Photo: Well-worn pair of handmade JK work boots
History of Bootmaking
Handmade footwear was the norm for millennia until the 19th century with the development of industrial machines which flooded the market with synthetic materials and more styles of boots than ever. The mass production of boots allowed for lower prices and greater accessibility to, well…the masses. Today’s boot manufacturers boast of high-tech construction and maximum comfort with unfamiliar terms like “air-infused PU midsoles” making shopping for good boots a maddening cycle of research. With so many options and opinions available, What is right?
A closer look at the blue-collar industry will reveal a steadily growing trend back towards handmade boots for their ability to stay comfortable for long hrs on the job, and support for years of wear. Ask almost any seasoned layperson about their boots, and they will heartily gush about their handmade boots that fit “like a glove”. So it is no wonder, that, in a world of automation, boot-making remains a handicraft that is practiced around the world for people seeking higher quality and durability out of their boots. In this blog post, we’ll explore why handmade work boots are more comfortable, specifically our methods at JK, and why you should consider investing in a pair.
It all starts with the materials. Like with any noteworthy recipe, an artisan requires the best ingredients. Traditional bootmakers generally offer higher quality natural materials like leather that don’t break down with heavy wear and tear or suffocate your feet. Because leather is an organic material, quite literally derived from the hide or skin of another animal, it is structured with fibrous grains that “breath,” move, and handle moisture similar to your own feet.
Photo: Cutting custom boot pattern out of leather
The best boot makers use thick full-grain leather, which acts like a second skin, adjusting and molding to your feet and stride. This may take time for your body to get used to the weight of the material, but as you wear them, your boots will become an extension of you, as the leather shrinks up extra space and stretches where there is too much pressure. Even when you take the boots off, the shape of the uppers will bear the impression of your ankle and foot bones, and the insole will mark where your toes rest. You will be comfortable because your boots are going to move with you while offering immense amounts of support.
Photo: close up view of JK Boots Bison leather
That being said, we vet all our leather through a strict process to make sure it has the right strength and stretch to keep your feet safe and comfortable. Even though we use the thickest 8-9 oz leather in the industry, our boots will not feel stuffy or carry a stench because they will absorb sweat and release water vapor through the outside of the leather. Even the footbeds are entirely leather so they won’t trap sweat and grow foul-smelling bacteria. Worn with a good pair of socks and your boots will keep you blister free.
When shopping for boots, don’t gloss over the quality of materials, because they go a long way. At JK Boots, we specifically choose our leather for these reasons:
- Supportive for even the toughest physical demands
- Doesn’t trap sweat
- Resistant to heat, cuts, abrasion
- Soft and moldable to your feet achieving the perfect fit
See our ultimate leather guide here for more info.
Photo: JK Boots Superduty model work boot in black
Handmade boots are also much more comfortable than machine-made boots, as they are crafted with more attention to detail. Unlike machine-made boots, each process takes a long time as each boot passes through the hands of individual craftsmen for each process, allowing for consistent quality that makes for a better-feeling boot. Every stitch, every piece of leather – it's all cut, stitched, and beveled with the utmost care and attention. And that's why these boots are the most comfortable of all. You can feel the love and dedication that goes into making them, and that's something you just can't get with mass-produced boots. Even before beginning building the boot, one of our leather specialists carefully hand inspects each 8-9oz hide and chooses where to cut each section out of to maximize the durability of the boots, matching the grain and so forth.
Perhaps the biggest hallmark of handmade boots is the superior fit due to the combination of materials and old-world techniques. One such process involves hand stretching the leather around a mold (called a last) into a boot form. Here at JK boots we physically stretch the boot leather twice in a “dry lasting” phase and “wet lasting” phase entirely by hand. This dual process is incredibly important to protect the boots from the dreaded “over-stretching” loose feeling old leather footwear can get. An experienced bootmaker can feel with their hands how much give there is in the leather from each direction, and precisely pull until they have achieved the right tautness. You can rest assured that our seasoned bootmakers have personally felt exactly how much give the leather has in the boots and makes sure they are just right. The result is a pair of boots that fit right out of the box and will maintain their support over time. As you wear them the boots will adjust ever so slightly and settle to your exact dimensions, achieving the perfect “glove-like” fit that pops into place anytime you lace them up.
Photo: JK Boots handcrafted boot midsole construction
Another unique aspect of our boots is the actual structure and the way materials are layered together. A lot of machine-made boots will simply glue in filler synthetic materials in the footbed which lack the actual support and shock absorption you need to stand, walk, and lift heavy loads. The structure of JK Boots is unique in that they are built with a leather arch support, leather insole, and leather midsole all stitched/glued/nailed together to cradle your foot and give you something solid to stand on. This arch support relieves pressure off of the ball and heel by distributing your body weight evenly throughout the entire foot.
This kind of support is a game changer for people working in their boots for long periods of time because they can feel efficient on the job, go home pain-free, and enjoy living without fatigue in their feet/knees/back. A man who spends his day standing on a concrete shop floor can go home and play with his kids or work on his hobby projects because he won’t have to elevate his feet and rest for the next day of work. This unique support is not bound to one industry, but helps men and women across trades, from the most controlled environments to the most volatile conditions. Take one look at the wildland community whose literal lives depend on their footwear to keep them safe and comfortable 12- 24 hrs a day, for 14 days on a roll. This is why firefighters around the country flock to JK Boots so they can handle standing in hot ash, all-day hiking, and even sleeping in their boots without fear of hotspots, foot cramping, or blisters.
No matter your lifestyle, when it comes to finding a good pair of shoes, comfort should be your top priority and handcrafted boots are the perfect choice. The craftsmanship in handmade boots is unparalleled for these reasons:
- Greater overall attention to detail (like hand-inspecting each leather hide)
- Better fit - we hand last (stretch) boots so they maintain their size and won’t overstretch later
- Superior arch support from old techniques of layering materials
For more specific information on how we make our boots visit our youtube channel here
Photo: Handmade JK work boots
Get Better with time
Building boots by hand is a craft that has been passed down through generations because they are irreplaceable for their durability, longevity, and ultimate comfort. When you buy handmade boots, you’re investing in a product that will stand the test of time. They become trusty companions that support you on even your worst days. As you wear them, they will become more and more comfortable as the leather settles and adjusts to your exact dimensions. The softened leather will instantly wrap around your feet, and you will look forward to lacing them on every morning...a constant you can depend on to get you through the day. And when cared for properly, they can last for decades.
Article Date: Jan. 27, 2023