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. with 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 US protective laws). Our imagery requires leather that is as natural as possible to facilitate burning images to achieve a rich black. This requires using leather that is free 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 and 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 bench crafted cover: Our cutting practices are key to our quality and we inspect each and every inch of the hide as we cut it to make your leather piece. All premium leather will display evidence of the happy life of a range steer. Below are some extreme examples of the types of marks we see. These pieces would not be used, however we may leave slight scars or marks to pass quality inspection as they are not considered a defect but are in fact an intrinsic part of the ‘Oberon look’ that makes each cover unique.
Small healed scars or scratches are evidence of the life of the steer: wire, horns, insect bites and love nips!
Shade & tone color variation Each hide absorbs dye differently based on its individual cell structure. Think leaf skeleton, filled with tiny tributaries and dye trying to fill each section. Also, leather dye lots may vary slightly.
Small light spots are darker streaks where the dye didn’t completely saturate the hide.
Wrinkles and stretch marks appear as elongated furrows representing stretching & contracting along the neck and limbs of the steer as it grazes, romps & rubs. Dye doesn't always settle perfectly in these areas.
Grain variation in leather speak refers to the texture of the hide, think fingerprint, individual to each steer. We try to get hides from young cow health fanatics only, but wrinkly, hard partying and aging steers need appreciation too!
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 to 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, or uneven with thin or thick areas in the hide, etc.
Leather fading: Our premium, drum-dyed leather is less processed. This allows our leather to polish to a beautiful, supple patina with age and enables us to work in our unique tooling medium. Painted leather is less susceptible to fading but will scuff to a white layer underneath the paint.
All drum dyed leather will fade over time. Once faded, the original dye cannot be restored. To avoid long term fading or radical short term fading caused by intense, direct sunlight, avoid leaving your cover on car seats or dashboards, in window seats, sills or bright sunlight at the beach.
Also protect your cover from long term exposure to window or skylight exposure (or extremely bright florescent lights) by storing your cover in a drawer or shelf where it's protected. Keeping your cover well conditioned will help.
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: