Witnessing Quality Boot Production

TWC01I am having a new pair of boots made to order! Woo-hoo! Why the excitement? You say, “come on, BHD, you’ve got tons of boots. Why a new pair and why are you so excited about them?”

Why? Well, it’s like this: I value quality. I appreciate classic design. I look for superb materials and craftsmanship in boots. I support U.S. small business–even if it costs more. I would much rather my investment be in U.S. jobs, materials, and products.

I also have always liked the traditional styling of vintage Frye boots. Back when Fryes were made in Massachusetts USA of quality leather and superb handcrafted processes, I wore them almost exclusively. No boots I’ve tried since have had quite the same swagger about them, and quality-wise boots made by Tidewater Cowboy Boots put even the old Fryes to shame.

The owner of Tidewater Cowboy Boots and I have been exchanging email about his boots. His first shoemaking ancestor worked in Maryland (my home state) in the 1750s–the most recent in Paris in the 1910s–and he’s been at it since 1973 himself. He currently offers three styles in the tradition of a standard, square-toe, classic stovepipe boot.

These are not your average, off-the-shelf 13-inch, v-scallop, pointed-toe cowboy boots, either. These are masculine, tough, true classic boots in every way, reminiscent of this region’s bootmaking, stretching back almost 400 years, with its roots in England–not the Wild West cowboys or Tom Mix Hollywood boots.

TWC03I am having a pair of these boots made for me. I had the chance to visit the shop in a quaint mill town on Maryland’s Patuxent River where my boots are being constructed, and was walked through the bootmaking process. I saw my pair of boots in the middle of their production process. Photos throughout this post show my boots at this stage of production.

There are over 150 steps required to make a pair of boots. It takes a lot of work through many direct “by hand” methods to cut the leather, shape it for the vamp (foot), ankle, and shaft (bootleg), stitch it, and form it onto a last (the mold of the foot.)

TWC05The last used for these boots is “the” venerable old snoot toe shape, which is anatomically correct (that is, it produces a foot with an excellent fit and feel). This toe style actually dates back to the 1630s. The owner of the company told me that he went out of his way to recapture the same last used by Frye in their heyday. This last produces a style unique to this boot with ample room for the foot and a blunt, square toe.

My pair of boots is being made with “Crazy Weather” U.S.-tanned leather. This leather is beefier and more water-resistant than traditional leathers found on most commercial cowboy boots. The leather has a unique feel to it — sort of rough, sort of smooth. The nap (surface) changes as you rub it like suede does. I’m told that the leather will naturally darken with age into a “dirty” patina. Personally, I love that appearance — just like some of my really old Fryes that look even better beat up and worn.

TWC02Next steps for my boots will include having the welt applied. A welt is a strip of leather that is stitched to the upper and insole of a boot and is where the sole is attached, just as it has been done since around 1450. The space enclosed by the welt will be filled heel to toe with more than 1/4″ of cork for comfort, cushioning, and breathability. Then the outsole will be stitched to the welt, then the heel nailed on with #10 Standard U.S. yellow brass nails made by American’s oldest surviving nail makers, established in the early 1800s. These nails won’t rust or oxidize.

Final steps will be cutting and trimming excess materials and finish work. Tidewater Cowboy Boots usually ships out their boots, but because I live close by I hope to return to this shop when the boots are completed to put them on for the first time. I sense I will feel like a new man in a traditional, vintage, strong and durable classic pair of boots that feel like my own feet instead of feeling like the big old box the boots come in!

TWC04Tidewater Cowboy Boots have passed audit for “Certified American Made” from the leathers used to the labor employed. These boots are as home-grown as they come, which is one of the owner’s main motives. Most of the machinery used in their making dates back to the 1930s or before, when America made millions of boots and shoes. The techniques and components Tidewater Cowboy Boots use are seldom to be found anywhere anymore at any price. They are like wearing a piece of history, stepping back in time, the real deal. The price bridges the gap between the best quality ready-to-wear/off-the-shelf, and full custom made-to-measure boots.

Sure, it may cost more for these boots, but as I have frequently said on this blog: you get what you pay for. In this case, the quality, craftsmanship, materials, U.S.-manufacture and venerable old style are worth the price. So THAT is why I am excited!

Learn more and see the styles of these boots on the company’s website (Ed. note: this post modified 08/2018 when Tidewater Cowboy Boots website stopped working.)

Life is short: enjoy learning about a traditional craft that produces a very classic product!

One thought on “Witnessing Quality Boot Production

  1. Even I, your non-boot wearing twin brother would like those! They look like the Fryes we wore back in high school. All the guys on my teams wore them, too.

    Leave it to you to find such a product and be able to relive the days of our youth with a product built to old standards with today’s comfort in mind.

    Ore e sempre,


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