Shoemakers and cobblers use machines if they choose to. Most factory-made shoe companies use machines because it’s efficient and less time consuming. I wouldn’t necessarily say machines compromise quality unless they malfunction or feed incorrectly. Personally, i’m fine with machines as long as the shoemaker hand-sews the welt.
Some shoe purists prefer “hand-made shoes”. While it’s possible to have a shoe made completely without a machine, I believe that a sewing machine should still be acceptable (and more accurate) in place of hand sewing.
I will break down some of the top machines used in shoemaking and cobbling.
- Sanding machine (for the shaving lasts and soles) — Don’t get caught in this! Sanding machines have a rough spinning belt used to grind down heels and soles. It’s the largest machine on this list, and quite costly. Some sanding machines also have multiple operations — sometimes even a buffering mechanism to brush and polish shoes.
- Good-year welting machine (for the soles)- Meant to attach the sole to the upper of your shoe. I usually don’t like machine-stitched soles because they look cheaper and obviously machine produced. The stitching is less fine and you cannot achieve high stitch density. The thread is also difficult to change in the machine. I haven’t had good results with the machine I experienced, but other shoemakers use welting machines regularly.
- Skiving machine (for leather)- Used to remove/reduce leather thickness. Calibrating the desired cut is quite simple, but sometimes risky to maneuver. If you don’t own a skiving machine, you have to slice the leather using a knife.
- Sewing machine (for uppers)- Used to sew your upper parts together. You would also run the lining and upper through the sewing machine to attach the two. It’s probably the most important machine you want to function well.
- There are other minor instruments such as a sole compressor, cork slicing machine, or a nail gun machine, but those are less necessary.
Machines are not necessary but useful. If you need to quickly remove the sole of a shoe, a sanding machine will easily do the job. As with all machines, they come with their own risks of injury and malfunction. Out of the machines listed above, I would say owning a quality sewing machine is most crucial.
If you are looking for any of these instruments, I recommend seeking retiring cobblers and shoemakers who may be open to selling their machines at a bundle price. Maybe individually.
You can take a look at Shoe Savante’s Instagram to view more shoemaking clips and photos.