Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 12 February 2010

Tools In Hand

Well, you win some, you lose some.

I'm afraid the Liberty Open Call was not a success for us. They did not like the Winkers, and, I suppose, that is that. All the other people we know who entered did not progress either, which makes me feel a bit better. I do wonder who won though.

We will be featured in the Mail on Sunday on Sunday (funnily enough), in the business section. The article is about the Crafted programme and the mentoring we have received. What business lessons we have learned etc. The Other One was interviewed, as was our mentor Mark Henderson, and a photographer came to do our portrait, so I think it should go in. The Other One will kill me for announcing this before it is published, but if I hadn't, you would not be able to read it.

More news, we have the opportunity to start selling in Russia. Our colleagues at Stowers Bespoke have started a relationship with a Russian company who want to start doing bespoke suiting and footwear. On their next trip (next week), they are taking a selection of our shoes to test the water with them. If they approve, then we will start to go to Moscow on a regular basis. How exciting.
Again, I am probably jumping the gun, but there you go.

Now, something a bit more practical. All the processes involved in making a pair of handsewn bespoke shoes require an array of hand held tools. We do not use any machines (hardcore craft remember). Some of these tools, hammers, screwdrivers, rasps etc, are easy to find in a hardware store. But most of them are pretty specialist and hard to source. During the shoemaking courses we run, our students often ask about the tools of the bespoke shoe trade.
So I am going to make a list of the ones we know about as a resource for all you budding shoemakers out there.

The most important tool you will use is the knife. This is used for skiving; cutting leather; preparing the insole; preparing the sole; trimming; making the heel. Pretty much every stage.
Some shoemakers use a flat knife for most things and a curved knife for skiving. I use a flat one for both.
My favourite knives are made by Barnsley, a 20 or 21. Another good brand is Tina, which are more widely available. Contact is Colin Barnsley, 00 44 (0)114 272 6060;
You should make a cover for your knife from a thin piece of calf lining. This stops the knife digging in and stops your hands from going black.
A related item here is a strop for sharpening the knife. This you can make at home. Use a piece of 2x2 wood. Glue on a piece of thickish calf skin side up and then sharpening or aluminium oxide paper. Oil the leather and rub on some jewellers rouge (from jewellery suppliers). You use it like a barber sharpens a razor. Very important skill.

Another very important tool are the lasting pliers. These are regular, toothed pliers but with the addition of a foot which is used for pivoting the pliers on the shoe so that you don't lose tension when you are lasting. My favourite ones are German, made by Schein, available form Algeos. Others are avilable, but these are the best.
Here you hav ethe regular ones and the narrow nosed ones for the finer areas of lasting.

Next you will need 2 types of specialist awls, a welting awl and a flat head stitching awl for the sole. There seem to be many names for these and it's probably better to use pictures. The latter is hard to find and we have struggled recently. Again try Barnsley and Algeos.

You will need a regular screwdriver. And a pair of nippers for taking out nails.

Hammers. In the picture are the 3 hammers you will need. The first is a regular hammer which you can use for nails and general hammering.
The second is a specialist hammer used for flattening the heads of nails which stick through the insole in the finished shoe when you have pulled the last.
The third is a French shape hammer, specific for shoemaking. Used for peening the heel (closing up the gaps between lifts) and flattening the leather when lasting. Do not use this hammer with nails so that the head remains smooth because you tap the upper with it.

And lastly for this week is a sleeking bone. Available form Abbeyhorn for a few pounds. This is used for smoothing the welt and closing the channel.

More next week, happy shoemaking.