Shoe and leather workers are highly skilled craftsmen who work to create, design, and repair leather products. These craftsmen can create every type of leather product imaginable including small accessories such as wallets and handbags, designer shoes, luggage, and even horse saddles. However, a large portion of shoe and leather craftsmen work in the shoe and leather repair field rather than in the manufacturing field of the leather industry.
Working as a shoe and leather worker is a highly demanding career path to pursue. Leather working is a trade. Prospective applicants may not realize the sheer amount of time and dedication necessary to create shoes and boots of high quality. Indeed, leather working is a skill that has been passed down from generation to generation of craftsmen.
Shoe and leather workers have several different job titles in the leather working industry. The most common job title is leather repairman, but other areas of expertise within the leather industry include orthopedic shoemaker, saddle maker, and luggage maker. All of these specialists use similar techniques in order to ply their trade masterfully. The difference lies in the scope of the project, which may or may not require operating heavy machinery.
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Making shoes and leather products from scratch is a lengthy process that requires patience and skill. The art of leather working has been passed along from master to student for centuries. Advances in technology have rendered a large majority of leather workers obsolete, but leather repairmen and designer shoemakers still operate in specialized businesses that still adhere to the old techniques of leather working.
Shoe and leather workers use a number of hand tools in order to create leather marvels. For instance, leather workers may deploy hammers, knives, skivers, and awls. Skivers are hand tools that split leather in order to make the material more workable. Awls, likewise, are used to punch holes in leather in order to help in the sewing process.
Using heavy machinery is another part of a leather and shoe worker's job description. Decades ago, technological advances during the Industrial Revolution created large sewing machines that allowed shoemakers to work at a much faster pace. Today's sewing machines have advanced even further and perform many of the steps in the leather working process that were once performed only by the hand of a craftsman. Other machinery a leather worker may use includes sole stitchers, sanding machinery, nailing machines for shoe heels, and even industrial computer systems.
Shoemakers inspect the color, strength, and feel of raw leather in order to choose the most malleable pieces to use. Essentially, leather working involves creating and following a pattern. Many leather workers create their own brands as well, carving these labels into their products in order to market their work to potential customers.
Depending upon the type of leather product produced, the step-by-step instructions of creating shoes and leather goods varies with the scope of the project. Saddle makers, for example, must use chemical products in order to gloss the leather. Also, saddle makers use many different sizes of knives and picks to create unique hand-crafted designs and emblems on their products. An elaborate saddle design denotes that the product was created by a highly skilled craftsman, not a machine.
In the modern era, shoe and leather working college degrees are nearly non-existent. Instead, an entry-level shoe and leather worker learns the trade through a traditional apprenticeship. The vast majority of modern shoe and leather workers learned their craft on the job from a master leather worker.
The amount of time necessary to begin a career as a leather worker depends upon the skill of the prospective applicant. Some applicants learn the trade within a matter of three to six months, but others endure lengthy apprenticeships as long as several years before earning the job title of leather worker.
Prospective applicants can also learn the minimum basic steps of leather working by taking courses at a specialty school. These courses only cover the most general leather working techniques, but these classes impart valuable wisdom nonetheless. The most popular leather and shoe working schools include the school of International Shoemaking Design, the Chicago School of Shoemaking, and the Bonney and Wills School of Shoemaking and Design.
The majority of shoe and leather workers work in specialty repair shops, but some still work in factory settings. Larger manufacturing leather facilities are a relic of the past few decades, but small factories still exist. Some manufacturing facilities specialize in only one part of the leather making process, opting to sell individual leather pieces to leather shops.
Retail and shoe repair shops can be small family-owned businesses or larger businesses that operate several satellite locations. It is not uncommon for franchised shoe and leather retail and repair shops to cater to communities where their trade is in high demand, such as in rural and farming communities.
A large number of leather workers are paid an hourly wage. The average wage rests around the $10-$12 per hour range. A smaller portion of all leather workers are salaried employees at manufacturing facilities. These craftsmen can earn as much as $25,000-$30,000 annually depending on the amount of experience a craftsman has earned over his lifespan. Many master leather craftsmen choose the entrepreneurial career path, opting to open their own leather and shoemaking retail and repair shops.