Starting out – sep 14, 2017

lightbulbHaving played with the thought for a while, this is the day when I ultimately decide I’m going to learn the art of shoemaking – or at least be damned if I don’t try. I have absolutely no intentions or illusions about quitting my day job, and realize that even skilled shoemakers don’t get particularly fat from their trade. My initial goal is quite simple: I’m going to make at least one pair of handmade shoes that fit me well. Then… I’m going to walk around in them.

I’ve spent a couple of hours on research, and started to tally what I need in spreadsheets. When it comes to knowledge, the earliest sources of information that I find early on are:

1) “Handmade shoes for men” by Lazslo Vass and Magda Molnár – not so much a “how to” guide as a brief description of the history and basic elements of shoemaking. A great and obligatory read (at least at some point) for a general understanding of the craft.

2) “How to make a shoe by hand“, a practical video series by Andrew Wrigley on how to make handmade shoes using “knife, fork and spoon”, ie without all the fancy specialized tools. To be honest, I don’t think I would have started this project without the aid of Andrew Wrigley’s youtube series.

3) “The art of boot and shoemaking” by John Bedford Leno. This is a book that Andrew Wrigley references in passing in his video series, and it seems to be a book that every shoemaker must at least know about and have skimmed through at some point (much like “Handmade shoes for men” above.)

There’s obviously a LOT more out there, but this is where I start out. (For more updated sources, see the page “Links“.)

4 comments

  1. I’m just starting to read your Blog. I live in Jacksonville Florida and I play a lot of golf. I’ve been re-soling my Oxford golf shoes, very nice leather uppers that I just couldn’t throw away and it’s really got me interested in making shoes. I want to make Oxfords, some for everyday and some to play golf in. I love Oxdords. What you have done (as far as I can tell) so far is a major accomplishment. It looks very hard. I started making things many years ago for many reasons, mainly to save money. But of course, this isn’t always the case. I think the first thing I’ve ever made (commercial product wise) was beer, and that turned out to be a really full filling adventure. Next it was golf clubs, and today I still maintain my set and I save a lot of money that way. Next came fishing rods, another craft that is lost by mass production but can be done by those willing to learn. I surf fish on the beach here in Florida and I’ve built all of my 12 ft surf rods and catch many fish with them. Then it was on to speaker building, as I am into audiophile quality sound and realized I could save thousands by making my own boxes, buying the speakers and building the crossovers from scratch. That has been my most rewarding projects, as I listen to music daily. I have built a few pairs and some with family members, it really made me feel like I accomplished something. Building a turntable is now on my list. I also build a hollow wooden surfboard, on of the biggest project I ever took on, it turned out well and took many months.But shoes. This one seems like a really big plunge into a craft that has been going on since man has existed. I will read your blogs and decide. It is looking very promising. Thanks for posting all of this!

    This has been updated!

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    • Hello Curt,

      Very good to hear from you! Sounds like we have many things in common, and that you’ve also made very interesting ventures into other crafts that sound very tempting.

      I, too, play golf, and have been playing with the thought a long time to make golf shoes. For the longest time, I had the idea stuck in my head that I wanted a fast-twist spike system. Now I have finally accepted that it would still be cool with screw ins, and figured out what kind of insertion I could use in the leather to hold the spikes – so I want to give it a go this spring. Golf clubs also sounds very cool.

      I’d love to make beer and have a kit in storage with most of what I’d need except the fresh ingredients – just haven’t gotten around to it. There’s too much interesting things in the world, and too little time. I could have been an audiophile too, but never cultivated the interest with reference to the lack of time. I’m really into music though, and have studied classical composition for three semesters at a music conservatory in Prague. I have also tried my hand at other things to be considered “creative special interests”, like close-up magic, painting, playing various instruments (guitar, piano, clarinet), etc.

      Shoemaking is, to me, the crown jewel of the crafts. As you say, shoemaking has existed alongside the history of man. It has been especially refined since the 18th century, and I try my best to keep to the old methods, starting out with hand tools only. (Now I use an old sewing machine to close the uppers – which basically all bespoke makers do as well – though it could be done entirely by hand, and everything else is done with hand tools only.).

      In the beginning of my journey, I made blog posts of ‘instructional’ character, like “step by step”. Then I removed my older posts because the stuff I wrote about quickly appeared to be errant. I will consider trying to make a new documentation of my process.

      I’ve become ‘addicted’ to things before, like golf – once you hit that sweet spot for a flush strike for the first time on the range, there’s no turning back. But, shoemaking is the strongest drug I’ve tried yet. Be advised, take your money now and RUN! Or, take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes…

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  2. Golf is addicting, no doubt about it. I joined a club not a mile form my house and I walk 9 to 18 holes a day, 3 to 4 days a week and shoes are becoming important to keep up with. One pair of shoes will not do and I like leather Oxords, they are not cheap, but even the middle of the road ones are made cheaper with glued on soles, but this may be the easiest way for waterproofing, I don’t know. I’d like your thoughts on it. The pair I am resoling, I am resoling them with another old pair that the uppers were worn out but the soles are in great shape. I glued one up last night and I’m doing the other this weekend. My thoughts on building my own golf shoes are your like yours when it comes to the soft spikes, what to do? I’ve researched everywhere and I think we are on are own as far as the soles. I also agree with you that the metal screw in soft spikes are the way to go. I’m thinking of using T-nuts through a leather sole with a Vibram soled to that. My main concern with that is finding T-nuts that do not rust. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome on this subject, you know a lot more than I do! Thank you for this site and thank you for responding!

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