Neil recently took a trip up to the Wesco® factory in Scappoose, Oregon to watch our next batch of the Van Cleef engineer boots go down the line. We’ve been a Wesco dealer for some time now, and wanted to pay them a visit to learn more about how boots get made.

The journey from leather to boot starts out with the clicker — a giant press that cuts out each piece of leather from the hide. Every part of the upper portion of the boot needs a corresponding die; each size of every boot needs a die the right size.

In the upper cutting department.
A small number of the many dies Wesco uses.

Below, you can see the backstay, the hide it was cut from, and the die laid out. (The backstay is the piece of leather that goes vertically up the back of an engineer boot. Once the leather is cut, the pieces are fitted and sewn.

The backstay cut out of a hide.

Wesco® offers nearly infinite combinations of leathers, thread colors, and soles allowing the perfect boot to made for every customer.

Some of the many thread colors available for your Wesco boots.
Wesco uses a number of vintage (such as this one) and modern sewing machines on their footwear.

We didn’t make it in time to catch the boots being sewn in full, so we’re starting with the final stages of sewing here. The backstays are being glued down to hold them in place for stitching.

Backstays glued on, ready for sewing.

For the Van Cleef, it was essential that we have the vintage style V-stitch on the backstay. Here you can see how it’s done with multiple passes, no double-stitch machines here.

Stitching on the backstays
Sewing machine for uppers
Backstay sewn in place.
All ready for heel shaping.

Once the sewing is complete, we move on down the line to making these leather socks into boots. The next step is forming the heel.

The heel being formed.
Heel shaped, and ready for the next step

After the heel is shaped, the last goes into the boot to continue the process. The last is the foot-shaped form that every pair of shoes or boots is built around, and the basis for the fit of your footwear.

Wesco has over 500 lasts in sizes 4AAA — 16EEEE.

Lasts, hanging out.

Next, we move onto the toe — these boots have a double vamp, and the inner layer is pulled around the last to shape the toe box by the Vamp Laster.

Vamp machine pulling the inner layer of the vamp around the last.

The process started by the machine has to be finished by hand. Lasting pliers are used in order to get the inner vamp layer all the way around the instep, where it’s tacked in place to the insole which you can see below.

Hand-stretching the inner layer of the vamp over the last.

Now that the toe is secure, the heel has to be nailed into place, which requires a different set of pliers and a hammer.

The last stages of closing up the upper around the last.

Now that the boot is wrapped around the last, the midsole is applied. You can see the inner layer of the vamp wrapped around the last in the image below.

Hammering the midsole down onto the last.
The hammer for nailing in brass nails.

The outer layer of the vamp is wrapped around the last, and the first pass of the stitchdown process happens, holding the upper to the midsole in the front of the boot.

Stitching the midsole to the upper.

Here’s another shot of the Rapid E machine finishing up the initial stitchdown pass. You can see how the boot is wrapped in plastic to keep the natural veg-tan upper clean, as these old machines fling oil everywhere.

Midsole stitching with a vintage Rapid E machine.

After the front of the boot is stitched down, the heel is nailed in place, holding the midsole to the insole. Brass nails are used, as they don’t corrode with sweat or water.

Nailing the midsole in place.
Midsole completely attached with size written on in Bic pen.
A view into the outsole attachment and QA room.

Now that the midsole is attached, we move onto the outsole area in the factory.

The shot below is of a pair of boots with logger spikes in place, as the machine had just been oiled and was a bit too messy to do a lighter colored boot on. The operator always wears gloves, and all lighter boots are wrapped in plastic.

Attaching an outsole.

Here’s a close-up of the Rapid E doing its work on a Vibram 705 half-sole. As you can imagine, this is a very intense sewing machine, able to punch through multiple layers of leather and rubber.

Close-up view of the Rapid E at work on the outsole.

There is an excess of leather around the edges of the boot at this point from the upper vamp layer and the midsole, which needs to be trimmed off using a Sil-Par machine.

Trimming the excess leather from the upper and midsole.

Every pair of Wesco boots get the date of manufacture stamped inside, using the machine pictured below.

The date stamping machine.

This only covered a few of the over 155 steps involved in the production of a pair of Wesco boots. However, the process isn’t done until the boots are on your feet and broken in as your very own.

As you wear them, your feet will sink into the all leather insoles, and the uppers will shape to you, creating a pair that is yours, and only yours. All of the patina and wear you accrue will only further the process.

A classic Wesco sticker.
The completed Van Cleefs, ready to be broken in by you.
By Jeremy Smith

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