Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 30 January 2015

Tool of the week - Barnsley Tools

Hello all, welcome back to old friends and if this is your first visit to our blog, then we hope you enjoy it and return many times.

First off, we wanted to show you a pair of shoes which one of our students on the evening course completed last night. She made a fiddle waist, a stacked leather heel and did a really good job. The finishing is excellent, including the red waist. Well done, Caroline!

On Friday last week, I braved the Arctic north and went to Sheffield - there was actual snow on the ground! First I'd seen all winter. The reason for my visit was to meet a key supplier to us and someone with whom I had spoken on many occasions, but had never met - Mr Colin Barnsley

Colin runs a wood turning business making wooden handles of all shapes and sizes. He also runs the Barnsley tool company - the biggest name in English shoemaking tools. The company was founded by George Barnsley  in the 1836 making cutlery and files. How they moved in to making shoe makers' tools is uncertain, but manufacture them they certainly did until the 1970s when the company closed. A few years ago, when Colin's side of the family inherited the rights to the company, they decided to revive the wholesale tool making business and we are very proud to be agents for these excellent tools. Indeed, most of the tools we use and sell are from Barnsley and over the years we have road tested them, both with our own shoemaking practice and with our students.
We have been selling through the blog for a number of years, but watch this space as we have an e-commerce site in progress where we will be selling these fantastic tools, along with other selected shoemaking products which we use every day. This will streamline the buying process for you guys and you will have the opportunity to buy smaller quantities of the top quality supplies you want for your own shoemakng practice.

I arrived at the factory mid morning and was given a tour. The wood turning elements were fascinating, especially the bricklayer's trowel handle which was made from discs of cow hide which the bricklayer will plunge into water and soak before the first use so that the wet leather takes the shape of the hand and is much more comfortable.

The following photo is how the discs are glued onto the handle one by one by hand. It's great to see that things are still made this way in the UK. A quality product indeed.

But the part I really wanted to see was the tool store, below.

Shelves and shelves of amazing high quality shoe making tools. All are new, but some were made decades ago and some are more recent.

Here is Colin fishing out something for me to look at. It was like being in Aladdin's cave. I really wanted to stay there for hours looking into every box, but time did not really allow as I had another meeting to go to.

I had a brief history of the company which was fascinating and particularly liked this 1929 catalogue which was numbered edition and had colour pages.
We have the 1983 edition, but it is not as beautiful as this one. It was a proper bound book and some of the illustrations had gold dust on the ferrules - gorgeous! Can you imagine how much it would cost to print a catalogue like this now?

The illustrations are detailed and precise - much like the tools themselves

I did leave with a new awl called an inseaming awl which was giant and absolutely perfect for doing a German seat on a riding boot. Next to it is a normal sized one. What will be so useful is the extreme curve at the tip. Very exciting. Tool envy anyone?
The inseaming awl differs from the regular welting awl in the tip which is much more curved - available in all sizes!
They also had the tiny awls used for hand work on uppers like lakes/aprons on a loafer.
One thing I did learn was that the shape of awl handles has evolved over time, moving from a ball shape before the Second World War to the mushroom shape we use now which is, apparently, more comfortable in the hand - love that!

Here are the draws with all the different awls in them.

One thing I really liked was the beautiful old clocking in machine for the workers to clock in and out of work. Looks like it has been there forever. They don't make them like that any more.

All the wood they use for the handles is bought undried and they stack it in various places around the factory to dry out to be fit for turning. Below is rosewood which has been dowled and stacked. Colin said they rarely buy kiln dried wood because they get much better results with the air drying.

This is one of the turning machines which cut the handles. It is a spinning wheel with specific blades attached which cut the specific shape of the handle required. Each handle has a different set of knives in a specific orientation to get the required shape. The handles are then sanded to get a smooth finish. They make a high quality product and ship worldwide.

And that just about covers the visit. It was fascinating and really good to see behind the tools that we use so much.

You too can use these great tools if you contact us. There are some on the Tools page of the blog, but soon you will be able to get more on the Carréducker e-commerce site. Exciting times! We look forward to hearing from you.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!