Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 25 March 2011

Adjusting Lasts

We have just delivered this pair of wholecuts. I think they looked great on the customer as he was tall. Spade welt, red lining. Sharp!

I make bespoke shoes for a living, all day every day (well, five days a week, occasionally more), and I am very used to the way we do things here at carréducker. We have resources and experts on hand for all the processes involved in getting our shoes made.

So sometimes, when I am writing this blog or communicating with followers out there, or helping students of ours to set up their own practice, I forget how difficult it is for individuals to make shoes by hand on their own. If you are setting about making shoes, there are a multitude of stages which you must go through which I take for granted. Finding lasts; making patterns; closing; buying leather; finding tools; threads; waxes - the list is long.
So I have decided to do more posts about some of these other aspects which in my normal working life are straightforward.

One of these is lasts. With bespoke shoes, obviously the last needs to be customised to the feet in question. These may be your own feet or a customers, but you will need to be able to make adjustments.

When we measure a new client's feet, we end up with a series of measures called the draft. We also take a foam impression of the feet. Then we send all of this to our last maker who miraculously carves a pair of lasts from blocks of wood. This is a trade in itself and requires a 3-4 year apprenticeship.

I imagine that for most of you, this is not going to be possible, but there is another alternative which I think is more accessible. Getting hold of lasts is possible, Ebay, junk shops, car boot sales, reclamation yards, etc. Get a collection going and when you come to needing one, find one in your collection which fits closest to your draft.
And next is the fun bit, you have to adjust the last to fit your measures. This involves either taking material away or adding material to the last.
To take it away, you will need a vice with leather on the jaws to prevent damage to the last and a surform/rasp. You simply rasp away until it fits the measure.

If you want to add material, this is how you do it. This method also works when you want to adjust a last after doing a fitting with a client. In this case, I am fine tuning the fit for a customer's second pair. He has painful toe joints and needs just a little extra room. And because his foot is so wide, he wanted us to lengthen the toe slightly, by 3/16", about 8mm. This will make the shoe look less wide and a little more elegant.

The basic method is to use leather or cork in strips which you glue to the last using contact adhesive. I use the waste toe puff leather which I save for this purpose.

Here are the lasts.

First mark on the last where you want to add material with a pen. Remember to make the strips longer than you need because you will need to blend the strips in so that you do  not spoil the smooth line of the last.

Skive the flesh side a little except for the part which is going on the feather edge. It helps to do it before you glue it as it is easier to do. You can even wet the leather a little on the flesh side before you skive. Make sure your knife is sharp!
Glass or rough up the skin side.

Glue both the skin side of the strips and the last. Let the glue dry, about 10 minutes.

Glue the strips in place. You can see it looks a bit ragged at the moment, but you are going to smooth it out.

You can see how the toe is elongated.

At this point you need to smooth the strips. I use a combination of my knife first for the major work and then a rasp to fine tune it.
It should end up looking smooth and seamless.
The top of the strip needs work because there is a small step.

At this stage I use thinner upper or lining leather to cover this step. Again cut out a piece slightly bigger that you need and glue both surfaces. Wait the 10 minutes and glue into place.

Repeat the smoothing process to look something like this.

You will need to keep measuring to check whether you have the right measure. I needed to make the toe longer, so I added another piece of leather, this time a bit smaller. But the process was the same.

I glued it on, skived and rasped it, and then added a smaller piece of upper leather. I measured again and it was the right amount, so I had finished the job.

You can see that the toe shape remains the same. This is important.

The final thing I do is to cover the whole area in contact adhesive and let it dry. This has the effect of smoothing the whole area so that when you make the shoe and take the lasts out, they come out more easily, especially if you use a liberal amount of French chalk or talcum powder.

This does not look pretty but it doesn't matter. This is purely a functional process.
You can do it anywhere on the last. Very commonly, we need to put a fitting on the instep to make tying the laces tight easier. On an oxford for example, the facings should be closed when you try on the shoe.

I do not claim to be an expert at fitting lasts, and a lot of this is learned by trial and error. I was in exactly the same position as a lot of you.
Also, this is a big subject area and will need more posts in the future.

If there are any experts out there, I would appreciate your input, help and advice. Please comment freely.

So, fellow shoemakers of the world, have a good week and, until next Friday, happy shoemaking!


Anonymous said...

This is fantastic! I am an aspiring shoemaker and have had to buy lasts that were close, but not quite right. I was just thinking yesterday I should ask if you would provide some information on adjusting lasts. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of the craft!


Li Sashay said...

Thank you. Great post.

jimmyshoe said...

Casey, glad it was of use to you and I firmly believe in sharing knowledge. Far too often craftsmen are cagey and protective about what they know, but I think this is crazy. How can we promote and prolong the craft without new blood? Good luck with your making
And Li Sashay, thanks for your continuing support
Best, jimmyshoe

DWFII said...

Well, I do this quite a bit...perhaps 90% of my customers need some modification to the last. This is especially true since a a large percentage of customers who contract with a bespoke maker do so because they cannot get a satisfactory fit with commercial sizes.

My process is much like yours except that I confine my build-ups to insole shoulder scraps...I don't use chrome tans in this process.

I also shape the build-ups extremely carefully and deliberately giving all due respect tot he lines of the last and to the concept of "fair curves."

I fill/seal the build-ups with celluloid cement...which leaves the surface as smooth and slick as the last itself.

Sometimes small nails must be introduced to hold build-ups in place esp. along the feather of the last. That said, this is far more critical with plastic lasts than wood lasts.

Finally one needs to respect all the curves of the last. If I must build the last up more than 1/4" to correct for width in the forepart I will also add a piece of leather on the plantar surface of the last to correct the bottom radius.

jimmyshoe said...

Excellent information DWFII, thanks for commenting, jimmyshoe

Anonymous said...

One bit of information I haven't come across yet, is how much longer should the last be than the actual weight bearing foot to allow room for the toes? And would this be different for a casual and dress shoe?

For my own future reference, is this the appropriate place to ask such a question? Thank you!


jimmyshoe said...

In general, we allow 2 sizes longer for the last than the actual foot. I don't think there is a difference for a casual or a dress shoe, but am keen to listen to opinion. Best, jimmyshoe