When the lasts won’t come out

After having made a few shoes to varying degrees of success and failure, it can sometimes be tempting to think that  ‘shoemaking shouldn’t be all that difficult from this point on’. In reality, of course, I am not a bespoke shoemaker, and shoemaking is hard. After hours of trying, using various techniques, creativity and brute force, I was unable to remove Ericsberg from their lasts.

I now pay the price of a mistake I made on September 21st of 2017. Only one week had passed since I first decided to give shoemaking a try, and on this fateful day some six months ago, I ordered the production of new lasts from Springline. The lasts were manufactured precisely according to my specifications, delivered on time, and of exceptional quality – I have absolutely nothing but positive experiences with Springline as a company and their excellent product. The problem was that I specifically ordered solid lasts, without any hinges or any way to split them up when unlastning. I guess I thought at the time that it would be ‘more traditional’ somehow, but it was clearly a massive error. I did manage to get these lasts out from Wenngarn and Gripsholm, but not from Ericsberg. I was absolutely certain that it wasn’t due to nails, pegs or adhesives – it was simply because the lasts were solid.

When I was physically exhausted from trying on my own, I tried calling some of the best experts I could think of, hoping to turn the shoes in for a solution. I was treated very kindly over the phone and got friendly advice, but I was unable to contract outside help due to the nature of my situation. (One just isn’t supposed to make this kind of shoe on solid lasts to begin with.)

screwdriver-broke

Out of options I could think of, I continued trying. I tried my hook on the terrace again, I tried with a screwdriver until it broke, I tried drilling in the lasts to make a channel in the wood in order to break them… I tried hammering at the lasts, covering the leather with cloths and hammering at the heels, but the lasts just wouldn’t give. I tried using another screwdriver as a chisel to hack the lasts apart, and I went out to the driveway to try unlasting with the towing hook of my car. It was at this point, standing in the icy driveway tugging away at a shoe tied to my car, that I felt I had hit rock bottom in my unlasting career. (Luckily, there is no picture from this feat.)

drilling last

As of a stroke of serendipity and balance in the cosmos, it was also at this lowest point that my next door neighbour drove by. He stopped his car, and I could tell from the look on his face that I needed to explain what kind of weird shenanigans I was up to. I explained the situation, and without hesitation he offered to help.

We tried, but couldn’t pull the lasts out together as it were. I got to borrow some of his heirloom artisan tools to continue and try to destroy the lasts in my workshop. Alas, this didn’t work either.

As a final solution, the neighbour then offered to take on the challenge on his own, using some specialty tools he kept in his workshop. I was basically ready to cut the shoes up in my frustration, so I accepted his kind offer. He continued having at it on and off for a few days, and documented parts of the process…

workshop

He slid some metal down at the sides of the channel I had prepared to protect the lining, and from what I gather continued with a specialty saw and chisels, among other tools. A crowbar may also have been involved.

The image below reminds me of “Hell broke Luce” by Tom Waits.

hell-broke-luce

Success!

success

My neighbour delivered and got the job done. Ericsberg has been rescued and unleashed from the lasts, and emerged almost entirely unscathed.

broken-lasts

Lesson learned: I will never work with solid lasts again. I shall keep these broken lasts as a reminder of this agonizing adventure, and the heroic aid of my next door neighbour.

Continue to the summary of the polished shoes »

2 comments

  1. You owe your neighbour a big favor !!!
    You’re totally right about the need of hinged lasts.
    Shoe lasts are difficult to find, but there are basically 3 types: solid (for pattern design), hinged (for shoes) and with a wedge that you can remove(for shoes and boots).
    I have used only hinged lasts so far, so I can’t tell you if they are better than wedged lasts. They can be difficult to remove but a good amount of talcum powder before lasting helps a lot…
    Anyway, I am really relieved that you (and your neighbour) managed to get the lasts out without making major damages to the upper. Can’t wait to see the result of your first pair of english welted shoes !!

    Antoine

    Like

    • Indeed! And yeah, I wonder why it’s so difficult to source lasts. I do have one other pair of lasts which are split (with a part that you screw off to unlast, sliding out the ‘instep area’ to then remove the rest), but those lasts do not fit me. I will probably order hinged lasts shortly.
      At any rate, now the summary is live! Thanks again for the support!

      Like

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