Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Making Plans to Make Tracks

Faire warning: The Maker Faire is coming back to San Mateo, California, May 30 and 31 (the weekend after Memorial Day weekend).

I have written about the Maker Faire before. I practically start hopping up and down when I think about going to it. In fact, I was lying in bed thinking about it and decided I had to start writing about it again before I'd be able to get any sleep, so I got back out of bed.

The Maker Faire has a huge variety of displays, exhibits, demonstrations, activities, and shopping opportunities that appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests. You'll see the quaint, the bizarre, the practical, the artistic, the robotic, the gothic, the stylish, the geeky, the eco-minded, the homey, the flaming (literally), the tiny, the giant, and the flat-out "huh?", all in one place.


Last year the faire was bursting at the seams of the San Mateo Expo Center. In the afternoon, the ticket and backpack search lines were really long. Get your tickets in advance from the website, and arrive early in the day.

Carpool! There is parking, but the extra parking is quite a hike away from the entrance.

Wear comfortable shoes. You will be doing a LOT of walking.

Take a water bottle. You'll need it.

Take empty shopping bags. There is a lot of very tempting stuff there.

Food is not the strong point of the Maker Faire. Eat well before you go.

Take a camera! The sights are amazing, and your friends back home won't believe you without pictures.

Study the Maker Faire schedule and map on the website. They have lots of special events, and different parts of the faire close at different times (as I found out the hard way last year).

Keep an open mind. You'll never know how much fun it is to ride a wooden bicycle until you try it!

See you there!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Visiting Michael at Island Sandals

When I was getting started on my sandalmaking project, I spent some time with Google searching on the Internet for shoemakers, shoemaking supplies, sandalmaking, and other similar queries (a close friend taught me a few years ago how useful Google can be, and now I'm addicted to it). I found lots of interesting results, such as a high fashion designer shoemaking school, YouTube videos on old-fashioned shoemaking, shoe repair suppliers, and so on.

Serendipitous Coincidence

One of the websites I found was for Island Sandals, located in Lahaina, Maui. It so happened that I was already planning a family Winter Break trip to Hawaii (the Big Island and Maui) to see the volcanoes there (inspired by a recent unit in my older daughter's middle school science class). I started an email correspondence with Michael the Sandalmaker, and made plans to visit him in his shop in Lahaina while I was on Maui.

Among other things, I carted all four pairs of sandals I had made so far to Lahaina with me (that was easy--the kids were wearing theirs!) to get Michael's opinions and advice on them.

I didn't take many pictures or any video while I was visiting Michael, since some previous visitors had already done an extensive set of videos of Michael discussing his sandals, their care and cleaning, and some of the reasons he makes them the way he does.

The Sandal Design

Michael bases his sandal design on an ancient Ethiopian design meant for running warriors. The classic design is elegant in its simplicity. It has two straps: one runs under the heel and comes up on both sides of the heel as the riser, and the other is a long thin strap that winds around the foot and through holes in the sole to form the main part of the sandal. This "harness" strap arrangement holds the sandal on the foot really well so that the relatively-thin sandal sole moves with the foot (as opposed to the motion of the sole of a flip-flop sandal). When I tried some on, I felt like I should be doing dance moves in them.

The blue in the picture is the foam Michael uses for padding. The old sandal on the right is one Michael shows customers of an example of a sandal that has been well cared for with Saddle Soap and has been worn pretty much constantly for 15 years or so.

The main strap is fastened with an ancient and very simple knot that gets tighter over time.

Here is the back of the knot:

Here is a slip-knot version of the knot, used for things that need to be released easily:

The only metal in the shoe is a trio of brass nails that reinforce the attachment of the rubber heel.

The Pattern

Michael showed me how he traces the feet, keeping the ballpoint pen straight up and down for an accurate pattern. Since most people's feet are not the same, he traces both feet. Here is Michael's example of a foot tracing.

The holes for the straps are located such that the straps never go directly underneath where the bones of the feet press on the sole. For example, in the picture above of Michael's old sandal, the heel riser strap goes across underneath the foot just in front of where the heel comes down on the sole, not directly underneath the heel. Also, the straps never press on the bones above the soles (you wouldn't want a strap pressing on a bunion), but rather they nestle into the hollows between them.

All the Cool Toys

One advantage Michael has (besides working in beautiful Lahaina) is that he has all the right tools. Over the years he has bought a shopful of shoemaking and shoe repair tools from various places, typically from shoe makers and repairers who were retiring. The technology for making custom shoes hasn't changed very much over the past 50 or more years, even though the technology for mass producing shoes (like athletic shoes, for example) has changed quite a bit.

One of Michael's main tools is known as a finisher, which is basically a long spinning pole with several different wheels spaced along it for grinding, sanding, and polishing, such as for grinding and sanding the edges of a new sole of a shoe (here is what a new one looks like--Michael's is a much older finisher, though probably not quite as old as this one from 1948). It's a standard machine for a shoe repair business. It's also quite dangerous (especially the older ones), since it's easy for straps and such to get caught in it. Michael told me he'd once gotten a finger caught, and the finisher had dislocated all of the finger joints. Ouch!

Michael also has a stitching machine that pokes a hole with an awl-like point and then pokes back through the hole with the thread-bearing needle. Also a dangerous machine (not for use by kids).

I'm not planning to get any of the shoemaking machinery Michael has--it simply won't fit in my garage (and we now have a rule that I can only bring in new stuff if I get rid of the equivalent amount of stuff!). I probably won't be starting a business or making enough shoes to justify big equipment anyhow. But it's great to see how the pros do it!

The Leather

Michael uses latigo leather exclusively. This is leather that has been dyed and heavily oiled at the tannery. It's perfect for sandals. Michael gets his leather from all over the world.

(Not) Sniffing Glue

One great piece of advice Michael gave me was to move away from using contact cement that contained MEK (methyl ethyl ketone), toluene, and other toxic chemicals. He suggested a different adhesive, 3M's FastBond 30, which is water based. It turns out to be fairly hard to find, but I was able to order a gallon of it online through thegluedepot.com.

I'm now using the Fastbond 30 for all of my shoemaking work. I really like it. It seems to hold just as well as the regular contact cement from Tandy, but it doesn't smell nearly as bad, and it doesn't need to carry a "could be fatal" warning on the label (a big plus, since I planned to use it with a bunch of middle school girls). I also find it easier to work with, since it's more like paint, and it doesn't get as stringy as regular contact cement. The downside is that you do have to wait a bit longer for the Fastbond 30 to dry before you can put the pieces together. A fan helps with the drying, though (and dissipates what smell there is).

A Fun Visit

Michael clearly enjoys his work and talking to his visitors, though a lot of his custom sandals are ordered by mail (especially for repeat customers). His sandals are really beautiful.

I had a great time visiting Michael in Lahaina, and I learned a lot. Thanks, Michael!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Shoe Mania, Part 3: Sandal Pieces, Unite!

Now that I had dyed and put together the uppers for my sandals, I wanted to add some padding between the soles before I put the soles together. I got some foam rubber meant for insoles that had a tan knit fabric covering on one side (Ortho Sponge Top-Cover ordered from Louis Birns & Sons). I'll get it without the fabric for next time, but this will be fine for now.

I cut out 3/4-length pieces for each foot, plus extra pieces for a second layer at the heel.

First, I glued the heel layer to the sole layer of padding. I also marked where the sandal straps will go relative to the padding.

Since the straps are all supposed to be adjustable, they need to be able to slide across the sole, so I was careful to avoid putting any contact cement where the straps will be. I'm now ready to glue the padding to the upper sole. Note that the extra layer of padding at the heel will butt right up against the strap there.

The fabric side of the foam rubber did not glue well, so it required multiple coats of the contact cement before gluing to the other piece.

Also, once I had it glued together, there wasn't enough leather to form a good bond around the padding. I pulled it back apart, trimmed the padding to be narrower, and glued it back together.

Nailing the Soles

Since I had this romantic vision of shoemakers nailing shoes together, I wanted to try that myself. Finding the right type of nails turned out to be problematic, though, since normal people don't use shoemaker's nails. There are also quite a few different types of shoemaker's nails. The instructions I was following in the "Sandal Making" book just said "Sole Nails", which turns out to be not quite the right terminology.

I ended up getting "wire clinch nails" from Louis Birns. And of course, I needed to learn yet another measurement convention. It seems that for wire clinch nails, the sizes are noted as 4/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, and 8/8, where 8/8 is a nail an inch long, and 4/8 is half an inch. The trick, though, is that the tip of the nail is meant to bend over when it strikes the anvil, thus locking the nail into the leather sole. So an 8/8 nail is meant to secure a sole that is just less than an inch thick.

I used 5/8 for the main sole and 7/8 for the heel. Here you can see that the nails on the sole poke through quite a bit and bend way over--they are too long for this thickness of sole. These nails would really mess up a nice hardwood floor.

If you look closely you can see the U shape of the nails poking out from the soles--not the desired effect.

Non-slip Soling

I got a sheet of SoleTech 3.5 soling material from Louis Birns. This is pretty thin rubbery material with a slight texture to make the soles less slippery.

Here are the SoleTech pieces I cut. I don't plan to have the rubber come up over the point of the shoes, so it is cut short at the toes.

I glued on the SoleTech with more contact cement. I also dyed the edges of the sandals blue and treated them with Lexol and carnauba creme as I did with the upper soles and straps.

Here are the finished sandals. Yay! I've finished my first pair!

Thoughts for Next Time

Nails: The 7/8 wire clinch nails I used around the heels worked fine, but the 5/8 nails I used for the much thinner sole section were too long. This caused them to form raised "U" shapes on the surface of the sole when they bent over, instead of having just the tip bending flat back into the sole.

Bottom sole surfacing: I had some trouble with having the SoleTech sheet peeling off the sandals, particularly where the nails stuck up from the leather sole, causing about a square centimeter of the SoleTech to not adhere well to the leather sole with the contact cement. I had to redo the sole piece for one sandal, partly because I had cut it a little small, and a couple of nails stuck out right at the edge, aggravating the peeling problem. The second time I cut the SoleTech piece a little larger than the sole, and I trimmed off the excess with a knife after gluing. That worked much better. I think trimming the rubber to the sole also helps avoid creating a place where the rubber can catch on something and be pulled off. Later, though, I plan to try some different soling materials. This SoleTech 3.5 is really too thin and fragile for the sandals I'm making, and it's wearing through much too quickly.

Cement: It also seemed that the contact cement wasn't strong enough (except for its smell!) for gluing the rubber to the leather, though it was fine for the leather-to-leather bond. One of the guys at the leather store suggested using multiple coats of the cement on each side before putting them together. I tried multiple coats later, and it helped (though at that later point I was also using the new Barge formula of Tandy's contact cement, which may have worked better, though it smelled even worse than the previous cement).

The Lure of Leather

This is the piece of thick "saddle skirting" leather I used for my soles. It was an entire side before I started cutting it, and it takes up most of my kitchen floor.

Once in a while I get way too much help! Both my younger daughter and Lacey think this is just the place to plop down for a bit...

And, of course, they want some sandals too!