List of materials for shoemaking
On this page, I will tally the things needed to get started making shoes at home. I’ve tried to list the items somewhat in ‘order of appearance’. This list is under construction, so some items may be missing. This is not to be viewed as any ‘complete guide’ to shoemaking materials – it’s only a list of what I got to first get started, from scratch.
It all starts here – without lasts, one can’t really start working. To get started quickly, one can search for a vintage pair of lasts from ebay, for instance.
Optional upgrade: Order the production of a new pair, for instance from Springline UK. Springline takes around three weeks to manufacture new lasts, plus delivery time, but it is well worth the wait.
Regular masking tape, available everywhere. I got mine from Swedish Bauhaus in 30 mm width.
Pencil and fine ink pen
To draw the pattern on the last, I use a mechanical pencil, and one 0,3 mm fineliner ink pen. Once satisfied with the pattern drawn in graphite, I fill it in with the ink pen to make it look sharp and clear.
Any ol’ erasing rubber that takes off graphite pencil without leaving ugly traces will do.
I bought mine in store from Swedish Ohlssons tyger.
Starting from scratch, I got a snap-off blade knife from Swedish Bauhaus. Knives is a chapter of it’s own when it comes to working with leather, but a regular snap-off knife (with a couple of replacement blades loaded) is enough to get started for a first pair to keep costs down.
Optional upgrade: Proper, vintage shoemaking knives. Curved for skiving, and/or straight for non-skiving work. Erik Anton Berg knives (usually abbreviated E.A. Berg or EA Berg) that predates 1959 are widely considered the best options out there, due to their superior quality steel.
I started out with a regular 2€ cutting board from IKEA. (This is to be considered a ‘disposable cutting board’, as it will not outlast the making of one pair of shoes.
Optional upgrade: Large self-healing cutting mats are ideal.
Marble or granite skiving board
Having a smooth stone board to skive on makes all the difference. I salvaged mine for free by rummaging through a container of scraps (with permission) at my local stone company. If you absolutely must pay for one, they are usually available att kitchen supply stores.
The cardboard needs to be flexible and just the right weight (not too thin or thick), as it’s used to make pattern shapes to place on the leather. I use A2 paper at 250g weight from Swedish Kristinas Scrapbooking.
Most people already have scissors at home, but this still deserves a mention. I use a small one from Fiskars.
This is, of course, a big one. Leather is used for uppers, lining, beading, toe puff, heel counter, side-stiffeners, insoles, welt, rand, outsoles and heels… Which is pretty much the entire shoe. For many (but not all) of these parts, different types of leather is needed. See my separate page on this blog with my current thoughts about choosing leather.
Pricking wheel – to mark stitches for hand sewing uppers (if that’s the construction you’re going for). I’ve bought several pricking wheels from ebay in various stitch lengths.
Needed to make holes for stitching. I bought vintage awls from ebay. (Search for “cobbler tools”, “awl” or similar).
Welting awl (inseaming awl)
This is needed to sew the uppers and lining to the insole.
Sole stitching awls
Used to do the outsole stitch. You’ll want to start with at least a couple, since they can break if you don’t use them right.
100% bee’s wax
100% bee’s wax is used to ‘dip’ the awls in, in between each time an awl is used to penetrate leather. This lubricates the awl and makes life easier. Getting the good stuff (rich yellow color, smells like honey) straight from a local beekeeper at a market, is often cheaper than getting dry, old and odourless crap from a store or overseas import.
Hole punches (for brouging)
While this is optional, most shoes will have some form of brouging on them. I bought a 10 piece set off ebay, from 1 mm to 10 mm. Here’s an affordable brogue punch.
For closing the upper, ie stitching the pieces of upper leather together.
Readily available, I bought sewing needles in store from Swedish Ohlssons tyger.
Waxed polyester cord
The premium stuff is waxed polycord made by the Maine Thread Co.
I use .045″ or .050″ for sewing the welt, and .035″ for sewing the outsole seam. If you can’t source or afford this thread, try to use some really sturdy polyester thread in equivalent thicknesses.
Not neccessary, but can be used to close the uppers as an alternative to contact cement. I use Renia Gummilösung to insert sockliners once a pair of shoes are finished.
Universal contact cement
I mainly use Renia Colle de Cologne for my super industrial contact cement needs. When starting out, I found this product hard to source, so I then mainly used Kövulfix contact cement.
I also mix it up with some Casco contact cement from a tube, depending on my mood and on the job. (Colle de cologne or Kövulfix straight from a jar with a toothbrush for attaching big stuff like outsoles, and Casco from a tube for cementing smaller jobs, like closing uppers.)
Cheap toothbrush (or equivalent)
For applying contact cement from a jar onto the shoe and outsoles. (Don’t use your own toothbrush.) I get big packs of cheap toothbrushes. I also use them to apply Hirschkleber to secure the toe puff and heel stiffeners.
Various kinds and pliers are available online. I have tried a ton of different types with much agony, and have settled to kind of like YKK eyelets with the YKK eyelet pliers. Then again, the most elegant dress shoes do not have any visible eyelets, so this is more for rougher stuff.
With or without eylets, some kind of interlining is good to stick in between lining and upper at the face of the shoe. I use 0.5 mm Freudenberg Vildona interlining. I think that when having this stuff between lining and uppers, eylets aren’t needed for strength purposes. One can also use small skived pieces of leather as interlining at the face.
Just a regular needle-nose pliers is a minimum for a first project – I got mine in store from Swedish Clas Ohlson. I would, however, recommend getting real lasting tools.
Optional upgrades: Lasting pliers / lasting pincers are available both new and old via eBay for instance. I’d recommend having at least two sizes: one narrow and one slightly broad. Here’s an example of a new pincer (cheaply made in China). They’re not as good as the vintage stuff, but they can do the job.
If you’re only going to buy one type of nail, I think it should be copper plated blackbird nails in 1.1 mm thickness. This nail can be used for lots of stuff, but it’s the best nail I’ve found for lasting.
Beginning with the hammer one has at home is enough for a first project.
Optional upgrade: this one from DS-leder, or vintage options.
For using on the lasts before lasting. I use Dialon body powder from Swedish Apoteket.
Hirschkleber shoemakers paste is used for inserting the toe puff and heel counter, as well as (potentially) between the heel lifts. I recommend getting it from Leather & Grindery in the UK, or from ds-leder.de in German (a German site not available in other languages).
Blau Ring wooden pegs was one of the harder things to find when I first got started. I couldn’t find an easy way to get them to Sweden, and ended up ordering them from Panhandle Leather, even though they don’t normally ship internationally.
Cork paste, cork sheet or tar felt
Used for filling the foot bed. I started with sheet cork, which is available at hardware stores. It’s also fun to use cork paste filler for experiment shoes, but it isn’t considered a very good option for bespoke footwear. One can also use leather to fill the footbed.
Optional upgrades: Nowadays I mostly use tar felt, but that only comes in 25 m rolls, which can be a heavy committment when just starting out.
Optional for stitching the welt and sole, I got mine in store from Swedish Ohlssons tyger.
Every shoe needs a shank. I usually use plastic or metal shanks from Leather & Grindery.
Unless you’re consciously going for 100% leather or 100% rubber heels, having 1/4 rubber top lifts is recommended. I got my top lifts from Leather & Grindery.
To produce clean outsole edges, for instance like this one.
To mark where the outsole stitches will go, and to use for decoration. You can often find vintage fudge wheels on eBay, but they risk having dull teeth. I very much recommend buying new from Starko tools, although there’s a queue and delivery may take some time.
I use Fiebing’s Pro Dye to color the rand, welt, sole edges and heel. (I’ve also used it to color veg tanned crust uppers.) I particularly like the colors black and chocolate (using chocolate for dark brown edges).
Extra daubers is handy for dying, as a pack of Fiebing’s only come with 1 dauber in it. I bought a big pack of Fiebings wool daubers off ebay, to use with the leather dye.
Used for finishing the outsole edges. I first got powdered gum thrag from Swedish retailer Kakburken.se (a powder you mix with water yourself), and then realized there’s a pre-mixed option from Fiebing’s.
It’s not really part of construction, but a nicely made shoe must of course be polished properly once completed. For polishing boxcalf, I truly recommend Saphir Medaille d’Or Crème Pommadier shoe cream, and Saphir Medaille d’Or Pate De Luxe wax. (One can also use the above referenced mirror gloss for giving extra sheen to the toes.)
There’s lots and lots of more tools and materials out there that’s optional to use. This list should somewhat cover most of the basics.