Making a shoe by hand

How to make shoes by hand

Boots and shoes are the most complicated item of clothing we wear. A great deal of skill is needed to make a shoe, and a large range of tools are required to do the job. These are the main stages involved in making a shoe. Until shoemaking became mechanised during the 19th century, a shoe would be made by one person. Some shoemakers would employ a journeyman (a trained, but junior shoemaker) and an apprentice, and the work would be divided between the three.

1. Pattern making

The first stage is to make the last (the model of the foot around which a shoe is formed) and the pattern for the different pieces which make up the shoe. Lasts are usually made of wood or sometimes iron. Today, they are more often made of a hard plastic. Patterns are made of card or paper.

2. Clicking


Clicking knife (Staffordshire Heritage & Arts)



Clicking is the process of cutting out the different pieces of leather which make up the shoe upper. The shoemaker uses a clicking knife to cut out the different pieces from the leather, using the patterns as a guide.

3. Closing

Closing is the process of stitching together the pieces which make up the shoe upper. An awl is used to pierce the leather to prepare for the thread. The thread is taken through the stitch holes using a hog’s bristle attached to the end of the linen thread. After stitching, a closer’s hammer is used to flatten the seams and smooth out wrinkles.

4. Lasting

Lasting is the process of moulding the completed upper around the last. Lasting pliers are used to pull the leather uppers tightly over the last.

5. Sole and Heel Attaching

The leather soles and heels (often known as ‘bottom stuff’) are attached to the upper, a process also known as ‘making’.

6. Finishing


Finisher's edge plane. A tool used to trim the edge of the sole. (Staffordshire Heritage & Arts)


Finishing is the final trimming and polishing of the completed shoe. Many different tools are used in this stage.

Shaves are used to trim rough edges off the leather.

Finishing and glazing irons come in many different shapes and sizes. They are heated over a spirit lamp or gas flame and used to apply wax, inks and polishes to give a smooth, polished finish to the leather, especially to the edges of soles and heels.

Some tools are used to add decoration. Fudge wheels are used to imitate hand stitching around the upper edge of a welted sole. Seat wheels are used to add decorative marking around the edge of the seat of the heel.

7. Cleaning and dressing

The final stage involves a general inspection of the finished shoe, making minor repiars, removing stains, inserting laces, general polishing and final wrapping and boxing. The shoe is now ready to be sold.

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2 Responses to Making a shoe by hand

  1. Stephen says:

    Thank you for your very interesting website.
    Can you tell me what a shoe binder does?

    • shoead says:

      Binding and closing are the same process, i.e. sewing together the cut pieces to form the upper. Binding seems to be the older term. In mid-19th century Stafford closers tended to be men, while binders were usually women.

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