There are many tools that could have been used to make shoes in the Middle Ages. It is likely that that we will never know all the precise items used because different areas may have used different tools or techniques. Archaeologically the evidence for shoemaking tools is sparse. Some specific items are referred to in the meagre documents, such as the Dictionarius of John de Garlande, the Lystyne lordys verament, the Promptorium Parvalorum, and so forth; and appear in the illustrations from Das Hausbuch Der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung Zu Nürnberg, and a few paintings depicting St. Crispin and his brother Crispianus.
At the end of the 16th century, Thomas Deloney wrote a series of stories about what he termed “The Gentle Craft”, and in the story of Saint Hugh, he relates how St Hugh’s Bones became the name for the shoemaker’s kit, or collection of tools. Contemporary to Deloney, the playwright Thomas Dekkar wrote a bit more about the shoemaker’s tools and terms in his “Shoomaker’s Holy Day”, which also served to add more folklore to the mix. By the end of the 17th century, we have Randal Holme’s Academy of Armory in which he discusses, among many other things, the tools and terminology of the shoemaker.
So using these sources, let’s take a look at the probable toolkit of the shoemaker. We can divide these into: Work area items, Knives, Sewing tools, Lasting tools, Slickening tools and Other tools.
Work area items
Fig. A. The Buffett is a modern interpretation of a three legged milking stool. It has a closing block and stirrup on it.
To start with, in a shoemakers shop, we would be likely to find a buffet (or short 3 legged stool) a bench and a bucket of water. Ideally, the bench should be just high enough that the shoemaker can reach to get things off of it without bending, or stretching. If the shoemaker is using a stirrup, he or she will want a buffet that’s lower than their knee. Some illustrations indicate a shoemaker sitting in a chair, but it’s likely that this is a social comment more than an indication of what they usually sat on.
Along with the bench should be a cutting board of some sort, although some shoemakers are shown at standing height cutting benches for clicking overleathers on, while others are shown seated with a cutting board.
Among other items that might be associated with the shoemaker’s work area is a Wheston (or a Whetstone) to sharpen knives, shears, awls, and other tools.
It cannot be stressed enough that a sharp knife cuts better and more easily; creating a better product than a dull one. You should sharpen your knives every time you sit down to use them.
Fig. B. Westons, Stropping Block and leather Strop.
To use a wheston properly requires a light lubricating oil, or water. Some stones will require one or the other, and using the improper liquid can ruin a stone so be mindful of any instructions the stone came with.
The purpose of this liquid is not to serve as a lubricant, so don’t be stingy. The purpose is to keep the pits in the stone from being clogged with metal as you sharpen. The metal you are removing is what forms the grimy black slurry as you sharpen. The slurry should be wiped away regularly to keep it from clogging up the stone. Water is believed by some to make a finer edge; while others prefer pure oil or oil mixed with paraffin.
You need to be aware of the bevel that your blade forms and try to keep to this angle. You can determine the edge of the blade on the stone. If you are determining the bevel for the first time, I suggest aiming between 15 and 20 degrees.
There are different schools of thought on whether it is better to use broad strokes or work the knife in small circles. I prefer the latter, but it really doesn’t matter. Whichever you do, keep with it until you can’t feel a burr, and the knife cuts sharply again. If you keep with it regularly you shouldn’t need more than a regular stropping on a stropping stick or leather to keep a clean sharp edge. If your knife dulls while you are working, stop and resharpen or strop then.
A stropping stick, which is probably what Delony was referring to when he mentioned the “stopping stick.” Later terms for this tool include sharpening bat, bat, buff, buffing strap or strop, stopping or stropping stick, rap stick, rifle, and whittie,
It is a wooden stick, covered on its two to four sides with leather, some which may be impregnated with some form of polishing grit, and is used to help keep awl points, shears and knives sharp.
To strop, stroke the blade smoothly and firmly along the leather, and then the other side. If you have oil on your blade, that’s fine. The leather will soak it up and any metal in the oil will help act as grit. Afterword, run your thumb carefully along the edge to feel for burrs, checks or rough edges. It the stropping won’t make the burrs go away you will need to return to the stone.
Fig. C. The work bench shown is a modern reproduction based on late 15th century illustrations in Der Hausebuch der Mendelschen. Several tools are displayed.
Finally we have a Tool basket, a Napron, a Hand leather, and a Thumb leather. The tool basket is a simple open basket to hold the tools and keep them from rolling about on the bench.
Fig. D A leather Napron, or Apron.
The napron is traditionally a long green sheepskin apron, intended to protect the shoemaker’s clothes and possibly to help wind and unwind the thread. Garsault says that “which goes down to mid-leg, and comes up over the chest and fastens at the back.”
Illustrations show both a pointed to and a flat topped style of napron worn by shoemakers, with the change really coming in the 16th century.
One of the earliest tasks for an apprentice to complete is that they can make their own napron, and stirrup.
Fig. E. Handleather.
Fig. F. A varety of hand and finger leathers.
The hand leather is a bit of leather, calfskin is preferred, wrapped around the left hand to protect the skin of the shoemakers hand from being cut by the thread when yerking the thread. The thumb leather is a similar bit of leather wrapped around the thumb to protect it.
Another form of Hand-leather described by Diderot is a “piece of calfskin taken from the head, about two and one-half inches wide, and long enough to go around the palm and back of the left hand leaving the fingers free. The two ends are sewn together across the width and a hole is made for the thumb to pass through.”
Shoemakers appear to have used two sorts of knives, the Carving Knife and the Trenket.
Fig. I. R. Holme (1688).
Fig. G. A modern Carving knife.
Fig. H. Modern reproduction knives.
The carving knife, which is also spelled carwyng knyfe, is used to trim the inseam while the shoe is still on the last, as well as to trim away excess leather, particularly in places where the trenket would be difficult to handle or manage.
Archaeological and artistic representations of this include:
Fig J. R. Hole (1688) A shoemaker’s cutting knife.
The trenket, also spelled in the Middle Ages as tranchet and trenchet, in medieval Latin: ansorium and axorium, is the medieval version of the modern round knife. . If present, the hook in the back is used to scratching out a pattern before actually committing the blade to cutting the leather.
It is frequently referred to as the shoemakers cutting knife, or shaping knife. In iconography involving in pictures of shoemakers from the period it regularly appears. It derives from the Old French, trechet and trenquet. Again, the spike is used to mark the leather before it is cut. This is shown in Treue, W. et al., Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung zu Nürnberg. 1965 in this variety of fashions:
Trenkets in Art
Archaeological examples are shown as:
Trenkets in Archaeology
Of similar derivation is trenchowre, medieval Latin scissorium, which appears to refer to scissors, shears or a sort of knife. “trench” means “to cut”.
Also related to cutting are shears, which are a sort of cutting tool made from a single strip of metal, and are used like scissors. They are used for cutting thinner overleather. Shears appear in the medieval artwork as well.
 In the same fashion that Maid Marion and Lancelot were later attachments to the original stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur, “Saint Hugh” became attached to the folklore of St. Winifred – at least as understood by the Shoemakers. There is no mention of him before Deloney’s book was published, but based on the 17th century materials St, Hugh was was clearly part of British shoemaking folklore after Deloney.
 Deloney also notes that a Journeyman shoemaker should also be skilled in sword and buckler, longsword or quarterstaff; must be able to sound a trumpet, play a flute, and take his part in a “three mans song”, and readily reckon up his tools in a rhyme, and unless he’s served in the military in combat, he must be willing to pay up a bottle of wine when called upon to do these things, or else be considered an apprentice.
 These are clearly depicted in Der Hausebuch der Mendelschen in 15 pictures; Guy Marchand’s bookplate Paris, 1496; a series of 4 miseres from Rouen late (15th century); Polish shoemaker shop, by Balthazar Behenm, Krakow (c.1505); Ammon, Jost and Hans Sack. Eigentlicher Beschreibung aller Stände auf Erden. (1568)
 Specifically in Der Hausebuch der Mendelschen.
 The ideotechnic function of the chair in symbolically establishing status in early iconography is discussed in, James Deetz’s In Small Things Forgotten.
 “Clicking” derives from the term Clicker, which itself derived from the French Claquier originally the person in the shop who greeted people coming into the shop.
 The earliest depiction of this standing and cutting is from from the Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen (Merdein Swob, shoemaker. 1459). Guy Marchand’s bookplate Paris, (1496) is the first depiction of the special bench for this that appears in carvings over the next century
 Whetston’s are not actually in the medieval shoemaking literature, or any illustrations, although some of the Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen illustrations may show them. However, considering how important it is to keep your knives sharp, they had to have been used. You should sharpen your knives before every use. The term “wheston” appears in Thomas Wright’s Volume of Vocabularies.
 Admittedly this possibility is highly speculative. The term “strop” has its earliest appearance in the OED with this meaning in 1702. The OED gives an unsourced suggestion for a “stopping stick” as something to stop up, or block holes, which doesn’t make much sense to me.
 It is entirely possible that this is not a medieval tool anyway, but it does make it easier to keep blades sharp while you are using them, and thereby gives a more professional edge.
 The tool basket appears in several of the Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen pictures. I have no idea what they called the tool basket, so I am forced to use this term, which as far as I know is original to this book.
 The term Napron for Apron goes back at least to 1307. It is also referred to as a barmclothe, and in Medieval Latin Limas. Apron seems to be a 15th century alternate spelling. The Rouen Cathedral miseries and the Guy Marchand’s bookplate show early aprons with triangular tops, while several of the images and statutes from the 16th century depict the more familiar straight top apron.
 The term Hand leather appears at the end of the 16th century in Dekker’s play A Shoemakers Holiday. They may not have been used in the Middle Ages.
 Also not specifically a medieval tool. These are also later referred to as a Thumb-stall. I should note that thumb stalls are also referred to as sailor’s palms and sailors thimbles, although it’s possible that these are different tools from the thumb leather.
 And really, you need to be careful of your clothes. The code can be extremely messy.
 Garsault, François A de; Saguto, D. A. M. de Garsault’s 1767 Art of the shoemaker: an annotated translation. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2009
 Diderot, D., and J. d’Alembert. L’encyclopédie Ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Arts Et Des Métiers, Par Une Société Des Gens De Lettres, Mis En Ordre Et Publié Par Diderot. Paris, 1772.
 Some modern sources refer to this as a paring knife.
 It should be noted that today the meaning of Tranchet is a totally different sort of knife.