How To Learn Shoemaking

I can imagine, you are somewhere between “made some shoes” and “soon I am gonna make shoes like professional” in your carrier. Trust me, I know how it feels, I did not born with a gift to be able to make shoes. It took me years to get here. Several years.

The problem, if you don’t have anyone helping you, it is highly possible that you are just heading to the wrong direction, just losing time, money and energy on staff you don’t need/you should’t buy/you should have just avoid. A master can help to save that, so at the end of the day it will be more effective and way cheaper with a good teacher.

I am not gonna share what do you need to learn to be a decent shoemaker. That might take a while – more specifically I write this blog for several years now, and I don’t think that I am even close to summarize that knowledge, but I am gonna give you a checklist, if you are doing good, or you need to modify your “curriculum”. So, let’s see:

– learn from a professional. Not a cobbler, not a self appointed master, but preferable someone, who actually make shoes and sell them. That proves that it s wearable. Don’t believe bullshit, like “I just focus on teaching, but I made a bunch of shoes for the royal family before” Bullshit. Learn from a professional. It worth the price.

– get proper tools. The minimum you need is a good lasting pincer, a good hammer, a good knife and a rasp. There will be many more down on the road, what you will need, but these are the basic things. You just can’t do anything without them.

– get a rounded last and some soft leather to practice. I know.. you made plenty shoes, you don’t need practice.. blah blah blah. You need practice. I do practice. I challenge myself to make a better lasting practice for students, than before.

– Learn how to take care of your tools. I don’t need to explain this right? Learn knife sharpening and do not whine when it gets dull. Sharpen it.

– do not want to learn fancy techniques, just before you made a few very low-medium level cemented shoes. We, shoemakers, don’t want to waste our time to teach amateurs, who want to show off with the fancy stuff they learned, the finally the hold the knife well.

– go slowly. You need skills, what you just don’t have – give time to get them. Your master will know how to help you to make the important stuff to your second nature, if you don’t have any – well, patience. It will come. Eventually. It worth to wait, instead of running to lear a bunch of other hobbies. All of them need patience, why not to learn it here?

– Don’t believe to overly positive feedbacks. That is for you, not for your products. Learn from the constructive and actually from any critique. Read between the lines…  Encouraging not gonna make shoes for you.

– Do it again. Then again and again. Learn from your mistakes.

– Be your own worts critic! If you are 100% with your shoes – well, that is the time for a self-examination. There is something wrong there…

– You don’t need to try newer and newer methods when something doesn’t work well – most probably it is you, not the method. Be a bit more self disciplined and practice more! Patience.

– Don’t go fast – go deep instead! There is no point to learn a lot of tricks, when you not gonna remember any of them. When you are professional enough – you will remember all, and that makes your workshop visit – field trips a real gem.

– There is no such a thing, that “good enough”. That philosophy is your worts enemy. I don’t you don’t have to make compromises, but you don’t have to make bad compromises.

– And finally: be eager to learn. Read, search (not only google – libraries, people, forums), be very hungry for knowledge. Do not narrow it down to things which are important to your projects and things which are not – who knows, one day, you will teach this craft, so you need to know more than your students.

16 thoughts on “How To Learn Shoemaking

  1. Thank you for the checklist. Sometimes I get lost in the tree and can’t find the forest. Practice is the key to getting better.

  2. All good advice…especially about being patient while learning. As I have good reason to know. After 3+ years, all I know is how much I don’t know yet. And never being satisfied with the work–only see what could, must, be better.

  3. Hi Marcell, When will the Cordwainer Tools site be back up? The knife you sold me is very good. Now I want to buy a rasp. Let me know. Thanks. Von

  4. Very good advise Marcel. After my many years of leather work and now boot making, I know the value of all the things you say.
    One could call this advise and honest true critique, the Threshold Guardian, of in the Hero’s Journey. Just like Luke SkyWalker with Yoda’s advise, “What you take in there, you will find”. Diligence and hard work from the beginning are the path.

      1. hi i am a new shoe maker, i specialized in ladies high heel. presently i have a challenge in finding the right glue to gum the upper shoe to the leather sole. i will like to ask whAT GLUE DO SHOE MAKERS USE IN ATTACHING THE UPPER TO THE SOLE

    1. Thanks for you comment Lisa! Well, I got from those mails, trust me. People – especially Americans – are always look for the easy way. I woke up every single morning at 4.25 AM to go to school and got home at 9.55 PM. Nobody should talk about how hard is their way to learn it. I did it too.

  5. where can i learn shoe making at a cheaper price. am a nigerian i want to start making real good shoes like clerk, paul smith, divers i mean comfirmed leather shoes with long lasting sole. please help me

  6. Where is the best place to find tools? A Master? I’m beginning my flip flops and, even though trail and error are my friends, I don’t want to waste time taking baby steps down the wrong road….Thank you for all your help!

  7. hi i am a new shoe maker, i specialized in ladies high heel. presently i have a challenge in finding the right glue to gum the upper shoe to the leather sole. i will like to ask whAT GLUE DO SHOE MAKERS USE IN ATTACHING THE UPPER TO THE SOLE

  8. Hello, there nice to see a shoemakers blog that give good advice. I started at the shoemakers school in Fredrikstad, Norway in 06. Now I am well in to running my own business. I took patience, money and all my time and now it slowly takes form. The workshop is soon to be somewhere else than in my bedroom, up on nice shelves, and away with the banana boxes, that has kept my workshop for all these years. I can say to all those who think there is no need for hand crafters, for the industry will never give you the chance to compete on price. There is a new dawn for handcrafts. Mostly because I spend 4 years repairing the modern worlds answer to quality. I can guess 90% of the shoes out of save-money-land will abuse trust and faith in the quality, by overpricing their products the costumer make-believe a good quality. The upper is made of the thinnest skin to make a perfect fit in the store. The linings are mostly fragile polyester or nylon. The inner sole is CARDBORD! I was so mad when I realized this.
    That is why the true quality hand crafters are needed, to build a new industry, To dress the people of this land after their own taste and fashion. With a quality that lasts for decades of walking, has no toxic chemicals. And to a price that goes to the producer.
    The brave new know-howers of our time.
    If you are interested I have a blog where I search for the forgotten shoes of Norway. There are more made to folk dressing in Europe than the buckle shoe. Some text in english, if you scroll down. Best wishes
    Dina Harkmark Lie (my Facebook is out of order!)

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