The Oak Bark Tanning Production Process – ‘Leather For Multiple Generations’

Our leather is produced by highly skilled craftsmen at J&F.J. Baker Tannery who are experts in the production of oak bark leather. They use ancient techniques, creating leather that will last a lifetime. Better so, this leather can be handed down to another generation. That is the idea with MEWS London.

J&F.J. Baker's Tannery is one of the world's only remaining traditional oak bark tanneries. Their site has existed since the Roman times and was purchased in 1862 by the Baker family, who continue to use the most detailed methods to produce high-quality leather.                   

With their generations of knowledge regarding the production process of oak bark leather tanning, they create leather that is in essence durable and long-lasting. Multiple generations can use it. Here is how…

Stage 1 - Preparing rawhide for tanning

To begin production, the raw hides are acquired from Beef cattle raised in Devon from a free-range farming area. They are then de-haired, which leaves them in a ready state for the tan yard. 

Stage 2 - Tanning

Now that the raw hides have been de-haired, they are ready to be tanned using the oak bark tanning method. In short, tanning is the process which turns the skin into leather. Oak bark is a slow-release tanning method, that will make the product more durable and this is achieved through the 12-month tanning process.

J&F.J. source the oak bark from sustainably Coppiced UK trees which are then dried and crushed. A 400-year-old mechanism run by a water wheel will grind the bark into smaller pieces.

This ground bark is soaked with water from the River Coly. And like a cup of tea, the bark is used to make up strong to weak liquors of tannin.

Each individual hide is suspended on a wooden pole over a pit and gently washed in the oak bark tannin for 3 months.                     

To gain an even tan, a water wheel is used that pushes and rocks the columns with the hide on it.

After each of these procedures are completed the hides are ready to be layered flat, one on top of each other with oak bark sandwiched between each piece for another 9 months. Although a lengthy process, in doing so the skin's natural fibres are protected making the leather extremely durable.

Stage 3 – Drying, greasing and staining

The leather can now be taken out of the tanning pits where a range of fat liquors and oils are used to strengthen and add nourishment to the fibres. Next, the leather will be dried in a drying shed, heated by a biomass boiler, which is powered by the waste at J&F.J. Baker. There are four coats of stain applied to ensure a deep and even colour throughout the surface of the hide. Once the stain is level, it is ready to be finished.


Stage 4 – Currying and hand-finishing

Once the leather is finished being stained, it is ready for a final covering of specially blended dubbin. This dubbin will feed into the fibres to give the leather better durability, water resistance and level finish. This is done by hand with a brush to ensure the dubbin is thoroughly worked in and evenly spread.

Once this has been left to soak in for a week, the leather is ready. We then go through a whole other process of crafting.

Oak bark tanning leather may be lengthy, but we believe it is worth it. At MEWS we strive to provide only the best leather available and it is thanks to our friends at J&F.J. Baker that this is possible.                       


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