For the toe and heel to retain their shape, extra leather needs to be glued in between the lining and the uppers. I mainly use 5 oz veg tanned shoulder leather, but have also experimented with 5 oz latigo tanned leather, and 4 oz veg tanned leather.
Hirschkleber is a starch based craft paste commonly used by bespoke shoemakers. I got mine from Ds-leder.de (“Leder & Sattlerbedarf”), a German site that is not available in other languages. My German isn’t what it could be, so I used Google translate to understand what I was doing on the site.
This is what I did in my first attempt at toe puffs: (Disclaimer: Do not attempt this at home before consulting a professional.)
- Last just the lining tightly and moisten with warm water.
- Let the lasted lining dry.
- Soak the skived toe puff for about 10 minutes in warm water.
- Lift up the upper at the toe and check the alignment of the toe puff.
- Use a brush, toothbrush or similar tool to apply Hirschkleber onto the nap side of the lining. Apply a small amount of water onto the Hirschkleber, which makes it easier to get the paste to spread evenly.
- Put the moist toe stiffener leather on top of the pasted lining and align it properly.
- Put a small gauge nail in the top centre, and optionally one nail on each side of the stiffener to hold it in place. Don’t nail too close to the edge where the toe puff is skived, or it will risk breaking once you start doing pulls.
- Last the toe puff; start with one nail in the centre, then do the sides, then do a couple of pulls in between until it is properly lasted. Double check to see that you didn’t slip up the alignment without noticing.
- Once the shoulder has been fully lasted, remove the small gauge nails on the top and sides and hammer the leather gently.
- Repeat for the heel counter. With the heel counter, one may need to put small gauge nails into the sides to keep it in place.
- Let the paste dry at least overnight.
- Return when the paste has dried, remove all the nails, and cut the excess leather off with a cutting knife. (Leave excess uppers and lining alone for the time being). After cutting it smoothly, it can also be sanded even smoother.
- Apply paste to the top of the toe and the heel counter and then fully last the shoes for the final time. Leave them to dry overnight. Before the final lasting of the uppers, make sure there’s no dust or carved off excess leather stuck between lining and uppers. (If there is, it will remain there until the end of days and create an ugly lump visible through the uppers.)
Here’s an image from the shoes Ericsberg to show how a lasted toe puff and heel counter in 5 oz latigo tanned leather can look like:
The heavy pleats are harmless, as they are easily trimmed with a knife once fully dry.
Here’s 5 oz pure veg tanned shoulder used as stiffeners:
A lot of shoemakers only last the toe puff and not the heel counters. Instead, they can stick in a piece of well skived leather at the heel, fitted to just go in under the feather, together with Hirschkleber before lasting. Alternatively, pre-shape a heel counter on the last (before lasting anything else), letting it dry, and re-inserting it in a simple motion when it’s time to put it in.