Blog: Shoemaking Course

Making Toe Puffs & Heel Counters

The Complete Shoe Making Process: Part 4

Heel counters and toe puffs sometimes called "stiffeners" are the leather parts which give the heel and toe structure in a shoe. These pieces are made from oak bark tanned belly grade leather. 

The traditional oak bark ground tanning relies on biodegradable renewable tan material and a slow tanning process taking up to nine months. After a preliminary surface tanning the valuable hides lie between layers of tan for several months in century old oak pits. This ecological treatment  guarantees the extraordinary qualitative properties of our all leather shoes.  

Toe puffs and heel counters give the heel and toe structure flexibility and strength.

Each part is cut to shape skived by hand then soaked in water and wrapped in newspaper overnight. The damp leather is then pasted into position with potato starch then inserted between the upper and lining in the shoe upper ready for lasting.

If you're interested in finding out more about the shoemaking process perhaps consider our shoemaking course.

This is the fourth article in our ongoing series: "The Complete Shoemaking Process". The next entry in the series is about custom fitting a pair of shoes.

Measurements For Last Making

The Complete Shoe Making Process: Part 3

All custom made shoes start with foot/leg measurements. The outline of the foot and corresponding measurements are drawn onto a sheet of paper. 

A measurement of the foot length is taken with a measuring stick. Measurements of the joint, arch and long heel are then taken. These measurements are then transferred to a last. A last is chosen from our library or made that corresponds to the clients measurements and stylistic requirements. A Last model can be either shaped by hand from a block of Birch by a lastmaker or an existing last can be modified to correspond to the clients measurements. 

Historically, lasts were typically made from hardwoods and cast iron because these materials retain their shape, even when in contact with wet materials (like leather) and subjected to the mechanical stresses of stretching and shaping shoes on them. Today, wooden lasts are generally used only for bespoke shoemaking.

Lasts come in many styles and sizes, depending on the exact job they are designed for. Common variations include simple one-size lasts used for repairing soles and heels, durable lasts used in modern mass production, and custom-made lasts used in the making of bespoke footwear. Though a last is made approximately in the shape of a human foot, the precise shape is tailored to the kind of footwear being made. For example, a boot last would be designed to hug the instep for a close fit. Modern last shapes are typically designed using dedicated computer-aided design software.

The materials used in modern lasts must be strong enough to withstand the forces of mass production machinery, such as that applied by pullover machines when bottoming the shoe, and must also be able to hold tacks (known as "lasting tacks"), which are used to hold shoe parts together temporarily before the sole is added. Although hardwoods satisfy these criteria, modern lasts, especially those used by mass production factories, are often made from high-density polyethylene plastic, which allows for many tack holes before needing repair. Such plastics also have the benefit that they can be recycled and remoulded when they wear out.

 Custom made / bespoke shoemakers, often use lasts that are specifically designed to the proportions of individual customers' feet. Made from various modern materials, they don't need to withstand the pressures of mass production machinery, but they must be able to handle constant tacking and pinning, and the wet environment associated with stretching and shaping materials such as leather.

If you're interested in finding out more about the shoemaking process perhaps consider our shoemaking course.

This is the third article in our ongoing series: "The Complete Shoemaking Process". The next entry in the series is about taking making toe puffs & heel counters.

Measurements and Sizing

The Complete Shoe Making Process: Part 2


The length of a foot is commonly defined as the distance between two parallel lines that are perpendicular to the foot and in contact with the most prominent toe and the most prominent part of the heel. Foot length is measured with the subject standing barefoot and the weight of the body equally distributed on both feet.

The sizes of the left and right feet are often slightly different. In this case, both feet are measured, and purchasers of mass-produced shoes are advised to purchase a shoe size based upon the larger foot because, contrary to the reality of foot sizes, most manufacturers do not sell pairs of shoes in non-matching sizes. Each size of shoe is considered suitable for a small interval of foot lengths. The inner cavity of a shoe must typically be 15–20 mm longer than the foot, but this relation varies between different types of shoes


  1. The median length of feet for which a shoe is suitable. For customers, this measure has the advantage of being directly related to their body measures. It applies equally to any type, form, or material of shoe. However, this measure is less popular with manufacturers, because it requires them to test carefully for each new shoe model, for which range of foot sizes it is recommendable. It puts on the manufacturer the burden of ensuring that the shoe will fit a foot of a given length.
  2. The length of the inner cavity of the shoe. This measure has the advantage that it can be measured easily on the finished product. However, it will vary with manufacturing tolerances and provides the customer only very crude information about the range of foot sizes for which the shoe is suitable.
  3. The length of the "last", the foot-shaped template over which the shoe is manufactured. This measure is the easiest one for the manufacturer to use, because it identifies only the tool used to produce the shoe. It makes no promise about manufacturing tolerances or for what size of foot the shoe is actually suitable. It leaves all responsibility and risk of choosing the correct size with the customer. Further, the last can be measured in several different ways resulting in different measurements.

All these measures differ substantially from one another for the same shoe.


Sizing systems also differ in what units of measurement they use. This also results in different increments between shoe sizes because usually, only "full" or "half" sizes are made.

The following length units are commonly used today to define shoe-size systems:

  • The Paris point equates to 2⁄3 centimetre (6.6 mm or ~0.26 in). This means an increment of 2⁄3 centimetre (1⁄4 inch) in whole sizes, and 1⁄3 centimetre (1⁄8 inch) between half sizes. This unit is commonly used in Continental Europe.
  • The barleycorn is an old English unit that equates to 1⁄3 inch (8.46 mm). Half sizes are commonly made, resulting in an increment of 1⁄6 inch (4.23 mm). This measure is the basis for current U.K. and U.S. shoe sizes, with the largest shoe size taken as twelve inches (a size 12) and then counting backwards in barleycorn units.
  • Further, metric measurements in centimetres (cm) or millimetres (mm) are used. The increment is usually 0.5 cm (5 mm or ~0.20 in), which is between the step size of the Parisian and the English system. It is used with the international Mondopoint system and with the Asian system.

Due to the different units of measurements, converting between different sizing systems results in rounding errors as well as unusual sizes such as "10 2⁄3".


The sizing systems also place size 0 (or 1) at different locations:

If size 0 is placed at a foot's length of 0, the shoe size is directly proportional to the length of the foot in the chosen unit of measurement. Sizes of children's, men's, and women's shoes, as well as sizes of different types of shoes, can be compared directly. This is used with the Mondopoint and the Asian system. However, size 0 can also represent a length of the shoe's inner cavity of 0. The shoe size is then directly proportional to the inner length of the shoe. This is used with systems that also take the measurement from the shoe. While sizes of children's, men's and women's shoes can be compared directly, this is not necessarily true for different types of shoes that require a different amount of "wiggle room". This is used with the Continental European system.

Further, size 0 (or 1) can just be a shoe with a given length, typically the shortest length deemed practical. This can be different for children's, teenagers', men's, and women's shoes, making it impossible to compare sizes. For example, a women's shoe at size 8 is a different length from a men's shoe at size 8 in the US system, but not the British.


Some systems also include the width of a foot. There are different methods indicating the width:

The measured width is indicated in millimetres (mm). This is done with the Mondopoint system.

The measured width is assigned a letter (or combination of letters), which is taken from a table (indexed to length and width) or just assigned on an ad-hoc basis: Examples include (each starting with the narrowest width): 
A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEE, F, G (typical North American system; medium being D)
4A, 3A, 2A, A, B, C, D, E, 2E, 3E, 4E, 5E, 6E (variant North American)
C, D, E, F, G, H (common Aus/UK "medium" is usually E or F, but varies by manufacture one maker's E is not necessarily the same size as another's.
N (narrow), M (medium) or R (regular), W (wide)

The width for which these sizes are suitable can vary significantly between manufacturers. The A-E width indicators used by most American,Canadian, Australian and some British shoe manufacturers are typically based on the width of the foot, and common step sizes are 3⁄16 inch.

This is the second article in our ongoing series: "The Complete Shoemaking Process". The next entry in the series is about taking measurements for last making.