Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 20 June 2014

Metal Shanks

Once more we meet, dear shoemaker folk of the world. We hope you have had a wonderful week and that you have managed to get your hands on some tools and leather.

We had a nice start to the week when we found ourselves in the Luxe London Guide

With a listing in the Advanced Shopping section (whatever that is!). It felt great being next to Jimmy Choo and the other illustrious enties - deeply delish!

Being modern shoemakers, we are always keen to examine our practice and explore new ways of working. My feeling is that most of what we are taught as apprentices is the accumulation of generations of shoemaking knowledge and that most things have been tried. This means that what we are taught by our masters is probably the best way of doing something and we change it at our peril with what seems (at the time) a great new way to do something but which, over time, you come to realise that maybe they were right all along.

An area we are currently re-examining is shanks. We were taught as apprentices in a world famous bespoke shomakers in London, that leather shanks are all you need for a gent's shoe. This is generally true with a few provisos - that the shank is thick, that the heel is below an inch and an eighth and that the customer is of average weight.

So we have always used leather shanks. But there are problems - you have to shape the shank to get a nice contour in the waist and the tendency is to make it too thin. And we have had a few pairs back for repairs which have a bit of collapsed shank.

This has led us to fitting metal shanks as standard now in men's shoes much as we would for women's shoes.

And this is how I was taught to do it. It is essentil tha the shank is secure and won't shift around when the shoe is worn.

Once you have welted the shoe and you are ready to put the shank in, you have to shape it to the curve of the last. So place it and give it a few enormous hits with the hammer. This should give it the right curve. If you can remenber, it is a good idea to do this on the last before you even attach the insole.

Then, with contact adhesive, glue both the shank and the waist.

Let the glue dry for 10 minutes and then glue in place.

At the heel, put in a couple of thin clinching tacks/nails which will, when they hit the last, bend over like a fish hook and so won't come out again. It's ok to have nails in the heel area of the insole because you can punch them below the surface or cover them with some foam and a sock.

It's more problematic doing this in the joint because you can't do anyhting with the tips of the nails on the inside of the shoe. So here is what we do.

Make a hole with your welting awl next to the shank on one side.

And then do the same on the other side of the shank.

Then with some spare thread, pass it throught the first hole.

Pass it over the shank and put it through the second hole. Pass it over the shank a second time so you are back at the starting point. Then tie the thread to the first part and you have a secure shank which won't shift around when the shoe is worn.
This gives you a much more rigid shoe, so bear this in mind if you have a customer who asks for a flexible shoe. In this case we would definitely use a leather shank.
We would also use leather if the customer is small and light.

Hope fully this is clear and useful. I'm sure there are other ways to secure the metal shank so we would welcome other contributions to this topic.

But that is all for this week. We hope you have a good one and, until the next time, happy shoemaking.


DWFII said...


Your article on shanks and securing them was spot on.

Great minds tend to think alike...

I conscientiously try to avoid nails or tacks in the shoe...iron that will be exposed to perspiration and then rust (which is really a "slow fire" and destructive to bark tanned leather) I've always sewn in my shanks both at the treadline and at the heel.

That's really all that is necessary but it is possible to sew the shank in with a set of cross stitches that run the length of the shank. Esp. on boot or other footwear where a pegged waist might be wanted this can be very desirable, as it prevents shifting particularly when an occlusive cement is not used.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that professionals can still evolve and apply new ideas. A very useful tip James/Deborah.

I hope you are both well.


jimmyshoe said...

Thanks DW, my avoidance of nails is more a question of dealing with them when they poke through the insole. In the heel it's not a problem, but in the waist area it is. As I build my heels with nails and paste, I couldn't really share your view on their effect on leather. I reckon the Bakers we use would outlast a paltry shaft of steel! James

jimmyshoe said...

Hi Raymond, hope all is good with you. Thanks for the positive feedback, James

Kelly Cruz said...

Well done! very beautiful :)

DWFII said...

I also meant to remark that your paragraph beginning:"Being modern shoemakers..." and ending "over time, you come to realise that maybe they were right all along." Is so spot on. It should be required reading for anyone just getting into the Trade.

jimmyshoe said...

It really is true. You go along tweaking and tuning, but most times you go back to how you were taught. Still, it's good to find out for yourself. Best, James

DWFII said...


Trouble is when we get fixated on "modern" and "efficient," it is all too easy to lose our way.

For instance, I tell my students "Sure, you can use an Exacto knife(what are they called over there?), but what you lose in the process is so much more than you gain. Just learning to sharpen a knife properly creates skills and control that you can't get by using disposable blades. Skills that affect and enhance other techniques."

And, in my opinion, that's true across the board. Mastering traditional techniques makes us better makers all around...each skill amplifying other skills...and results in something that is unique and exceptional. Looking for quick or easy alternatives most often leaves us with the commonplace.

As bespoke makers the worst thing we can do is to adopt or emulate factory work. Because it is so commonplace and so easily done(relatively)...we cannot compete on that level. Nor should we try. In my opinion.

What we learned from our masters is far too valuable and unique.

jimmyshoe said...

Very well said DW, we learn a set of skills which all compliment each other and feed off each other. I couldn't do my job with any other knife, let alone a disposable one. We use scalpel blades for pattern cutting and a disposable blade for clicking (some people do anyway). But for shoemaking? I think we call those blades stanley knives. Best, James