Getting To The ART Of Leather Repair
  Back in 1984 when Rick Lockwood of Advanced Restoration Technologies,  Inc. (ART) in Columbia, SC first got into the interior repair  industry, leather, vinyl, and plastic repair was still in its  infancy. Although there were a few mobile technicians involved as  early as the late 1970s, the repair was inferior and car dealerships  held a low opinion of the business.

“The irony of it is that interior repair actually launched the mobile  tech industry and inspired today’s mobile dent, scratch, rock chip,  bumper, and windshield repair industries,” Lockwood says. “I was  doing a lot of volunteer work back then but I still needed a means of  financial support. I was looking for a start-up business to get into 
when a friend suggested vinyl repair. There were only a handful of  places to go for training, but I wound up in Florida at a half-day  seminar that launched a lifetime career.”

He says there was nowhere to go but up. “It seemed to me from the  beginning that we needed to improve the quality of the repairs.” The  most obvious flaw, he says, was that instead of seeing a tear or a 
hole, you saw the repair instead.

“It was a mindset that it was impossible to repair the damage so it  couldn’t be seen at all, so you just settled for ‘close enough’. That  wasn’t good enough for me. I felt that if I could communicate the  need for technicians to become craftsmen; to apply themselves more,  and look for new and better ways to do things, we could do better  quality work and push the industry forward.”

Today, Lockwood says most people know him for inventing processes  that have improved the quality of leather and vinyl repair over the  years. With a knack for teaching, he has generously shared those  processes with others, even competitors, who have evolved in the  business as he has.

“The first issue was color-matching,” he says. “Techs had to stop  settling for a color that was ‘close enough’. We needed to learn  color-matching skills so we could mix dyes that match exactly the job  in front of us. With some education, you can mix your own colors and  get a precise color-match. You can so finely develop that skill that  you can not only color match OEM colors by eye without relying on a  formula, but you can even customize it a little to allow for slight  wear and natural fading associated with that factory formula.”

He put the challenge on the technicians himself and it has worked!  “You have to believe you can do it, and you have to want to do it,”  he says. “Anyone can spray paint from an aerosol can, and that will  guarantee a substandard repair.” He calls it ‘glue it & spray it’.

“I hate to say this but there are a lot of hackers in the business  who teach that. I believe that a positive direction encourages fellow  craftsmen to get in and that is my focus — the real craftsmen who  want to know how to do the work to perfection.”

For the past 20 years, Lockwood has been an interior repair  consultant for Superior Restoration Products based in Sacramento,  California. They have a second facility in Sunrise, Florida, and he  does an annual seminar at each location. In addition to conducting  demonstrations, he also challenges his trainees to think about the 
job in front of them.

“My advice is to keep looking for industry improvements and probe the  process. Don’t be afraid to analyze and question the steps, and have  a reason for every step.” He says those reasons can be structural,  chemical, cosmetic, and even anecdotal. “I knew a tech who  recommended using laundry detergent to clean the seat before the  repair. Ask yourself, ‘Why laundry detergent on a leather seat?’ It  has fabric softener in it, which negatively affects adhesion.

In another case, he says some techs use superglue on the edge of a  seat. “Leather bends and folds over itself as people repetitively  slide in and out of the vehicle. Superglue will not last very long in  that environment.”
Not fearing new techniques is imperative to bettering any industry.  “In the early 1990s, everyone was using a single needle stitch we  called a ‘blind stitch’ because you couldn’t see it, but it had  limitations,” Lockwood continues. “I was teaching it at a seminar in  Cincinnati when a student spoke up and told me about his father, who  was a sailmaker, who used two needles, one on each end of the thread.

“I found it interesting so I started trying it out and that stitch,  which is now called the double needle blind stitch, proved itself to  be twice as good, quickly making the single blind stitch obsolete. It  is as close as you can get to a sewing machine by hand and has turned  an impossible repair into the easiest repair of all. It changed the  industry by enabling us to do repairs that were impossible before.”Later, Lockwood developed the application of the baseball stitch for  the leather repair industry. “The baseball stitch lets us repair  damages on a curved panel or in the middle of a seat by joining the  leather back together exactly where the tear began. It is also our  strongest repair, while the faux stitch, known as an embossed stitch,  uses the repair to help hide original seams. If it weren’t for  adapting these new stitching techniques, we wouldn’t be able to do  fifty percent of the work we do.”

Water-based dyes are another game-changer because they dry on the  spot using a common hair dryer, making the area immediately workable,  rather than having to wait for solvent dyes to dry naturally.“Once techs learned how to use water based dyes, we have been able to  adjust finishes to mirror factory finishes,” Lockwood says. “We also  have additives that give us matte finishes, slicker finishes,  flexible surfaces, and a cross linker additive thatstrengthens and  enhances the durability of the finish.”

Fifty percent of ART, Inc.’s business is automotive with the  remaining 50 percent in aircraft and marine refurbishment. They get  the occasional residential claim as well. Lockwood is completely  mobile and self-contained with an inverter in his unit that provides  110-watt battery-powered electricity so he can work anywhere.Several times a year, Superior Restoration Products sends him a  talented craftsman interested in spending an entire week training and  getting hands-on experience out in the field with Rick, as opposed to  classroom learning. “I love training technicians deeply committed to  their work,” he says. “There are all kinds of unique circumstances  and repair scenarios to be found when you are out on the road doing  these repairs and thediehard mobile tech gets much more out of this  type of training.”

He says the biggest challenge to the mobile leather and vinyl repair  industry right now is the use by automotive manufacturers of urethane- coated fabrics. Known as ultra-leather, it feels like leather but the  urethane coating makes it difficult to find materials that adhere to  it, which is critical to the repair. Urethane isn’t a thermal plastic  either, so it doesn’t re-melt like vinyl, making it harder to make  the repair disappear.”

Lockwood says more education is needed for technicians so they can  learn to recognize the difference in realleather and imitations on  sight, but they have already found some sticky primer products that  along with some adjustments in the repair processes, seem to be working.“I tell all of my students — I hope that what we are teaching today  proves to be wrong next year because that means we are always finding  something better!”

For information you can reach Rick Lockwood at A.R.T.  125 Pond Dr, 
Lexington, SC  29073  803 622-0502 or email: artzmusic@aol.com.=

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