat.

On your piece, the print coat is the somewhat translucent medium brown color. The base coat is a yellowish color that is now being exposed as the print coat is worn away. The intent of this two color system is to create a mottled coloring affect where the color presented is the interplay of the two colors. This coloring approach is very common but usually much more stable then you've experienced.

In your case normal abrasion of your clothing against the top coat has worn it away. And now the print coat is quickly following suit.

So now you know why this is happening, what's the fix... you prime the leather to receive the color and re-color. In the priming step you'll test for quality of adhesion of the existing color coating. This will determine if any stripping of the existing color is necessary. Go to our website: and learn how we can create a kit for you to solve the problem. It will include everything you'll need for this job, except the stripping agent (denatured alcohol, or acetone). You can get these from a local hardware store paint department.

Call Advanced Leather Solutions to learn more.

Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

Friday, April 16, 2010

Darwin Awards for Leather Repair

I receive lots of e-mails from people all over the country and beyond. Some of them are seeking solutions for some pretty dumb actions that have caused serious damage to their leather furniture. I’ve also been in people’s homes to inspect or repair their leather as well as people bringing projects to our shop. Some of their abuses and comments prove the concept that idiocy is not an unusual human phenomenon. Here is a list of my top ten dumbest in no specific order as any one can grab the top spot. Names have been removed to protect their reputation.

1. I used my ottoman as an ironing board. The leather is totally shrunken and distorted. Can you help me?

2. I saw an article on the internet that said to use bleach to clean leather. It didn’t work so great. The leather is clean I guess, but it’s disintegrating on me. What can I do?

3. I steam cleaned my leather sofa with the upholstery attachment to my steam cleaner. The leather turned dark and seemed to have shrunk. Please help!!

4. I was practicing my golf swing and punched a hole in the back of my beautiful leather sofa. It was a 6 iron. Is this something you can fix?

5. I had a party and moved my love seat into my back yard. I had it too close to the barbeque. The whole back of my love seat got fried. What can I do?

6. My 3 year old son got ink on my new leather cushion. After I disciplined him severely I tried to remove the ink with rubbing alcohol like it said to do on some web-site. The ink is still there but the leather color is gone. (The client brought the cushion in my shop. In this case, there was a hide scar on the leather and as is often the case, the scar tissue absorbed higher concentration of color making it darker than the surrounding leather, appearing to the client as an ink stripe. We restored the color to the alcohol afflicted area. The innocent child is still in therapy.)

7. Upon arrival to the client’s home to inspect for claimed defects in the leather of a huge new sectional, I noted a few dozen post-it notes scattered here and there on the leather. The client applied them to identify all the “defects.” Upon examination of the first problem area, I pointed out that it was not a defect, rather a natural characteristic in the leather. She seemed confused. So I explained that the cow may have rubbed against barb wire, causing the wound, and that it is fully healed hide scar and therefore not a defect. She said; “What do you mean a cow?” I waved my arm toward the sectional and replied, “Ma’am you have a whole herd of cows here.” At which point she dropped to the floor, sobbing, “What have I done? What have I done?” Turns out she’s vegan and had no idea leather came from a cow. Opppps.

8. Asked to do a repair for transit damage in a client’s home, I arrived on site with my senior technician. The client is a prominent physician and was present upon arrival. He and his designer went off to another part of his house to discuss d├ęcor. When the assignment was completed, I called him in and as he examined the repaired area, with a look of amazement exclaimed, “It’s gone. How did you do that?” Lightheartedly I said, “We use lasers.” He called out to his designer to see the repair. When she arrived, he said to her, “Look, the damage is gone. They use lasers to fix it.” I had to explain to the sheepish doctor that I was joking.

9. After carefully restoring a beautiful chair and ottoman in our Hayward shop, the client arrived in a pick-up truck to bring the pieces back to his home. He inspected the furniture and was delighted with the results. To prepare it for transit, we covered it in plastic and shrink wrap as is our standard practice. The client and I loaded it into the back of his pick up I asked if he had rope to secure it. He assured me that he did. At which point my office phone rang. I turned back into my office to take the call. The client promptly left. On his way across the San Mateo Bridge, at 70 or so miles an hour, the unsecured furniture pretended to be a kite and silently lifted out of the bed of the truck, tumbling through the air like a wounded duck. Gravity took over. It flipped and turned and smashed and crashed. Road kill. 45 minutes later he was back in our shop with a severely damage piece including a broken frame. Cost to repair the damage exceeded the value of the piece. It remains in my shop as a relic and testament to the frailty of the human brain.

10. A client owns an auto detailing shop. His customer has a BMW with leather interior. The auto detailer assigned the interior cleaning task to one of his grease monkey techs. Thinking it would be a fast and easy way to clean leather he grabbed his trusty engine degreaser and vigorously applied it to all leather components. Of course it pulled the color coat off, exposing the raw leather. (As an aside, here is a list of other chemicals that our clients were told by supposed experts would be appropriate for the cleaning of their leather --- mayonnaise, acetone, milk, honey, baby oil, detergents of all types, saddle soap. )

Bonus award: Client called to say that he’s cleaned his sofa with 409. Upon full completion of the project he realized that 409 is far too aggressive and has severely distorted the color coating. He was shocked and was preparing to sue 409’s manufacturer. His reasoning for the suit was that there was no warning on the label not to use it on leather. When I pointed out to him that there was also no warning about using it on your face, he didn’t get the connection. Asked why he didn’t stop after he completed a section and noticed the damage, he explained that he thought when it fully dried it would return to normal. Duh!!

From time to time I would enjoy entering posts about the experiences of other leather technicians who may have encountered similarly brain challenged clients. It’s all good for a laugh.