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.
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).
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.