Understanding Shoe Construction: Goodyear Welt, Blake Stitch, & Cementing

understanding shoe construction
Understanding Shoe Construction: Goodyear Welt, Blake Stitch, & Cementing
A huge factor in how much a pair of shoes will cost and how long they'll last is based on their construction method. Do you know what you're buying?

As a quick disclaimer, this is a post for the menswear nerds. It’s a heavier, more detailed article that breaks into a lot of the technical details about the differences between quality and cheap shoes. If you’re looking for a quick guide on how to find and buy a certain style of shoes or even which styles are appropriate for given scenarios, we suggest trying some of our other articles.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a pair of shoes that cost $100 and those that cost $1000. While elements such as quality of leather, name brand, and country of construction are all factors, the largest differentiator is the quality of the construction.

By construction, I mean the method through which the sole is attached to the upper of the shoe. For the sake of reference, here’s a quick breakdown of all the major players in a shoe’s anatomy.

The upper – This is the leather or canvas that is seen above the sole when a shoe is worn. While the upper itself can be broken down into many key points (the vamp, the heel, the eyelets, etc.), as a whole it is everything which actually covers the foot when wearing the shoe.

The insole – This is the material on the inside of the shoe with which the foot is in contact when the shoe is being worn.

The outsole – This is the material on the bottom and exterior of the sole and is what comes in contact with the ground while walking.

The welt– On better-constructed shoes, the welt is a strip of leather which runs along the perimeter of the outsole. Its primary function is for attaching the upper to the outsole.

The last –  A three-dimensional model of a foot, the last is what gives a shoe its shape. Lasts are used for both design and construction.

With that basic terminology in mind, we are ready to describe the three basic methods of shoe construction. They are cementing, blake welting, and goodyear welting. All three have their strengths and their weaknesses and no option is objectively superior to any of the others.


This is the cheapest, fastest, and most common method of attaching the sole of a shoe. Once the upper is shaped and completed around the last, the sole is attached with an adhesive and no welting is used.

The Pros – It is a cheap, quick way of attaching the sole, making the shoes’ overall price much more aggressive than a pair which is welted. It also is a superior method of attachment for gummy, rubbery soles that are used in casual shoes. Cementing can be a great method for sneakers, bucks, chukkas, and other shoes with a rubber sole.

The Cons – It is a cheap, quick way of attaching the sole, affecting the durability of the connection between the upper and the sole. It is also a method that completely prevents any resoling. Once the upper begins to separate from the sole or the sole itself is damaged, the shoes need to be replaced, rather than repaired.

Blake Welting

Of the two primary welting methods, blake is the simplest and most common. It also is a byproduct of the industrial revolution because the stitching is done on the inside of the shoe – making it impossible to do by hand

blake stitch shoe construction diagram

For a blake welt, the upper is wrapped around the insole and attached between it and the outsole. A single stitch attaches everything together.

The Pros – Because it is a simpler construction than a goodyear welt, it is also less expensive. It is a process that allows for resoling once the outsole is worn or damaged. Blake welting is also superior when seeking a close-cut sole. Because there are no exterior stitches, the body of the outsole can be cut extremely close to the upper. Lastly, because it has fewer layers than a goodyear welt, a blake-welted sole is more flexible.

The Cons – While a blake can be resoled, it needs a specific blake machine to do so – making it much more difficult and (sometimes) expensive than resoling with a goodyear welt. While fewer layers make the sole for flexible, they also make it less water resistant. Water can wick up through the sole and begin to pool more quickly and easily. There are also some men who complain about irritation at the bottom of their feet because of the interior stitching.

Goodyear Welting

Goodyear welting is the oldest, most labor intensive, and most durable of the three methods of construction. It can be done by machine or by hand and involves multiple steps.

goodyear welt diagram shoe construction

The first part of the process is preparing the insole for stitching. This is done by creating a perpendicular “rib” that runs across the insole. Some shoemakers create the rib by cutting and sculpting the insole, while others will do so by using a supplementary material like linen tape.

The second step is to last the shoe. This is done by stretching the outsole over the last and attaching it, along with the insole, to the last.

Part three is the actual welting. At this point shoe-specific thread is sewn through the welt, the upper, and the insole rib. Through a separate stitch, the welt is attached to the outsole. For both of these stitching points, a lockstitch is used – meaning the chain won’t unravel if it breaks down at any particular point in the shoe.

The Pros – The two-level stitching makes it incredibly easy to resole a goodyear welted shoe. Because the welt acts as a buffer between the insole and the outsole, removing the old sole and attaching a new one can be done by machine or by hand and without a specific machine. The extra layers make the shoe more water resistant and supportive.

The Cons – Because of the additional materials and labor required, a goodyear welted shoe is more expensive. The extra layers that provide more structure come at the cost of flexibility.

No one particular method is objectively superior to any other and they all serve different purposes. Most men are best served by having one or two pairs of classic, timeless dress shoes with a goodyear welt. Along with those two pairs, a man can supplement his wardrobe with a pair or two of a more aggressively styled shoe (double monk, tassle loafer, etc.) in a blake welt if he knows he’s adopting the shoe as a more trendy item. Lastly, he can afford to pick up a few more casual options with a cement sole. The rubbery sole, increased flexibility, and lower price point are great for casual kicks.

While the above list is a recommendation, it is by no means definitive. Each man should take stock of what his needs are and plan accordingly.

Tanner Guzy runs a style blog and consulting business called Masculine Style. He believes in a uniquely masculine aesthetic and wants to help men learn to use their clothes to accomplish their goals. He lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and daughter.

  • TJ

    This is a well-written and easy to understand article. I’m definitely a menswear nerd, right there with you. Good job!

  • GLR

    This was a great read and I learned a lot about shoes! I hope other similar articles come out for different pieces too like wallets or blazers

    • TJ

      I think that a primer on blazer/sport coat/suit jacket construction is a great idea. Something like the anatomy of fused vs canvased jackets.

  • Marty

    Even though I have worn many shoes over the years, I have never taken the time to understand the methods of shoe making. Thanh you for taking the time to explain it!

  • http://www.iamchris.ca/ Chris Jones

    Fantastic, thanks! I like goodyear quite a bit on more casual shoes (wingtips/full brogues) and blake on more formal shoes. Just avoid anything cemented and you’ll be fine :)

    • TJ

      I’ve avoided blake shoes in the past just because I am afraid I won’t be able to find someone locally who can repair them.

      • http://www.iamchris.ca/ Chris Jones

        I just figured if they ever get to that point, I can likely find somebody online I can send them to.

  • Zach

    Might want to double-check that 1st graphic in the article… The word “Stitch” is missing a “t”… Just a heads up!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Blast! Thank you!

      • Paul

        Also in the title proper and the paragraph above “The Pros” for the Goodyear welt.

  • Jim

    Johnston Murphy uses something they call “Bondwelt” that appears to be a mix of stitching in front, and cementing in back. Do you have pros and cons for this construction?

  • kryogenix

    Cemented shoes can in fact be resoled. There are websites that specifically specialize in that, so your statement that they can’t be is just plain wrong. I dont understand why all of these fashion sites always state that they cant be.


      I’m far older than anyone here, but I have never found a shoe maker who will agree to resole or try to repair a cemented shoe. Finding some online resource is certainly possible, but why bother finding, shipping and taking the risk just to repair a “shoe” that is cheaply made and can be replaced for so little?

      • kryogenix

        Why pay 125+ for re-crafting at Allen Edmonds for example for a 200+ dollar shoe? That wasnt my point of my original post anyway. Cemented shoes can be resoled and there are places the specialize in it. The article is factually wrong. How much someone is willing to pay for whatever price of shoe is irrelevant.

        • Zed Nelem

          Why pay $125 for re-crafting? Because the shoe is worth it and owners want to keep them for life. Most welted shoes upper are made of full quality leathers, not a thin coated of leather over a fabric upper. Wolverine, for example, uses Horween Chromexcel leather on its 1,000 Mile boots which takes 30 days to prepare. Most cemented shoes are not made to last. Its the reality. They’re the disposable razors of the shoe industry.

          I now only buy welted shoes and boots mostly made in USA, UK, and Italy such as Oliver Sweeney, Mark McNairy(Sanders), Wolverine 1,000 mile boot, Allen Edmonds (not Johnston Murphy AE knock-offs), Churchs, Grenson, etc.

          BTW..Wolverine doesn’t offer in house re-crafting such as AE, but they’ll reimburse me for my shoe repair bill should I need to resole or fix any of 1,000 mile boots.

          • Zed Nelem

            BTW..I own about 20 pairs of cemented shoes. I made the move to welted shoes after loosing money on shoes that couldn’t or can’t be repaired.

          • kryogenix

            Yeah, well spending 125 dollars to re-craft a pair of 500+ dollar Aldens is a little different than paying the same to re-craft a 250 dollar pair of Allen Edmonds or Johnston and Murphys. That is my entire point,

          • blonderealist

            I paid for the AE recrafting once many years ago. Happily , I found a skilled local shoe repair man who did as fine a job the second time, but for $80. I suppose that is a clue about how much I liked those shoes – wore them for 15 years. I had the same repair man recraft my Alden wingtip Oxfords and he did a great job. I am sure there are good shoe repair shops in many towns that can do a good job fixing Goodyear welted shoes for a bit less than sending them back to the manufacturer.

          • Michael

            I’d be very interested to know where you’re buying these $250 Allen Edmonds (factory seconds when they run a 25% off?) because I’d definitely rather recraft my $400 Allen Edmonds for around $100 rather than buy a whole new pair when the uppers are in fine condition. On a side note if you actually look at what they do with the highest tier recrafting (the $125 one) they actually refinish the upper as well and restretch it back over the original last. So it’d not just a refinishing of the sole.

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  • alpharivelino

    great stuff, tanner. you are quickly becoming the authority on all things style and fashion.

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  • aim5586

    blake welting is impossible to do by hand? wrong, it is very easy.

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  • Andy

    Great article. Not well proofread but it was extremely informative, especially on classical sole attachment methods. I’d like to point out though that shoes with cemented soles can in fact be repaired and resoled. When the adhesive that binds the sole and the upper loses its grip, it’s possible to reattach the sole via a reapplication of adhesive. To increase the shoe’s durability and longevity, stitching can also be applied along the shoe’s sidewall or along the outsole to bind the sole to the upper more effectively. Also, there are stock replacement sole units for those who own shoes with uppers that outlasted the soles. More often, it’s the upper that’s a lot harder to repair/replace.

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  • Brooklyn Shoe Space

    This is a great article! Very clear!

  • howtoshoes.blogspot.com

    Goodyear Welt shoes are very expensive shoe. Its making process is also complected. I found details from your post. I have also a short post in my blog. Thank for the post.

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  • http://ourlaststand.enjin.com/ Last

    This is what I have been looking for. My Justin boots were coming apart and I am very upset that I didnt get a quality pair of boots. Now I realize that I must stay away from cemented boots for my work place has mild acid foot baths that will eat the cementing and separate the uppers from the sole no matter how much acid proofing conditioner I rub into the leather. I prefer the Goodyear Welt stitch. Thanks, this article was very informative and now I know what to look for when boot shopping.

  • gotwood4sale


    Does cement work well for ponds?


  • Joe Dizon

    Hay good article, a blake stitch is possible by hand, you need to cut a channel in the outsole, punch holes through all layers and nimbly pass and catch a stitch all the way round. Happy new year!

  • rubber_samuel

    Really considering these “cemented” boots….looks like they would make sure they did a good job with the Vibram thinner lug sole…Any thoughts?

  • David

    Thank you. Was looking at some shoes on Huckberry where they were boasting about the Blake stitching. Now I know that Goodyear Welt is the the better/more expensive system. Still may get the shoes but helps me judge the cost value.

  • getsuga04

    it’s good to be well-informed. Nice article.