Making Your Own LOTRs ©


The Lord/Lady Of The Rings

The design of the LOTR has evolved from my first design I built in Vancouver, in the late ‘60s.  There are 3 examples of that design in the homepage sepia photo of samples from 1970, when my friends and I opened The Good Earth in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

My design has endured with only minor changes for the 48 years that I’ve made it. 

The open-toe “Autumn” design on the right allows one to wear socks with sandals when summer wains.  But it is intrinsically less secure than the original between-the-toes design on the left.


Lord of the Rings cobbled with clincher tacks
and Autumn
 saddle-stitched with flax cord

I use only oak-tanned cowhide bridle leather.  Sandal orders require an initial drawing of the foot on cardboard and a 2nd fitting of the arch straps and narrow straps.  I’ll take you through the procedure with photos and details of tools and processes required to ensure a good fit and long life of the footwear.  Please read the whole tutorial before you begin or write to ask me questions.

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#9 round punch
⅜” bag or slot punch
#3 or rotary hole punch
#1 & #3 edgers
leather shears
razor knife
hawk bill knife
shoemaker’s hammer
tack hammers
steel anvil or pad
edge wire cutter
edge creaser
small scribe or awl
bone or antler burnisher
strip cutter
flat head & cupped ⅛” nail sets 

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edge creaser and creased arch straps

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Fiebing's saddle soapP1160376

saddle soap
horsehair brush
neatsfoot oil
7 - 9 0z oak-tanned bridle cowhide     for straps

10 & 12 oz oak-tanned bridle cowhide for outer & insoles
6 - 15 iron Soletech or Soleflex half-sole
24 - 30 iron Treadair or Soleflex crepe heel
Barge cement & thinner
2 oz. hand shoe tacks
4/8” or 16 gauge soling nails

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soul coil

10 - 12 oz cowhide soling (5/32" - ¼”) is stiff and
must be cut with a sole cutter or hawk bill knife

I purchase all my hides and findings from
Macpherson Leather Company in Seattle

Essential Tools for Leatherworking

Making a Foot Pattern

It is difficult to make an accurate pattern of y0ur own feet until you are well acquainted with the procedure.  You may want to ask someone to follow these pattern-making directions if you are making sandals for yourself.  Let’s assume you are on your knees, ready to draw the perimeter of another person's right foot on cardboard or stiff pattern paper.

Tell your patron to stand barefoot (both feet) on shirt-cardboard (mine are 12” x 8”) or firm paper large enough to accommodate the foot.  In my experience if s/he doesn’t say that his/her feet are different sizes, they probably aren’t different enough to warrant a separate right and left pattern.  You can always make a right foot pattern, cut it out, reverse it, and then try it under the left foot to see if there is enough difference to require using a left & right pattern.  Small differences will be evened-out by the time you have finished building the pair.  Right feet are invariably larger than left feet, in my experience, so begin by making a pattern for that foot.

Weight should be equal over both feet, the body relaxed but back straight and not cantilevered over you, watching what you are doing.  Once in a comfortable position, the feet should not move, and you can begin to draw an outline. 


Hold your pencil or pen vertical and trace the profile of the foot without pressing into the flesh. Mark the natural indentations in front of the outside bases of the big and small toes, and draw a line forward from between the base of the large and 2nd toes where the double straps will come through.

Draw the heel perimeter about ¼” wider and longer than the foot; this will give some room for the foot to shift into comfortable positions walking on the finished sandal. Add a little less to the toe section, pulling in closer when you get to the two widest sections, as I have in the example.  You will be sanding away some of this extra leather and further compressing it with your final burnishing. You can pull the “waist” of the pattern in a bit on both sides to slim and lighten the profile.

Don’t make the mistake of trimming the pattern too closely; the sandal will break-in to a comfortable looseness and depend upon the arch strap and long, slim, one piece narrow strap to align the foot when walking.  That means that there should be some room for movement, lateral as well as end-to-end.  If you make concessions to vanity, over-reducing the profile, the wearer is more likely to walk OFF the insole & stub toes.

Sandy MacDonald old

Write the name, date, contact info, weight, height, and any extra data pertinent to this pair (heel and half-sole thickness, if you offer choices) on the pattern in the heel area.  You will consult this information (weight & height) after you’ve made a few pairs of sandals and seen how your choices served the needs of the wearer.

Assuming you are using only the right foot pattern (as I do on 95% of the foot silhouettes I make), cut it out & place it over the outside  surface (the inside is called the “flesh” side) of the lighter 10 to 11 oz. cowhide and draw the right insole.  Then flip the pattern and draw the left insole.  I use the lighter strap leather lower-sides of the hide left over from cutting arch straps for smaller people and 10 - 11 oz. for larger people.

Repeat this operation for the heavier 12 oz. outer sole, used for both smaller and larger people.

Cutting Out the Soles
Soling cowhide is usually sold by the pound and is pricey so transfer your pattern carefully, wasting as little as possible.  Your insoles will be cemented and tacked flesh-side down to the outer soles (Italian SRE Butts from Macpherson Leather in Seattle), so don’t draw on the part that will be in contact with the feet.  

Four soles

If you make more than one pair at a time, DO initial the outer soles (with an L or R, in the heel area) since the toe and heel will be covered with a rubber half-sole and heel and it will differentiate them from the insoles.

You’ll need a sole cutter for this operation, or use a hawk bill knife.  You will be cutting toward yourself and exerting substantial force, so mind that you don’t gouge your heart out.  The hawk bill is used blade-up, in a slicing manner; it must be razor-sharp, or you won’t get through the tough sole leather.

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Preparing Straps

IMG 2952straps & tools

Use full-grain vegetable-tanned cowhide for the straps and soling.  It is a most elegant material, a pleasure to work & finish, and will mold to the feet like no other leather.  You won't encounter full cowhides because they are too large for most tanneries to handle.  Lay out your half-hide with the fleshy, loose-fibre belly at the bottom, firmer back at the top, top-grain (outer surface) facing you.  Carefully make a neat, even cut from rump to neck or neck to rump - depending upon which half of a hide you have purchased - along the top, the back of the cow, the strongest and most firm, least stretchy part of the hide.  


This will give you a starting edge upon which the fence of the wooden strap cutter, Stript-Ease, or heavier-duty cast metal draw gauge will be guided, assuring clean, square edges to your straps.  Consider that the more narrow a strap, the more it will stretch.  I use 7 - 8 oz. bridle cowhide for straps.

The first foot or two of width (depending upon the overall size of your half-hide) should be cut into the narrow straps.  The next section of the side and shoulder, closer to the belly, will be looser and stretch more, so use that for the broad arch straps.  They will also wet-form easier and are more appropriately used for arch straps.


The rest of the hide will be used for light insoles, where stretch is not a problem. Discard (or save for signs) the loosest parts of the belly & leg area; it can’t be used for sandalmaking.

Cut off & discard the first inch or so from the firmer end of the narrow straps you’ve stripped from the hide and punch a ⅛” hole in that end.  I get about 40  ⅜” x 50” (long enough for all but the largest feet) straps, depending upon the size of the half-hide.  Larger hides will give you more narrow straps before they get too stretchy.

Prepare broad arch and narrow straps using saddle soap.  Dampen the oak tan with warm water, put aside to absorb moisture from surface while you make a lather with saddle soap and a horsehair brush.  You can use the can lid or a seperate small bowl.

Apply the lathered saddle soap to the straps on a non-absorbent workbench with the horsehair brush or use a piece of coarse cloth.  Old denim from Levis 501s works best.  It also allows you to burnish the straps by repeatedly pulling them through the cloth held tightly in your hand or from a hook on your workbench.

Hang the straps to dry or proceed to the next step when they feel cool to your cheek. You have “stuffed” (a tannery term) the cowhide with fats and liquors removed during the tanning, and restored them to the leather.  Apply a light coat of neatsfoot oil.  At this stage they will retain random tool marks and rust stains, so handle carefully.



Punch a small hole in the firmer end of the long straps and use a razor knife to cut a careful, accurate 1½" slice from the hole toward the other end.  This will accomodate the opposite trimmed (the last part of the final fitting) end of the strap, tied with a sheet bend knot. The design of the LOTR uses no other hardware but the clincher shoe nails.  


When the narrow straps you are cutting from the half-hide begin to feel softer, less firm, switch to cutting out the wider arch straps. I’m currently using 1¾” to 2⅜” width straps for them.  The width is determined according to the weight & height of the person and the size of their feet.  There aren’t hard and fast rules for this; you will get a feel for the width as you wear your own sandals and observe how those you make for others break-in & fit their feet.  Note also that firmness, strength and stretch of every part of every strap varies throughout the hide.  Your judgements become second-nature as your familiarity with the individual hide increases.


Arch straps should be cut into 11” sections at their widest point.  Cut them with opposing trapezoidal ends (see photos above & below) so each one will fit either a left or a right sandal.  Edge the  tops with a #0 or #1 edger, remembering to take as little off the surface as possible.  Turn them over and use a #3 edger for the flesh side edges.  You’ll be burnishing these edges later.

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Assembling the Sandal Uppers

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Use a #9 or 9/32" round punch between the base of the big and 2nd toe.  Don’t transfer the pattern marks to the insoles/upper sole yet.

Move back from the front to the two indentations you’ve marked on the pattern, the outside bases of the pinky and big toe, where you will punch a slot that the strap will go through and under the top sole and out the slot you will punch opposite it.  Use a ⅜” bag or slot punch with its middle centred on the tip of the lines you drew from the foot (see the example, below).  After those two are punched, move your slot punch back to the leading edge of the arch strap slice, using its width to measure the distance to the beginning edge of the two back slots.  Your modus operandi is to provide as much strength to the places the straps will go under as to the adjacent zones, as well as to the rest of the sandal.  That should place the two back slots roughly equidistant from the front of the arch strap and the back of the front slot.

Transfer the strap slots on the upper sole from your pattern.

Lay the pattern over the upper sole you have cut from it and move it to your punching surface.

Now that y0u’ve punched those 5 holes and slots through the pattern & into the right upper sole, reverse the pattern, put it on the other insole, and complete the symetrical punching of slim strap slots.

I use the face of a section of an arbutus log for punching; the grain is tight and supportive, allowing sharp, clean cuts for the slots.


Choose matching arch straps if you have cut out many of them.  Save the looser-fibre/stretchier ends for the later fitting - they’ll be trimmed off. Skive the opposite, firmer ends; they will be cemented and nailed into and under slits for the straps on the arch insides.


Dampen and saddle soap arch straps. When nearly dried & cool to your cheek, they are ready to be grooved with an edge creaser. Use long, firm, repeated strokes.  This step is a nod to tradition; skip it if you don’t have an edge creaser.  Put them aside to fully dry.

Draw a line across the patterns at the heel ends, where the forward edge of the crepe rubber heels will end.  


Visually mark the leading edge of the rubber heels.  They will carry all the weight of the body with each step, and should be generously deep.  Lay a ruler or the straightest arch strap across the sandal with one side ⅛” - ¼" away from the leading straight edge of the heel to leave room in front of the heels for the shoe nails to clinch from the top, later.  Connect those two points with a line and fold on it. That defines your heel pattern.

Transfer the points to the insole using a small scribe or awl.  They are marked with two holes in this photo.  Ignore the line in front of the holes in this illustration.

Foot pattern

Strap slots are punched in the cardboard pattern and transfered to the insoles.

Start to establish the pattern of the half-soles at about the point that the front of the arch strap ends.  Again, draw a line on the pattern at that edge.


Now fold both parts and use the resulting patterns to cut out the half-soles and heels.  Mark L or R on the rubber heels and cut them out with ¼” extra on the sides and back (the leading edge will be flush with the line you’ve drawn); they are difficult to visually centre when you are cementing them to the leather and this extra rubber gives you some leeway when applying them.  

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Natural and British tan dyed bridle cowhide straps.


Pull the other end into the remaining slit as a place-holder, although it won’t be nailed until the final fitting.

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61AvSmhvWXL. SL1500

Cementing Insoles to Outer Soles

Barge contains toluene

Toluene is a widely-used chemical solvent with no known cancer causing properties.  Little is known of its chronic effects.  Based on a single animal study, water containing 350 parts per billion may cause breakdown  of red blood cells if maintained for several months.  It is known to cause blood damage  when inhaled.

All cementing should be done outside or where there is good air circulation.  Barge is the shoemaker’s standard contact cement.  The classic formula has toluene which is a harsh chemical so treat it with respect.  It does stick like no other cement.  A facemask is recommended.  Humidity and temperature affect the setup time and I sometimes use a 2nd coat for the heels and half-soles, applying it 10 - 15 minutes after the first coat.  I use a 24 - 30 iron Treadair crepe oil resistant rubber for the heels.  It is cushy, absorbent and won't seperate from the roughed-up leather outsoles.  I use a similar, thinner 6 - 15 iron Soletech or Soleflex half-sole, usually the 15 iron. Physical proportions of the wearer will define the thickness of each.  If you choose to use a more dense rubber heel or half-sole as shoe repairers usually do, separation may occur.  Dense rubber will last longer but will be heavier & less comfortable to walk on.  I consider my choices of crepe rubber material to be “sacrificial” because you will trade durability for comfort and a more certain bond to the leather.  They can be removed and replaced and will last a surprisingly long time. This half sole is two years old and sees daily use on barnacles and rocky terrain as well as country roads:

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15 iron Soletech or Soleflex half-sole, worn & battered, but still tenacious and cushy.

Recommended setup time for Barge is 20 minutes and you will get a feel for how much time is actually needed as you use it.  Temperature and relative humidity alter the setup time required.  If you have waited too long and hammering the leather together doesn’t result in a tight bond, pull it apart and apply another coat.

Narrow straps are pulled through forward slots and arch straps are placed into position, slanted to follow the contour of the arches.

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One coat of Barge is applied to the inside (flesh) surfaces of the insole and outer sole and allowed to dry for about 20 minutes.

Tuck Barge brush under arch strap flaps and cover both surfaces as well as the corresponding outer sole surfaces to hold arch straps securely for when you tack them.  Angle straps forward, to follow the contour of the arches.


Allow Barge to set up for 15 - 20 minutes and then press arch straps into position.

I use a stump for my hammering and a scrap of belly leather to hammer on (to protect the vulnerable top or insole of the sandal), when I’m cementing the uppers and lowers together, and later the heels and half-soles to them.  The shoemaker’s hammer has a polished, rounded head, so that the leather isn’t scarred by it.

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Belly scrap protects top surface of sandals from the rough end grain of log when you hammer the soles together and the heels and half soles to them.

Wallop them; it assures a certain bond.  
After you have pressed the cement-coated uppers to lowers as accurately as possible, hammer the glued arch straps between the soles.  Pull the arch straps carefully away from both sices of your strike zone when you do this.  Then go around the perimeter, hammering all of the cemented surfaces. Turn the sandal over to hammer, where appropriate (it will be obvious), using a scrap of belly leather, protecting the sandal insole leather from the wood grain.  Be very careful of the straps because you can easily split them if you aren’t accurate with your shoe hammer.


Use a hawk bill knife to trim the cemented upper and lower soles. You will be putting on a third layer, the half-soles and heels, and they will need to be trimmed before sanding too, so work toward keeping the edges of each layer at the same level.  You will be glad you did when you begin sanding the edge.

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Marking Holes for 2 oz Clincher Tacks/Soling Nails

The arch straps should now be firmly cemented into position.  Use your scribe or small awl to push deep holes through the insole and inserted arch straps for the 4/8” or 16 ga soling nails, 3 or 4 of them, depending upon the width of the straps. You are going through 3 layers and most of the stress will be on these nails, hence the greater length.  Nail these before you mark the rest of the holes. 

The sandwich of leather uppers and lowers should be secure for marking the tack holes.  The more careful you are preparing holes for the clincher tacks, the more smoothly this fussy step may be completed.  A perfectly vertical hole will support the clincher tack and allow the long tapered tip to clinch or fold over against the steel pad under it. If you err before it is too deep, use a small edge-nipper wire cutter to grasp and pull the tack out, and make another vertical hole for a fresh tack.  If you have struck the tack home on an incorrect angle, use a strong small awl to worry it out so that you can get hold of it with the end-nipper, doing as little damage to the surrounding leather as possible.  A drop of beeswax in an errant hole will fill it nicely. Leslie Chappelle showed me this trick on my first day on the job in her Sausalito sandal shoppe, August, 1966.

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You will use a nail set to get to these tacks later.

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Continue marking and opening holes the same ⅜” from the edge as you pass the arch strap.

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Mark your holes symetrically.  Then deepen them with your fine-pointed awl. Make the holes vertical so that the tacks will be easier to position and clinch against a steel pad or anvil.

Use a wood or antler burnisher to push the arch straps back from the edge before you begin nailing; it will be much easier to get to the nails, although you will still need to use a cup-tipped nail set to avoid scarring the underside of the arch straps.


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Nailing Sandals

It’s a tedious job, but you’ll improve as you do it and it is a supremely secure and pleasing way to bring the design to completion.  You will need to acquire the long-taper shoe nails because only that shape will “clinch” against a steel anvil or pad, ensuring the bond.

I sometimes embelish with brass nails but they are harder to use because of their softness.  Brass used on the arch strap will allow easier removal down the line, if you decide to take some slack out years later, when that strap has stretched.  In practice I don’t often have to do it; the loosened strap makes for a more casual fit as the sandals reach the end of their useful life.

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A heavy tack hammer works best in close areas.

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A cup-ended nail set will allow you to work close to the arch strap.


2 oz clincher “hand tacks"

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Ease the tacks in near the straps with a cup-ended nail set & light taps with a small hammer.

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2 oz hand shoe tacks are carefully pushed into the holes and then hammered home.

Cementing Half-soles and Heels

Your half-soles and heels are ready to be cemented to the bottoms of the outer soles. Find a place with good ventilation (outside works well, as long as it isn’t too damp or cold).  The rubber is absorbent like the leather, and works well for half-soles and heels.  In doubt? Just use two coats, 20 minutes apart (or longer, in high-humidity).

Ready for half soles & heels

Six good reasons to initial each sole and half-sole with R or L and owner’s initials.

Ruffed sole setup (1)

Midsole is roughed to assure Barge cement holds
the rubber half-sole and heel permanently in place.


Apply the rubber heels starting from the leading, straight edge, gradually dropping them into position. Do the same with the half soles. You will have no opportunity to readjust them once they touch-down. Focus carefully for this step.

Now turn the sandals over, protecting the inside leather by hamering on the smooth leather scrap over your pounding surface.  Use your rounded-face shoe hammer all around the edges, carefully tapping only lightly over the narrow strap areas. Continue to pound the other areas until every place with Barge has been compressed to its mating surface with the hammer.

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Sanding and Burnishing Edges

The king of Navarre (Charles II the Bad) having the leaders of the Jacquerie executed by beheading

Use a hawk bill knife to trim the rubber edges so that you’ll have less sanding.  Keep your knives sharp - a dull hawk bill requires more strength to use and adds the potential for a deadly accident. Work toward a perfectly vertical sandal edge.  

I use a Sears Bench Top 4" x 36" Belt/6" disc sander in the flat position; adequate, but requiring your focussed attention, because the belt revolves counter-clockwise and will try to kick the sandal up and out of your hands. It makes the heels particularly difficult to sand smoothly.  I use the top, end and bottom of the sander belt to get into all the concave, flat and convex surfaces.  

The straps are vulnerable at this stage, so wrap them up and keep them away from the edges and the sanding belt.


Taper the thickness of the half sole where it meets the leather under the arch strap and remove sharp edges on the sander.

Follow your power sanding with a hand sanding once-over.  Use a coarse grit for this; you will be burnishing the surface later so it doesn’t have to be fussy-smooth.


50 grit Swiss paper


Edge the section between half sole and heel.


After hand-sanding flatten the standing-edge so that the edger will remove
the feathery residue before saddle soaping and burnishing.

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Use a #2 edger on the top edge of the insoles, removing more of the edge and less of the top, so that you’ll have the firm surface to burnish.  Remove too much of the top grain and you will be down to the looser fibres which won’t burnish or seal as well.  Do a final once-over with sandpaper after you’ve edged it to take out irregularities.

Saddle Soaping & Burnishing

Don’t short-cut saddle-soaping and applying dubbin, important finishing steps often neglected and vital in order to preserve and bring out the inherent beauty of vegetable-tanned cowhide.  It allows you to burnish all the edges and gives a warm glow to the leather, presenting a preview of the rich colour changes that will take place as the sandals age.


Saddle-soaping restores fats & liquors that the tanning process has removed.  Use a horsehair brush and plenty of water in the tin to make a wet foam (I add a teaspoonful of pure neatsfoot or olive oil to the mix at this point) that you can work into ALL leather surfaces and the slots you’ve punched for the straps.  The straps should now be pulled through to loosen them and the dry hidden surfaces of the channels saddle soaped as well, as should the slots, which will keep the passages clean and assure the adjustability of the sandals throughout their lifespan.  When dry, wipe with a towel or horsehair brush to remove remnants of saddle soap and then apply dubbin to all surfaces, including the straps hidden in their channels.

Pull through all the strap surfaces hidden under channels you created & saddle soap them well.

Apply saddle soap and dubbin liberally to the parts you’ve pulled out.

Leave no parts undressed!


Don’t forget to dress the leather section between the half sole and heel.

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First saddle-soaping & then rubbing dubbin on sandals & rings preliminary to burnishing edges.


A horsehair brush is the best way to apply saddle soap and dubbin.


All surfaces should receive a rubbed-in coat of dubbin.


Don’t forget to shape and finish the leather rings for which the LOTR is named.


Use plenty of elbow grease when you burnish edges.  The dubbin will lubricate, fill the pores, & seal the edges.

Dress and burnish the bottom sections, too.

The right side is burnished, the left side is not.  Note how burnishing compresses the fibres.

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Hand-rubbing all the edges with saddle soap, dubbin & a section
of deer antler or wood burnisher polishes & seals the leather.
Its a finish that can’t be duplicated with machinery or chicanery.

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Final Fitting

Plan on taking an hour for the 2nd/last fitting. Advise the new wearer to walk around in them immediately after your fitting is done, while they are newly saddle-soaped, for as long as they don’t hurt, accomplishing the major part of the breaking-in ordeal.


Wet the arch strap about half an hour before the fitting. Pull the unattached outside end of the arch straps out if they have remained in their slots and saddle-soap the entire sandals, especially the damp arch straps.  Your goal is to have the arch straps cool to your cheek, not saturated, when you perform the fitting.

On your knees again, have the customer stand at ease, relaxed, weight evenly on both feet, while you mold the arch straps to them.  Ask your customer to work with you, lifting the heel as you centre it into position.

Without moving the toe section, have your customer slightly lift each heel and put it back down, as you continue to mold the dampened, saddle-soaped straps. They will gradually follow the contours of the bottom of the arch. Tuck the loose ends of the arch straps under the foot and into place, over the slits.  If you have too much to work with, trim ½” off the angled ends, maintaining that angled cut.  Try it again and cut off another small section if necessary.  Be certain that you don’t remove too much at a time, or you won’t have enough to tack securely.  When both straps feel about the same tightness to your customer, making sure your marks are directly OVER the slits, use a small scribe or awl to mark a line directly over and close to the slits.  You will have to get down close to the ground to see where you are marking them and make sure that they are accurately in position.


Make sure your scribed line on the straps falls directly over the opening of the slits.  

That line represents the point that the straps will go through the slits so it must be done with great care.  

While the arch straps are in position, cross the slim straps over and place them so that the bottom of a ⅜” bag or slot punch is about 1¼” from the insole at the back of the strap and 1¾” from the insole at the front of the strap. The exit holes should align the narrow straps slightly up, crossing the heel where it indents, so that they won’t fall down.


When you have placed the narrow straps in their destination position, use your dull-tipped fid to lightly mark above and below them where they overlap the arch strap.  Mine is an ancient ground-down and polished edger.

Now take the sandals off and open the arch straps flat, check to see that your markings are true; they'll guide your next move.  If they aren’t, put the sandal back on and repeat the process.  This is a very important part of the fitting and must be done accurately.

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Light fid-marks where the channel for the straps will be.
You’ll burnish the lines out later.

When you feel confident that you have the narrow straps across the arch straps marked accurately, use your ⅜" or ½” bag punch to make holes parallel with the edges of the arch straps, about ⅜” from them.

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⅜” bag punch ⅜” from edges.

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Ready to have the channels burnished into the arch straps.

Turn the straps over and use your #3 edger to chamfer the slots on the flesh side to accomodate the straps.  That will make a smooth entry and exit transition for them. Put some dubbin into the slots with your fid and shape them for the straps.

Lace the narrow straps through the slots and lay the arch straps flat, flesh-side down, on an unyielding surface (a piece of tile or tempered glass works well).  When the leather is cool to your cheek, not wet or saturated, use your bone, antler or wood burnisher’s dull end to form the channels for the narrow straps. Burnish deeply along the edges of the narrow straps so that the arch straps conform to the slim straps under them.  Repeat and use a bit of dubbin, if necessary, until the narrow strap is defined on the surface and through the arch strap leather.

Push the free end of the broad arch straps into the cuts and try them out on the feet. When they fit with enough leather to be secure, pull them out, shorten if neccessary (it is easy to cut them too short; use care), and skive them as you did their other end.  

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Put Barge on the ends of the arch straps up to the line you scribed onto them. You should have no less than 1” of strap beyond the point of entry to ensure enough room for the nails to hold them securely.  Stuff the other end in and adjust the angle forward so it imitates the previous nailed end.

Let the Barge set up for 10 minutes and then press it snugly together.  This helps to seal the entry slit from dirt as the sandals age and loosen-up.  Mark your nail holes as you did the opposite side and tack the straps in.  I sometimes use ⅝” brass nails for both sides of the arch straps because they can be removed a little easier than steel nails if you need to tighten the arch straps years down the line.  Brass nails are hard to find.

In practice I haven’t had to tighten straps very often.  But if in the future the arch strap stretches and becomes too loose, the sandal won’t track a footstep as closely and may make walking uncomfortable.  Should you have to tighten them someday, begin by prying-out the nails on the side where you made the final fitting.  Then cut off ¼” -½”, skive and tuck it in far enough to nail into through the old holes, if they are still in decent condition.  Make new ones if they aren’t.  Remove, butter with Barge, stick into place and nail, as before.

The correct fit of the arch straps after months of wearing should allow you to easily slip two fingers between them and the feet. There’s no advantage in wearing them tighter; like the narrow straps, looser is better, and if the sandals are worn in situations where security is more important than comfort (like climbing on boulders or rough terrain) the narrow straps can be temporarily tightened.  Over-tightening the long continuous strap is the culprit in most discomfort-situations, so explain this when you fit them.

Feed the narrow straps through the slots in the nailed arch straps and loosen all parts of the slim straps enough for the try-on.  

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Instruct your new wearer in the breaking-in process.  This can go smoothly, painlessly, or it can go to hell and be a challenge for the wearer. 

Wrap the slim strap end around the ankle and begin a taper-cut just past the ankle. You are cutting the strap down to a more narrow width in order to make the sheet bend knot small and unobtrusive. 


se the sheet bend knot is tied on the inside of the foot, it is possible for the wearer to sit cross-legged and also make adjustments to the knot without removing the sandal.  To insure that the wearer will keep the knot in that location, suggest that slack be taken always out of the narrow strap beginning at the opposite, tapered end, when necessary.

The knot should fall 1” to 2” behind the trailing-edge of the arch strap.  That’s an anatomically-empty location, and unlikely to irritate the new wearer.

You or the wearer will have to extend the taper cut once the sandals are broken-in (months, perhaps) and there is slack in the stretched narrow strap.  As that strap is tightened, the tail will hang further down in the sheet bend knot, and should be trimmed so that it isn’t walked upon.  Be careful, however, that it extends no less than 1¼”, to be sure that the sheet bend knot doesn’t unravel.  I ask my customers to bring their sandals back every spring to prepare them for summer wear or if they are taking a trip so that I can check the straps, saddle soap them, and give them a good looking-over.

Belvoir glycerine large

Observe where the heels fall when the first steps are walked away from you in new sandals. If they don’t centre themselves this is the time to be aware of it and twist the foot so that they do.  Since the arch straps will be malleable because you’ve recently stuffed the leather with wet saddle soap, they are most easily straightened out on the feet this first wearing.  The narrow strap in between the toes and where it comes out of the insole just forward of the arch strap will tend to droop in the first hours of wearing them.  Again, this is the time to correct this (lift them into place) and not allow them to droop.  Any changes or corrections will be harder after the initial break-in so be prepared to use saddle soap and warm water when they are first worn if that time must be put off.  Encourage the wearer to acquire saddle soap, dubbin and a horsehair brush.  I sell these at the Pender Island Saturday Farmers Market.


Saddle-stitched w/honey Vibram sole & P&P ⅜” latigo straps
 ready for fitting 

Wear new sandals until they irritate your feet, and no longer.  See Breaking-in Your Sandals  Try many short rather than long walks.  They are tough but they will break in, gradually, so don’t rush it or have unreasonable expectations.  If they will acompany you on a trip, be sure you have other shoes to wear, alternating them with the LOTRs until you no longer feel them on your feet.  That is when you know you have broken them in.

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Saddle-soap the sandals if they are submerged in salt water, bogs or very dirty environs.  Use the dubbin after saddle soaping and it will help seal the edges, surfaces, and lubricate the fibres of the leather.  Eschew “mink oil”; it sucks. Be conscious of the fit and adjust accordingly.  Don’t make the straps tighter than they need to be during this break-in period.

Good luck with your first pair - building them and/or wearing them.  Write to me if you need help with any of the steps.

Davy Joel Rippner
South Pender Island, BC
Summer, 2014


Sheet bend knot - learn to tie it!


Adding arch support to sandals

I am often asked about arch support; I answer that the foot is an evolved design, and dynamically lifts the arch with every step.

Of course a sedentary person (working a cash register at a market, for example) isn't moving her feet, so support under the arch may be a boon.  And I don't really know shit, only what I experience and observe, about the mechanisms and functional structure of the foot, a very complex skeletal system.

But after building-in rubber and leather "cookies" and making leather inserts for shoes & sandals many times in my earlier career, I abandoned their use.  It doesn't suit my design (not the best reason for rejecting them, I admit) and I don't believe walking on them actually helps.

I wear heat-mouldable insoles in my shoes and boots, though.  They made a walking difference in the comfort of my lower legs the first time I used them.

Difficulty breaking-in new sandals

I have always offered new customers a guarantee for fit and comfort and since my first shoppe in the Psychedelic Shoppe on 4th avenue in Kitsilano, 1967, no customer has been unable to break in their sandals.  Some wearers experience zero breaking-in discomfort; for others, it is a trial.  

I have built your sandals and I can change or rebuild them, whatever is necessary in order for you to be satisfied with your purchase.

Feet are complex mechanisms, tasked with a balancing act requiring strength and endurance. Some people always experience foot pain and have never worn footwear that isn’t uncomfortable. 

Breaking-in new sandals can be especially hard for those with tender, punished feet, unused to between-the-toe straps and an arch strap that must gradually stretch & form-to-fit.  Keep in mind as you wait for the day when you no longer are aware of having them on your feet that vegetable-tanned harness leather is malleable and will shape to your feet.  Give them time to do this.  Short walks over a longer period of time will work best for this.  Wetting with warm water and saddle soap any parts of the straps that irritate your feet before your walks will help this process. 


The importance of saddle-soaping and dubbin & how to apply them

Tanning methods and the danger of using chromium-tanned leathers

Repairs, Soles & Heels Replacement

Another sandalmaker’s LOTR tutorial

Is leather just a by-product of the meat industry?

Alternative materials to leather: environmental impacts and cost

Hide and skin production around the world

Reducing water use in tanneries

The entire epidermal layer of your skin turns over every forty-eight days

Commercial replacement of half-soles & heels

You may not be able to return your sandals to me for replacement of half-soles & heels if you are travelling or don’t live on the Penders.

The construction lends itself to simple replacements: the old half-soles & heels can be removed by hand (using a blade) in a more primitive setting, or sanded off in a shoe repair shoppe.  Then the replacement rubber is cemented on, assuming a decent adhesive is available.

I use the classic Barge cement (I have to shop for gallons of it at Macpherson Leather Company in Seattle; Lonsdale Leather in Vancouver sells smaller quantities) but any cobbler or shoe repair store should have adhesive that will work.

Yours have a cushy rubber that is porous enough to absorb the adhesive; that's important, because the more dense rubbers won't adhere as well to the roughened vegetable-tanned sole cowhide.  The more dense the rubber, the more likely it is to separate at the toe & edges.

You should not, however, allow the replacement rubber to be nailed or sewed on!  That will void your 10 year guarantee and possibly destroy the structure of the sandals.  I can't be responsible for them if that happens.

"Thank you so much for such an inspiring weekend, working together in your Leathersmithe shop, producing these gorgeous sandals. I love my new sandals and will never forget your generosity and mentorship." 
 9/2012  MA

"I receive complements on them almost every time I wear them out here in Massachusetts. They became my regular casual slip-ons and I've really taken a lot of pleasure in them.  I've saddle-soaped and oiled them once and will do so again soon.”   9/2014  DF

"Thank you so much, they are beautiful!  I am so excited.  My feet are grateful and smile at the thought of their new home.”   9/2014  CN 

"I can't thank you enough for the tutorial on your beautiful sandals.  They are unbelievable, the craftsmanship is amazing.”   10/2017  DC

My shoppe is just a 3' x 7' workbench and a standing stump next to it for hammering sandal soles and heels.  I have a 1 ½" thick x 3” diameter heavy steel disc  for clinching sandal nails and a $120 Sears belt sander under a tarp in my side yard for finishing soles and heels.  That's it!  You can see recommended simple hand tools in my tutorial. 

If you live near a Tandy Leathercraft, and they used to be all over the US & Canada, you will find most of the tools you'll need.  Leather is tough to find, especially in the quantities you will need to make a pair of sandals.  Tandy has small pieces; they are expensive, but you won't want to buy half-hides or sides someplace else, unless you are going to go on to build more sandals.

I've collected tools in my travels, but with the Internet you should be able to find anything you need.  My first pairs from 1961 were made in a bicycle shoppe; the owner bought the materials and let me use his tools & shoppe in exchange for a pair for each of us.  I didn't have a blueprint as you do, in the tutorial, so take advantage of it.

Do a search using the tool names from the tutorial and you should find all that you need.  And prices can be very low, if you buy from Chinese manufacturers.  Quality levels from them should be all you need.  I also use lots of common mechanic's tools which you can find at Harbor Freight Tools, which may have a store near you.

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