History: Brendan Smith, founder, owner and lead designer at Oberon Design, began bench crafting leather in 1967 when he was eighteen years of age. In his home town he cultivated two important relationships: a friendship with the owner of a local saddlery shop who mentored him and a connection with a leather distributor. Oberon Design still works with the same distributor, a treasured and honored working friendship of forty-five years.
Leather tanning: Due to market forces and environmental laws there are very few tanneries left in the U.S. most leather being tanned offshore. However, the bullhide leather we use is custom tanned for us at a boutique tannery in the Midwest subject to our protective laws. We require leather that is as natural as possible to facilitate our art medium that requires burning images to achieve a rich black. In order to succeed we need to use leather that is freer of paint and other coatings. Many leathers have a paint-coated or false surface to disguise blemishes of all kinds.
Our leather is drum-dyed, meaning the dye penetrates completely and will never scuff white. Only plastic or vinyl covers present a flawless surface. The plus side of less coated leather like ours is that it’s less processed and will absorb natural oils from your hands that guarantee your cover will develop a deep, glossy patina over time.
To achieve the rich black in our imagery we must avoid pastel colors that require the use of white pigments (paint) in the tanning process: White, pink, baby blue, pale greens, etc. Dyed leather containing white pigments produce a muddy grey color when burned that we find unappealing, even ugly.
"I once had a leather jacket that got ruined in the rain. Why does moisture ruin leather? Aren't cows outside a lot of the time? When it's raining, do cows go up to the farmhouse, "Let us in! We're all wearing leather! Open the door! We're going to ruin the whole outfit here!"
- Jerry Seinfeld
The surface of your cover: We are benchcrafting covers from natural material that is not meant to reflect a perfect surface. When purchasing an Oberon cover you should expect to see evidence of the life of the cow! Here’s what you can occasionally anticipate as an intrinsic part of the Oberon look that makes each cover unique: small scars or scratches, light streaks where the color dye has settled into the wrinkles on the hide, small light spots where the dye didn’t completely saturate the hide.
Burning into leather: It’s a challenge! Like all artistry complicated by using natural, changeable materials, every load of leather we receive from the tannery is slightly too significantly different. With every load, we expect small variations in dye lots and characteristics of the leather itself. A load of hides may be oily or dry, uneven with thin or thick areas in the hide, etc.
All of these variations affect the success of tooling. Each image we create has its own ‘recipe’ for the length of time and temperature used to burn the image (think of the temperature gauge on your iron for silk as opposed to cotton). These elements need adjusting with each new load of leather. Experience, expertise and patience are words that describe what it takes to benchcraft your cover.
The 15 steps: Typically it takes approximately fifteen steps to make an Oberon cover, some covers being more complicated than others. Here’s a snap shot of the process:
- Grading the hide for a cutting strategy
- Cutting out the cover
Cutting pockets and liners
- Tooling the image
- Gluing liners and pockets to the cover
- Trimming the glued pockets and cover for an even edge
- Dying the edges of the cover: first dye
- 2nd application of dye: 2nd dye coating
- Buffing and polishing of cover edges
- Attaching and riveting of all bumpers, straps and tabs (steps of their own to create)
- All sewing steps
- Attaching buttons (all our closure buttons are hand cast in our shop) bungees and thongs
- Hand finishing of image
- Conditioning and cleaning of cover
- Three person quality inspection process
Thanks for taking the time to learn about our process!
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