How Bespoke Shoe Lasts are Made | By Dominic Casey
Kirby, here we are downstairs in the workshop. Now we’ve done the measuring upstairs, we’ve got the drawings of your feet here and we’ve just got one of the blocks, the standard blocks that we really make and that we really kind of start with when we actually start carving the last for somebody. And this last has no this block has no character to it. It’s just a lump. And what we designed it for is just so that we could have enough wood in all of the correct places just so that we could actually start taking the wood off and having a shape that we can actually start carving into. So there’s two ways that you kind of work on the last. One is taking it down and second is building it up with like leather and other pieces. I like to just carve a last from a block. Okay. And I think I mean I think most last makers and most shoe makers like to do that. I mean so what I really like to see is a last made for a client just out of a block of wood. You know we may have to put some leather fittings on it subsequently. I’m certainly conscious of your cuneiform bone that we looked at upstairs. I mean we may put a small leather fitting on for that once we’ve actually started carving out this shape here, but this is just the basic block that we have. It has no character nobody would ever want a pair of shoes made out of a shape like that. So what we’ve actually got to do now is to actually put it on to drawing and begin to start to carve the shape and carve the structure to it. And now if we actually position it where it looks like it ought to be when we when we were upstairs measuring your feet I made a couple of pencil marks on the widest part of your foot and what we’re just gonna do is just make a mark on each side of the last just so that we can continually line up our last. What I want to be able to do is always line up our last. So I’ll put it down in the same place. And we’ve got a couple of notches if you actually run your hand along here there’s some bubbles running all the way along here. Those are kind of metal studs that we use when we actually turn the blocks and they key in key areas. They’re just nails left in the pieces would so they can some key areas which we need to think about when we’re coming to make our lasts and line them up. So I’ve got my two locating points. Those are always going to stay the same. Those are going to be the widest part of your last now. But if you actually look down on it, you can see that nowhere can you see the outline of your foot. The whole thing is just too big for your foot. So we’ve actually got to start as a last maker I’ve actually got to start to bring all of the sides in and all of the back in so that we can actually begin. When the last is made you should be able to look down on it and because of the thickness of the pencil being drawn around the outside of your foot obviously the pencil makes makes the outline wider than your foot so we should be when the last is finished we should be able to see the pencil line all the way around. Okay, so that’s my job now. And essentially I’d like to say there’s some very complicated tools to do it but I’m afraid it’s a few rasps and a fire and a bit of sandpaper and that’s what we’re going to be using. And my first job is just to really start to get the back and the sides in so that I can carve some shape. There’s no shape into the back here. I’ve got to start looking at the length getting the length of the back correct and getting the sides down so that I can bring the sides in. And once we got those in then we can start looking at the front but the overall plan will be to look at the back first and then worry about the front later. I know that we’ve got more than enough room at the front to put any kind of toe shape on the front here. We’ll be able to do that we’ve got more than enough length, but at the moment the back length is just too long so I need to start carving the back. And we’ve got no shape in the back at the moment. This is just a kind of a blob and nobody’s heel is looking anything like that. Your heel certainly won’t be looking if you remember when we measured you you had terribly narrow through here. We looked at the kind of curvature, we’ve got the back we’ve got no shape at the back. So all of this needs to be carved now. So that’s where are you going to start off from. Dominic, what you said that the tools you use are actually quite simple. You know what are it kind of your tools and how are they are they used? Well I use a simple surform here for taking off. That’s going to take off the bulk of the wood. That’s going to start taking off heavy amounts of wood which is going to start to get me into some basic shape. I then use a light rasp. You’ll find that I mean I’ve been carving for thirty years so we’ll find that even with a rough tool we can really begin to get some shape defined into it and then it’s a question of a sort of a medium rasp and then just a woodworking file. So we’ve just got different files and different rasps with different lengths and then the final one we just have a sanding stick and we’ll run over it with a sanding stick which will sand it down. So I think this the skill in last making in a way it’s not the tools it’s about just being able to see the drawing and interpret the shapes that you need to carve. And we use very simple tools. Yeah, so there’s a lot of sculpture. I mean at this point are you starting to kind of envision the shoe? I mean we spoke earlier about the magic or the method. I mean how are you how are you envisioning a beautiful more elegant shoe at this point and you know how much of that is a product of you haven’t done this for 30 years versus someone that had just started maybe wouldn’t get the same shape with the same measurements. Yeah, I think it’s like all of these things. It’s just experience. You know the more you carve and when we have students come on the course here you know and they carve themselves a really lovely looking last, the one thing I say to them is you have to go back and make another last next week and another last the week after because it’s about refining those skills and it’s about then you really begin to start to see the shapes. What you’ll begin to see is there’s no shape here. There’s no curvature here. So what we’re actually going to do is start putting some shape and some curvature in here. And the problem with actually making lasts is that as soon as all of the curves on a last are completely related to all the other curves, there’s no flat surfaces anywhere. So if you change one curve that has an impact on all of the other curves so the whole thing becomes a very kind of dynamic process. You change one thing, everything changes. So you actually have to be thinking while even you’re carving the back you’ve got to be thinking about the sides and ultimately the widths of the front. So it’s a it’s a dynamic business. Yeah, that’s exciting. And yeah wood chips will flow. Yeah, well that’s good let’s get started. I can’t wait to see this. Okay, so the first thing I’m really considering is just the length at the back the last is do the blocks just well it’s a probably a size too long at the moment. Size too long at the back. There’s a lot of volume out the side so I just need to begin to start to shape the back and I just need to be… just pop some center lines in just with some pencils just so that I can actually start to think about where the center is going to go. And from now on it’s just going to be tightening up, shifting some of this out. So it’s on coming down the side here. I’m beginning to think about putting this curvature in here which is ultimately going to take us into the art. So I’m taking off some of the volume from the sides just before I actually start to take some volume out of the back. So I want to actually remove some volume from here. There’s a lot of bulk along here and we’re not really thinking about cutting too much shape into it just yet. It’s much more just that the shape comes along quite quickly. So I’m just getting some curve length in here. It’s come down through the side that but full-on the arch still there. Long at the back sides sides coming in. Maybe a half size out of the back, yeah. Looking at the balance of the heel here from the inside and the outside there’s a bit fuller heel shape coming down on the inside, coming down onto the arch there so just beginning to think about planning that shape. Starting to think about bringing in the last of the back. So I’m beginning to get close down onto the shape now, especially at the back. So I’m actually not just thinking about taking a lot of bulk out. I’m actually beginning to start thinking about the heel shape. I’m starting to begin to think about where my center line is going to be, where I want to put the heel cuboids when I get there, what the shape of the back of the last is going to be. I’m still mainly thinking about taking volume out though. Mainly thinking about taking the back out and taking the sides out. So I’m really thinking about beginning to build the back of the outside of the heel here. I’m interested in this curve and the way that this curve is running around here. Just want to get the shape of the outside correct. It may just be a small amount of that, just all I need to do for the moment. So Kirby, I’ve begun to put the back of the last in on the right-hand side here. And you can probably see how the shape has really begun to change from the left rather which is our original starting position to the right. I’ve really began to actually put some length in here, correct the length and correct the width as well. So I’ve started to actually take the block down so it’s beginning to get much closer to your line drawing. So if we actually line it up on the pencil marks where we had to start off with, you can actually begin to see some of the outline of your foot beginning to appear. When you actually look down on it now you can begin to see the shape beginning to form on the outside here. So I know that I’m actually carving the block down into a size which is going to fit the plan. Now the certain areas where you can actually see more of your foot and less of your foot on in terms of the plan line and that’s because what I’m trying to do is not slavishly follow the shape of your foot. What I actually want to do is to make a pair of shoes which last shape and shoe shape, not your foot shape. Now it’s going to be built to the dimensions of your foot, but I’m not following every nuance in terms of the shaping of your foot. So your inside ankle here is slightly flatter than the curvature on the outside of the heel. So most people that wouldn’t make much difference, but what it has mean is that I’m going to I want to create a nice heel shape. I want to create a nice balanced heel shape on the back of your last. I’ll think about cutting this and running it in afterwards to give you some of the clip, but what I’m beginning to do now is starting to think about building some heel shape for you. And are certain areas of the shoe that can accommodate that more just because its fleshier? Exactly, so that’s when I was pressing this outside of your foot here upstairs when we were actually doing the measurements and I was saying this is a bit of your foot which is quite fleshing, quite flexible. And one of the things that we want we really want to see this nice flowing line coming down your shoe. But most people have a bulk of flesh that just sits here on the side, so we’re just moving it. We’re going to put the volume in. So we’re going to put the the circumference measure in, but we’re actually going to move it from where it’s sitting and just hold you a bit tighter through the waist there. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking for as a last maker and as a shoe maker is to actually just reposition some bits and pieces. So we’re beginning to get the length in, but because we just got the length in what we have is no shape in no real heel shape. We’ve completely lost that. I’ve just been looking at the outside plans. So Kirby, we’ve put the outside plan in but what I really need to do now is I’ve lost all of the shape of the back of the heel. So I’ve got to actually start to build the heel shape. So I’m thinking about when I was measuring your feet, the slimness through the back of your heel and I’m thinking about the curvature at the back of the heel. So we’ve lost any of shape here. So the first thing I need to do is I’ve just popped a quick center line down here which is just a rough line just these are just rough guides at the moment. I just need to begin to think about where your shoe is going to go there so two and three eighths. That’s going to be the back height of your shoe there. And that was based off the measurements you took? Yes, exactly. I’m going to be working. I’m going to find that curvature. I’m going to be starting to look for that curvature in the minute, but I’ve lost all kinds of shape through here through the cuboids. I’ve lost the centerline because I was just concentrating on taking the length in and taking the sides in. So I’ve completely lost any kind of shape here. So I have to put the shape back in. So I just need to start at where your heel is. That’s two three eight, one 5/16 that’s the middle line between the two. So I’m just going to draw a couple of construction lines here. I need a line. Your the outside as I’m saying the feet are asymmetric. So the actual height of the the main volume part of your heel cuboids, they actually sit in different places. Your inside ankle bones it’s actually higher than your outside ankle bone. So I’ve got to be aware now of actually where the muscles are going to be running up until the cone of your foot here and where it is running on the outside. So I’ve just got to be start thinking in terms of the volumes as well. And I’ve got to then start to lose. You are very slim through here so you’ve got nothing going on through here and you’re slightly higher like everybody. There’s more volume going on the back here so I need to start removing that and so I start need to start to think about building the shape of the heel for this back shape of the last now. So that’s what we’re going to do. We sorted the length out, we sorted some of the width out, now I just want to generally put some shape back into it so that we’ve got something to go forward with. Okay so these are just guides you add here? These are just guides to me, but you know I know from feeling your foot and from making lasts for lots of people that these muscles, the volumes of these these are completely different shapes. When we actually come to see them essentially this will be a convex curvature running on the outside of your foot down that way and then it’s slightly more concave on the inside of a foot as well. So this is a different shape. It’s a different curve shape. So I’m just beginning to think about putting some shape back into the back of the last and carving some some shape which is going to really fit your foot at the back. So Kirby, we’ve begun to actually start to put the shape of the back in now. And from the lines that I’ve drawn early you can really begin to see how we’ve actually started to carve the shape. This was that very slim bit that I actually started to put through your heels. This is where the top of your shoes going to be so that’s the bit that’s actually going to pinch and hold your foot. So the lot next thing that I really need to think about is this shape here and just beginning to curve the back of the last round here so that we’ve got that six millimeter clip onto the back of your heel curve here. And I’m just going to start running some shape into the back of the heel as well. Yeah, exactly. So what I want to be doing is really at that back height point of where that back height point of your last is, that’s where we measured with the pencil straight. We need six millimeters. We need a good six millimeters in there to begin to clip it so that’s where they your heel is actually going to fit in the back of the shoe here. This is the back curve. And then also we’re actually going to under run it round here. I’ve started to under run the base of the last, but I’m just going to make a smaller heel. That gives me a chance when I’m making the shoe to actually make sure that the bulk is stiffener is not going to make a bulky back of the heel. So that gives you that real fine bespoke, elegant look because you actually haven’t got for your heel hits the back of the shoe here, but it’s got nothing actually it begins to roll underneath the foot here. So what we can afford to do on a last is empty this area out and that’s going to give us that nice bespoke shoe look. So Kirby, as you can see now we’re really beginning to…We’re lining up the last that we originally had with our two pencil marks on the joint on the widest part and you can really begin to see how the actual last is actually beginning to sit in the planned outline of your foot. You can actually see the pencil line running all the way around here. So when I’m just thinking about this I’m putting the pencil in and I’m thinking okay well I’m touching the foot there so I don’t need to lose any more out of there. I’m still a bit full here in this area but that’s the part of the area that I don’t really want to suddenly just cut this shape in because it’s gonna give us a funny bulge in the last and in the shoe and then we’re back hitting the back of the heel and running all the way around the back of the heell and onto the inside waist now. And we’ve also gone to actually start to build the back shape of the back curves of all of the last. So we’ve got the center line and the center curve running now. So we’ve got the clip for your back heel at the top of the heel there where your shoe’s gonna fit. We’ve got an underscore coming along there. Yeah let’s look. Exactly, so that’s where we’ve really start to began to put the various curvatures in the back there. Do we still have more to go? Probably going to take a bit more, but the thing is of not we’re a long way from being finished yet. We actually haven’t started to look at the measurements. We haven’t actually… I’ve got to go at it with the files and the sander really. So what that does is it starts to take off with more material as well. So what I’m really doing is if you look at the back from where we started to where we are now we’ve taken off a huge amount of wood and we’ve really began to actually put some shape into the back of the last here based upon your drawing. So really the backs I probably want to leave the backs now, start looking at the sides. The outside is pretty much in because I just dusted that in quickly anyway. We really need to start to look at the inside of the last now. This inside line here running down to the pencil mark there. And that’s really going to get us to start to look at the arch and what’s actually happening underneath the foot here as well. So that’s really our next job. So Kirby, what I’ve done now is I’ve began to put some of the basic shapes to actually make your last into here. You can see that this is where we started off. On the left hand side, we’ve still got the basic block with no shape in it whatsoever. And here what we’ve actually done if you take a look at it you can begin to see how the outline of your foot is now beginning to materialize around the shape of the wood. We’ve actually taken the back down, we slimmed it completely down through here, we’ve actually begun to put some of the back curvatures in it, we’ve begun to plan how the shoe’s going to actually look on your foot. I’m thinking about the shape of the heel here, how your arch is rolling in, where your joints are coming to, so I can actually begin to shape the front up here. So we’ve I’ve offset the cone of the foot so it’s just heading off down here on the on the other one that we haven’t even touched yet. You can see it’s very central. We left the block with a lot of wood on the front of it so the cone is now running down towards your big toe joint here. I’ve just made an mark because I’m very conscious of where your cuneiform bone is protruding here so I’m just bearing that in mind. So even though we’ve got no toe shape in here, we can see that we’ve actually taken out a vast amount of the wood and we’ve really began to start shaping the curves and cleaning up the curves. Absolutely. So we’re well on the way. Now the next thing to do is we actually need to sort of refine things and start looking for the measurements. Usually the toe shape is the last thing that we actually put in. We’ve built some of the basic shapes, the basic curves. I’ve got everything more or less in the right place. Now I’ve actually got to start looking at the measurements and that’s really the next step. So how much so you spent so this took about 30 to 45 minutes to get to this spot right here. Yeah. And then how much you know time approximately is kind of left to this last before you even touch the second one? Yeah well I usually be looking at making a pair of lasts in a day. A full day’s work to make a pair of lasts. In many ways actually making one of them is the easy job. The hard bit is then actually carving the other one to match the one that you’ve made. So you we have another difficulty when you actually start on the left-hand side because I’ve actually got to make it the sort of toe shape and make everything look right as well as balance with all the measurements as well. So you would carve the second one and the with the same tools that you carved the first to copy? Exactly. Yes, yeah and I’ll be thinking about the same ideas. I’ll be having the same approach in the same methodology about carving the second one so that just helps me standardize the whole way the things are going to look really. So we got the basic shapes in. It’s very rough at the moment but you can really begin to see that a lot of the curves and a lot of the lines are beginning to fall into place already. Yeah, absolutely. Now it’s a question of refining it, cleaning it up and then just taking it down for the measures. I’m really beginning to actually put some toe shape on there and put some life into the object. And so whenever you say taking the measures, I mean you’re actually kind of measuring the last? Yes, exactly. I’ll be measuring it. So what am I looking at? I’m looking at nine and a half over the joint there. So I mean I am still full here. We’re up at sort of ten inches so there’s still half an inch to come off here. There’s a fair bit of wood to come off of here. So over here we need ten and a sixteenth. So again, I’ve got some material. Actually what I always do is leave them full because what I’ve actually then got to do is actually start to take the measurements down. Take the wood off and clean up the measurements. We need ten and an eighth across your instep there: a grain on the cuneiform bone so we’re getting pretty close here. So you know I know that all of this shape and all of this area is pretty close to your measurement. I’m about an eighth of an inch full. So really in this area here I’m just going to be thinking about refining, probably take you know sanding it down smoothing it down. I know most of the shape and most of the volumes already in there. And so if you took it down too much or if after the first fitting we wanted to make adjustments and that’s the point at which you’d build it up using leather. We build up using leather. Yeah, I mean the main aim is to not actually take it down too much. Yeah, the main aim is well actually to be to create something spot-on. But ultimately as we always say to the students whenever we’re doing any last until you actually make a shoe on it and somebody gets to walk in it you never know exactly how it feels really. Yeah. And you know anybody has to rely on their client actually wearing the shoes and giving them some feedback and saying actually you know this bit may be needing some adjustments. How long is that evolution? I mean you know if you keep you know I mean you really need more than one pair of shoes. You need to go through that iterative process more than just once in order to really perfect the last. Yeah, I mean I think you’ve got to trust… The lastmaker needs the client to wear the shoes. Yeah, exactly. You can never tell until your client’s worn the shoes for three months. Okay. They’ll come back and say Dom you know maybe we can think about moving this or we maybe want to move that. Maybe nothing, maybe nothing nothing needs doing. But no, it really takes you actually need to have the shoes and wear the shoes for a while before you really understand how they’re fitting. You have to be committed to the process you know the bespoke evolution. Exactly, you just have to commit yourself to the process. You have to as we were saying before you have to commit yourself to the relationship. You have to actually say well actually I kind of trust this guy. This guy, I’ve got a feeling this guy’s gonna do something amazing for me. So you just actually have to understand that you know you just gotta trust the process. Yeah. And trust the relationship. Well I absolutely trust you. Yeah. I can’t wait to see this last or the pair lasts. Yeah. And you know really look forward to having a pair of shoes made for me. It’s a privilege to be able to be here and actually see this process firsthand, so thank you. Yeah, well thanks for coming. You know what we’re so lucky in that we get to do something that we enjoy and you know with nice people. Yeah, doesn’t get better than that. Doesn’t get any better than that does it, no. Yeah. thank you so much, Dominique. Pleasure, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Hi, I’m Kirby Allison. I’m thrilled to be here back in London at the world championship of shoemaking and guess who I bumped into, Dominic Casey who has brought my finished last that we were viewing while we were in your workshop down in Eastbourne. So why don’t you tell us what we have now that you’ve had a little bit more time to work on these. Right, so what we’ve actually done is this is the one that we worked on in the workshop and we actually started to kick it into some shape. We began to change it. We started off with the block which we still got on the left-hand side. So this is now that I’ve actually made the shape, I’ve cut it all down and put all the curves into it, made it into the dimensions that we measured on your foot, so this is how the finished one looks on the right hand side and this is how we originally started off with the one on the left. Yeah, and so did you what decision did you make in terms of toe shape? Well we didn’t really discuss it, I just decided that I thought that would look nice on your toe. So always trust your shoes maker, Kirby. It’s more of that story. So describe this to me. So this is what a soft almond? No, this is what I would describe this this is a very classic English what i would describe as a club oxford cap toe shape. The difference which really makes this distinctive is that the size here are actually straighter than you would normally see. On your almond toes and the other type of toe shapes, this line here usually runs with a very soft curvature, but what I’ve done is straightened this. This is slightly straight on the inside as well and it’s a question of the three-dimensional movement on the top of the toe. There’s a high peak here and then it starts to roll in different directions around there and then becomes much softer in this area so it gives you a very strong classic English round toe shape. Yeah, sounds exceptional. Very kind of you unique and very English Negroni style. Yeah, I love it. That’s exactly my style. Yeah, that’s your style entirely. I always say trust I trust your shoe maker to find your style. Yeah and so what are some of the other kind of distinct elements that you had to work into this last based off my measurements that we spoke of? Well if you probably remember you had a very prominent cuneiform bone just on your right foot just here so if you just run your hand over here there’s a bit of a lump left on there which is carved into the bone. So that’s your bone position there and I’ve left a sort of lump there to accommodate that space. So when we start to look at the bottom you can begin to see how we’ve actually began to build the shoe making shape. We’ve started making some the shape for the heel here. Here’s where the beveled waist is going to fall in. It’s beveled down and there’s a soft curve running down on the outside here so the square edge here, soft curve there and square edge round on the fore part here to actually hold the welt, hold the weight welt and hold the beveled welt in here. So that all of the curvatures are beginning to make the shoe as well that are happening on the last. Absolutely beautiful, so what’s next? So the next thing is we’ve move on. If we’re going to you know if we were going to make an oxford cap on there the next thing to do is really get the pattern on there, start making the paper pattern pieces and working on how the balance of the design is going to look. How long the toe cap is, where the vamp’s gonna form so actually beginning to style all of the shoe on to the last. And then the left last right so that will you you know spin this and copy it or will you actually carve it in the same way that you carved this one? The same way. So completely free carving really. So it won’t be a copy of this, I’ll just have to cut the left into the same shape as this, the same curves, the same structure but the dimensions of your left foot. Okay. Now your left foot is a half size smaller than this foot so this is actually measuring a size 10. So your left foot is a half size smaller, but we’ll be making a pair of last so it’ll be a size 10 as well with the same toe shape on it even though your your foot is going to be sitting slightly shorter in the left than it will be in the right because of the size difference. Absolutely and so I guess that’s the challenge of last making bespoke last making is you know incorporating those differences but and still making the shoes look like a proper pair. Exactly, they have to be a pair but then you haven’t got a pair of feet. So we have to make a pair of blocks and it’s our job as a shoemaker just to accommodate those differences. But it’s not an exact copy, there would still be measurements incorporated in there different. It won’t be an exact copy. It can’t be because you don’t have an exact pair of feet. So they’ll be very different. So the left and the right would be different but similar. But Dominic, thank you so much. Yeah. This has been fantastic. It’s a beautiful last. I can’t wait to see how this toe looks on a pair of shoes and I guess we’ll be in touch. Yeah, great. If you enjoyed this video give us a thumbs up and please subscribe to our channel and turn on your notifications by clicking the bell to the right of the subscribe button so that you can learn whenever we release new videos. 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