If you’ve ever been caught in a rainstorm wearing a leather jacket, you know what happens when it dries. Chances are, it will wear a little tighter the next time you put it on. That’s because if leather dries too quickly, it can shrink and become brittle. At the S.B. Foot tannery, great care is taken to make sure that the hides are dried properly after their hours tumbling in tanning solution. The drying process is a slow and deliberate one, perhaps less glamorous than the tanning itself, but one crucial to the quality of the leathers that we use to make our boots.
Right out of the wooden drums in which they have bathed, the hides are sopping wet, stacked by hand by burly men in rubber boots and aprons to be transported to the drying room. The hides then are laid flat on the layers of a tall mechanical “sandwich”that pulls out the initial moisture without applying too much heat. From there, they are pulled through a set of large rollers that press out more moisture while stretching the leather to eliminate unwanted wrinkles as the hides dry. Finally, the hides, which still are damp to the touch, are transferred into a large heated room, where they are individually draped over hundreds of rods where they will be left to completely dry.
Of course, the leather that leaves the tannery is destined to be made into rugged boots that will no doubt get wet countless times over their hard working lives. But that’s why, after tanning and drying, the final step in the process is to treat the leather with penetrating oils that protect them from moisture.