The colonial shoemaker or cobbler was always an important craftsman in colonial America. According to Charlotte Yue, author of "Shoes: Their History in Words and Pictures," the first cobblers arrived in America in 1619 when the Jamestown colony was established in Virginia. By 1620 cobbling was an established trade in this early American colony. Most often the colonial cobbler crafted shoes from leather, and most of the tools used were designed to work with this material.
The first step to making a pair of shoes during American colonial times was to cut and puncture various pieces of leather to make the shoes. A cobbler's tool kit included various knives to cut the leather, as well as the awl. The awl was used to puncture holes in the leather in order to stitch the soles to the shoe. While many shoemaking awls are straight, others are S-shaped. Many cobblers claim S-shaped awls gives users better control of the hole.
The last can still be seen today in many shoe repair shops. Lasts are carved wooden moulds of a foot, which the cobbler would use to measure the materials needed for making the shoe. Originally lasts were modelled after an individual's foot and would often been used by that individual for the remainder of their lives. Carving lasts became a separate trade from shoemaking early on in the colonial era.
Stretching pliers are used to stretch as their name implies. These are particularly useful for stretching leather on the upper parts of boots. They were also useful in order to pull the leather over the soles of the shoes.
After the leather has been fitted properly, it would be shined. The tool used to shine the leather was called a burnisher. The burnisher used in the American colonial era was a heated iron used to polish the soles and the heals.
Miscellaneous tools that perhaps weren't always unique to shoe building, but were nevertheless indispensable to the shoe builder, were marking wheels, used to located the threading holes; various small hammers to nail the soles to the upper part of the shoes; and a mallet in order to flatten the soles.
- Colonial Williamsburg: Shoemaker
- "Shoes: Their History in Words and Pictures"; Charlotte Yue, David Yue; 1997
- University of Tulsa: Glossary of Footwear Terminology
- PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images