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.