Traditional Oak Bark Tanned Leather By J & FJ Baker

J&FJ Baker & Co – A. McDonald Shoemaker

J & FJ Baker is a 6th generation owned family business full of history and tradition that produces some of the finest quality leather in the world. Founded in 1862, the Devonshire site has been tannery since Roman times. The last oak bark tannery in England that has spent the centuries perfecting the art of the oak bark tan.


J&FJ Baker & Co Ltd | Britain's only remaining traditional oak bark tannery  | Colyton, Devon

Image: Oak bark tanning process at J & FJ Baker

Oak bark tanning is a traditional tanning method that is a long and labourious task. Using the best hides locally sourced there is a 14-month process to turn these hides into uniquely crafted, luxury and highly durable leather. The hides are gently tanned in oak bark and water over a period of 12 months. The slow gentle tanning process maintains the natural alignment of the fibres in the leather. The result is leather that is lightweight, hard wearing and has strong tensile strength much superior to other tanning methods. It is believed by many to be the best harness leather in the world. Our Clydesdale Belt, Woodsman and Women’s London Belt are made from this exquisite leather.

This type of leather is an exclusive luxury that not only provides the beauty of a unique traditional leather but also superior strength and durability compared to other tanning methods. This leather that will age beautifully overtime and with the thickness of approximately 5 - 5.5 mm thick, you can be assured our belts will last many years.

Image: Joseph M. Leather Clydesdale Leather Belt (38mm) in Dark Stain with Nickle Plate buckle

Due to being a natural product there may be scratches and scars from the animal as well as colour variation between each hide of leather.

The Tanning Process:

Oak Bark Tanning is a very traditional form of tanning which contains oak bark taken from trees in the UK. The oak bark is stripped in the spring/summer and is left to completely dry out for 2-3 years. The hides are from Devon and are de-haired after arriving. The oak bark is shoveled to be ground down into pieces that are approximately 2-3 inches. The 400-year-old mechanism is run by a water wheel grinds the oak bark down.

The bark is then used like cups of tea to make strong to weak liquors of tannin. The tan yard is split into 72 pits. The new hides will begin in the weaker tan and each week will move from pit to pit for the first 3 months. The hides are suspended on sticks which allows for an even tan and the water wheel mechanism lifts the frames up and down ensuring an even tan

After 3 months the hides will be taken off the sticks and will be layered one of top of each other with handfuls of oak bark thrown in between the hides like a huge sandwich. The hides will then remain in those pits for 9 months. A total of 12 months and by the end of this process the rawhide is converted into leather.

After being taken out of the tanning pits the leather is strengthened and nourished with fat liquors and oils. The harness leather receives a further treatment of dipping in hot tallow and grease. This will strengthen the leather and add extra durability making a long last strong material.


The Process | J&FJ Baker & Co Ltd | Britain's only remaining traditional  oak bark tannery | Colyton, Devon — J&FJ Baker & Co. Ltd

Image: Oak bark tanned leather hand conditioned by J & FJ Baker

The leather is then dried in a drying shed before being hand dyed with 4 coats of stain to ensure even colour. The leather is further nourished with specifically blended dubbin. The dubbin is applied by hand using a brush for even spread and to ensure it is worked in. This will create a white waxy coating which will rub off with use or with buffing from a soft bristle brush. Soon after the leather is ready to be sent off.