In August I was lucky enough to visit Britain’s last oak-bark tannery. They produce top quality leather from Devon’s finest cows using the ancient technique of soaking the hides in oak bark and water. And the great thing is, I peel oak bark with the Coppice Association NW and then sell it to the tannery. So some of that bark was peeled by me!
Andrew Parr, the owner, very kindly gave his time to guide me (and my family) around the tannery, showing all the different stages. The first room is where they process the oak bark by breaking it up into smaller sections. These pieces are then poured into pits and water is added. This is then left to allow the tannins to be absorbed into the water.
The hair is removed from the skin by soaking it in a lime bath.
After the lime treatment the hide needs to be scraped to remove all of the hair.
The hides are now ready to be suspended in the oak bark solution. There are many pits with different strength solutions. When the tanning solution is made it is too strong for the skin – the outer surface would tan too quickly, preventing the inside to tan. But after a solution has been used it becomes weaker so the raw skin can be initially tanned in the weakest solution. Then, over a period of a year the hide is moved into the gradually stronger solutions.
After tanning, which can take about 18 months, the hides are air dried.
Fish oil is then added and the surface scraped again.
The result is a lovely russet colour, much darker and tougher compared with other veg-tanned leather.
Here’s the first thing I made with the oak bark tanned leather – a belt for one of my mailing list winners!
More details about the tannery can be found on their website: www.jfjbaker.co.uk