The Hermann Oak Leather Company provided BestLeather.org with the opportunity of reviewing a few different lines of their leather. We’ve reported on their Latigo line of leather as well as their English Bridle line of leather in previous articles. The purpose in reviewing some of their different leathers was to showcase and highlight the advantages and uses of each line and where their greatest strengths lie.
As with all of Hermann Oak’s leather, their Harness line is top notch for its category. It is tanned used decades old methods by one of the oldest tanneries in the United States. It is used by leather shops throughout the United States and beyond. Possibly the greatest attribute of Hermann Oak’s Harness leather is its weather resistance. More on that below.
About Hermann Oak
The Hermann Oak Leather Company was established in 1881 in order to handle the local harness trade and to supply the wagon trains of settlers traveling west along the Lewis and Clark trails. As the company grew, they began to supply the US military with various leather needs for both World Wars, and also began to establish a reputation for producing some of the finest vegetable tanned leathers available. Hermann Oak has become renowned for supplying world class vegetable tanned leather for not just the equine industry, but for consumer goods as well. Their experience has resulted in the creating of a line of leathers that is prized by craftsman the world over.
A visit to my local Tandy Leather store testifies to this. A conversation with one of their employees led to her describing how Hermann Oak’s leather was far superior to the other brands they carried. Her particular skill was leather carving and she described how carving with Hermann Oak leather was like carving into butter. She was a raving fan. Gfeller Casemakers in Meridian, Idaho uses only Hermann Oak leather for different purposes, but for the same reasons: it’s the best.
Benefits of Vegetable Tanned Leather
Vegetable tanned leather is the age old process of tanning leather using tree bark and other organic materials. Vegetable tanning takes significantly longer (months versus days) to fully tan leather than the much more common Chrome tanning. The result is a product that is stiffer, arguably more durable, acts more as an insulator, has the ability to be molded, has the ability to be burnished, and develops a patina. To be sure, chrome tanned leather has its place in the leather world and has some advantages (lower cost, more pliable, faster tanning times), but vegetable tanned leather is the veritable cream that rises to the top.
In discussing the differences of Hermann Oak’s Latigo, English Bridle, and Harness leathers, the main difference between the three is oil content. English Bridle has the least amount of oil. This is evident when working with the leather as it has a slightly drier feel. It also needs treatment to make it more weather resistant. Their Latigo line has slightly more oil, which once again is evident in the working of the leather. The reason for the differing oil content is simply purpose. Latigo was traditionally used as strap leather (i.e. strapping the saddle to the horse) and therefore needed to be slightly more weather resistant than English Bridle, which is obviously traditionally used in bridle making.
Harness leather is unique in that it is meant to be the most weather resistant because traditionally Harness came into closer proximity to horse sweat. As such, it is stuffed with additional waxes and tallows that imbue the leather with its weather resistant property. The result is a leather that is a little heavier, but which also has a slightly softer feel on the exterior. Of the three types of leather that Hermann Oak provided BestLeather, Harness was my favorite to work with. I loved the sturdiness of the leather and the more supple feel. I also found the Harness leather was also easier to cut than the other two.
I used the Harness leather in combination with Hermann Oak’s English Bridle leather to make a briefcase. The harness leather in particular was used for the two side panels and for the handle strap. The contrasting colors provided some visual appeal to the bag, but the contrasting leathers also added a different feel. The Harness leather is very stiff, especially at the twelve to fourteen ounce weight of the leather, but it was workable and the finish looked great. The handle was made by sewing two strips of leather together, which resulted in a rock hard handle.
The simple fact that Hermann Oak has been tanning leather since 1881 and has a very loyal following among leather craftsman across the United States and beyond is a testament to the high quality of their leather. Our personal experience with their leather was one of enjoyment and appreciation for a high quality product. The items we made were admired by family and friends who loved the stout nature, but soft feel of the leather. The Harness leather in particular was a joy to cut, bend and piece together. Hermann Oak’s Harness leather is an excellent choice for a wide range of leather projects.