There are still Huaraches north of old Mexico. As I prepare to resole my huaraches I thought it might be good to look back on them as a very viable hand-made shoe.
For a long time while searching for huarache construction techniques, I could only find the simplest tire sandals and many links to “barefoot” style running sandals. However, a few years ago, I found Markus Kittner’s Huarache Blog and scoured it for inspiration and design secrets from real huaracheros in old Mexico. He has done excellent work in documenting the process.
My first beautiful huaraches drying after being soaked to shape to my foot. They were subsequently oiled and slicked down. I owe much to the Huarache blog for so many great images and descriptions of traditional huaraches.
As a craftsman of sorts, I understand that making a “one-off” of something does not imply expertise. Only replication builds a real understanding and mastery of the object being produced. However, this is not my first leather working or shoemaking project but a major improvement on a theme. This style shoe is made on a last. The shoe lasts I purchased on Ebay have finally been used to actually make a shoe. I documented the process as it came together as best I could; my mistakes and changes included in the process. This is not really a “how to” recipe for making a huarache but shows the process I used.
The lasts I found on Ebay. The sole cut out, punched for strapping and nailed to the last.
The last shown here fits me well but are an Oxford dress shoe style, meaning they run a little long in the toe. As I am making an open-toe design, I let the last hang over slightly in the front, squaring the sole to the shape of my actual foot. New lasts are pricey (ca. 50 euros/$70 US), but I think it will pay in the long run to invest in a better design for myself and those people I might make shoes for.
Wetting out the first strap.
I didn’t show the strap cutting process as there is little to be learned about that. It is a skill in itself, even if you have a strap cutter. My Osbourne strap cutter can be seen in the upper right of this photo
Since this project was experimental, I used scrap leather, meaning I could only get about three foot (one meter) straps. In future, I’ll probably use 6 foot or longer pieces (2+ meters).
Nailing the strap to the last.
I pre-punched holes in the mid-sole and away we go. A little tallow on the straps helps cut the friction of the leather but ended up being not worth the trouble. They were kept damp throughout the process.
Placing the twining thong.
This is a signature of the style I chose. The vamp or tongue-like piece was later removed as I didn’t like the way it looked. I’ll experiment more with that later.
Lacing and twining.
Unlike normal, I completely finished the first shoe and removed it from the last to check size and shape to determine any major changes that would need to be made.
A heel piece was added and laced up the back. I think this step shows the evolution of the strap sandal to the modern huarache.
The straps running under the mid-sole look like a problem here but are ultimately skived down, dampened, and hammered flat.
Straps ends as added in. Longer straps would lessen the ends here.
I used simple wire nails (as is traditional) to attach the soles but sewing would work too.
Ends to be trimmed and skived, and a finished sole.
Pulled from the last, they actually matched. I don’t know why I was surprised but that made me really happy.
Preparing to nail the sole.
The method I chose to attach the rubber is fast and efficient, and I suspect rather tough. The nails are pressed through the leather and rubber into a thick leather scrap below. Otherwise, you would need to pry it up from the work board. One surprise I learned over time was that the nails actually wore off on the underside before the rubber.
Nailing the sole.
Bending the nails in preparation for clinching.
The nails are bent over (inward) to prepare to “clinch” them. There are no photos of this part of the process but this was done by setting the shoe back upright on a small anvil and hammering the nails down tight with a punch. The pre-bending causes the nail to curl inward and back up into the sole. Voila! The Huaraches below have about five miles of hiking on them now and they’re beginning to have some character.
Huaraches you say? Do tough guys wear such things? In an era of cheap, slave-made garments, its easy to forget how self-reliant our ancestors were for such things as raiment. I include this photo of Capitan Alcantar I found on the Huarache Blog as a great historical image of a man of action wearing his huaraches and ready for war.
Click the image for more historic photos like this.
I hope this prompts someone out there in the world to take on the project of making their own shoes, whether for survival, uniqueness, or just as a challenge. Making for yourself is a small act of revolution against a bad system.