Friday, April 27, 2012

The Tools I Use 2

Another week flies by. Where does the time go? Just realised that our New York shoemaking course starts in 2 weeks! Really looking forward to it. Deborah is teaching the first week and I am there to do the second week. We have a full house of 7 students and a good mix of men and women, so all in, it should be fun.
We will do our regular daily posts during the course to document what we do for those of you who might be thinking of doing it in the future.

First off, great piece in featuring us

Last week's post about tools proved very popular, so I am going to continue with it this week. I showed you last week the basics of a peripatetic shoemaker's tool kit, but without describing in any detail each tool.
So this week I am going make more detailed descriptions and give useful tips for those of you who are trying to create your own shoemaker's tool kit.

First up is the rest of my edge irons. As I said, I travel with a basic set, but have all the intermediate sizes and the very large and very small ones on a box, along with some extreme sized seat wheels - only brought out on the odd occasion.

So, some specifics. This is my fudge wheel. I bought this when I lived in Spain. Two things to look out for. One, the teeth on the wheel should be sharp and defined. Very old fudge wheels become worn and do not mark the stitches so well. Sharp teeth give a very defined mark on the welt. The other thing is the size. Most fudge wheels have the number of stitches to the inch marked.

Remember to look at the front edge too. New ones can be very sharp and will scratch the upper when you run it round the welt. If you have a sharp one, grind it a little with aluminium oxide paper to take the sharpness off.

What I love about my Spanish one is that it has two other different interchangeable wheels, so it is like three in one. Mine do 9, 12 and 15 stitches to the inch.

Ok, next is the plough, used for taking the lip off the insole and the welt after finishing, before you set the edges. Important to keep it sharp. I use the strop.

This is similar to the plough but is called a feathering knife and is used specifically for cutting the feather or holdfast. That 90 degree step part creates an even cut which is great for the welt to sit in.
PS Thank you to Marcell Mrsan who generously gave me this tool.

But, with both the plough and the feathering knife, you can do the same jobs with your knife. People spend endless amounts of money and energy collecting every tool under the sun, which, if that is what you are into, is fine, but lots of times, it is a total distraction. Your energy would be better spent making shoes and improving your skills. Using the knife well is the core skill of shoemaking and you are better getting good with it than spending time and money on the search for tools which often aren't available and, if they are, are of inferior quality. New tools don't cut it a lot of the time.

Next up is my very favourite Japanese rasp. These puppies really are the Rolls Royce of rasps. Small teeth which last for years. I've been using mine for at least 5 years and it is still amazing. Again, other new rasps I have found are rubbish!

Next up is the daddy, the knife. Nurture it, pour your love into it and keep it sharp! It is your best friend and sometimes, when blunt, your worst enemy.
We always put a leather sheath on it for comfort and to stop your hands getting black.
BIG TIP for those black fingers from the knife. It is water from your hands and the leather oxidising the steel. The answer is lemon juice or, even better, citric acid - it is like magic, honest!

Broken awl sharpened to make the groove in the channel for the stitches to sit in. Very important to stop the stitches showing through the sole.

From left to right, the seat wheel. Purely cosmetic little lines around the seat. Old ones are best. When they are cold, the wheel does not move, but warm them on the burner and it should start turning. If you have an old one, try taking out the screw, cleaning it and putting a drop of oil, then replacing it. Should do the trick. Note the position of thhe wheel before you start this process.

Next is the edge iron for setting the edges. Should be smooth and clean. There is a double lipped edge for the welt and a single lipped edge for the sole.

Last, a single lipped iron for setting the edges of the heel. I ground a regular edge iron on a grinding machine to make mine.

Waist irons for bevelled waists. Don't even go there unless you have someone there to teach you.

Right, you want to make shoes and you are buying old irons from Ebay, for example. Quite often,they will have been sitting in a garage or shed for years going rusty, like the ones below, so what do you do? They are salvageable.

Get some aluminium oxide paper and start polishing the surface - gently! Start with something like a 120 grit and work up to about a 240 or finer. Aim for a glassy, flawless finish.

Once the surface is clean and smooth, you need to work on the grooves - very important to get a good edge.
You will need a junior hacksaw blade like the one below. These are great for sorting out the grooves on the edge iron. Before you start though, you will need to flatten the blade on a lap iron because it has a zig zag form which will make the groove too wide. So just take the blade and hammer it on the flat surface of the iron. Then run it in the grooves and they will become smooth and deep - perfect!
Junior Hacksaw

Junior Hacksaw Blade

Lap Iron

Hammer On This Surface

The lap iron is an important piece of kit and we use it for hammering the sole before stitching it to make it dense and long lasting, and we use it to make the split lift/rand. Easy to find at flea markets and Ebay.

And that is it for this week. Hope you enjoyed the post and look forward to more next Friday when we will be looking at other tools in the workshop . Until then, happy shoemaking!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Tools I Use

Greetings again, fellow shoemakers (both actual and aspiring) of the world. Considering that many of you read this blog on a regular basis, we wanted to say a huge thank you to you all for making it such a success. When we started it in 2008, we had no idea that it would grow and reach so many people in so many countries. We get a lot of correspondence from all round the world and it is a great pleasure for us to find so many readers who are interested in our wonderful craft. We really enjoy sharing our knowledge with you all.

For most of my life as a shoemaker, I worked in one workshop and had all my tools and equipment in one place. I imagine this is the case for the vast majority of shoemakers around the world. But since we opened our workshop at Gieves and Hawkes on Savile Row, we have had to start making shoes in two locations. Now this presents a few problems. If I was a cabinet maker or a jeweller, for example, I could simply have bought a new set of tools and equipped the new workshop with a second set.
But, as with all things shoemaking, it is not that simple. Shoemaking tools were once cheap and easy to find because there was a shoemaker in every town (almost). But as the trade has shrunk to its present niche size, the availability of tools has become ever more scarce.
Most shoemakers starting out now spend a lot of time scouring the world and Ebay for old tools. One, because new ones are often not available and two, because the new tools you can find are often inferior to the old ones.
I spent most of my apprenticeship collecting a decent set of tools, particularly edge irons. John Lobb helped enormously with this because they have a collection of old tools especially for this purpose, but I also went to old shoemakers, car boot sales and flea markets trying to complete the set.

When the two workshop conundrum arose, we decided that the simplest solution was to buy tool rolls and travel between the two with our tools. You might think that we could simply have split our tool kits and used each other's tools but it does not work like that. You get very used to your own tools and your making develops to in line with the tools that you use, so that changing tools is not easy. This might sound very fussy, but it is absolutely true. I even take a simple nail hammer with me because I like the way it sits in my hand and the weight of it. Other hammers just don't feel the same - weird huh?

So below are images of what I take. I think it is illustrative of what you would need as a basic tool kit. There are some tools not here which we had duplicates of and have at both places.

Tool Roll One

Contents of Tool Roll One from left to right

Welting awl
Sleeking bone
Stitching awl
Broken awl with sharpened tip for making a groove in the channel
Feathering knife very kindly given to me by Marcell Mrsan
Fudge wheel
My favourite Japanese rasp
My flat paring knife which is the most important and most often used tool I have.

Tool Roll Two

This tool roll has all my edge irons and two seat wheels. As you can see, they are all antique and very precious. Contents from left to right

2 seat wheels, a big one and a fine one
3/8" edge iron
Full 5/16" edge iron
Light 5/16" edge iron
1/4" edge iron
Single lipped iron
Full 3/16" edge iron
Light 3/16" edge iron

This is enough for most soles that we make, but we have more irons for other sizes too.

Tool Roll Three
Tool roll three has a variety of miscellaneous tools ( all essential and much loved of course). Contents from left to right.

Sharpening stone
Lasting pliers
Welt beater
Small screwdriver
1/8" waist iron
3/16" waist iron
1/4" waist iron
5/16" waist iron

Last, but very much not least, are the tools too big to go in a roll. These travel in a bag with the rolls. And they are from left to right

Leather mitt for welting
Nail hammer
French shape hammer
Heel iron
Deer bone
Nail puller

Next week, I will start going through all these with a description of what they are used for and other useful, interesting or amusing information.

We hope you found this interesting and or useful.

Until next week, happy shoemaking!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Leather We Use 3 - Sole Bends

After a very pleasant Easter break which I spent painting, eating (yes, chocolate too) and generally resting, we are back with a short week. Now this would not normally be a cause for complaint, but, as usual, we have a glut of work all coming at once which needs doing immediately.

The first few months of this year have been a bit quiet and we have taken the opportunity to do all the things which usually get shunted to the back of the queue, which is good in some ways, but now it's gone crazy. I do wish there was a way to regulate the flow of work, but it just doesn't work that way.

This week's post is the third in our irregular series on the leather we use. This time it's sole leather. Again, we use the oak bark tanned cow hides made in traditional tanning pits by Bakers of Colyton, Devon. The part of the cow used for the soles is called a bend and it comes from the back of the animal. The hide is split down the spine and then the two hardest, strongest parts are used. The belly part is cut off and used for toe puffs and stiffeners.

If you remember, the insole shoulder runs across the top of the cow's shoulder from leg to leg, so the grain runs along its length. But because the sole bend runs along the length of the cows back, from head to tail, you have to bear this in mind when cutting the soles. It means the grain runs across the width of the bend, so you have to cut out the soles in this orientation.

Sole Bend. The Grain Runs From Right To Left Across It

The sole bend has to be the hardest, most long lasting part of the shoe, so it is rolled very dense to compress the fibres. It is rock hard and feels like wood when you tap it. Unlike wood, it is flexible when you bend it.

This is the back surface or flesh side where you can see vein marks.

The front surface or skin side is much smoother and is the part which touches the ground. It should be smooth and uniform in colour, so that you can get an even finish on the finished shoes.

When we buy our bends, we ask the tannery to pre-cut them. This is because it is much easier to store. They have three standard sizes which fit 90% of the shoes we make. When there is a shoe which does not fit onto one of the pre-cut soles, we have a whole bend which we can cut from.

This is what the pre-cut sole looks like.

As for thickness, we usually buy this thickness below. It is measured in irons which I believe are 1/64 of an inch (could be completely wrong there!). But we talk to the tannery and tell them it is for a 1/4" sole or 5/16" etc. The thickness below (about5.5mm) is great for a 1/4" or 5/16" sole. For a 3/16" we have to buy a thinner bend. Likewise, for a thick sole, 3/8" for example, we buy a thicker bend.

The rolling process really helps to even out the thickness, but you have to be aware that this is an organic product and is not always exactly the same thickness.

Good luck if you are planning to buy some sole bend hide. Look for something dense and hard but also flexible. If it feels brittle when you bend it, it is likely to split or crack. And remember, that it is very hard, but when you work it, you soak it in water, so it is much softer and easier to work.

As for brands, we use Bakers because they are fantastic and local, but the other excellent tannery that most bespoke shoemakers use is Rendenbach in Germany. Both excellent quality and highly recommended.

And that, dear readers, is a wrap. Have a thoroughly excellent week and, until next Friday, happy shoemaking!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone!

We both have some time off. Madame Shoe has gone to her native land and is enjoying her role as the Dame of Sark. For those who don't know, Sark is a tiny island and is one of the last enclaves of our empire (off the coast of France as it happens, hence the name).

I on the other hand am at home, but have spent the whole day painting our stairwell which is why the post is so late. I am speckled with white paint but satisfied with the first coat. More tomorrow unfortunately. But this is all good because it means that all I have to share with you is some images of our second summer shoe, this rather jaunty desert boot in stone nubuck with a natural crepe sole. I like it a lot, but with the crepe, it somehow does not look like one of our boots. But I am growing to love it and we have already taken an order for a pair of shoes with a similar sole, so that is great.

I particularly like the ribbon tug and the mulberry lining.

So all that is left for me to say, shoe fans, is a very happy Easter. May you eat plenty of chocolate and rest your weary bodies, to return rejuvenated next week.

Until then, happy shoemaking!