There are five distinct ways of soling a leather shoe. Each shoe’s sole impacts its comfort, durability, and waterproofing. Here’s a quick breakdown.
Goodyear welted shoes are distinctive for their waterproof soles since the stitch that attaches the sole to the shoe runs along the outside edge instead of piercing through to the inside of the shoe. The sole attaches to the welt (a strip of rubber, leather, or plastic) which then attaches to the upper. The welt forms a cavity which is then filled with cork or similar material. Because the stitch line runs around the outside of the shoe it is relatively easy for a shoe-maker to resole Goodyear welted shoes.
As you may suspect, the name comes from Charles Goodyear who patented the machine capable of sewing around the perimeter, replacing the need for hand-sewn welts. These days, it is rare to see shoes with Goodyear welting because of the time and difficulty, and the fact that it requires skilled labor.
Advantages: Waterproof, and durable. Easily resolable, extending the lifetime of the shoe for many years.
Disadvantages: Cost. Because stitching is done on the outside of the sole, Goodyear welted shoes tend to be bulkier and less sleek.
Blake Construction (a.k.a. The McKay Method)
Lyman Reed Blake invented the machine in 1856 to make this method possible and later sold it to Gordon McKay. It is a simple process of joining the sole directly with the shoe’s upper with a large strong stitch. This makes the sole thinner than the goodyear welted shoes because they do not need an intermediate layer connecting the shoe sole to the shoe upper.
Advantages: Ease of construction, sole flexibility, and sleeker, more fashionable shoes (which the Italians are famous for).
Disadvantages: Less waterproof soles due to the stitching. Sometimes the thinner soles can be less comfortable on cheap shoes, and most seriously, the thin leather soles can wick water from the ground into the shoe (rubber soles negate this).
Many shoes made with Blake construction are of lower quality BUT there are many good makers who utilize this technique and are worth considering. Blake construction is most popular among Italian shoemakers, who dominate the high-end leather shoe market.
Blake-Rapid is a synthesis of Goodyear and Blake methods, where the stitching technique of Blake is combined with the extra midsole of the Goodyear. Many manufacturers that utilize the Blake method will also use Blake-Rapid. Blake-Rapid shoes tend to be bulkier because of the midsole introduction and thus is typically used on more rugged shoes.
Advantages: Waterproof and more durable than the Blake method.
Disadvantages: Soles are less flexible and added bulk makes soles further from the upper.
Norwegian (AKA Norvegese)
The Norwegian method is an uncommon demonstration of shoemaking virtue. It was originally designed to make shoes more waterproof but has faded from common usage due to its difficulty.
The unique feature of the Norwegian method is the shoe upper is stitched to both the outer sole via the Goodyear method and by the insole. This effectively closes off the channel that water would otherwise use and makes the shoe quite waterproof compared to other methods.
Beware of Blake constructed shoes that knock off the Norwegian method by applying stitching around the base of the upper that does not connect it to the insole. Some manufacturers charge much more for this worthless feature.
The Bologna style is suitable for shoes with flexible soles such as slippers or moccasins because of their simple design. The leather upper is wrapped around the bottom and sewn up. Then the sole is sewn directly to the upper. So, no sole touching your feet. Just soft leather all the way around your foot.
Advantages: Very comfortable and easy to make. Suitable for moccasins and slippers.
Disadvantages: Not waterproof or very durable compared to other methods.
Cheap soles are glued to cheap leather uppers by cavemen.
Advantages: It’s cheap.
Disadvantages: Not durable and falls apart quickly. This method was officially banned by the United Nations in 1957 in the Resolution To End Crap Shoes (hehe). It is punishable by mocking.