Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Leather We Use: Toe Puff/Stiffener Belly And Shoulder

Greetings once more, fellow shoemakers of the world. Not long now till Christmas and a well earned break. I am lucky enough to be going to Venice for a week next Friday, which I am inordinately excited about. And a week's holiday is going to be bliss. Much as I love what I do, I am more than ready for a holiday.
If any of you know any shoemakers in Venice, then let me know as I always like to meet colleagues.

This week I am going to continue the series of posts about the leather that we use. Last time I spoke about insole shoulders, and now is the turn of toe puffs and stiffeners.

The toe puff we take from the belly of the cow. This is where the hide is split to take it off the carcass, and the two thin strips either side are the belly. This is a relatively thin, low grade part of the hide, but perfect for toe puffs which must be thin, but have some rigidity. You can imagine what it is like - have you seen a pregnant cow? Just think how stretchy and loose that skin becomes.

Again we use the Bakers oak bark tanned bellies which are natural, breathable, and locally sourced. They measure between 3 and 4 iron (an iron being 1/48th of an inch I am told). This is the thinnest leather we use in the making process.

Parts of the bellies are very poor quality. You can tell these parts as they are covered with stretch marks and when you work it, the grain is very fluffy and loose. It is better not to use these parts in all honesty, because it causes problems at the hour of shaping the toe puff.

A Particularly Poor Piece of Toe Puff belly

This is the thickness of an average toe puff belly. When we work it, we soak it ion water for about 10 minutes and that way it is easier to cut and skive.

On a ladies shoe or most gent's shoes, we use the belly for stiffeners too (the part which strengthens the heel/counter area of the shoe). This means that less skiving is required on the stiffener, which saves us work without compromising strength.

On a very robust shoe or a boot, we would use the slightly thicker stiffener shoulder. Again, this is a poorer grade part of the hide and is the upper part of the shoulder which goes into the neck. It differs from the belly in that it is a bit thicker - 4 to 6 iron. Obviously this gives a greater stiffening effect to the heel area.
It also requires more skiving to get it to the right thickness, because you have a balance between strength and  weight. The more leather you have in your shoes, the heavier they are, and most customers want a light, flexible shoe.
This is the thickness of the stiffener shoulder.

On a riding boot, where a tremendous strength and rigidity is required in the heel, the stiffener is stitched in by the closer and is barely skived at all, only around the edges so that the seams can be closed. This means you have to soak the whole boot upper in water before you last them. This also helps with the lasting which can be quite tough because the leather is much heavier. We generally use reverse calf from Bakers which is the flesh side of the calf on the outside, but it is specially waxed and appears to be like a regular calf. The difference is that when you ride through vegetation and the boots get scratched, because it is the flesh side, you simply have to bone the scratches flat with a sleeking bone to return the calf to its pristine state. If you scratch the skin side of calf, it remains scratched whatever you do. But I digress. I must finish as I have an urgent pair to finish before Tuesday.

That is all folks. Have a great week, and until next Friday, happy shoemaking!