Introduction: The Ultimate Super Hip Sandals

About: Car buff, longboard builder and shop teacher. not enough time to build stuff.

During the year of 2014/15 My wife Deb and I decided to teach in Rwanda, East Africa. We loaded up our kids and our life to spend a year working with some really amazing people. We learned more than we taught and one thing I noticed is that many of the people in the country made fantastic sandals from car tires. I thought this was something to try and on my return to Canada I spent some time surfing the net for ideas until I stumbled on Davy Rippners fantastic website. Here's a link.

Being a complete newbie to Leatherworking I was a bit intimidated but I thought if it didn't work i could use the leather for something else. After gathering material and reading Davy's tutorial about 16 times I started out. I ended up with what I would say are the BEST sandals I have ever owned. This includes my Tevas, Keens, Birkenstocks and Merrells which are all well rated and can be really expensive. Ya, I am pointing my finger at Birkenstocks for expense. Yikes. The sandals I made are better for support, tougher and WAY more comfortable. I have spent the whole summer scrambling rocks at the beach and Hiking for out of reach fishing spots with my son and They really are the Ultimate Super Hip Sandals.

I asked Davy if I could do an Instructable from his LOTR Sandal tutorial. Actually, I suggested HE do it but It wasn't his cup of tea, so to speak. I thought these sandals would be a great way for other people to learn sandal and shoe making so, In Davy's words, I decided to "Have at 'er". Be sure to check out Davy's tutorial. My methods to make the sandals are similar to Davy's although I do wander off course if it seemed to work better for me. I had a chance to head to the Gulf Islands to visit him with my daughter and it was an excellent day. Davy is a fascinating person and a true craftsman.

Please remember that these instructions are open to change! Please make design changes if you see fit. The beauty of this method is that it is a perfect starting point for adaptation. My daughter is already asking me to come up with a different way of doing the straps, or not having a toe-strap. Go for it, I say!

Step 1: The Outline

Here are the Four basic areas of the Sandals that you will be making, from Top to Bottom:

Straps. The straps include The narrow pull strap and the wider Arch strap. Made from 7oz Leather.

The Uppers. This is the first main layer that your foot contacts. This layer has all of the slots cut for the Straps to pass through.

The Insole. This is the very thick leather (10-12 oz) layer that is sandwiched between the Upper and the Sole. This layer is a cushion but also the solid base to which the Uppers attach with gluing and Nailing.

The Sole. The rubber bit with tread that contacts the ground.

Step 2: Tools You Need.

Here's a list of the materials you will need. Remember this list is not set in stone. You can change, substitute and eliminate some of what follows. The special tools are all from Tandy. You can probably get them online as well. For more details on the tools, go to the appropriate area in this 'ible and all will be clear. I will suggest alternatives if I think they will work.


-Cutting Mat and ruler or that cool plastic measuring thing from quilting stores.

-Olfa knife, Mat knife, drywall knife.... Whatever you may call it.

-Rotary Cutter. Buy one. Seriously. A super useful tool.

-Punch with different size holes. You could use a drill I suppose.

-Stitching Punch. I like the one with 4 points.

-Edger. I have a number 2 size. Handy for creating a nice bevel on the leather edge. Looks pro. :-)

-Jigsaw. I use a wood blade that is for a clean cut on the wood.

-A Chunk of wood and 120G sandpaper.

-A Hammer. A ball pean hammer with one smooth face is perfect.

-Leatherworking Needles. These are very specific to working with leather.

-Wax coated super thick thread. This stuff is made to look like sinew. Its really just nylon with a wax coating.

-Saddle soap and Dubbin. Awesome cleaners and conditioners for leather. Not just for making sandals!

-Barge cement. This is basically just contact cement but it is really really strong. Excellent glue.

Step 3: The Leather and Sole

I picked up my leather from Tandy and from a Leather place in my Hometown. You can get it online as well but it is nice to be able to feel the material. Leather is sold by thickness (weight... in oz.), square foot and type. Of course, you can find all sorts of variations and options but it can be overwhelming.

-I bought leather that is "oak tanned". This is the finishing process and is the chemical way they break down the skins. You can also buy other chemical styles but this type has a nice "feel". The leather I bought is not coloured. You can buy all sorts of colours but I wanted to finish it once assembled into a sandal. It is also not likely you will find coloured thick leather.

-I found 10-12 oz leather for the Insole called "skirting" which is used for making saddles. It is about 3/16' to 1/4' thick and very rigid. You can usually buy it by square foot and can be pricy. If you can't find 10-12 oz you can always glue and layer 2 7oz pieces together!

-The Straps and Uppers are from 7-9 oz leather. This is more pliable than 10-12 oz but still pretty thick at 1/8". Use the softest you can find at this weight for the arch straps. You can go lighter as well but the sandal will be more flexible. You need to buy pieces that will allow at least 48" long pieces for the straps to be cut out with. If this is not possible you can buy 3/8" by 48" long pre-cut unfinished straps from Tandy.

-The Sole material is Rubber. I looked up "rubber manufacturing" in my phone directory and picked up 1/4" thick stuff. Make sure to ask if it porous enough to glue with Barge. Shoe makers locally might have some too but can be ridiculously expensive.

Step 4: Measure Your Feet

I think this is why these Sandals are so great. You build them to fit your feet. I used a thick piece of paper and a few coloured pens. Stand over the paper in a natural way. Get a friend to trace your feet out and make the marks. Try not to bend over to watch; it throws off the outline. Have your helper hold the pen vertically and gently press against your feet. Make sure to mark the spots where your feet naturally indent as well as your big toe line and ankle strap spot.

Here are a few Pointers.

Pic 1 shows my right foot. The blue lines show where my feet indented at the base of my big and small toe. The red line is the line between my big and second toe. Ya, I know my feet and toes are freakish. I drew lines on my feet to show where the arch straps end up. (green lines) You want them to be resting on your foot just at the point where your feet start to become ankles. The strap is about 2" wide so you need to accommodate it. The rear line of the strap should rest on the spot where your foot starts to go UP. You don't need to draw the line on your foot. If you do, don't use permanent pen like I did. Still on my foot a week later. :-)

Draw an Outline

I used red pen to show the outline. Add about 1/4" all the way around. You can bring it a bit closer on the sides. Add a bit extra at the toes... You don't want to step off and bash your toes. I added about 1/2" at the heel; which in retrospect might have been too much. On my first pair of sandals I didn't add enough. My thought is that at the end I can always cut off extra. Its pretty tough to ADD material.

Mark the strap spots.

I drew thick green lines where the straps will go through the upper. My straps are 3/8" wide and about 1/8" thick so I drew the lines accordingly. Draw the lines parallel to your foot edge with the slot centred on the lines you drew. Look at the pics for clarification. Take off about 1/16" so that the straps will be quite tight as they pull through.

Mark the Ankle Strap spots.

Same deal as the straps. Make sure the lines are a bit smaller than the actual straps you have planned. Keep the lines parallel to your foot line. Remember that the BACK of the ankle strap will rest on your foot just as it turns into your leg. You don't want it to rub on your foot so move it forward if needed.

The Rear Slots.

Mark these slots along the edge of your foot line about 3/8" forward from the front of the ankle strap line. Look at the LAST picture to see where it goes.

Now cut out the Outline. Punch the slots at the end of each line and cut out the slots with your mat knife.

Step 5: Cut Out the Straps.

You will need two 3/8" wide by 48" to 50" long pieces of 7oz leather for the narrow straps. I used 48" long pieces and they are long enough for my size 9.5 feet. Remember, the narrow strap goes through ALL of the slots so it is quite long. I used a quilting cutting mat and Olfa circle knife to cut out the straps. Cut carefully because the leather likes to wander around which will vary the width of the strap. Cut a small angle on one end of the strap. It will make assembly easier later.

Also cut out the Ankle straps. They are about 11" long at the long edge with about a 1/2" taper at each side. You will cut off the extra later but this will leave enough material to work with. They are about 2" wide. You can use different widths if you prefer. Some smaller feet might look better with a more narrow strap.

Use the edger on the BOTTOM (fleshy) edges. This isn't required but removing a rough edge is a nice touch. Practice using the edger first. If you hold it at the right angle and push forward it will do a nice job. Very satisfying!

Step 6: Trace and Cut Out the Design

You want to cut out the Uppers, Insole and Soles after you trace out the design with a pencil. Use a sharp knife to cut out the thinner leather but use a Jigsaw to cut out the thicker material. It is REALLY tough to cut out the thick material with a knife but very easy to use a saw. The jigsaw is also handy for cutting out the rubber sole. I used a smooth cut blade for wood. Support the leather so that the blade is very close to the table edge.

Use a scrap piece of leather to practice cutting slots. The first one I cut was too big for my straps so I knocked it down one size. You could probably use a single hole punch or drill to do this. I punched the holes so the edge of the hole lined up with the end of the slot, minus about 1/16". I punch both ends than use a mat knife held at a vertical to cut out the rest of the slot. I do a tiny cut at each edge of the slot, rotate the piece, cut again than FLIP the piece over to finish the cut from the back.

Remember to punch and cut out the small slots... all 5, and the ankle strap slots. Trial fit the ankle straps and narrow straps in the slots to make sure the slots are just a bit narrower than the strap leather and fit snugly.

Step 7: Prep the Leather

This step will make the leather cleaner a bit easier to work with and will restore the natural oils that are lost during storage and processing. In a sink or outside, use a soft brush and a bit of water to mix up a good lather of Saddle Soap. Brush the leather vigorously; do all of the leather pieces. Let it sit until cool to the touch than do it again. Use a damp rag rubbed into the Saddle Soap to pull the leather straps through. This will stretch them a bit and make the pieces more pliable.

At this point it won't hurt to do a bit of colouring. I use Fiebings oil based dye but you can get other types. This dye seems to work really well and you have lots of colour options. Use disposable gloves and an old rag to work the dye into the leather. Do both sides of all pieces. You can add more layers for a stronger look or buff the pieces with the rag to create texture. I like the "English" and Medium brown colours. Try a bit on a sample piece first to see what you like best. No turning back from this!! You can mix colors... I like to do a base of dark brown than add some "English" brown to it, which is a bit redder.

Step 8: Rough Fitting

This is a very fun step. You get to try out your sandals and get a feel for what you have done. You will need your Uppers and all of the straps. Use the diagram above to push the straps through all of the slots until you have two sort of together sandals. Note that the straps go through the slot between the two outside toes TWICE. Call me dense if you want but it took a long, long time to figure that out. :-)

Push through the ankle straps. Tilt them forward to match the natural angle of your feet. Fold the extra over on the bottom of the uppers.

Try them on! Pretty cool, right?

Wiggle your toes and push forward until the middle toe strap sits all comfy between your toes. Pull the straps through until the straps are snug. Make sure you can fit a finger or two between the straps and your foot. Davy told me that most people do the straps too tight. I found this out because it took me way too long to break in my first sandals.

The thin straps will knot together at the hollow inside bit just under your ankle bone. You need to fuss and fiddle with the strap until all of the extra strapping is on the outside of the foot. Remember that the straps CROSS OVER just ahead of the ankle strap.

You can choose to do the ring or not at this point. If you look at the intro photos you might notice that the worn-in sandals have a leather ring that joins the straps where they cross. This helps keep their position and looks pretty cool. I didn't do the ring with my second pair but I think I might put one on later. Just cut a ring with about a 3/4 diameter and 3/8" hole in the middle and thread the straps through.

Step 9: Fitting the Ankle Straps

After you have assembled the sandals you can go ahead and figure out the perfect ankle strap fit. You want them Snug but NOT tight. A finger or two inside is good. Be sure to angle them forward so that they do not bite your feet at the top edge. Be sure they are centred so that the material under the uppers is equal on both sides. Pull the narrow straps through so that the sandal feels good. Wiggle your feet and move your feet up and down to ensure full movement.

Push the Uppers down so they are flat to the ground. Use the dull side piece of steel or a prick punch to gently scribe a line across the ankle strap where it meets the Upper. Do this on both sides. The idea is that you will pull this apart later and you will need a reference for reassembly.

Pull the ankle straps out and mark a line on each end parallel to the lines you just drew. Add about 3/4" and cut off the extra. You want to leave enough material to glue and stitch but not so much they overlap. Use a piece of sandpaper on a block to skive (shave, or make thinner) the ends of the ankle straps where they go under the Upper.

Step 10: More Ankle Strap Details

I broke this step up because it is important to do it right. After you have decided the ideal angle of the ankle strap and marked where it meets the uppers you can line up the narrow straps with the ankle straps. Cross the ankle straps in front and pull them across the ankle strap. Gently scribe where the straps cross the ankle straps. Just do this on one sandal because you can copy what you do now for the other foot.

Pull out the ankle strap and mark a slot through which the narrow straps will go. Be sure to cut a bit less than the width and thickness of the material so that the end result will be tight. Use a punch and mat knife to cut the slot. Repeat for the other ankle strap being sure to flip the other piece... flesh sides together so that you will have a mirror image.

Cross the narrow straps than feed them through the slots you just made. The narrow strap goes DOWN into the front slot, under the strap than UP through the back slot. If you want, you can try to do it differently but this seems to work well. Stuff your now perfect ankle straps into the uppers and try them on.

I know. Pretty excellently awesome. You can always move the ankle straps, fidget with the narrow straps and generally move things around until you are happy with the fit. Be sure to re-mark any changes that you might want to make later.

Step 11: Prep the Upper and Sole

Before you move on you have to make sure the straps do not get attached to the uppers. You should always be able to pull the narrow straps through to adjust for stretching and fit.

Get a glop of Dubbin on your finger and apply it to the uppers AND the insoles where the straps cross over to the next slot. You can also use a candle but Dubbin works great. You are trying to make it so that any glue that happens to get into the area where the straps pull through won't stick.

Glue the Ankle straps into position. Apply the Barge to BOTH sides of each glue joint; to the ankle strap AND to the upper where the strap will attach. Allow the glue to dry completely, about 15-20 mins. Push the straps down than use a hammer to firmly bash them into place. I sneak a piece of lumber into the spot where my foot goes so I can get a solid hit.

Try the sandals on again. You can still pull things apart so be sure everything fits! Don't do what I did which was to not re-try the fit. My sandals really are too tight now that they are finished. I sense a great deal of breaking-in will need to happen for me.

Step 12: Punch and Stitch the Ankle Straps

Make sure you have re-tried the fit. The ankle straps should NOT be tight; ideally a finger or two between the strap and your foot should fit. You need to stitch the ankle straps to the uppers because the amount of force of your foot pulling up is quite substantial. Start by placing the sandals on a piece of scrap wood. Line up the punch under the ankle strap. I like to have the stitch be away from the foot in case there is a bit of abrasion. I used nails for my first pair of sandals which wasn't a good idea.

Give the punch a couple of solid hits. You want to penetrate through two layers. You could use a single punch or drill as well of course but this tool is inexpensive at Tandy and does a really nice job. Line up the first pin on the punch with the last hole you made and punch the remaining holes. You will most likely need 7-8 holes total on each side of the strap.

Once you have finished punching the holes it is time to stitch. The needles and thread are specific to leather making. The needles have a very wide and flat head for the thick thread to pass through and they do not have sharp tips. The dull tips prevent the needles from penetrating the thread from the previous pass. You will see what I mean in a second. The thread is very thick and coated in wax. It is nylon and is extremely strong.

Thread two needles with about 16" of thread. One needle on each end with about 2" passing through in a loop. Push one needle through the first hole until the hole is centred on the thread. See the pic above. The trick with the needles is to make sure that the head of the needle is turned such that the flat of the head lines up with the shape of the hole you punched (if you used the type of punch I show). The hole, you see is not round... it is slightly rectangular.

Move to the next hole with the BOTTOM needle and push it up and through the second hole. Pull tight, hold the thread and push the OTHER needle DOWN through the same hole you just pushed the first needle up through. This is why the needles are not sharp; so they don't penetrate the thread you pushed through first.

Take the BOTTOM needle, push it through the next hole, hold the thread and push the next needle and push it DOWN through the same hole. Pull the thread tight. A very cool lady at the local Tandy store told me the stitches will be more even if I always start with the same direction... in this case always up through the bottom first. This is called saddle stitching and is a very strong and dependable stitch.

I finish the row by tying a simple double knot at the bottom of the upper. I put a small blop of Barge on the knot, let it dry for 20 minutes than give it a gentle smack with a hammer. This causes the knot to lay flat and the glue holds everything in place.

Now do the remaining three lines of stitching!

Step 13: Glue the Upper and Insole

This is a quick step. Use Barge to glue the Upper and Insole together. Use a nice even layer on both pieces. Be sure to allow 15-20 minutes dry time before attaching them together. It is a good idea to do a second coat if you have enough glue. One tube of Barge is enough to do all the gluing for a pair of sandals.

DO NOT get glue on the areas where the straps pass through. Make sure you have enough Dubbin on these areas as well so that the straps will not be glued. You need them to move for the life of the sandals.

Once you have attached the layers together use a hammer to solidly pound the two pieces together. Concentrate on the edges. I do it with the sandals upside down supporting the edge on the side of the work table as I hammer.

Step 14: Hammer the Upper to the Insole.

I have looked everywhere on the net for proper shoe-makers nails. You can use Upholstery tacks but the heads are a bit big. The important thing about the nail is that it has a thick shoulder (by the head) and tapers quickly to a very sharp point. ***UPDATE*** Thanks so much to Cuyler1 who provided an ID for the nails... They are called Cut Tacks and are available on ebay. They are expensive but quite nice. Heres an Ebay link.

I would LOVE to try stitching and even gave it a shot by drilling through the upper and insole and trying a few stitches but it was WAY too hard. I believe the Tippman machine can do it. That would be pretty cool. For now I will use nails which give a very unique look that gets all sorts of "thats cool!" type comments.

Use a simple scratch awl or thin punch to make the holes. Try to center the holes at narrow points and be sure to have a hole at each stress point ie: next to a strap slot. You can nail straight in without punching first but this method allows you to place many nails at once and hammer all together. Way faster. Punching first also ensures the nails go in straight. I spaced the holes about 3/4" apart but it is up to you.

Once you have punched the holes, place a nail in each hole and, using a ball pean hammer, smack the nails in place through the upper and into the insole. Here is where things are a bit different. The nails should be about 1/16" LONGER than the width of insole and upper combined. When you hammer, do it on top of a chunk of steel. This will cause the nails to BEND OVER at the ends. This is why the nails are unique... the thin pointy tips are much thinner than the shoulders and will bend when hit which locks them into place and keeps the two layers tight together.

I use a ball pean hammer so that when I am placing the nails I hammer flat. Once they are in position, i switch the hammer to the other end and use the Ball. This creates a small divet, or depression where the nail head sits below the level of the foot.

Once you have hammered and you are happy with the result, spread Barge on the rubber soles and the bottom of the insole, let it dry, place them together than Hammer all the way around.

Step 15: Tying the Sheeps Head Knot.

This is a great way to tie leather straps. First cut the straps so that the piece coming from the ankle strap on the outside of your foot ends at the depression just under your ankle. Now match the other end of the strap, add about 2" extra and cut the strap.

use scissors to cut a long bevel, or angle from the tip of the strap about 2" long on the LONG end of the strap. The short end of the strap gets a 1/8" punch and a short slot cut in to the hole about 1/2"- 3/8" long. Look at the pics to clarify.

To tie the knot, pass the tapered end through the hole from the back. Loop the end down and around the back of the piece with the hole. Push the piece down through the loop you just created. If you push the leather to the end of the slot and fuss with it the knot will look great, lie flat and will not loosen.

Try the sandals on and see how they fit. The straps should hold your foot but not be too tight. Its up to you. The knot can be loosened and more or less material can be pulled through to adjust the strap until the sandals are comfy.

Step 16: Final Details

You have made it this far!

Congratulations! I hope that your sandals are fitting you well. All thats left is finishing.

You may have noticed that in my pictures the heel of the sandals stick out a bit far. I kept this in mind while hammering the nails and allowed some material to be removed. Use a Jigsaw to remove large amounts. You can also use a sharp knife to carve the extra off.

Use 120G sandpaper on a block of wood to sand until the edges are all flat and smooth and perfect. If you have a powered sander, disc sander or even a stationary sander do use them to do this step, otherwise you can do it by hand. Remember to keep the straps WAY back and out of the way with any powered tools which can grab straps and coil up your nice new sandals into the machine.

Mix up some Saddle Soap and scrub the sandals until they are evenly soaked through. Put them on and squish your feet in to the slippery messy foam. Yes, this seems icky but it is kind of fun. Wear the sandals around until they dry. Walk all over the place. Try walking a steep hill than walk down, stretching the straps and moulding them to your feet. I did this three times with my first pair.

Pull out your dye again and go over all the leather, scrub and rub in the dye until you are happy with the results. You can even do the saddle soap squishy toes treatment again.

Use Dubbin now. Use a rag to buff in the Dubbin. Keep adding the treatment until the leather has reached a lovely warm slick feel.

A Burnisher will give the sandals a finished look that cannot be duplicated by a machine. You can buy notched plastic round edge burnishers or you can use antler or very hard wood. Rub the edges of the leather until it reaches a solid glazed look.

Break in the sandals gradually. I found areas that were uncomfortable at first. I would wear them for 30 minutes and take them off before they became too much. I gradually started to wear them all the time. In fact, this summer I went back to Rwanda to teach and only packed my sandals for footwear.

You should be able to keep these sandals for many years. Maintain them with Saddle soap and Dubbin. You can always re-adjust the straps as the leather stretches.

Thank you so much for reading my Instructable. It has been a pleasure to share this with you. Please send pics of what you have made and be sure to check out Davy's website.

-Stu Mitchell

Tandy Leather Contest 2016

First Prize in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016