Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 5 July 2013

Glue 1 (Polish and Paste)

Well, since last Friday, our weekly shoemaking course has come to an end for this term and our British summer has been and gone (on Sunday, it was lovely) and come back again. It's Wimbledon fortnight so it has been cold, wet and windy... wish you were here?...but it looks like it is hotting up for the Men's and Women's semi-finals and finals over the weekend!

We had a couple of 'rakes' in class on Monday, as Simon Crompton, editor-at-large of the Rake and influential men's style blogger (Permanent Style)...and his colleague, Luke Carby, photographer-at-large at the Rake joined us for a spot of leisurely buffing! (And why not? What a pleasant way to spend a Monday evening...all that was missing was a bottle of something chilled!)

(Sadly the only bottles around were Fiebings). Anyway, armed with Fiebings Deglazer and some soft cloths, Simon was determined to inject some depth and lustre into a pair of flat, brown leather bespoke shoes. And Luke? Well many hands make light work!

Simon had tried to build up some depth on the toe with polish alone, but after time the surface of the polish had cracked and flaked. Deglazer is the answer as it takes the leather back to its natural state, so that any dye or polish that is applied will be absorbed into the skin.
Simon applied black polish on the toe and heel counters and then a dark tan to blend the colour into the main body of the shoe. Three to four coats were applied, with each left for a few minutes to absorb, before the next was put on.

Once they had added some depth of colour to the toes, facings and counters Simon and Luke buffed the shoes with a soft brush, before getting down to the business of building a military shine.

Slowly, slowly, layer by layer they built up a lustrous finish and high shine alternating dabs of water and polish applied in a small circular motion with the index finger. We hope to see the results on Permanent Style or The Rake in the coming weeks and will share the finished shots courtesy of Luke when they appear.

Now, back to business...and we move from glazes to glue. Over the next couple of weeks we will explore the glues we use in our shoemaking. We get asked a lot of questions about this, so it seems a good idea to share what we know. Before starting, what we know is not exhaustive and we always welcome input from other people about what we write, so please feel free to comment.

This week we're looking at the first glue we use in the shoemaking process - a water-based craft paste. We use Hirschkleber from Germany, but Metrotex is also good, although it is more costly.

The important property of this glue is that it is water based. This means that it dries slowly, dries hard and can be revived with water.

We use it on the toe puffs and stiffeners. Because it dries slowly, you can position the stiffs and last them before it dries. And because it dries hard, it gives strength and rigidity to the stiffs. This is important to keep the shoes in shape.
The fact that you can revive it with water means you can easily repair the shoes if necessary. It also means you can re-block them to change their shape if they do not fit perfectly when they are made. Or if the customers feet change over time. See the following link as an example

If the glue did not revive, then these repairs would be impossible.

The other time we us it is for building the heels - paste and nails. The nails are the main fixer in this process, but the paste helps close the edges. It has two other advantages too. When you are finishing the heels, the paste rasps and sands at the same rate as the leather lifts which means you don't get a little line of glue (which can happen with contact cement and rubber solution). I used to glue the very edges of my soles with paste for this very reason until I saw a pair of loafers returned to us after being in a deluge and all the paste had washed away leaving a little gap between the welt and the sole. It wasn't pretty! I don't do that any more.

And again, thinking about the life of the shoes and about the poor repairers, it is relatively easy to dismantle a heel made from paste and nails if, for example, you are re-soling a pair of shoes (correctly).

One thing shoemakers tend to forget is that these shoes are made for not only walking, but for the long term. They will need to be repaired and you have to think about this. Whoever repairs them (most likely you) deserves to be thought about and catered for.

A lot of our readers do not have access to the products we have here in Europe, so, you need to be inventive. I have heard of all sorts of alternatives being used. Wallpaper paste, flour and water, starch. In fact, the Hirschkleber is made from potato starch with some preservatives.

If you are making your own paste from any of the above ingredients, be sure to use some kind of preserving agent because those organic molecules will rot. The Hirschkleber paste smells really rotten if you leave it in a jar of water overnight with the toothbrush you use to apply it.

Lastly, according to the blurb, the Hirschkleber remains breathable when dry which is very good for the health of the foot.

Next time we will look at contact cement and rubber solution.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!