Posts tagged #leather tanning

Historical Care Package from a Pennsylvania Viewer, 1850's Shoemaker Ledger Pages, Leather and Tools

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I received a pretty amazing care package from a long time YouTube viewer Davey Jo of Pennsylvania. He is a lifetime cabinet maker, leather and metal worker. and accumulator of tools. In spite of his apparent humble attitude, I have a feeling anyone could learn a great deal from Davey about woodworking and such practical shop stuff. His Great, Great Grandfather Joseph was a shoemaker and farmer in that state. He sent some interesting pages from Joseph’s Ledger about goods and services purchased, sold and rendered. Sometime I might sit down and analyze those documents a bit for whatever insights they have to offer about life in the mid 19th century. For instance with a cursory going over, it looks like a new pair of handmade shoes or boots were about $1.25 to $1.75. He also sold 3 bushels of potatoes from his farm for $1.50 and purchased cords of oak for $2.00 each. There is also a contract for an apprenticeship in shoe making. I’ll include a few pictures here. The writing is sometimes hard to decipher and it would be a bit of a project to sort it all out and attempt to translate it in historical context. There is also an edge of bark tanned leather from probably the mid 1800s from Joseph’s shop and a very nice looking piece of leather that Davey tanned with sassafras bark following my instructional videos on bark tanning.


1847 firewood prices. About 100% of today? Oak was bought in at 2.00 a cord, but Hickory (which appears to be spelt Hickery) was 3.00 a cord. Likely at that time it was either bucked into long fireplace logs with an axe or saw, or bucked into shorter woodstove sized sections with a frame bucksaw. From the other entries in this ledger, you could calculate how many cords you would have to cut in order to buy some staple foods for winter, oats, corn and potatoes, and a pair of shoes.

1847 firewood prices. About 100% of today? Oak was bought in at 2.00 a cord, but Hickory (which appears to be spelt Hickery) was 3.00 a cord. Likely at that time it was either bucked into long fireplace logs with an axe or saw, or bucked into shorter woodstove sized sections with a frame bucksaw. From the other entries in this ledger, you could calculate how many cords you would have to cut in order to buy some staple foods for winter, oats, corn and potatoes, and a pair of shoes.

Aside from some logging of shoe repairs and sales, this page contains a contract discussing a term of apprenticeship, an annuity, room, board, washing and mending of clothes, and a provision for a promise of three weeks farm labor at harvest time.

Aside from some logging of shoe repairs and sales, this page contains a contract discussing a term of apprenticeship, an annuity, room, board, washing and mending of clothes, and a provision for a promise of three weeks farm labor at harvest time.

Davey’s grandfather’s uncle Mr. Bachman was a tanner. Here is a receipt for bags of hair. Hair was used as an addition to lime plaster and no doubt for other things. It was commonly collected and sold by tanneries. Mr. Bachman appears to have attended a trade school and advertised those credentials on his invoice.

Davey’s grandfather’s uncle Mr. Bachman was a tanner. Here is a receipt for bags of hair. Hair was used as an addition to lime plaster and no doubt for other things. It was commonly collected and sold by tanneries. Mr. Bachman appears to have attended a trade school and advertised those credentials on his invoice.

This glue pot was given to Davey by his mentor John Grott, a woodworker, shoemaker and all around skilled man by the sound of it. I’m honored to be thought worthy of such a gift, which I can actually use as I have no glue pot. Most of them are also too large for my purposes, and as a cabinet maker, Davey found this one too small for his needs. It is essentially a double boiler, which serves two purposes, keeping the glue from burning and keeping it warm while it is being used away from the stove.

This glue pot was given to Davey by his mentor John Grott, a woodworker, shoemaker and all around skilled man by the sound of it. I’m honored to be thought worthy of such a gift, which I can actually use as I have no glue pot. Most of them are also too large for my purposes, and as a cabinet maker, Davey found this one too small for his needs. It is essentially a double boiler, which serves two purposes, keeping the glue from burning and keeping it warm while it is being used away from the stove.

A miniature “finger” plane. There are not a lot of tools on my wants list anymore, but this was certainly one of them. Also some nice air dried Hickery harvested by Davey and seasoned for years. It appears to be very stable, which is an often overlooked factor in handle material. If I have my way with it, there will be an extensive blog post and video soon on handles and handle material, what matters and what doesn’t. Stability matters a lot and is often not considered or attended to.

A miniature “finger” plane. There are not a lot of tools on my wants list anymore, but this was certainly one of them. Also some nice air dried Hickery harvested by Davey and seasoned for years. It appears to be very stable, which is an often overlooked factor in handle material. If I have my way with it, there will be an extensive blog post and video soon on handles and handle material, what matters and what doesn’t. Stability matters a lot and is often not considered or attended to.

Vegetable Tanning Materials, Tannin Rich Barks, Roots and Leaves Used to Tan Skins and Hides Into Leather

I am asked a lot about what tanning materials people should use in their part of the world. Well, be careful what you ask for he he. Here is a very large amount of information to address fill that gap. I had already typed up a partial list for a vegetable tanning book project that I have done some writing on which is mostly presented here (don’t hold your breath on me publishing it anytime soon). That information comes largely from Howe’s book on tanning materials, which I think is still in copyright. But I decided to list a bunch of full text excerpts on tanning materials from some other old out of copyright tanning books. To top it off, at the end there is a surprisingly long bibliography of publications on tanning materials put out by the USDA, with such fun topics as tannin content of some acorns, Tannin content of pacific coast trees, tanning materials in South Africa and the tanning industry of Washington state. There is still much more that could be dug up on the subject. If you want to research a specific material more, you can use sites like googlebooks.com and Archive.org Try different combinations of keywords such and as leather, tanning, tannin, the plant’s common names and the plants botanic name (or names, plural since they often change over the course of 100 years or more in order to keep botanists employed and make them look busy).

Axe Strops #6 Tanning the Deer Skin in Oak Bark

In this segment we finally begin tanning the skin.  Vegetable tanning is one of the neatest things I've ever learned.  This is the most exciting part where the hide fiber is transformed into leather.  Leather is not skin or tannic acid, it's a unique material made of the marriage of those two.  It can be left in the weather for years, and though it may become moldy and damaged it will not rot away for a very long time.  There are pieces in my compost piles that I pull out and throw back in every year just to see how long they will last.  The first piece of leather I tanned was a rotten piece of skin that I should have buried, but I had some oak bark sitting around so I made a solution and tossed it in.  The tan almost seemed to heal up rotten parts of the skin and knit them together.  I still have that piece of leather.  I left it hanging in a tree outside for a year or two once, but it appears pretty much unfazed.