In the early 1700s, a Colonial American shoemaker, or cobbler, worked hard to please his customers, for he competed with the colony’s tradesmen who sold shoes imported from England. The steadfast cobbler successfully completed a single pair of shoes within an 8- to 10-hour period. In later years, cobblers worked together performing specific tasks and using a variety of tools.
Wood and Metal Lasts
In Colonial days, a shoe could be worn on either foot. A last, or block of wood carved into the shape of a foot, served as a mold to fashion each shoe. Using pincers, or pliers, the cobbler stretched leather uppers onto the last, where they were nailed before being sewn to the insole. A metal last would then be used to bend the nail points inside the shoe.
An awl, which might be curved, was used by the shoemaker to punch holes through the leather before he stitched the outer and upper soles together.
Needle and Thread
The cobbler’s needle was made of stiff hair from a boar. A marking wheel indicated the points to be sewn on the sole of the shoe. Flax plant fibers that were covered with pine tar for waterproofing functioned as thread.
Pegs fastened the sole to the upper part of the shoe. Before the shoemaker polished the finished pair of shoes, a long stick with an attached stone on one side abraded the pegs that jutted out from the sole. A blade cutter and a toothed breaker helped to remove and smooth the pegs inside of the shoe.
A special knife shaped the leather sole of the shoe. Various knives were used to cut the leather for the upper part of the shoe, above the sole. A glazing iron and two-handed glazing tool burnished the leather in the final stages of the shoe making.
- Jan Tyler/iStock/Getty Images