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Leather and shoe 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 wallets, handbags, designer shoes, luggage, and even horse saddles. There is also a large portion of shoe and leather workers that prefer to be in the shoe and leather repair field rather than in the manufacturing field.
Working as a leather and shoe worker is a highly demanding career path to pursue. People curious about this career may not realize the sheer amount of time and dedication necessary to create shoes, boots, and leather goods of high quality. This trade is a skill that has has been passed along from master to student for centuries.
Making shoes and leather products from scratch is a lengthy process that requires patience and skill. 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 products. 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.
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 colour, 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.
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.
In the modern era, shoe and leather working college degrees are nearly non-existent. Instead, an entry-level shoe and leather worker typically learns the trade through a traditional apprenticeship. 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 take on 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 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.