Beading: a slender, rounded strip of leather that encircles the
top of the boot. The beading is made from the same material as
the piping that runs down the side of the boot.
Boot hooks: a pair of long strong metal hooks attached to cross
handles made out of hardwood or plastic. The lower section of
the hook is flat so that the inside pull straps of the boot will
not wrinkle when you pull the boots on. After the hooks are
inserted into the loops of the pull straps, the foot is thrust
into the boot, which is pulled on using slight force.
Bootjack: a tool that enables the boot wearer to remove boots
while standing. The first boot jacks were made of wood and had a
forked end to hold the heel of one boot while the wearer pulled
his foot out of the other. Many early bootjacks were hinged down
the middle so they could be folded for traveling. After the
1870s, most bootjacks were made from molded iron. The jacks came
in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common design was a
brightly painted beetle with its antennae outstretched to hold
the heel of the boot. Popular with cowboys are the Naughty
Nellies, which depict a woman lying on her back with legs spread
to catch the heel of the boot. Designs featuring six-shooter
barrels and longhorns were also widespread. Tobacco companies,
boot companies, and clothing manufactures began to put their
names on the jacks as giveaway advertisements. Bootjacks gave
rise to the catchy expression "Once you use a jack, you will
never go back."
Boot jockey: a curved metal plate, or today, more commonly, a
plastic one. The jockey is used with tall boots, usually those
over fifteen inches high. The device prevents a pair of boots
from sagging and losing their shape while not being worn.
Boot tree: a form used to keep boots in shape when they are not
being worn. Also known as "wooden feet", boot trees are designed
to be inserted into the foot of the boot with relative ease,
thanks to slide or spring action built into and underneath the
wood. They are regaining popularity and can be readily
purchased. Older ones were usually made of maple, but today
cedar is more common because of its deodorizing quality.
Box toe: a boot toe that is squared off at the end. Square-toed
boots have been around for hundreds of years.
Box toes were popular with the early cowboys and remained that
way through the 1950s. Boot makers often describe toes as
one-eighth box, quarter box, half box, etc. This refers to the
width of the tip on the toe. After the 1950s, the pointed, or
sharp, toe became more popular than the box toe.
Buck stitching: a thin strip of leather, normally in a
contrasting color, that is woven over and under the boot leather
to create a laced effect. Although the purpose is usually purely
decorative, this type of work can be used to hold layers of
leather together. Buck stitching is often seen around wing-tip
toes, up the sides of boots, or around their tops. Most buck
stitching was done in Mexico and South Texas by the boot makers
and factories in the 1940s and '50s.
Clicker: a machine like a press that pushes down on the dies to
cut out various pieces of leather for all parts of the boot. It
works like a giant cookie cutter. The word clicker comes from
the sound the machine makes upon impact with the die. Once
largely found in boot factories, the click machine is now also
used by custom
boot makers as well.
Cockroach killers: a street term that arose to describe the
narrow, pointed, and sometimes hand-filed needle nose
boots worn in the 1960s and early '70s. This very popular toe
style was just about all you saw on men and women for almost
years. During the popularity of Urban Cowboy, the toes began to
round out to satisfy the more conservative East Coast tastes.
However this type of toe, along with the narrow box, has
remained the most popular one in all other countries throughout
the world, and since about 1990, sharp toes have come back into
vogue in the U.S. again.
Collar: a layer of leather at the top of the boot, usually in a
contrasting color or made from an exotic skin that is cut in a
decorative design. This collar is usually overlaid but often has
fancy inlay work on it, which dresses up the boot.
Counter: the leather piece above the heel of the boot, which is
attached by stitching to the vamp.
Crimping board :a narrow piece of wood, usually less than 1-1/2
inches wide, that looks like a tall tube sock. The wet vamps of
boots are stretched and nailed to this board before they are
attached to the other parts of the boot. Then the leather is
left to dry for a day or two. This is an extra step before
lasting to ensure that all the stretch of memory has been
removed from the leather. If this process is not performed,
wrinkles will appear in the curves of the boot over the top of
Custom makeup: a term used by boot factories to describe their
version of custom-made boots. The major difference is that there
is no custom last, nor are there any measurements involved. A
stock factory last in a standard size that comes as close as
possible to accurately fitting the customer's foot is used
Die: a metal pattern with razor-sharp edges that works like a
cookie cutter. It is used to cutout sections of the boot in
various shapes; these are then glued and sewn together to form
the vamp, counter, and top of the boot.
Ears: another name for inside or outside pull straps.
Forty-penny nail: a nail that old-time boot makers would beat
flat and then shape to the dimensions of the wearer's foot. The
nail was then covered with a layer of leather, stitched, glued,
and sometimes pegged between the insole and outsole to work as a
shank that supported the wearer's arch. Jumping on and off a
horse all day can be rough on a boot, so many West Texas cowboys
still request forty- and sixty-penny nails put into their boot
Foxing: a term describing a piece of leather that is sewn
another part of the boot simply for decoration. Boot makers will
say that the toe or heel is "foxed."
Fudge wheel: a wooden-handled tool with a cylindrical serrated
wheel, also known as a boot rand wheel, wheel jigger, bunking
wheel, stitched prick, or seat wheel. The fudge wheel is heated,
and then rolled around the finished welt of the boot in order to
mash, tighten, and firm the leather and the stitching. It
creates ridges and gives a uniform appearance to the stitching.
Many old-time boot makers think it gives the boot a nice
Graft: the front of the boot rising from the foot to the top.
Handmade: boots that are built entirely from scratch by hand the
old way. There is little or no machinery involved, other than a
foot-pedaled sewing machine for some of the fine stitching.
Heel: the part of the boot attached to the rear, or seat, of the
sole. The heel comes in any shape and height imaginable and
should be constructed to add support, comfort, and form to the
overall boot design.
"H" toe: a toe tip rounded like the top curve in a lowercase
letter "h." This style gained popularity in the 1980s.
Inlay: strictly decorative fancywork involving multiple layers
and colors of leather. These may be overlaid or under laid.
Overlaid patterns are sewn over the principal boot leather,
while under laid ones are invisible, sewn in from underneath to
produce a cutout window-type design.
Insole: the layer of leather between the foot and the outsole,
or bottom, of the boot. The insole forms the inner foundation of
the boot to which the outsole is attached.
"J" toe: a slim rounded toe tip that
resembles the bottom of a lower-case letter "j." This style became popular after the
pointed toes of the early 1960s and '70s went out of fashion.
- Last: an Old English word for footstep. The last is the model
used to make all custom and factory boots.
- Until recently it was always carved from wood, but now
fiberglass poured into foot molds has almost entirely replaced
wood. The toe, however, can be fastened to the end of the last
in any style the customer desires. And small pieces of leather
are shaped and glued and then sanded down smooth to compensate
for any irregularities in a foot or changes that occur normally
as a customer ages.
Mule ears: elongated pull straps that resemble long ears, sewn
to the outside of the boot. Some of these extend to the top of
the boot and literally touch the ground at the bottom. Many
times you will see initials, names, etc., inlaid down the ears.
Buck stitching, lacework, and sometimes fringe are added for
Needle nose: the absolutely sharpest point possible on a cowboy
boot. A needle-nose toe has to actually be hand-filed to create
less than an
eighth-of-an-inch point. This style is still popular with many
Peewee: a nickname given to the short boots popular in the 1940s
and '50s. A standard cowboy boot is twelve inches high.
Basically any boot less than twelve inches tall is considered a
Pegs: wooden pegs, little stakes
of wood made from maple or lemonwood, usually from Germany.
These pegs, in rows of one to three, run from the breast of the
heel down the waist of the sole of the boot. Along with
stitching and glue, they hold the insole and outsole together.
Pegs are usually a sign of a better-quality boot, and you should
also be able to see the tops of the pegs when you look inside
your boots. Boot maker Ray Jones is the legendary "king of the
pegs," known to use as many as 300 pegs per pair.
Peg wheel: a wooden-handled tool composed of a metal wheel with
tiny metal spikes. It is used when the
leather is damp, and is rolled along the sole of the boot to
create a path as a guide for the boot maker to space his pegs
Piping: rounded strips of leather that run up the side seams of
the boots. Sewn dead center between the back and front of the
boot, piping can be in the same color or a contrasting color of
leather to make the boot or its stitching patterns stand out
more. Early boot makers had to hand-make all their piping. Now
it comes in rolls in dozens of colors, already rounded and ready
Pull holes: finger holes at the tops of boots that replace pull
straps and are very often used by working cowboys, who also call
Pull Straps: straps that are used to assist in pulling the boot
on. They can be on the outside or the inside of the boot in any
size or shape. In the 1940s and '50s, when men and women
frequently tucked their trousers into their boots, boot makers
and factories began to stitch their names into the cotton cloth
out over the top of the boot, for free advertising.
Roper: a style of boots with a wide, round toe, no decorative
stitching, usually a nine-to-ten-inch top, and a low walking
heel. From the 1920s through the 1960s, this work style boot,
rugged but plain, was called the Wellington. It comes with low
or high tops. In the late 1970s the boot was renamed "roper" by
the factories. The style caught on and became very popular with
both men and women. The roper bears little resemblance to what
we think of as a real cowboy boot from any era.
Saint Crispin: the patron saint of shoe and boot makers whose
festival is celebrated October 25. Legends and stories about
Saint Crispin, who supported himself as a cobbler while
preaching the gospel, are popular with boot-makers.
Scallop: the V-shape in the front and back of the cowboy boot.
This can be shallow or cut very deep.
Shank: the portion of the boot that is used as reinforcement for
the wearer's arch. Most boot makers today use a thin, pre-cut
strip of eighteen-gauge steel, which is glued, whip stitched, or
tacked in place. On urban sidewalks this works fine, but most
folks in the country, including cowboys, still prefer that
forty- or sixty-penny nail for support.
Skive: from the Norse word skifa, "to make leather thinner."
Skiving is also known as feathering the leather. This is usually
done when overlapping is required, as in overlay and inlay. The
backside of the leather is scraped thin along the edges, or
wherever the leather is too thick, with a sharp knife, lightly
sanded for continuity, then quickly burned with a match or flame
to remove any small, loose beads of skin that remain. The
leather is then ready for glue and thread.
Sole: the only part of the cowboy boot, besides the bottom of
the heel that actually has contact with the ground, unless you
happen to get thrown off a horse or a bull.
Spur rest: a ridge or shelf on the back of the boot that helps
hold up a spur. Below the counter, extending from the base, the
top of the actual heel is pronounced by a quarter inch or more.
Looked down upon by some older cowboys as a wimpy crutch for
those who don't know how their spurs should fit, this spur ledge
has become very popular with young cowboys today.
Stay: the strip of leather that runs up and down the back of the
inside of the boot lining to stiffen and support the boot and
hold up the top, which gets the most movement. The width of the
stay and how high it extends reflect an individual boot maker's
idea of how a boot should be made. Most working cowboys prefer a
stay that extends all the way from the bottom of the boot to the
top and is about four inches wide.
Stovepipe: refers to the top of the boot when there is no
scallop. The boot resembles a sawed-off pipe. Most early
cowboys, before 1900, wore boots with stovepipe tops because
they were still clinging somewhat to military fashion.
Straights: a term describing boots that have no designated right
or left foot. Because high-heel lasts were more difficult to
make in mirror images, straights remained popular from the 1600s
until 1819, when the irregular-shape copying lathe was invented. Straights continued to be worn extensively until 1900.
Toe box: a stiff piece of material that is placed in the top of
the boot toe between the outer vamp leather and the lining to
reinforce the shape. All toe boxes used to be made of leather
until the advent of super man-made materials. However, many
custom boot makers still use leather, while the factories use
plastic or man-made toe boxes.
Toe bug: also referred to as the "toe flower," "medallion,"
"fleur-de-lis," or just plain "toe stitch." Every boot maker has
his favorite design. It becomes their signature and can identify
the boot to others. Usually only one or two rows of stitching
are used to create a delicate and artful design. You seldom see
cowboy boots without decorative toe stitching unless they are
made from exotic skins, in which case the stitching would not be
Tongue: the top part of the vamp, usually cut into a decorative
shape. The tongue is sewn to the upper front portion of the
boot. Because a cowboy's stirrup hits this area of the boot all
day, it was originally reinforced by a third layer of leather
inside or was cut extra wide to prevent wearing out.
Tools: the dozens of implements used in boot making. Most of
these have their roots in Europe. Some have names and
manufacturers; others do not. Most boot makers hand-fashion many of their battery of
tools—even today. To a boot maker, tools are known by their
functions rather than their names.
Triad: a type of boot with no counter. In a triad, the front of
the boot extends all the way to the sole, and the vamp stops
before the side seams and is stitched down. A regular cowboy
boot has a four-piece construction: the shaft with two parts
(front and back); the counter, or heelpiece; and the vamp, which
is the foot of the boot. A boot with a one-piece top has no side
seams and is sewn or laced up the back.
Underslung: a descriptive word for the angle of the back of the
heel. Underslung heels are also sometimes said to be
"undershot." From 1880 to 1960, most cowboy boots had higher
heels. To keep them from having a heavy, blocky shape, boot
makers hand-fashioned the backs of the heels to angle toward the
foot. This style was taken to its extreme in the 1940s at the
Leddy Boot Company in San Angelo, Texas, when bronc buster Alton
Barnett had all of his boots so undershot that you could not
squeeze a penny between where the heel and sole met. Other than
those with a low, flat walking heel, most boots today have some
undershot to them.
Vamp: the lower front portion of the cowboy boot that covers the
foot. The vamp attaches to the counter in the back, and to the
front parts of the boot shaft in the front.
Waist: the waist of the boot is at the bottom of the boot shaft
where the ankle bends. The heel waist is the center
circumference of the heel
sometimes angled or dipped in, especially noticeable in the
Welt: a strip of heavy leather that is sewn around the lasting
space of the upper and joins it to the insole. The sole is then
stitched to the welt with a second seam. The welt is also known
as the rand.
Wingtip: a fancy leather piece, which can be any shape and even
designs, that is stitched over the toe and a portion of the
lower vamp area. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, wingtips were
usually associated with dress boots. Now wingtips are
experiencing a revival and can be seen on everyday cowboy boots.
A wingtip can be as simple as a small tip of exotic lizard or
other skin sewn over the principal leather.
Wrinkles: the straight lines of stitching on a toe, usually
located behind the toe flower.