How Can You Be a Master Shoemaker? The Master Exam

In the good old days (before) 1871, guilds had the right to select someone to be a master. Actually only a master had some special right, like teach students (free work for 3 years! 🙂 ), have an independent workshop (makin’ good money), and so on… But that was expensive. Not just make a 3 years trip all around Europe, work for practically nothing, no visiting home, family, friends, but as a young master you had to invite the whole guild for a dinner – sometimes that expensive dinner was the barrier, so some poor guys worked for someone else in their whole life.

Being a “student” , or they should better call it: slave – wasn’t fun. From the 3 years they spent usually with their master, 2 years was spent with cleaning horses, making the agricultural work, and do whatever, whoever commanded from the workshop, and the master was just one of them. These guys had to do exactly, what the regular worker said to them. After this really humiliating period they started to work in the workshop. They didn’t needed to wake up at 4am (5 am was fine 🙂 ), and they learnt the craft – what they were there for.

in 1872 guild has left off, and the education system started to change – masters became responsible for that. Frankly: they made  a quite bad job. Not just because “students” (again, better to use the word: slave) had to sleep in the workshop, sometimes 2 in a small bed, they get hurt almost every day, and only after 2 years they started to handle them as humans. They were not allowed to associate with other non-student workers (just like those guys were not allowed to do that too). The end of the 1800’s the education system changed, they reorganise the whole stuff – basically this what we still use (maybe with a bit more computers).

How is the Master Exam Now?

I can just speak for Hungary – almost nothing, anymore, as there are no craftsmen, only brokers, managers, bankers, sales agents.. etc. For those who still want to pass a master exam, this is the procedure:

  1. They have to wit until the Trade Chamber announce a master exam in their craft.
  2. Enter the exam with a huge amount of money (cheaper than in Europe, but big enough here)
  3. Pass the exams – theory and practice


pedagogy: as a master you have to (or at least you can) teach. You have to prove that you are able

economy, tax, marketing etc: you can make your own company, specialized to your crafts (actually – you can make you own company, specialized to your craft even without it.. hmm), so you should learn about the RULES and LAWS.

professional stuff: there are ore exams about it: written, oral. None of them is easy – actually easier to fail, than pass. 50-70% of the guys fail this one. You can’t just pass this exam, as they are no marks, you have to pass with a 80-90% result.


Making a half pair: you have 8 hours to make a half pair – matching EXACTLY the one you brought there, front of the jury. You get points: 100 all together, but you have to get at least 75 (and they are not easy guys). All the details worth some points – and taking the fact, that you make everything in 8 hours, so you have to work with wet materials, this is not easy at all. 8 hours is just enough to finish a half pair, and I can tell you something: this is an old rule. They just don’t care, that you have to wait 20 minutes for all the layers you apply glue on. This was different in the old times – we work with the same methods, just wait 4-5 times 20 minutes.

After making this procedure, you are a master.

3 thoughts on “How Can You Be a Master Shoemaker? The Master Exam

  1. Could I make half a pair in 8 hours?

    Yes, but I’m afraid of what it would look like, and I’d be even more afraid of it holding together. I can work very quickly—but 8 hours on a shoe is a stretch even for me.

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