We were pretty excited to get our hands on some J & FJ Baker leather earlier this year. It’s a very special leather, local to Devon and made using traditional techniques to produce a unique finish. We enjoyed making the oak bark tanned leather belt using J & FJ Baker leather. But what makes this leather so special, and why were we so excited to work with it?
Quality leather from Britain’s last remaining oak bark tannery
There’s been a tannery at the J & FJ Baker site since Roman times, and today it’s the only oak bark tannery left in Britain. Over the centuries the site has grown and developed, perfecting the art of tanning leather through its traditional oak bark tannage techniques. That’s why they supply to some of the world’s most exclusive leather workers, and it’s why their leather is so sought after.
What is oak bark tanned leather?
Oak bark tannage is a traditional English method of turning hides into leather. It’s an all-natural tanning method that uses only oak bark and stream water to create a strong, lightweight leather that looks great and smells incredible.
How is J & FJ oak bark leather made?
Oak bark is stripped from trees in spring and summer. After being left to dry-out for 2-3 years, the oak bark is then ground down into small pieces.
This is soaked in cold stream water to produce the tanning solution, which is then pumped into the tan yard.
J & FJ buy in hides from the West Country, mostly Devon, then de-hair and wash them ready to go to the tan yard.
The yard is split into 72 pits, each with a progressively stronger concentration of the tanning solution. New hides will spend the first 3 months working their way up the yard from the weaker to stronger solutions. They’re suspended from sticks throughout their progress to ensure an even colour is absorbed all over each pelt.
After 3 months the pelts are removed from the sticks and layed flat on top of each other in deep pits. They’re layered with dried oak bark to produce a sort of oak, leather sandwich and left for another 9 months.
After 12 months the pelts are fully tanned and drained off for 2-3 days, ready to go on to finishing. It’s a process of tanning raw hide into leather that can’t be reversed.
Why is oak bark leather great for belts?
Whilst this method of turning hides into leather is a slow process, it produces very hardwearing leather that’s also lightweight. A belt made from oak bark leather will last a lifetime.
We love working with J & FJ leather, not only because it looks and smells great, but also because it uses local resources and natural processes to create a beautiful product.
Here is a short film made by the talented Rob French. It shows some of the tanning processes at J & FJ Baker and the belt making process which was filmed at the Colville Leather workshop. Enjoy!