6 basic shoemaking tools

ShoemakingAtelier Louise

Although there are many tools and specialised pieces of equipment or machinery that can be used when making shoes, you'll be happy to know that very few are needed to get started with making your own shoes at home. 

If you would like to put your own beginner's shoemaking toolkit together, here are six basic tools to get you started:

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1. Protective gear (mask/respirator and safety goggles)

Wearing a well-fitted mask or respirator is important to protect you from the dust, particles and fumes that you may be exposed to when making your own shoes. Your local hardware store should stock a variety of masks and respirators - make sure to choose one that protects you from both fumes and dust (a basic dust mask is NOT sufficient). You should also make sure to protect your eyes. Your local hardware store should stock safety goggles suitable for this purpose.

2. Utility knife

With its blades changed regularly so that it is always sharp, a utility knife works very well for cutting out your leather and soling materials. For thicker substances such as veg tanned leather (for insoles) and soling, you may need to run your knife along the cutting line several times. Just be patient with it, and remember to always cut parallel to your body (not towards yourself, in case the knife slips). Utility knives can normally be found in hardware and craft stores.

3. Cutting mat

If you sew or do other crafts, you possibly already have a self-healing cutting mat among your supplies. If not, they are available at most crafting and sewing supply shops. The mat will protect the surface you are working on when cutting out your leather or soling. 

4. Hole punch

You can purchase individual hole punches that each cut a different sized hole and require a hammer to punch them. However, a rotary punch is a great alternative for most purposes, enabling you to punch holes in a variety of sizes using just the one piece of equipment. You can also use the hole punch in combination with your utility knife to cut slots for sandal straps and holes for button studs. Basic rotary punches are available at most hardware and craft stores.

5. Glueing brush

Any basic craft or painting brush will work for applying glue. I normally use one that has the bristles approximately 1.5cm wide, but whatever size you find comfortable to work with and have available is fine. Be aware that the glue can ruin your brush, so choose one that you’re not going to want to use for another purpose afterwards.

6. Sandpaper

It's useful to have a couple of grades of sandpaper in your shoemaking toolkit. A rougher grade can be used to prepare leather and soling for glueing, and a finer grade sandpaper helps to smooth and give a nice finish to the edges of your insoles and soles. 

While there are many other tools that you could use in shoemaking, the basic tools listed above really are enough to get you started making your own shoes at home, and they should all be readily available at your local craft, sewing or hardware store. Happy shoemaking!