Natural Oak Bark Tanned Leather Belt by Carmine Jack Leather Company
Early one morning I woke up to a message from Ryan Buonamia, founder and crafter of Carmine Jack Leather Company. Ryan had sent me a message asking me if I had heard of oak bark tanned leather. Having little knowledge of oak bark tanning, other than that it was really hard to get here in the States, Ryan told me all about this amazing leather. Intrigued, and since Carmine Jack is one of only a few crafters (the only other one I know is Isaac at Pigeon Tree Crafting) in the US to carry it, I ordered a custom oak bark tanned bridle leather belt from him and went on to make Carmine Jack a Feature Page.
The belt I got from Ryan is made from leather tanned at J & FJ Baker, "Britain's last remaining traditional oak bark tannery." The tannery has been around since 1862 and is still owned by the Baker Family! They sell their hides in three categories: Equestrian Leather, Interior Leather, and Shoe Leather. When it comes to making their leather, one hide takes around 14 months until it is finished tanning!
The cocktail is simple, J & FJ mix water from the local river with oak bark which becomes a liquor. Hides are put into the liquor, which can vary in strength, and after the long process of being submerged they are then hand-dyed (called aniline). The dyeing technique really helps show off the full grain leather's texture while providing protection for the surface of the leather. Learn more in the video below:
Another well known oak bark tannery is Joh. Rendenbach Jr. in Germany. JR specializes in leather for the soles and heels of dress shoes. The JR tannery as been around since 1861 and, just like J &FJ Baker, still family owned. Their tanning process is done in three parts: "Dyeing" (around 4 weeks), then "Submersion" (approx. 6 weeks), and finally "Ground Tanning" (anywhere from 4-6 months). The JR leather soles are considered to be the best on the market and can be given the 'waterproof' label as well (unheard of for leather soles). Below is a video of Kirby Allison touring the JR Tannery and going through the whole process of making their product:
I find oak bark tanned leather to be the best leather out there. Everything, and I mean everything, about it is quality. The smokey smell, the way it forms to your needs, its durability, and the beautiful patina it develops. A cherry on top is that the entire tanning process is 100% environmentally friendly and the leather is biodegradable once (or I should say if) it has finally broken down.
The long process is certainly not fast fashion friendly and there is a reason this leather is both expensive and hard to find. My oak bark tanned belt is my favorite and I definitely wear it more than any other belt in my collection. Definitely check out Carmine Jack Leather Co. (based in Minnesota)! Pigeon Tree Crafting has some oak bark tanned goods as well. You owe it to yourself to have a product made from this leather! Click here for examples of the JR oak bark soles!