Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 6 July 2012

Finishing - Tips and Tricks

Greetings once again, dear readers and welcome to this week's post. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative.

I sit here in our spacious workshop with yet another band of persistent rain sounding on the roof and I'm thinking that our beloved Olympics might be a bit of a washout. That would be such a shame. I am pretty excited about the whole thing, apart from the fact that I applied for loads of tickets and got absolutely none. A bit gutted about that, but there you go. I will still enjoy the vibe.

Many of the comments and questions we receive are about finishing. Now here's the thing about finishing. Once you are ready to start finishing, the shoes are structurally ready to wear. Everything is built and functional. In theory, you could take the lasts out and wear the shoes. Except that they look terrible, rough and unfinished.
So finishing is just an aesthetic process with no structural value.

But don't think that it is not important. It is probably the most important skill in shoemaking from a customer's point of view. It is what they see first and what they judge the shoes on - finishing, shape and proportion. A well finished shoe will sell itself, even if the construction and quality of the leather is poor.

So it well worth concentrating on it and perfecting your skills.

And this is where you start. You have the heels built and shaped with your knife. Please note that the shape of the heel is determined by the knife, not by the rasp. Once you start rasping, you are only dealing with imperfections, lumps and bumps.

The shape must be created with the knife, not the rasp.

This is the kind of rasp we use. Japanese ones are best. I've had this one for about 4 years and it is still going strong. Highly recommended.

Ok, wet the surface with water, including the edges and waist.

Start at one end of the heel and work in one direction. The rasp works only when you push it away from you. Press firmly and work consistently, making sure that you get rid of any imperfections. The idea is to get a perfectly smooth surface. Every stage in finishing depends on the previous one, so if you don't rasp well, the finish will not be glassy.

To protect the upper from the rasp, hold your fingers against the upper. Better to rasp your fingernails than your uppers!

Rasp the 1/4 rubber if you have one and the heel should look like this. There are rasp marks, but no lumps or bumps or knife marks.

The heel should be straight with clean lines.

After rasping, comes glassing. This stage deals with the rasp marks you have created getting rid of the knife marks. As I said, it's all about doing it in stages.

You need 2mm glass from a picture framer. They have waste glass they are usually willing to give you. Be careful with though as it will cut you very easily.

You need to get a curve on the edge in order to glass the edges. This is done by nicking the edge of the glass with another piece.

Like this.

Then you rest the nick on a sharp edge like your burner or a table edge. Hold the glass at about a 45 degree angle and push down and away from the nick at the same time. The glass will break and hopefully in a curve.

Like this. You will probably need to practise a bit to get a good curve.

To glass the leather, wet it with water and scrape the surface with the curved edge of the glass. One edge is always sharper than the other, so test both out. Scrape in one direction until all the rasp marks are gone. The surface begins to look very smooth now.

I think that is a good place to take a break. Next week, we will look at sanding. But until then, happy shoemaking