Some Interesting Shoemakers’ Tools
Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. 13 No. 4, December 1960
by Robert Mitchell
The shoemaker’s bench shown in figure I came from the Shaker Colony in New Lebanon, New York. It is fully equipped with tools of the craft and the one drawer pulled out contains shoe pegs. It is rather unusual for a bench of this type to have roller casters.
The cities had their permanent craftsmen whereas sometimes the farmer, especially those who lived rather far from any city and rarely made trips into it, had to depended upon the itinerant craftsman, who traveled from farm to farm offering his services. Figure 2 shows a rather unusual itinerant shoemaker’s or perhaps cobbler’s bench in a closed position and ready to be carried. This bench was found in Vermont and originally belonged to James Boyd of Dummerston, Vermont, who had it handed down to him from his grandfather. Figure 3 shows the method of stowing the seat and figure 4 shows the bench opened and ready for use. Notice in figure 3 that the iron legs are resting on the seat of the bench and in figure 4 are in place. The bench has an interesting series of drawers sufficient to carry all the tools the worker might need on his travels. This bench was carried in the back of a wagon, as the cobbler went from house to house. If he was well treated and well fed; the story is told that he was inclined to make small stitches, but if his reception was indifferent, he sewed with longer stitches! Carrying this bench was known as “swinging the cat.”
As in many other crafts, the shoemaker needed working light. Figure 5 shows an unusual shoemaker’s light, originally owned by Tillingham Foster, for whom the station on the Harlem Division of the New York Central was named – “Tilly Foster.” Figure 6 is an interesting shoemaker’s light found in Zurich, Switzerland.
The shoemaker’s tool in figure 7 often confuses people as to its use. It is a turn shoe moulding block and hammer and is used to mould soles and counters for turned shoes. The leather is dampened and then beat in the hollow of the block with the hammer to give it the necessary roundness.
In figure 8, the item on the left is a lasting, stitching jack, or can be called a boot or shoe jack. It is used to hold the last as the upper is lasted onto the sole and while the sole and upper are being; sewn, nailed or pegged. It was held between the knees of the worker. The tool on the right is the usual type of iron last for clinching nails on the inside of the sole and heel.