Introduction: Making Wooden Sandals (Scholl's Style)

I like wearing Dr. Scholl's wooden sandals, but I can't find them (men's) in the shops anymore. So I decided to try making a pair by copying the shape of the original. The distinctive feature of this style of sandal is the ridge or or bump that fits between the ball of the foot and toes, preventing slipping. The back is also carved out which stops the heel sliding sideways. The strap is well forward, allowing the foot to rise naturally on the toes when walking. Pressing down with the toes to "retrieve" the sandal while stepping forward produces a distinctive "clop, clop" sound.
I believe Dr. Scholl designed the original sandal carefully, based on a study of the natural barefoot gait.
Later versions, especially in women's styles, diverged somewhat from this ideal.

This shows the finished sandals (a bit dirty; I've been wearing them in the yard).

Total cost: about $25 ($5 for the wood, $20 for a commercial sole). Using an old car tire for the sole might work - I tried, but had trouble cutting the steel belting.

Step 1: The Original Sandals

I have several pairs of the original sandals, in slightly different styles as the manufacturer changed them over the years. There are 3 basic problems that develop:: the straps wear out, the woot splits along the grain, and the wood wears rapidly if the rubber sole wears through and I don't get them re-soled promptly. The upper surface also wears down gradually, so the wood can get quite thin at the toes and break. That's what happened to this pair.

Step 2: Preparation

I'm not sure what kind of wood the originals were made from. I picked a piece of oak nominally 1 inch thick, wide enough to cut out two sandals side-by-side (one inverted). OK, it's what they had in the store. The original sandal is thicker in a couple of places, so I glued some offcuts to the top side to build up the thickness in that area.

Step 3: Rough Cut Out

There is a registration problem between the routing and the outline, so for the second pair I made I decided to do a rough cutout first, then machine the surface of the sandal, then do a final cut around the outline. Here I am about to cut the two rough outlines from the blank. Note that one of the blanks is inverted (the upper side of the two sandals are on opposite sides of the wood blank).

Step 4: Gluing Riser

This is the extra piece forming the instep, glued and clamped. I used two-part marine quality wood glue.

Step 5: Router Jig

The basic idea is to copy the shape from the original sandal to the wooden blank. The best solution is probably a computer-controlled milling machine - convert a file from AutoCAD and press go. Failing that, a manual milling machine. I believe one can be had for about $600, but the table looks too small. Of course, one can do it the old-fashioned way - by eye, with a mallet and set of chisels.

Originally, I had intended to make a pantograph , using an electric drill with a rotary rasp, that would allow free movement in three dimensions. But it seemed simpler to adapt a drill press, and make a jig to move the workpiece sideways. This allows movement in two dimensions. The 3D shape is built up in slices, like an analog TV picture. The blank and pattern are screwed to the jig from underneath. This leaves a couple of screw holes in the sandal, but they are covered by the rubber sole.

The drill press is actually an adapter to take an electric drill. It's not very good quality, and I had no qualms about drilling holes in it. I mounted a horizontal bar on the press traveller, and mounted a vertical probe in it, parallel to the drill bit.. When the drill lever is lowered, the probe moves in concert with the drill bit. The thing is not very rigid; you have to stop lowering when you see the probe touch the pattern, not when you feel resistance. The probe certainly won't act as a stop.

For horizontal movement, the wood blank and pattern (old sandal) are mounted on a wooden jig. The horizontal spacing of the blank and pattern matches the spacing of the drill bit and probe. There is a wooden rail clamped to the table to which the press is secured, and spacers fitted to hold the jig level. Thus it is possible to slide the jig horizontally in a straight line by holding it against the rail. The drill bit will trace a line across the blank, while the probe tracks the same path across the pattern.
To carve a parallel track, the rail is unclamped and moved towards the drill. The position of the probe is checked to make sure it traces the same line. The drill press allows the drill to be swung from side to side when a nut is loosened; with this setup, the probe rotates with the drill and moves horizontally. Given the geometry of the clamps and table, it is easier to swing the left end of the rail to move the drill across the workpiece (in reality, move the workpiece across the drill), and to swing the drill to move the probe across the pattern.

The drill is set up with a hemispherical router bit about 1cm diameter. When this is used as a router, sliding the workpiece while keeping the drill depth the same, it will carve a semi-cylindrical slot.
In practice, since the press is not particularly well-made and the jig has only limited constraints on uncontrolled movement, it is easier and safer to use the press as a press - drill a hole, raise the drill, slide the work sideways, then drill another hole

The video shows the steps of lining up the probe and router bit so that they track properly.

Step 6: First Cuts With the Router

This shows the initial removal of material using the router bit as a drill. There is a vacuum hose set up behind the drill; there is quite a lot of material to remove and it has to end up somewhere.

Another approach would be to use a drill, not a router bit, and make a series of drill holes using the probe to control the depth. That would leave a rectangular blank covered with a grid of small holes. Then use some other method to remove excess wood, such as a hammer and chisel or grinder, stopping when the pilot holes are no longer visible.

SAFETY: Wear eye protection (got my reading glasses); wear ear protection (I did with the grinder,; it's noisy); tie back hair (didn't do that); have a kill switch (yes, but not positioned to be usable); keep hands away from tool (oops!); wear a dust mask and/or control dust (forgot the mask, did have a vacuum); keep workplace tidy (you're kidding, right?)

Step 7: Halfway Routed

This shows the blank with about half the work complete. I started in the middle, the worked progressively across to the right edge. The light area is the extra wood glued on for the instep.

WARNING - this operation is potentially unsafe. I cut my finger on the router when it caught on the work and pulled the entire jig - work, patter, and my hand - to the left. It can also cut into the work where it is supposed to be higher. The risk can be minimised by 1) making more, smaller cuts 2) moving the work against the direction of blade rotation, not with it. That way if the blade catches it will push the work out away from the blade rather than pulling it in. The problem is that, having made the first slot, you are working on only one side of the blade so there is an unbalanced force. Re-engineering the jig and rail so that the work is mechanically held against the rail would help, as would turning the whole thing into a milling machine by adding a screw drive.

Step 8: Routing Complete

This shows the blank with all the routing complete

Step 9: Final Cut Around Outline

This shows the half-finished sandal after the excess wood is trimmed with a jigsaw. Next, the sides are smoothed out with a sander.

Step 10: Sanding the Upper Surface

The upper side of the sandal is sanded with a high-speed disk, removing the ridges between the tracks cut by the router and generally smoothing things out. The high-speed grinder is quite hard to control, so it is important not to allow it to remove too much material. Following the initial sanding, I repeated with a slower-speed disk (disk mounted in a variable-speed electric drill), and finished by hand with a medium-grit sandpaper.

There is a vacuum set up to one side of the work, with a large funnel to try and catch the dust. It was only partly successful. This sander makes a lot of very fine dust that gets on everything. It would be better to do this outdoors, or in some kind of booth where the dust can be better controlled.

Step 11: Planing the Sole

The sole of the original sandal is not completely flat; there is a slight bevel to the heel and toe. This gives a more gentle rocking motion when walking and I believe reduced wear on the sole. I copied this bevel by planing the heel and toe of the sandal before fitting the sole. A hand plane raises less dust than a sander.

Step 12: Fitting the Sole

The sole is glued into place. I used a commercial readymade rubber sole bought from a shoe repair shop. It is glued to the underside of the sandal with contact cement after roughening the surface of the rubber to remove the shine.

Step 13: Fitting the Strap

For a strap, I used a piece of an old leather belt. Instead of using a buckle to adjust the strap length like a store-bought sandal, I just cut the strap to fit my foot. The strap is held in place by wood screws on each side, as on the original. The straps are tilted slightly forward to accommodate the arch of the foot.. On one, the strap was initially tilted too far and wore a hole in the top of my toe, so I had to reposition it slightly.

That's it, the sandals are finished. I put a bit of sealant stain on the edges; I think if the wood gets wet it contributes to cracking. I should probably sand the top surfaces again and treat it with wood oil; the green colour is grass stain - I was wearing them in long grass.

Step 14: Cross-sections

Some cross-sections of the original sandal (men's size 11 left foot)

You can see the original image by clicking the thumbnail, then clicking the [i] icon (top left), then clicking "original image".

These traces were made using the tool shown in the photo. I'm not sure what it's called. This step is not required to make the sandals using the method described earlier, but might be one approach to generating a data file for a milling machine.