Wooden clogs are heavy work shoes that were typically worn by French and
Dutch peasants up through the beginning of the twentieth century. Known in
and in Dutch as
these sturdy shoes protected the feet of agricultural workers from mud
and wet and from injury by the sharp tools used in the field. French clogs
were often made from a combination of wood and leather. However, the
classic Dutch clog is entirely wooden. Wooden clogs are naturally highly
water resistant, and therefore they were especially useful in the marshy
fields of the Netherlands. Farm workers also wore specially decorated
wooden clogs to church and on holidays. In World War I, entrenched
soldiers wore wood and leather clogs called sabotines. Up through this
time, clogs were typically made by hand.
Later, industrialization made leather and rubber shoes more readily
available, and wooden clogs became less wide-spread. However wooden clogs
are still worn by Dutch farm workers, and also by Dutch fishermen and
steel factory workers. Clogs made a resurgence in the 1960s across Europe
and North America, not as a work shoe but as fashion. They are still
popular in the 1990s. These modern clogs are usually a leather shoe
attached to a wood sole. Clogs made entirely from rubber are also popular
as gardening shoes.
Wooden clogs are usually made from one of three kinds of wood: European
willow, yellow poplar, or tulip poplar. These woods are all hard and water
resistant. After the lumber is cut, it is not treated in any way, but made
into shoes as soon after felling as is practical. No other material is
necessary to make wooden clogs, though some shoes are varnished or
decorated with paint.
Wooden clogs were traditionally made entirely by hand, either by their
wearers or by specialized artisans. The shoes were roughly carved on the
outside, then clamped into a bench that held them vertically, toe down.
Then the artisan scooped them out with a long-handled tool. Less than a
hundred years ago, a wooden clog factory might consist of dozens of
workers making shoes in this same manner, by hand. The introduction of
automated machines sped up the process, though machines still required
Making the blanks
1 The willow or poplar trees are felled and sawn into logs. The logs are
debarked, then fed into a saw, which cuts them into rough rectangular
blocks. Each block, called a blank, will be formed into one shoe. The
size of the block varies depending on what size shoe is to be made out
of it. For a men's size 8 shoe, the block might be 14.5 x 5.25 x
5.25 in (37 x 13.3 x 13.3 cm).
2 Two blanks are placed into a machine called a shaper (also known as a
copier or duplicator). This shapes the outside of the shoes. Next to the
blanks is a vinyl shoe, which is used as a pattern. Each shoe size has
its own vinyl pattern, and the machine operator locks the appropriate
the shaper. A pointer is set to ride along the pattern shoe. Attached
to the pointer are two electrically powered cutting tools. These are set
to the right and left shoe blanks. The machine operator turns the power
on, and carefully traces the outline of the pattern shoe with the
tracer. The cutting tools follow the motion of the tracer, and carve out
the out-line of the shoe. The two blanks rotate in opposite directions,
allowing a left and a right shoe to be carved simultaneously.
Carving the interior
3 Next, the carved blanks are placed in another machine called a dual
action borer. This machine has a three-pronged cutting implement. The
center prong is a tracer, and this goes inside another vinyl pattern
shoe. The right and left prongs are set to the right and left shoe
blanks. Their cutting ends are sharp-edged scoops similar to ice cream
scoops or melon ballers. The operator holds a long metal rod attached to
the tracer prong, and pushes this along the inside of the pattern shoe.
The cutters follow the tracer's movement, and scoop out the wood
blocks. This machine carves out the interior of the shoes to its
approximate finished dimensions, leaving an extra 0.25 in (0.64 cm) of
material all around.
4 The shoes are placed in a similar machine called a refiner, which is
in this case entirely automatic. Two cutters follow a pointer on a vinyl
pattern and scoop out the inside of the shoes, trimming away the excess
0.25 in (0.64 cm) of material left by the previous step. The fine action
of this machine leaves the interior of the shoes extremely smooth, and
they need very little finishing after this point.
5 The shoes are left to air-dry for four to six weeks. They may be
simply placed in a dry storeroom, or they may set in a low temperature
furnace, which circulates warm dry air around them. As they cure,
moisture is drawn out of the wood, and the shoes harden.
6 After the shoes are completely dry, workers sand them lightly inside
and out. At this point the shoes are completely finished and ready to
wear. If the shoes are to be decorated, they are painted or varnished
Where to Learn More
A World of Shoes.
Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989.
Once sanded, the wooden clogs are decorated and then varnished.
Shoes: Their History in Words and Pictures.
New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1997.
Chargot, Patricia. "Clompin' Around."
Detroit Free Press
(March 23, 1998).
Kuniholm, Erin. "Going Dutch: Wearing Clogs Is the Next Best
Thing to Going Barefoot."
Women's Sports and Fitness
(October 1997): 82-84.