Shoe lasts are the basis of making quality shoes. Perfectly fitting shoes can only be
made with the use of a perfect last. The best lasts are made of beech wood.
Shoe lasts are three-dimensional moulds shaped like simplified human feet, and are
usually made of wood. shoes are built around lasts during the later stages of shoe
construction. As such, lasts are an extremely important element of shoemaking. Perfectly
fitting shoes can only be made with the use of a perfect last. By taking into account
the balls of the foot, heels, and instep, as well as how heel height changes the rolling
motion of the foot, lasts determine the fit of the completed shoe.
Ancient Greeks and Romans took into account the differences between the left and right
feet, whereas later shoemakers only measured one foot and used this measurement to make
shoes for booth feet. Naturally, this practice resulted in considerable wearing
discomfort. At the beginning of the 19th century asymmetrical lasts were rediscovered
and came into use, as before, to ensure perfect shoe fit.
Only the finest wood is used to make quality lasts. During processing and storage, the
wood needs to be able to withstand high pressure, blows of the hammer, nails being
driven in, humidity, and temperature fluctuations. Types of wood that meet this criteria
include beech wood, maple, oak, elm, and walnut. The absolute best choices, though, are
copper beech and hornbeam.
In a last maker's workshop, logs are sawn into pieces approximately 32 cm in length.
These pieces are also 30 to 40 cm thick, which means that four to six lasts can be made
from each piece of wood. The wood is then steamed at 120 degrees and set aside to dry
for about two years. At the end of this period the wood is left with a moisture content
of just 16 to 18 percent. For further processing, though, this proportion needs to be
reduced to 10 to 12 percent. This is achieved with the use of a drying chamber, where
the wood that will be used to make lasts is treated with hot air for three weeks.
While last makers once made lasts exclusively by hand, today last makers all around the
world use so-called printer. The wood is mounted on a lathe in the printer, and a last
template is selected corresponding to the desired shoe type and size. The printer then
produces a pair of asymmetrical lasts within five to six minutes.
Last makers add final touches by hand to printer-made lasts. The last maker saws off the
bits used to mount the wood at the toe cap and heel, and drills a number of horizontal
holes into the upper third of the last, which makes it easier to remove the last from
the shoe that is stitched over and around it. The last maker also saws off a finely
curved wedge from the last to facilitate last removal once the last has fulfilled its
The last is passed on to the shoemaker, who keeps the completed last. He will use it to
test out shoe prototypes and, in the event of issues with the shoes made from the last,
ask the last maker to make adjustments. If the shoemaker is finished making shoes with
the last, he puts it away in storage. Quality shoe lasts can be used for many years,
provided that they are stored in a room at the proper temperature and level of humidity.
These days Plastic lasts are very common due to ease in making and non availability of
quality wood.The process is very similar to wooden lasts but the material treatment is