Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 15 February 2013

Grooving The Channel

A very warm welcome to one and all. Another week goes by and we have been busy! As always with bespoke, we never have a steady flow of work where you take regular orders and they flow through production in an even cycle. It seems to work like London buses - they all come at once. So currently, we are both weighted down with a long line of shoes to make (I'm not complaining). We have made 5 pairs in the last two weeks. This is is great on the one hand, because we both love shoemaking. The reverse is that all the other things we have to do to run the business are delayed. Believe me, running your own business is more than a full time job.

Anyway, on to shoemaking. For those of you who missed it last week, check out this video - it's pretty cool.

And check out these shoes which we have just uploaded to the website. And these. It is a patina service we offer to clients done by our friend Paulus Bolten in Paris - pretty luxurious and beautiful. It's great to be able to offer these extra services to our customers, it adds to the feeling of uniqueness which is part of the bespoke experience.

We recently contacted another patina artist in Brussels (Place du Chatelain) whose work we have admired for a while - Landry Lacour. We will have to send him a pair of shoes to paint. Really love this kind of thing, ways to enhance a pair of shoes.

And so to shoemaking. When you are stitching a sole, one of the things you have to be aware of is the little ridge that the stitches can make under the channel. This looks bad and also makes finishing the sole a bit tricky. This is particularly true on a thin sole because you naturally cut the channel more shallow which makes the stitches sit nearer the surface.

Normally we make a groove with a grooving tool which consists of a broken awl which has been sharpened to a point which we run inside the channel (see this blog post for images).
This method works very well, but sometimes, if you are making a very thin sole like 3/16" or less, it can improve the look of the final sole to cut your groove like this.

3/16" Sole With Channel Cut

You can see the channel is shallow.

Making sure the tip of your knife is both pointed and sharp, score a line inside the channel with the very tip of it. You are not really trying to cut the leather, more just scoring the surface. You need to be very careful and confident of your knife skills. Make sure the line is in the right place. Check this by looking at your welt and estimating where the awl will come through.

This is how it should look.

Then get a small screwdriver and run it in the scored cut. This has a major effect and makes a wider and deeper groove for the stitches to sit in.

Hard to see here, but the stitches sit flush with the surface of the leather and don't stick up.

This stage is very important. Take your bone and rub the stitches really hard and fast to squash them. You should work up a sweat doing this.

Then you can glue down the channel with contact adhesive, hammer the edges, and smooth the whole sole with a smoother (a sanded chair leg or rolling pin will do fine).

You can see here that the sole is smooth and the stitches are not visible.

On a thicker sole, you have much more leather to work with, so you do not need to use this method. Having said that, it does fit in with my personal idea that it is better to learn to work with as few tools as possible because finding specialist shoemaking tools is getting harder and harder. As you can see from the following page from the 1981 Barnsley catalogue, there used to be a tool for cutting the channel; opening the channel; and three different tools for grooving the channel. All lovely and very functional and probably easier to use than just the knife, but you can do all these jobs with the knife, a screwdriver and a bone - simple!

Hope you enjoyed the post. and until next week, happy shoemaking.

PS There are 2 places left on our New York intensive shoemaking course in May if you fancy making a pair of shoes with us - it's fun!

And don't forget our new pattern making course here in London starting on 29th July for a week. All the basics for making shoe patterns for one-off shoemaking projects.

And finally, the August intensive shoemaking course here in London is full. Next one is January!