Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 24 January 2014

Tool of the week - The Feathering Knife

Greetings, once more, dear shoe folk of the world. Another week, another welt.

We are always amazed at how this blog reaches people and helps them realise their dreams of making shoes. Just this week, a man from South Africa called Heinrich came in to say hello and to tell us about his shoemaking exploits. He basically does everything from scratch with very limited resources in terms of tools and materials, but he says the blog has taught him so much. That is marvellous and we hope this is true of many other aspiring cordwainers around the world.
A slight word of caution here though, feet are complex pieces of kit and shoes have the ability to damage them, so we recommend that people always try to get some kind of teaching if they want to make shoes - it is easy to get into bad habits

During our course we had two interesting visitors. One was Rachel Garwood of the University of Northampton Institute of Creative Leather Technologies who gave the students (plus a couple from the weekly class) a talk about leather itself, its structure, properties and tanning. It was really interesting and a great addition to the course.

The other visitor was Lucie Muir of the Financial Times who is doing a piece about shoemaking courses. She came in and did a bit of lasting, a few welt stitches and asked the students some pertinent questions. We look forward to seeing the finished article.

And so to shoemaking. This week we wanted to look at a tool which is specific to shoemaking, but is not one of those tools which is absolutely necessary because you can use your knife for the job.

The other thing about them is that they are quite hard to find. Ours was given to us by our good friend Marcell Mrsan and I think he sells them on his tool site (not 100% sure about this). It is a marvellous tool and very good quality, so thank you Marcell.
I think Minke in Germany also sell them but I have never seen one of theirs so cannot say whether they are any good or not.
One more thing, they are either right or left handed so make sure you get the right one.

We are talking about the feathering knife. And below are a few images.

As you can see it is a very specific shape. Its main advantage over the knife for cutting the feather is that it has a depth gauge section (on the right of the picture above) which makes you cut a very even depth all the way round the feather/holdfast. This is essential to achieve a flat, even welt with no wobbles or bulges.
Another advantage is that it makes you cut the feather to the correct depth. Most people when they are starting to make shoes are a bit tentative with the depth and leads to a weak holdfast.

Mark out your feather/holdfast as normal.

Cut the outside line with the tip of your knife, wet it and open the groove with your screwdriver.

Now comes the feathering knife. Holding the gauge part tight into the groove you have made, push the knife through the leather. Push forward but also apply downward pressure to make the sure the knife runs evenly inside the groove and the cut is even all the way round the feather.

It should look totally uniform like this. This is very important achieve a flat welt on the finished shoe.

You might need to treat the waist a little differently depending on the construction you have chosen.

On the inside line, we always cut it at a 45 degree angle like this.

And open the groove like before with a screwdriver.

Because of the angle of the cut, it's easier to cut this part of the holdfast with the knife. Plus, the inside cut of the holdfast does not affect the final look of the welt - it is entirely internal.

Note the angle of this cut

This is how the finished holdfast should look - deep and even.

The correct depth makes for a strong feather. Here it is with the hole made, ready for welting.

One slightly tricky thing is to sharpen it. I use the edge of the strop and the flat of it, but you basically have to find a way. The good thing about it is that you don't use it very often so it does not go blunt very quickly.

And that is about it for this week. We hope you found the post interesting and we welcome any comments or feedback.
Plus, if you are a regular reader, please become a follower. Thank you!

Until next week, happy shoemaking!


Bradley John Dunn said...

Hi there.
Your blog is incredibly helpful. I find with a lot of shoemaking videos and blogs, we miss the why. You seem to cover not just the how to do something, but why its done in a certain way.

I've been making some shoes and have go to creating a feather but I don't have a tool. I was using a scalpel and just a lot of time. But, I kept cutting through to the last or making a mess of it. Do you guys know where I could buy a feathering tool?

also, what thickness do you suggest this leather for this needs to be. I bought some shoulder about 3mm thick, but it just seems so thin to perform a function like this. Does it just require a bit of patience and attention to not cut through?

jimmyshoe said...

HI Bradley, you really need a shoemakers knife. This will work very well to cut the feather. You can buy a feathering knife but it will be very expensive. A scalpel will not do it. Plus the leather needs to be about 6mm thick to be strong enough to last. We sell knives on our e-commerce site
Best, James

Paul Krause said...

Thank you for this guys!
I've been putting off getting this feather knife, and will now follow through.
I've been fairly satisfied with a #8 French Skive knife, but I have not reached the clean precision you demonstrate here.
More "shoe" making in my future. I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks again.
With Regards,
PK BootMaker

jimmyshoe said...

Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. The feathering knife does give a beautiful feather, clean and even. We are in the process of developing a Carreducker branded feathering knife and also edge irons, so watch this space. Glad you like the blog. Best, James