Ever wondered what the Japanese used for footwear prior to western imperialism brought Adidas to the land of the rising sun? Me neither, but if you've ever seen shows like Samurai Jack or any number of anime set in Japan's pre-industrial past you may have noticed characters wearing a type of shoe called geta.
These are hard wooden sandals with two "teeth" (ha in Japanese) that raise the wearer above the ground and allow for an interesting step and sound. There are still Japanese elders who have fond memories of the time when the streets of Japan were still alive with the clack of geta and after figuring out what these shoes were called and their historic significance, I decided it would be fun to make my own pair. They're pretty easy to make and when you're done you'll have a set of geta that are custom-fit for your feet, as well as some of the noisiest shoes this side of Chuckie Finster.
Step 1: Measurements
As with any footwear, having the proper measurements can make a big difference in geta fitting well or not. The positioning and height of the teeth, length and width of the sole, and placement of the thong are important to getting a good fit. Luckily for you and I someone has made a great calculator that'll give you all the exact measurements you need for your foot. Remember to follow the directions for measuring your foot since well-fitted geta will actually be a couple centimeters shorter than the length of your foot. You can find the geta calculator here. Once you have measurements you can get your materials.
Step 2: Materials and Tools
- 2' of red oak 2"x2"
- 2' of red oak 1/2"x6"
- 2' 1/4" red oak dowel
- cotton piping (optional)
- 1/4" nylon rope
- wood glue
Step 3: Cutting the Teeth and Sole
With the measurements from the geta calculator you can cut the material to size. I marked out where my cuts needed to go with pencil on the soles and teeth, then used a table saw to cut and rip the pieces as needed.
If you're working with a circular saw you can forgo shaving off the 5mm or so difference the calculator gives between the 2x2's width and the ideal width of the teeth. Make sure the extra width is on the inside of the teeth, making the gap between the teeth shorter so the outside measurement of the teeth is correct.
If you have access to a full workshop then using a planer on the soles to get them to the ideal thickness is nice as well, though as long as the thickness is around 1/2" it should be fine. I messed up on mine and used 1" thick red oak, and they still came out fine if a bit heavier than they would have otherwise been, so there's wiggle room in the measurements.
Step 4: Attaching Teeth to Sole
Sand the inside and outside edges of the teeth now since they're easier to get at now rather than later. Then mark out the placement of the teeth on the bottom of the sole, lay a small bead of wood glue in the middle of each tooth and set the tooth on the sole. Place a couple phone books on the teeth to hold everything tight and let the glue set well.
Once the glue has dried and set you can add the dowels that keep everything very tight and add a bit of style to the geta as well. About 1" in on each side of each tooth drill a hole for a peg. This is two holes per tooth, eight total. I used a 15/64 inch bit since my 1/4 inch bit sprouted legs and ran away, but this wound up being a happy coincidence since the hole being slightly undersized meant when I hammered in the dowel it was so snugly it didn't need glue. You could use a 1/4" bit as well and use your best judgment as to if it needs glue. The basic body of the geta are now done, and it's time to add the thongs.
Step 5: That Thong Tha Thong Thong Thong...
Geta are different from most any other thonged sandal such as flip flops in that the thong goes through the middle of the shoe instead of toward the center where the big toe would normally go. This serves an important purpose though, since this makes the back side of the geta hold out to the side as one walks and prevents the heels from hitting one another. Those who've tried making off-center thongs on their geta figure this out.
Luckily for us though the hole's in the center, easy to measure, hard to mess up. Mark your hole as measured in the geta calculator, then drill it out with a large enough bit for two pieces of the rope to go through. I used a 5/16 bit and wallowed the hole a little to make it an oblong.
For the back holes you want them to be just behind the front of the back tooth coming down at an angle that leads to the gap between the teeth on the bottom of the sole. Be careful that you don't drill into the back tooth as the bit comes through the bottom as I did on one of mine.
To thread the thongs slide one end of the rope through each of the back thong holes up through the top, then together through the middle hole. Tie a knot on the underside of the middle hole to hold the thong in place and cut off any excess, sealing the ends with a lighter to prevent fraying. Test the fit similarly to make sure they're not too tight or too lose before your tie the knot.
The thongs are 33" each on mine, this should be a good starting size for others as well, but I'd say start with something more like 38 each to give yourself room to trim them down. It's easier to cut away excess than to add more on later. If you like you can add cotton piping over your nylon rope now to give it added softness and color. measure and adjust your rope to size, then cut a piece of piping an inch or so longer so you can sew the ends of it up after you slide the rope into it.
Step 6: Additional Finishing
The last thing to add to your geta is to round the corners of the sole and sand the whole thing smooth. Since I don't have my handy rasp on hand to carve down the corners I used a sidewalk to rasp down the corners and filed them smooth. A rasp or rought file would also be nice to bring the sole in perfectly flush with the teeth so the wood looks more like one piece. You can also finish them with a clear coat, but I chose to leave mine unfinished. You can also cut out and nail strips of rubber (bike tire perhaps?) to the bottoms of the teeth to quiet the clacking walk if you don't like it but that's part of the traditional charm of geta.
The geta I've made aren't the only style there is though. There are single tooth geta (tengu geta), and ones which have a front tooth that comes forward more like a normal shoe. There are geta with very thin and tall teeth for when it's wet or rainy out, and geta-style sandals made from more modern materials. Make yours however you like, there's plenty of room for playing with the design once you've got the basics down.