Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 1 February 2013

Shoemakers' Grease

Welcome back, dear shoe people of the world. Another week in the busy life of two shoemakers.

Part of the reason we do the blog is to pass on our knowledge which we acquired over a number of years from a master shoemaker. Now, obviously, most of what he taught us was the mechanics of shoemaking - lasting, welting, heel building, etc. But every now and then he would share the more arcane secrets of the shoemakers' lore. And today, it is your good fortune to have access to a little of this knowledge.

This information will apply to those of you who use bristles when you stitch, either boars bristles (the purists among you) or nylon bristles. However, it could apply to those of you who use needles.

The greatest problem with either way of stitching is attaching the bristle/needle to the thread and keeping it on. As you pull each stitch, there is a great pressure exerted. So you need a good way of attaching it, but you also need to make the passage of the thread through the holes as easy as possible, and this is where the great secret I am about to share with you comes into play - shoemakers' grease.

Some of the products we use are easy to find and others require a bit of searching for. Luckily for you, shoemakers' grease is the easiest product to find. You produce it every day.

Here is how you use it. After attaching your bristles or needles in the normal way, take your bristles or needles and press them into the side of your nose where it meets your cheeks. Give them a good coating. There is a second source of the grease which is just above the eyebrows. Both work very well.

If you are going to use the shoemakers' grease, you need to bear in mind a couple of things. One, don't use your thumb or index finger to put it on because this will make the bristle slippery and difficult to grip. Two, only put the grease on the back end of the bristle, for the same reason - you don't want to get the grease on the bristles/needles themselves near to where you grip them

And there you have it. This may seem a bit gross, but it works and it's free!

Let us know how you get on with it

Until next week, happy shoemaking!


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I don't understand this. Are you saying that putting this 'grease' on the bristle before wrapping the thread makes the thread stay on the bristle better?

I have always found that doing things like sanding and crimping the (nylon) bristle allows the sticky shoemakers' wax to adhere to the bristle, and then the thread in turn adheres well to the bristle. (The natural texture of a real bristle seems to allow the wax to adhere the thread extremely well without requiring any sanding or other treatment.]

I would think the 'grease' would make it more difficult to get the waxed thread to adhere to the bristle. I could see adding the 'grease' to the already wrapped bristle, as this would help lubricate the bristle/thread when it passes through the leather. (Similar to using beeswax & burnishing it after wrapping the bristle.)


jimmyshoe said...

You use the shoemakers' grease after you have attached the bristles or needles. It would make attaching them impossible if you put it on the bristles first.
Here is how we attach our bristles
Best, jimmyshoe

Otso Mäensivu said...

I actually tried coating my threads with instant adhesive after tapering and waxing them. It worked really well and I sewed a pair of soles with them. No lines, no britles, no needles.

jimmyshoe said...

What kind of adhesive is that? And how did you get a curve on the taper of the thread? Best, jimmyshoe

Otso Mäensivu said...

I don't know the proper english term, but it's used a lot by cobblers. Atleast some of them. It's clear liquid but once pressed it dries in seconds and creates a non flexible seam. "Atom", "super glue" and "second glue" are some of the terms. Easily available in both general and hardware stores. I'm sure you know it. I pre-shaped the tapered edges and pulled them through a small mount of the adhesive. Trying to maintain the curved shape, I sprayed an activator on the tapered parts so that the adhesive hardened right away. The only downside was that if you press them with your finger nails they tend to twist.

jimmyshoe said...

Sounds interesting. I would like to see it in action. How did you arrive at this solution? I am not sure about it, but Deborah is very keen to try it. Could you send some pics or post them on the Facebook forum? Best, jimmyshoe

Otso Mäensivu said...

Well I can't say it's a perfect method, but works more or less. I just started thinking about it last time I was making threads (something I don't get to do very often), that after tapering I already have a perfect shape for sewing so what if I could harden the ends with something to make them suitable for that.
I'll try to make some sort of a doocumentation for the group in the near days.