How We Make Our Leather

At Thomas Ware and Sons we take great care and pride when it comes to purchasing our raw materials, especially hides. British beef cattle, such as Herefords, provide the optimum colouration and thickness and they are reared to meet exacting standards.

It can take in excess of 15 months to convert these raw hides into the end leather product. This sounds like a long time and many of our competitors opt for more rapid, cheaper processes, but we believe taking the time gives the best results.

At TWS, decades of experience tell us that the best methods of hair removal, liming and tanning for the types of leather we produce are carried out in pits, “the traditional way”. Read on to discover how the magic happens. 


STAGE 1 – PREPARING THE HIDE FOR TANNAGE

The first part of the process is to prepare the hides ready for tannage. It takes up to 10 days and happens in the Limeyard, or what was traditionally known as The Beamhouse.

First all the hides are weighed, opened up and inspected before being soaked in a water pit for 24 hrs. Having arrived wet salted, straight off a carcass, soaking the hides in water removes the salt and other farmyard muck. They then spend a further 24hrs in a de-hairing pit in a solution. This helps to loosen the hairs from the hide so they can be easily removed.

Once the hairs have been loosened, the hides are placed in a solution of lime for 6 days to open up their fibre structure. All the unwanted inter-fibrillary proteins are dissolved and the hides swell so they can withstand the next two machines. These remove the hair, scud and surplus flesh.

The hides, now called pelt, are next sorted, graded, rounded (cut up into butts, shoulders and bellies), lime split and de-limed as necessary depending on the end product.

Cow hides in the lime yard before tanning.


STAGE 2 – TANNING THE PELTS

Once the pelts have been sorted and prepared, they enter the actual tanning process. This turns the pelts into leather and a pelt can spend up to 13 months in tan liquor.

Our liquors are made up of carefully selected blends of at least three different vegetable tanning materials. We carefully control the composition, strength, acidity and temperature of the liquors and the time the pelts spend in these pits. Varying the liquors and soaking time determines the properties of our end products, such as hardness, strength, colour and flexibility. Different combinations are required for each individual type of leather.

The Tanyard


STAGE 3 – THE SHEDDING OF THE LEATHER

After the tanning stage the leather is moved to the Sheds. Here it undergoes a number of other processes, machine operations and drying operations to help give the leather different characteristics. This can take up to another 4 – 6 weeks before going to the warehouse for sorting and grading.

Leather ready for sorting.


STAGE 4 – DRESSING AND FINISHING

In the warehouse we sort the leather according to specific end uses.  Some is good to go from here, and some goes back into the Tanyard and Sheds to be further processed for more specialised uses.

Specialty leather - floor tiles

Once the tanning process is complete, our leather leaves Bristol destined for a wide variety of uses all over the world.