Sunday 26 August 2012

Making wooden pattens

Writing about making pattens was quite out-of-place at the moment I started working on this post. Last week, it was very hot in the Netherlands, but now it is soaking wet outside: an ideal patten-weather ... Rain is destructive for medieval leather shoes: water stretches the leather and loosens the stitching. Water is transported through the soles, making the feet clammy and cold, and prone to foot diseases. Mud makes your shoes dirty and slippery. The medieval solution was to use wooden pattens (trippen in Dutch) as a protective layer between the ground and the shoe. This really is a fantastic invention that works very well and we all are happy to have one pair in case it rains. We did buy them (at the Gelderse Roos), but my son, who just had his first pair of shoes this year did not have them yet.

My sons shoes and pattens, both on 14th century patterns.

We did find a log of poplar in the Genniper Parc, next to the Historic Open Air Museum Eindhoven, which was a splendid opportunity to try to make his pair of pattens ourselves. We did have some patterns for period pattens in the books "Stepping through time" by Olaf Goublitz and "Shoes and pattens. Medieval finds from excavations in London 2" by Francis Grew and Margrethe de Neergaard. The process of making the pattens is illustrated in photos below, though I must confess that at the stage of leather-working my mind was solely thinking on the construction and I forgot to make photos of the different steps.

Bram is removing the bark with a draw-knife. The log is fixed to another log  with a dog to keep it stable. 

When you have a log, you start with the removal of the bark. One way to do it is with a large draw-knife. This is a very slow process as we discovered. Another method is to use a bark-spud or barking iron, a chisel like tool mounted on a long pole. This tool already existed in medieval times (see excavated ones from Novgorod, Russia) and luckily for us one was available at the historic open air museum as well. The bark-spud removed the bark very fast and efficiently.  

  The bark spud iron smoothly slices the bark from the log.
Bram using the bark spud.

Two barking irons from Novgorod, both dating from the 14th-15th century. The size and form are exactly like the modern (forged) bark spud. In the book 'Wood use in medieval Novgorod' they are however classified as adzes, which I think is incorrect. 

Next, the debarked log had to be sawn in two in order to split it easily. Also, for the pattens only half the log was necessary. We used our two-handed saw on a museum saw-horse, which was at the wrong height for us, making sawing a slow process as most of the energy was wasted. In the end, my son finished the job. One half of the log was split afterwards using a froe.

I am sawing with the log with the two-handed saw. The sawing horse is too high to use the saw efficiently.

The reward for sawing is waiting for me, and the job finished.

The form of the patten was marked on the shoe and roughly sawn with a frame-saw. Then the shape of the patten was cut on a shaving horse with a draw-knife and smoothed with a spoke shave. In the end, we did have two shaped wooden soles for the pattens.

Bram with the draw-knife on the shaving horse, working on a patten of a quarter of the log. 
On the right three other sets of pattens.

(Left) The finished wooden soles from beneath.(Right) The finished wooden soles from above.

The next step was to make the leather straps. In the book shoes and pattens, a nice 14th century leather pattern was shown, which was more elaborate than the leather on our own pattens. I had to scale up the pattern and try and fit it (using duc tape) on the wooden soles with the shoes. This also gave a good idea where the leather straps had to be nailed to the sole. The leather was cut with a sharp knife and holes where punched for the nails. Also a back-strap for the heel was added. This provides a more comfortable way of walking with the pattens.

The 14th century pattern and attachment to the sole. Many leather patten straps were decorated with stamps, stripes or stitchings, as shown here. Our leather proved unsuitable for such decorations.


(Left) The leather parts flattened out. (Right) Nails for attaching the two leather strap parts. 
Two are needed for each patten.

Nails are used to hold the two parts of the front leather together. By adding extra punch holes the size for the shoe can be adjusted. The nail heads were flattened with a file, to prevent damage to the leather or accidentally pulling the nail out and the patten loose.

The finished pattens. You can still see the pencil markings on the wooden sole where the leather should be fixed. 

Finally the shoes and pattens complete. (Left) From the front. (Right) From above.


  1. Thanks, these look great. I will have a go at making some :)

  2. What kind of nails are you using on the sides to attach the leather to the wood?

    1. They are machine-made nails that have a head that looks like a forged nail. They come in boxes with hundreds of nails; and can be bought at different lengths. Sometimes re-enactment shops or musea (like the HOME or Gelderse Roos) sell them by weight.
      For pattens use long nails, as short ones are easily pulled out when the wood is wet. I used 4 cm nails and they caused no problem.

  3. I have debarked hundreds of logs. If you don't have a spud, an ordinary small garden spade works very well.