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
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 fifteen 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
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 the foot.
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 instead.
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
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 soles.
Foxing: a term
describing a piece of leather that is sewn (overlaid) over 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 finished look.
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.
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
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 effect.
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 peewee.
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 evenly.
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 to sew.
Pull holes: finger
holes at the tops of boots that replace pull straps and are very
often used by working cowboys, who also call them "windows."
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
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
Scallop: the V-shape
in the front and back of the cowboy boot. This can be shallow or cut
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
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 visible.
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
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
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 Cuban heel.
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 have inlaid
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.