How to Make a Cowboy Boot

The talented folks at Justin Boots explain how they’ve been handcrafting this horseback-riding staple for more than 100 years.

Justin Boots give you the support you need to stay comfortable in the saddle. Journal photo.

Cowboy boots continue to provide the same function they did more than a century ago for cowboys, cowgirls, ranchers and farmers. But more than that, they’ve evolved into a fashion accessory for many. Whether you wear your boots to work or out on the town, it’s fun to think about where they came from. That’s where the skilled craftsmen at Justin Boots, an AQHA Corporate Partner, come in.

Since H.J. Justin pioneered the modern cowboy boot and established Justin Boots in 1879, the leading western footwear brand has been handcrafting boots in the United States. Justin Boots are manufactured at four American factories, where many hours of labor and more than 100 steps go into making each pair. While modern technology is utilized to enhance efficiency during the process, each pair is touched by dozens of pairs of hands, because crucial steps in the bootmaking process can still only be done by hand.

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The first step in bootmaking is cutting the leather, the main component of the boot exterior. Construction of each boot can require up to 16 square feet of natural leather. After the leather is cut, the bootmaker attaches the leather to what will be the inside lining of the boot. Once these are in place, the excess leather is trimmed.

After the leather and its lining are intact, the next step is stitching. The intricate, stylish and colorful stitching patterns on uppers can now be done by a computer stitcher. The device can stitch complex patterns quickly and consistently, which makes the stitching process run smoothly.

Next, several steps are taken to start shaping the boot into its 3D form, including sewing the front and back parts together and shaping the heel counter.

To create the foot of the boot, the bootmaker starts what is called the lasting process. During this process, the leather insoles are nailed to a plastic last, and the bootmaker forms the leather and shapes the boot over the last. Next, the bootmaker applies the box toe and works out the wrinkles from the leather, giving the toe its final shape.

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After the exterior is mostly formed, the next step is inseaming. During this process, the soles are attached to the outsoles and the bottom of the boot is prepared for the metal shank, which is inserted to offer arch support for the wearer. The outsoles are bonded to the bottom of the boot, and using the shape of the boot as a guide, the bootmaker trims the excess leather.

The distinctive mark of a well-made boot is its pegging. Because of the way the outsole is rolled to hold the shank, a row of brass nails and a row of wooden pegs are used to hold and secure the outsole between the welt and the heel. The final steps include attaching, trimming and shaping the heel, and inking and burnishing the heel and outsole. Once the boots are washed and the hand dressing and final polishing are applied, the boot is ready for a final quality inspection before it’s boxed and shipped.

The next time you pull on a new pair of Justin Boots, you can be assured that they were made with the upmost care. Because of the attention to detail and dedication of these master craftsmen, your Justin Boots will stand the test of time so you can walk with confidence and pride. Watch this video to learn more about the Justin Boots employees who handcrafted your favorite boots. To check out all of Justin Boots’ collections, visit JustinBoots.com.