Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 20 April 2012

Tool of the week - jimmshoe's tools

Greetings again, fellow shoemakers (both actual and aspiring) of the world. Considering that many of you read this blog on a regular basis, we wanted to say a huge thank you to you all for making it such a success. When we started it in 2008, we had no idea that it would grow and reach so many people in so many countries. We get a lot of correspondence from all round the world and it is a great pleasure for us to find so many readers who are interested in our wonderful craft. We really enjoy sharing our knowledge with you all.

For most of my life as a shoemaker, I worked in one workshop and had all my tools and equipment in one place. I imagine this is the case for the vast majority of shoemakers around the world. But since we opened our workshop at Gieves and Hawkes on Savile Row, we have had to start making shoes in two locations. Now this presents a few problems. If I was a cabinet maker or a jeweller, for example, I could simply have bought a new set of tools and equipped the new workshop with a second set.
But, as with all things shoemaking, it is not that simple. Shoemaking tools were once cheap and easy to find because there was a shoemaker in every town (almost). But as the trade has shrunk to its present niche size, the availability of tools has become ever more scarce.
Most shoemakers starting out now spend a lot of time scouring the world and Ebay for old tools. One, because new ones are often not available and two, because the new tools you can find are often inferior to the old ones.
I spent most of my apprenticeship collecting a decent set of tools, particularly edge irons. John Lobb helped enormously with this because they have a collection of old tools especially for this purpose, but I also went to old shoemakers, car boot sales and flea markets trying to complete the set.

When the two workshop conundrum arose, we decided that the simplest solution was to buy tool rolls and travel between the two with our tools. You might think that we could simply have split our tool kits and used each other's tools but it does not work like that. You get very used to your own tools and your making develops to in line with the tools that you use, so that changing tools is not easy. This might sound very fussy, but it is absolutely true. I even take a simple nail hammer with me because I like the way it sits in my hand and the weight of it. Other hammers just don't feel the same - weird huh?

So below are images of what I take. I think it is illustrative of what you would need as a basic tool kit. There are some tools not here which we had duplicates of and have at both places.

Tool Roll One

Contents of Tool Roll One from left to right

Welting awl
Sleeking bone
Stitching awl
Broken awl with sharpened tip for making a groove in the channel
Feathering knife very kindly given to me by Marcell Mrsan
Fudge wheel
My favourite Japanese rasp
My flat paring knife which is the most important and most often used tool I have.

Tool Roll Two

This tool roll has all my edge irons and two seat wheels. As you can see, they are all antique and very precious. Contents from left to right

2 seat wheels, a big one and a fine one
3/8" edge iron
Full 5/16" edge iron
Light 5/16" edge iron
1/4" edge iron
Single lipped iron
Full 3/16" edge iron
Light 3/16" edge iron

This is enough for most soles that we make, but we have more irons for other sizes too.

Tool Roll Three
Tool roll three has a variety of miscellaneous tools ( all essential and much loved of course). Contents from left to right.

Sharpening stone
Lasting pliers
Welt beater
Small screwdriver
1/8" waist iron
3/16" waist iron
1/4" waist iron
5/16" waist iron

Last, but very much not least, are the tools too big to go in a roll. These travel in a bag with the rolls. And they are from left to right

Leather mitt for welting
Nail hammer
French shape hammer
Heel iron
Deer bone
Nail puller

Next week, I will start going through all these with a description of what they are used for and other useful, interesting or amusing information.

We hope you found this interesting and or useful.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!


Raymond said...

Very informative post as usual. Thank you! Hopefully I will be able to expand on my current tool set. Best regards, Raymond

Terry Burress said...

Thanks very much for taking the time to post his and your other posts.

customboots said...

It's always a pleasure to see old and well-loved tools!


jimmyshoe said...

Hi Raymond, good to hear from you. Are you making still? Best, James

jimmyshoe said...

Terry, it is a pleasure. Going to be more about tools next week. Best, jimmyshoe

jimmyshoe said...

Customboots, thanks for the comment. More this week, jimmyshoe

Raymond said...

Hello James, I did start on my next pair with Nasser. Will post pics when I've completed them. Thanks, Raymond.

jimmyshoe said...

Raymond, that is great. Stick with it and persevere. Good luck. James

Martell said...


I'm in the process of trying to make a pair of womens shoes, but I need tools. I was wondering will I need the same tools for a pair of stilettos, that you use for mens shoes?

Madame Shoe said...

Hi Martell, essentially you need the same tools but it's more a question of technique. Women's covered heels is not an easy technique. But good luck and happy shoemaking, jimmyshoe

Anonymous said...

Hi I am curious.. I have been using normal horse belly for my soles but want to begin welting the soles for boots. Can you give me the thickness needed for a midsole? Thank you!

jimmyshoe said...

It depends on the final thickness of the sole you want. You have to think about the combined thickness of the welt, the midsole and the sole. Best, jimmyshoe