Best English Leather

There are many sources of leather used in the saddlery industry available in New Zealand, either through imported saddlery or tanned hides.

The English bridle leather that Sparrow Saddlers use to handcraft saddlery has been chosen deliberately for it's widely renowned qualities, which can only be achieved through the ancient process of pit tanning.

You may be interested to know the process that goes into producing this leather:

Although the tannery has changed over the centuries, the pit systems of the tanning and liming process has not.

The first operation in the process is the liming of the hides which loosens the hair for de-hairing. This is done by a simple solution of hydrated lime and water in three large pits. The hides are moved up through the pits, starting in the weakest and ending in the strongest lime. This takes two weeks and by this time the hair is loose enough for de-hairing.

After de-hairing and fleshing the hides are rounded - the bellies are cut off for tanning separately , and the cleanest hides are selected out for bridle, stirrup, saddlery and harness leathers. These are now backs and are hung over a pole and suspended in a de-liming pit before being moved on into the tanning pits. All the tanning is vegetable tanning, using a mixed vegetable tannage of mimosa, myra bolam and chestnut.

During the tannage the backs are firstly immersed in the weakest tan liquor and then moved up a pit every week until they finish in the strongest liquor, by which time they are fully tanned. With the mixed vegetable tannage the process takes six weeks.

After the tannage is completed the backs are now ready for currying. Once again they are inspected and only the backs with the best necks are allowed to go on as backs. The rest are rounded at 60 ins. length, cutting off the shoulder, and are dressed as butts. Firstly they are shaved to a level substance before being re-tanned and dressed, introducing fish oils and greases into the fibres. This gives the leather the flexible, rounded feel needed for bridle and stirrup leathers, as well as increasing the tensile strength.

tannery1The butts and backs are now ready for hand-setting on a table. This pushes out creases and stretch as well as flattening the leather. All leathers are set and re-set by hand to ensure the finest quality of finish. The leather is now allowed to dry prior to the final process of staining and dressing with dubbin.

The combination of traditional tannage and currying produces first-class bridle, stirrup and harness leathers, which are well known and popular throughout the saddlery and harness trade.