Originally Posted by bengal-stripe
The problem with plastic lasts for individual work, they can easily be adjusted with the add-on method, but taking-off (reducing certain sections in volume) is rather difficult. Take a wooden last and a rasp and you have the heel narrowed (if that's what is needed for an improved fit) in a couple of minutes. Yes, I believe plastic lasts can be rasped down, although not as easily as wood. But there are a number of shoemakers who will only build-up and never reduce their lasts, because these firms do not store the lasts of individual customers. Once the shoe is finished and accepted, the leather build-ups get ripped off, stored in an envelope with the customers name and the last gets adjusted for the next customer. So the last has no different measurements or other variables than the ones the shoemaker knows.
If our first customer orders another pair, the leather pieces get re-attached to the same last. This of course saves storage space and the continuous costs of raw lasts to be made into bespoke lasts.
Well, that's what I do. However, I will say two things...first, I use a "finisher." Essentially a bank of sandpaper wheels and polishing brushes. That's the way I was trained. By the time of the hey-day of western (cowboy) boots--mid 1800's-early 1900's--finishers were becoming pretty commonplace in small bespoke shops in the US. With a finisher, modifying even plastic lasts is pretty quick. I can narrow the heel or the "comb" in probably a quarter of the time that it would take me to do it even if I were working with wood.
Of course, there is a temptation to do shoddy or hurried work with a finisher. But in the end, it is no less dependent on the sensibilities and eye of the maker than if you were using a rasp. The finisher no more limits your accuracy or finesse than a lathe limits a wood turner.
And while I am reluctant to "cut" a last, or "personalize" a last, again, it is a philosophical decision every maker must make regardless the tools---will he respect the foot or fake it?
I have cut lasts. I have had occasion to make modification to every surface of the last. Every nuance of fitting the non-pathological foot can be addressed with build-ups and modification to a standard size last as readily as starting from a block of wood. Indeed, in the hands of a novice, perhaps more
readily and more accurately.
To be brutally honest, the reason I would rather build up a last than cut it, is that in almost every instance I have ever encountered, if the foot requires cutting the last, it is so far from a statistical norm that starting with a narrower last and building up the forepart is the only reasonable solution.
The example of narrowing the heel is a perfect one. You have to understand that heelseat width is one of those factors on the foot for which there is no compromise. Sometimes you can make a shoe narrower in the ball of the foot than the footprint would indicate...as long as the joint girth is correct. But you don't have that kind of leeway in the heel. If the heel of the foot is narrower than the last and the insole, the foot is not properly fit.
So...if a last has to have the width of the heel reduced. The better solution is always to start with a narrower heel to begin with. Indeed this configuration probably represents 80-90% of all bespoke work--wide forepart, narrow heel.
Even if I were working with wood...even if I were carving lasts from scratch (and I have done)...a trial fitting would often mandate leather build-ups on the forepart of the last (sometimes even on the heel), at which point you're dealing with the last in exactly the same manner as I am.
Finally, I suspect that less than 1% of all bespoke makers carve lasts from scratch. I admire those that do...it refines the eye and the mind as much as any meditation.
BTW...and completely off topic but perhaps interesting, here is an applewood vase I turned. About seven inches tall with even walls about 1/8 inch thick.Edited by DWFII - 9/24/11 at 11:33am