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Cobbler

A shoe cobbler is a person who mends and repairs shoes. The profession has been around for most of human history. Some people assume that cobblers and shoemakers (called cordwainers in England) are the same profession, and while that may be true today, it wasn’t always so.

At one time, shoemakers/cordwainers were the skilled artisans tasked with making shoes out of brand new leather, while cobblers were the ones who repaired shoes. In fact, cobblers were forbidden from working with new leather and had to use old leather for their repairs. The difference between the two trades was once considered so vast, it was a serious insult to call a shoemaker a cobbler (the latter of which, not so coincidentally, is a term that also means to work clumsily or bungle).

The shoemaking and cobbler trades were forced to merge around the beginning of the 19th century when the introduction of mass manufactured shoes left shoemakers out of work and having to accept lower paying repair jobs.
Some of the earliest styles of shoes made in human history include sandals and moccasins. Wooden shoes, pegged construction shoes and English welted shoes came later.

List of materials for shoe making

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 shoe making materials – it’s only a list of what I got to first get started, from scratch.

Lasts

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.

Masking tape

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 fine-liner 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.

Erasing rubber

Any ol’ erasing rubber that takes off graphite pencil without leaving ugly traces will do.

Cutting knife

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.

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.

Thin cardboard

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.

Scissors

Most people already have scissors at home, but this still deserves a mention. I use a small one from Fiskars.

Leather

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.

Scratch awl

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.

Regular needles
For closing the upper, ie stitching the pieces of upper leather together.

Sewing thread
Used to close the uppers. For hand sewing, I’ve used this bonded nylon.

Waxed polyester cord
The premium stuff is waxed polycord made by the Maine Thread Co.
I use 0.045″ or 0.050″ for sewing the welt, and 0.035″ for sewing the outsole seam.

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.

Interlining
With or without eylets, some kind of interlining is good to stick in between lining and upper.

Pliers
Just regular needle-nose pliers will suffice for a first project.
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.

Nails
If you’re only going to buy one type of nail, I think it should be blackbird nails. This nail can be used for lots of stuff, but it’s the best nail I’ve found for lasting.

Hammer
Beginning with the hammer one has at home is enough for a first project.
Optional upgrade: this one from DS-leder, or vintage options.

Talc powder
For using on the lasts before lasting. I use Dialon body powder from Swedish Apoteket.

Cork paste, cork sheet or tar felt
Used for filling the foot bed. I started with 2 mm sheet cork. It’s also fun to use cork paste filler for experiment shoes, but it isn’t considered a very good option for bespoke footwear.
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.

Curved needles
Shanks

Every shoe needs a shank. I usually use plastic or metal shanks from Leather & Grindery.

Edging tool
To produce clean outsole edges, for instance like this one.

 

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