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  • Adam Morris

Before Replacing your Steering Wheel's Leather Wrap, Consider Painting

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Note: I/we are not sponsored by any companies mentioned in this article. We cruise full time on our test bed, SV Confianza, and we enjoy sharing our tests and opinions to give back to the community.

Confianza's steering wheel was getting worse for wear and starting to stand out (not in a good way).

Yuck. Not a great way to make a first impression when guests arrive for a sundowner. It affected our overall pride in the boat. No matter how much we shined everything else up, this worn and tired wheel stuck out.

Replace or Repair?

My first thought was to just replace the leather wrap. After researching some kits, we were looking at a $350-$500 price tag plus most of a day spent getting the lacing to look like a professional job.

While I was grumbling about the project and the cost, my first mate was getting much more creative than I. She started with the notion that replacing was not the only option.

Just Paint It

"Just paint it," she says.

"Surely, painting it would look terrible!" I retorted.

Undeterred, she showed me some YouTubers restoring high end handbags and sneakers. "If it works for a $5000 handbag, why wouldn't it work for our wheel?"

Good point...

"Besides, what do we have to lose? If it's terrible, you were going to replace it anyway," she said.

Another good point...

Selecting the Painting Products

Angie settled on the Angelus Brand Leather Paint. We ordered a few different colors, as you might painting a room, as testers. And then tested them on some old shoes I use in the engine compartment. We ended up choosing the saddle color and pairing with the matte finisher and the leather preparer and deglazer. In hindsight, the duller might have also been good to try.

The Paint Job

First, some cardboard down for floor protection. Then, tape the outside edges of the wheel spokes with painters tape to keep the paint off.

Now, apply the leather preparer and deglazer, similar to how you would clean and prepare a solid surface with acetone.

Let's get to painting...

Applying the first coat of paint
Applying the first coat with a foam brush

We used a simple foam brush to apply the paint, since we had a few handy. Angelus recommends multiple light coats instead of 1-2 thicker coats to keep the paint even.

Angelus Leather Paint on sailboat steering wheel halfway done
First coat coming out nicely

We had no issue with drying between coats in Florida's heat, but a heat gun may also be used to speed up drying between coats. We went with only two light full coats and some touching up for a third.

Then, add the finisher per the instructions. The finisher should be applied slowly so that it doesn't bubble.

What about the stitching?

We just painted over that as well. Seems to work for car steering wheels. And it came out just fine in this case.

The end result? What a difference! Let's see how it came out...

Angelus Leather Paint on Sailboat Steering Wheel Close Up
The finished product

Angelus Leather Paint on Sailboat Steering Wheel
Stepping back to admire

After we finished, admittedly, we were worried that it was a bit too shiny or glossy to look realistic, even with the matte finisher. That's why I mentioned that the duller might have been a good addition in hindsight.

However, we were pretty pleased that the finish wore in from use. It became more and more natural over the next week or so.

Now that it's all definitely dry, let's finish it off with a nice center marker made of some navy blue para cord.

Navy blue paracord center marker on sailboat steering wheel
Dressing it up with a spiffy new center marker

Our old center marker kept coming unraveled. So this time I used our electric line cutter gun to melt the end of the last loop. It's in the back, so you can't see the melted part, and it looks nice and tidy.

Bottom Line

Options Considered:

This was a project definitely worth doing. Is it exactly like a brand new one? Not exactly, but different doesn't mean worse. The end result well exceeded our expectations and definitely upgraded the look of the cockpit.

Many guests have since sat at the helm and said, "Hey, you got a new wheel!"

We didn't, and we saved at least $300.

How do you think it came out? Going the painting route yourself or sticking to buying a new wrap? Would love to hear your opinion in the comments!




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