AS a craftsman, I want to use the best possible materials when I make my products. To me, that means using materials which not only have a great pedigree, but are also sustainably produced and have as small an environmental impact as possible.
What makes J & FJ Bakers and their oak bark tanned leather so special?
Sitting in a lovely spot on the edge of the River Coly, the tannery has been in the hands of the Parr family for 150 years. There has been a tannery in Colyton since Roman times.
What makes Bakers bridle leather so unique? Bakers is the only tannery in the UK which produces bridle leather using a tanning liquor containing only three ingredients: animal hides, river water, and oak bark.
The tanning process
Raw hides from Devonshire cattle are soaked to remove the preserving salt and lime, then washed and stripped of their hairs. The raw hides are now known as “pelts”, and are ready for the tanning process to begin.
Bark is taken from sustainably grown English Oak and left to dry for two to three years. It is shredded and mixed with water from the River Coly which runs alongside the tannery and deposited into large pits. Each pit has an increasing strength of oak bark tannins.
For the first three months, the pelts are attached to sticks, hanging freely in the oak bark liquor pits. The pelts are moved through each of the oak bark water pits, starting with the weakest liquor solution and ending with the strongest.
Once the three-month tanning process has finished, the hides are laid on top of each other, with oak bark scattered between each hide, and left to sit for a further nine months in a deeper oak bark water pit.
After 12 months, the tanning process is completed, and the hides are washed and hung to dry for two to three days. Once dry, the finishing process continues with the hides being repeatedly flattened and stretched, whilst a secret blend of grease and oils is applied to ensure they are firm and wrinkle free.
The colouring process takes two days, during which the hides are stained by hand four times.
Sustainability and environmental impact
The three natural ingredients used to make this leather mean that there is no pollution or wastage. The water used in the tanning process is clean enough to be fed back into the river.
World class leather
The result of this 15-month process is a leather with which is lightweight, has a strong tensile strength, and a really distinctive leather smell. It’s a testament to the dedication, knowledge and skill of the craftsmen who create it, that Bakers’ oak bark tanned leather is one of the world’s most sought after leathers.
I’m so pleased to offer my leather belts in this world-renowned material to my clients.