How to Make a Shoe Last

How to Make a Shoe Last

Yes!  You can make a shoe last at home.  In this article we will review the basic techniques you can use to make a shoe last.  If you have a custom shoe project in mind for yourself or need a shoe last for a DIY or school project you can use these techniques.

There are several ways that you can make a last for your shoe projects.
1.  Carve the shoe last from wood or foam.
2.  Build the last from stacked wood or cardboard.
3.  Make an Alginate™ foot casting in a box mold.
4.  Make a shoe last inside a foot form made from plaster gauze.
5.  Use a 3D printer to make shoe last.

Carve the shoe last from from wood.

How to make shoe last  If you have some wood working skills, patience and access to equipment you can carve a custom last from wood.  The wood carved last is the most tranditional way to make a shoe last.  Starting with a block of wood that is free of any knots or split grain, you draw the side profile and bottom shape.   Wood-SHoe_lastWith a band saw or hand tools you can cut the general shape of the footwear last.  From this point chisels, sanding machines and files can be used to refine the shape.
This process is very time consuming.  If you have access to CNC equipment at a MakerSpace or School Wood shop you can do the rough cutting quickly, then finish by hand.

how to carve a wood shoe last
Here is an amazing video showing how you can cut and carve a shoe last.


Build a shoe last with stacked wood or cardboard

Build a shoe last with stacked cardboard Using stacked cardboard is an easy way to make a shoe last with a hobby knife and cardboard scraps.  This will take some time but if you have a printer it’s easy.  Download the stacked file PDF here. It’s simple- Print the pages, glue to cardboard and cut them out.

If you have access to a Laser cutting machine you can save some time and make a very clean last.  Once you have the cardboard stacked and glued together a few coats of varnish or resin can harden the surface to make the cardboard last easier to handle.

Build a shoe last with Alginate™ Cast in a box mold.

Alginate™ is a flexible casting material used in the the dental and bio medical field.  It’s easy to use and non-toxic. To make an Alginate™ casting you will need about two pounds of the material.  It’s easy to get Alginate for your shoe lasting project from Amazon.  To make a last casting you will need a box, wood is best but you can use cardboard. Alginate is water based so you need to be careful that your mold box does not turn into a soggy mess.  Preparation is easy but you are going to need a helper.  Rubber gloves are not required but to reduce the mess you should get a pair.
Build a shoe last with Alginate™ Cast in a box mold. Build your foot casting box.  Make the box fit close to your foot but make sure to leave an inch or 30mm around your foot, your helper will need this space to apply the Alginate.

To prepare your foot you can apply Vaseline or other petroleum jelly to make it easy for your foot to slide out.   For men-  you must shave the hair off your foot! Removing your foot will be painful if you skip this step.  A plastic bag can also be wrapped around your foot but I would not recommend this, as it will make your casting wrinkled.

To apply the Alginate, first pour some into the bottom of your box, then cover your foot. Alginate sets very quickly.  In just a few minutes the Alginate will be firm.  You can now gently start flexing your foot to remove it from the mold.   Go slow and be careful not to tear the mold.
The top edge may tear but don’t worry.


Build a shoe last with Alginate™ Cast in a box mold.


Once you have the mold you can pour plaster or resin into the mold.  To remove the last you will need to cut away the Alginate.

After some hand finishing you can use your foot casting to make your DIY shoe project.





Cast a shoe last in mold made from plaster gauze.

Plaster_GauzePlaster gauze is another great way to make a casting of your foot.  You will need a helper for this project as it can get a bit messy.  The process is simple.  First prepare your foot by shaving off the hair and then apply Vaseline petroleum jelly to stop the plaster from sticking.

Wet the plaster and apply to the foot,  you should be seated with only a little weight on your foot.  Don’t wrap the plaster too high as getting the casting off can be a bit tricky.

Once the plaster is on it will take a while to set up, you will feel some Plaster_gauze_last_castingheat but it’s not dangerous.  When you feel the plaster getting firm it’s time to remove the casting.  You will need to carefully trim down the side of the plaster casting.  A small pair of scissors with tape on the point can be used.

Go slow and trim just a little at a time until you can slip your foot out.  It is a good idea to save a patch or two of the plaster gauze to make any repairs.

Once you have the mold you can pour resin into the mold.  To remove the last you will need to cut away the plaster casting.

After some hand finishing you can use your foot casting to make your DIY shoe project.



Build a shoe last with a 3D printer

Build a shoe last with a 3D printerIf you have access to a decent sized 3D printer you can print this last full size in about 5 hours. We have a really slick MakerBot Model Z18 on hand so we tested the file.  We printed the sneaker last with 0% fill, 2 shells and scaled to 275MM Long USA size 9.  With 0% fill the last is fragile but perfect for filling with expandable foam, casting resin or plaster for a more durable last.
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