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Custom Boot Maker Don Roundy

I have something to confess. Last June in 2012, Don was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my ten questions for Custom Boot Makers. For some odd reason, the email he sent back to me with his responses, slipped through the cracks and were never published. I’m totally embarrassed. No hard feelings Don…8-) Anyhow, without further ado, I present to all you boot maker fans out there, Don Roundy.

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When did you start making boots and how did you get into the craft?

Long answer. (I’m cutting and pasting here. Everyone asks me this question so I have it on my computer.) For the last nearly forty years I have been practicing excellence in leather work.  I do not advertise. I am a one man shop and the money I save on advertising and rent, I pass on to you. I kind of stay under the radar, so to speak, because I don’t go to shows and rely totally on word of mouth advertising.

Everyday someone asks me where I learned my trade?  The quick answer is; “My grandfather was a harness maker.”  This is both true and misleading. I never met my grandfather.  He died before I was born. Here is a little history to more accurately answer the question. I started as a young man in 1974 working and learning from a shoe repairman by the name of Joseph Milton Smith.  After a couple of years with him, I opened my own shop. I loved working with my hands but wanted to do more with my life than be a shoe repairman. I had the opportunity to learn saddle making from Brad McClellan in Vernal Utah.  Perhaps I had a little head start having grown up in a ranching community and already doing leather work.  I don’t know if it made a difference but I have saddle and harness makers on both sides of my family back from when horses and buggies were the means of transportation.  However, they also died before I was born.

boot1After Brad gave me instructions for several weekends, my first dozen customers got a good price if not a good deal. Somehow, however, there were no complaints and no returns. Still being young and more driven with ambition than business sense I went to a Dennis Rowley to get help learning boot making.  At the time he was in Orem Utah. He was most kind and helpful. Years of practice on hundreds of pairs, all the while learning lessons from my mistakes, along with reading every book I could find on the subject, this in addition to being blessed  with good hired help, I honed my craft.  On the subject of having good help, I am indebted, to Vicente Caranza and George Ofano.  Vincente was a master boot maker and George helped me learn the geometric techniques of pattern making and shoemaking design.

I had close association for a few months with Gary Mekan who introduced me into hiking boot making, sandal making, and the repairing and manufacturing of climbing shoes. I now possess the patterns, dies and equipment that he used.

I learned about making custom corrective footwear and general orthopedic shoe technology from working as a technician with Ed Marcroft, orthotist at Jenco Medical.  There I studied intently for the National Pedorthic examination.  The books I read and re-read during that time, as well as the direct practice with patients, helped me to understand about foot anomalies and techniques on how to correct them bio-mechanically. Each day I learn more by practicing excellence with every repair and every custom order I am blessed with.boot2

I am ‘hidden’ out behind my house in my own little shop but I do my best in serving anyone who can find me.  Feel free to visit my website at Roundyboots.com.  Come by the shop at 4826 S 2200 W. in Taylorsville Utah. Find me just one light east and 200 yards south of exit 15 off of I 215 in the Salt Lake valley. Buy my book Horse Sense $10.00  Now available in paperback.

What do you enjoy best about boot making?

Sometimes I am surprised how good they look after I am done in spite of myself.  I like it most when customers notice this too. I currently teach a class on shoe and boot making at Salt Lake Community College.  I enjoy most seeing the interest and progress of the students as they learn.  I feel good about seeing that the trade skills are preserved.

How would you describe your boots in three words?

Preserving traditional quality.

Who has been the biggest influence on your boot making?

Dennis Rowley.

What lessons did that person teach you?
Dennis was kind and patient, in spite of the fact that I was a neighbor and potential competition.  He helped me make several pair and answered questions on the phone up until the day of his tragic death. In fact, I believe he spoke to me lasts on the phone right before his accident.

Do you consider boot making an art form?
The problem with the art of boot making is that it’s a business.  The problem with the business of boot making is that it’s an art.

What lessons of life has boot making taught you?
You know, if you get the pattern right everything else falls into place.  Life lesson I think.

Have you made boots for any celebrities?

Many

Do you have any favorite stories about making boots or a particular client?

I made a pair of boots for Merrill Osmond about 20 years ago. When I approached him about writing the forward to my book he included in it that  those boots were the best pair he had ever owned.  When he is in town he is coming in for another pair.  Okay, I can cut and paste again. Here is Merrill Osmonds exact words.

“I met Don Roundy several years ago when he made me the best pair of custom boots that I had ever owned. When he contacted me to read his Book “Horse Sense” I was very intrigued to see what he had to say. First I must say that I am a firm believer that you get back in life what you give out to the world. This book was the perfect tale of “What goes around comes around”.I enjoyed the story so much for the ability to connect to the characters as an adult who has had life experiences.  It was also relative to young people in understanding ones role in life in being responsible to oneself, family and other people that God puts in our path. Horse Sense is a tale of an adventure with a lot of “Horse Sense” to tell a story of true loyalty and believing in what is just and staying true to who you are.“Horse Sense” relates to all emotions of laughter, love, sadness, anger of injustice and finally the triumph of a sensational ending which I must say was unexpected. It was fun, suspenseful and pulled at your very heart strings. You cannot read this book without having every emotion imaginable. I would highly recommend this as a great read for adults as well as young people.”

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of boot makers?

Stick to the traditional quality.  Dennis used to say that boot making is brinkmanship laden with heartache.’  Learning it is a challenge but victory is it’s own sweet reward.

Visit Don at his website: http://www.RoundyBoots.com

Categories: Boot Maker Profiles.

Mike Vaughn Boot Maker

Here’s a recently published video on Texas boot maker Mike Vaughn. I’ll have to email him and see if can’t get him to answer my ten questions for everyone!

Categories: Custom Boot Videos.

American Straight Needle Demonstration

Here is a very cool video of Lisa Sorrel demonstrating how to use an American Straight Needle:

Categories: Custom Boot Videos.

Boot Maker Profiles – Send Me Your Stuff!

Greetings everyone! I wanted to let all of the custom boot makers out there to know that if you want to be profiled and featured on this site please let me know. Marketing yourself is the key to getting business. I simply send you a list of questions for you to answer on your history, style, etc. You answer these questions, provide me some pictures of your work and you’re done. You’re on the site. Also, if you don’t have a website, you need one. Feel free to email me for advice and how I can help you get started.

On a boring administrative note, I will be updating and doing a little bit of re-designing to the site. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Take care everyone.

Categories: Boot Maker Profiles, Custom Boot Ramblings.

Boot Maker Tim Bishop

This week I am proud to present boot maker Tim Bishop from Tucumcari, NM. He has been described as one of the “best kept secrets of the West.” Please visit his website at http://www.cowpuncherboots.com. Thank you Tim for taking time to answer the questions.

When did you start making boots and how did you get into the craft?

First attempt was in 1985, then put it aside till 1992, been at ever since.

What do you enjoy best about boot making?

Turning raw material into good functional using gear, that people enjoy for years.

How would you describe your boots in three words? 

Hell for Stout.

Who has been the biggest influence on your boot making?

This is a hard one to answer there are several the first shop I ever went in was in Clayton, NM called Rabbit Ear Boot shop, but I cannot remember the mans name, but his boots were the epitome of cowboy boots. But I have to say the one that I studied the most was Paul Bond. Again pure hardcore cowboy. Among the list has to be James Owens in Clarendon, TX, Glen Hopson in Moriarty, NM, good friend John Higdon in Amarillo, TX, and Curly Fuqua in Tucumcari, NM. There are many more but these are the ones that I feel influenced me the most. To say that I have an obsession with cowboy boots is a understatement.

What lessons did that person teach you?

I went out to Paul’s shop in the mid 80’s and really got an education. His style is unmatched, often imitated but never duplicated, all that leather was a real treat I have been in a lot of saddle shops but that was the first Boot Co. with multiple employees. And to see that many boots…wow. I saw leather that I did not even know was used for boots. But the thing I remember the most was learning for the first time that cowboy boots were not just for cowboys. Until that trip I never gave it a thought that cowboys were the only people that wore boots. The only folks I saw growing up that were in boots were cowboys. I remember staring at the wall’s in total surprise at some of the people that I never would have thought who wore boots. There were movie stars, rock stars, pro athletes, politicians, the list goes on and on. It really opened my eyes.

Do you consider boot making an art form?

I do. How can you not really? Art is in the eye. I’ve had customers call my boots art and I am not offended by that but I do not always agree with them either. I usually just say wait for a week or two of use and look at them again and you may find that your art has been decimated, they usually get a laugh. But I see a lot of boots being made nowadays that are nothing short of fine art. So I do understand how people make that connection. And rightfully so.

 What lessons of life has boot making taught you?

I am not a “people person” but when you offer a service to the public you have no choice but to deal with folk’s, so for me it has made me work on my people skill’s which has only been an asset not just in business but on a personal level too. It has also taught me how to say “No”.

Have you made boots for any celebrities?

The first time I was asked this question I did not miss a beat and told the man “All my Customers are famous.” He laughed hard and said “I Love It” so I guess I will just go with that, I truly am blessed to have the customer’s I have and really appreciate them all.

Do you have any favorite stories about making boots or a particular client?

I do but not that I can tell here. I have been asked to do some pretty  far out things. That is where learning to say no came about. But one that I guess I will remember forever was a man from Albuquerque called one day and said “I have never owned a pair of boots in my life but my daughter is getting married and I need a pair. I suggested a pair of store bought and he said that would not do. He requested an inlay of a Kokepelli dancer riding a bicycle so we set up a meeting and I had a drawing or two and when he arrived he said “I have a picture of what I want” I said well lets see it. So he pulls his pant leg up and on his shin was a tattoo of what he wanted, the really cool thing was, it was identical to what I had drawn it was an absolute perfect match. He said I knew this was the place to come. After a 3 hour visit I learned a lot about this man from his service to his country and what he had endured through his life, he asked for no sympathy, nor did he brag, he simply was a man with a story and a healthy attitude about life, regardless of what he had been through to him he lived every day as his last and was not going to worry about anything ever again.  I was really moved by his attitude and have never forgot what I learned from him in that visit, we still talk from time to time and he still wears his boots.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of boot makers?

Don’t get discouraged, find YOUR style, but don’t be afraid to show a little influence from time to time of someone you admired, and when you get older pass some of your savvy down to someone that is where you were when you started.

Categories: Boot Maker Profiles.

Boot Maker Deana McGuffin

Boot maker veteran, Deana McGuffin from Albuquerque, NM sent me her responses to the ten questions for this weeks profile. All of us know her. She has won several awards over the years and currently teaches boot making classes for anyone wanting to learn the craft. Thanks Deana for sending in your responses! Visit her website at http://www.mcguffinboots.com for more information.

When did you start making boots and how did you get into the craft?

I started my apprenticeship with my father L.W. McGuffin in 1981 my sister-in-law at the time chastised me for not learning this wonderful craft from my talented dad. It took me a year to talk him into it. He didn’t think a girl was strong enough to do the bottom work. I think he finally agreed just to shut me up.

What do you enjoy best about boot making?

 I like making fancy inlayed/ overlayed tops.

How would you describe your boots in three words?

Pretty Damned Hot

Who has been the biggest influence on your boot making?

 Besides my dad, I think I’d have to say Dave Little.

What lessons did that person teach you?

 I always loved the classic line of Dave’s boots. The Texas Boot Book had just come out when I started with dad. Dave had a couple of boots pictured in that book. I looked at those pictures a lot and tried to learn from his style.

 Do you consider boot making an art form?

 Absolutely. When you see all the beautiful boots in all the books out there, how could you think otherwise? I’m always amazed at everyone’s creativity.

 What lessons of life has boot making taught you?

 Perfection is a goal we all strive for, but no one attains. It is after all, the little imperfections that make a handmade product unique in the world. When you teach some you end up learning as well.

 Have you made boots for any celebrities?

During my apprenticeship I worked on boots we made for Woody Paul and Ranger Dour of Riders in the Sky. I have made boots for Appalachian folk musician and writer Anne MacFie. Most of my clients are just every day folks that appreciate beauty and quality and don’t mind paying for it

Do you have any favorite stories about making boots or a particular client?

I was at a shoe repair trade show in Pittsburg early in my career and was introduced, as a bootmaker, to a well known mid-western repairman. He looked down at my boots and said, ”did you make those all by yourself?” I looked him right in the eye and said, “there’s only one thing men bootmakers have that women don’t and as far as I know none of them use it to make boots with.”

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of boot makers?

Number your boots from the very first pair. I wish I had done that. I have no idea how many pair I’ve built over these 30 some odd years.  Also, don’t dishonor yourselves or your profession by selling yourself short. Consider what your mechanic, electrician, message therapist, your accountant and other professionals charge an hour for their services. Your time and talent are worth every bit as much. Think about how few of us even do what we do in the whole country. Be proud of your work and your profession and charge what you are worth.

http://www.mcguffinboots.com/

Categories: Boot Maker Profiles.

Boot Maker Paul Krause

This week, Paul Krause from Prescott, Arizona sent me his information for his expose on Custom Boot Makers. Thank you very much Paul for your wonderful story and your contribution. Please visit his website at http://www.noazleatherworks.com and watch his promotional video on YouTube.

When did you start making boots and how did you get into the craft?

My contact with leather goes back to Cub Scouts, followed by a few “Hippie” style projects while in the Air Force. But it wasn’t until discharge from the USAF in 1971 that my footwear experience began. Being of a “back to basics” mind set, I walked into a shoe repair shop and asked for a job. I worked for that family for 9 years. I remember a pair of Tony Lamas that had been abandoned by a customer. They were a size and a half too big for me, so I chopped the toe off, made some alterations to the involved components, moved it back and reassembled it to be my size. It was a terrible job, done all kinds of wrong, but it was a beginning.

From there I moved on to a No. Calif. boot shop that was doing repairs for the big factories during the “Urban Cowboy” days of the early 80’s. They couldn’t make boots fast enough, so we were used to do warrantee work for their Western store customers. We were asked to do much more than just basic full soles and heels, but additionally many and varied alterations and modifications to Western boots, like wing tips and foxings on the toes of boots to cover dog chew damage.  We called them “doggy dinners”.

I made my first pair of boots while working there in 1982 with some oversight from a retired shoe maker who had never made cowboy boots, but who helped me through a “How-To” book from a Texas couple, Joe and Jerry Wise, who were selling it through our Shoe Service trade magazine.  It was another 10 years before I made the next two pair at my own boot and shoe repair shop in the California Bay area. By this time I had a tutorial by boot maker DW. Frommer, whose system and perspective I use now. But I still didn’t always know what I was doing, and realized that the unsupervised learning curve was going to be too distracting and difficult while still trying to raise my family. It wasn’t until 2000 when we moved to Prescott AZ., that I was able to devote myself to the journey of learning the trade.

What do you enjoy best about boot making? 

I think I would have to say it is the challenge.  My teacher says that “boot making is a matter of muscle memory, while learning to fit is a lifelong study”.

There are steps, like fitting up a last, that are arduous, and difficult to get right. But the connection in my mind that I form with the customer while so engaged in that sculptural step, gives me a satisfaction that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is to serve people with the skills I have.

There is great satisfaction in the fulfillment of a dream for the customer, and it’s the process that gives my life richness and a flavor I could not get any other way.  I am a boot maker.

How would you describe your boots in three words?

Simple, Clean and Out-of-the-Box.

Who has been the biggest influence on your boot making?

That would be DW Frommer, of Redmond, Oregon, who set out years ago to learn boot making so well it could be taught and learned with repeatable results.  It is that kind of commitment to learning that made the biggest influence on me.  A three week course with DW gave me the boost of passion I needed to proceed in the craft. But I’ll also include the ‘shoulders of other giants’, that is to say boot makers of the past, whose work I have had the chance to learn from the inside by the many boots I have repaired over the years.  Not just big factories, but the classic smaller operations like ML Leddy, Olson Stelzer, and Rios of Mercedes.  These boot makers made boots in a tradition I respect.  And one I strive to model my own self.

What lessons did that person teach you?

The most helpful thing DW ever taught me was to ‘always-only-ever’ find three things to improve on with each pair I make.  Fewer than three would be to fool myself.  More than three is masochistic.

Do you consider boot making an art form?

I do as long as the “a” in art is lower case.  I reserve “A” for fine art which I know but little about. To design artistically beautiful boots, simple or fancy, one certainly needs an understanding of the fundamental artistic elements of design; like texture, flow, repetition, negative space, etc. That’s what makes them artistic. But it takes a capital C for Craftsmanship to really express what the form relies upon.  A plain black calf boot, made with careful attention to detail, will always look better than a boot full of colors, inlays and ‘geegaws’, which is poorly constructed. We might also say boot making is an art form from the view point that, like an artist working outside of the box, the rules have to be learned and understood first, before true creativity can be attempted.

What lessons of life has boot making taught you?

Joseph Campbell said that ‘life reveals your character; you learn more about yourself as you go on.’  I’ve found the same to be true of boot making.   Patience and good intentions have gotten me through many tests, when I might have wanted to take an easy way out.  And I’ve also learned that sometimes the only way to get through a difficult spot is to be totally present.  And a complement is better answered with a simple thank you.

Have you made boots for any celebrities?

Well, not the kind people like to hear about.  I made a pair for a US Senator, but to me the real name dropping would be the several people who have had me make 4 and 5 pair for them.  I know they appreciate what I have done for them, which is always an unknown with celebrities.  But then to be honest, if I did make for celebrities I would name drop also.

Do you have any favorite stories about making boots or a particular client?

Actually I have stories for most of the boots I’ve made.

One is of three sisters who came in together, two of them in support of the third.  The Mother had passed away and the customer wanted me to make a pair for her like the Christmas ornament the Mother had given her.

Another customer was the seventh person to ask if I made the 2 piece, full cut style boot worn by Civil War Calvary officers that is so popular among the Western re-enactment crowd.  I told him what I had told all the others, that the first person I made those for would be one who was willing, not only to pay my price, but split the cost of the special crimp boards, which are instrumental in accomplishing the shape for the style.  Well, finally this one fellow said he was in.  He is a reenactor, and had his wife’s Grandfather’s boots from 1906, which were of this style, and he wanted boots like these with a more modern spin.  I have now made two pair for him.

I never did charge him for the boards.  I just wanted someone to believe in me.

But I think my all time favorite is when I resized a pair of Horn Back Alligator boots for a bride.  Her Father had passed away between her sister’s wedding and her own, and having inherited his boots, she wanted them resized to fit her to wear “down the aisle”.  It was a very emotional outcome for all involved.  And the gratitude ran deep.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of boot makers?  

“Do a lot of work”.  There is a great essay by Ira Glass from NPR on YouTube on this point.  Besides learning how to assemble all the parts and learning where the “controls” are, there are many tools that have to be learned and mastered to be a boot maker.  There are sewing machines that have to be understood, and finishes and treatments for leather.  It takes a lot of ‘boots under the bridge’ to develop an eye for where improvement is needed.  And that never stops.  There is plenty of help from the experienced boot making community.  But since they need to see that you are making progress, I will also add, “Show your work”.

Make a commitment to stick with it, show some grit, be the best you can be, and you’ll get all the help you could want.

Once again…visit Paul and his shop at http://www.noazleatherworks.com

Categories: Boot Maker Profiles.

Boot Maker Lisa Sorrell

This week I am proud to present boot maker Lisa Sorrell from the great Sooner State, Oklahoma. Lisa is by far one of the best boot makers out there and she continues to stretch the limits of what’s possible in the art and design of cowboy boot making.  Thank you very much Lisa for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions for all of the boot lovers out there. Visit Lisa’s website at http://www.customboots.net

When did you start making boots and how did you get into the craft?

I got my first job in a boot shop at age 20. I answered an ad in the local newspaper looking for someone to “stitch boot tops.” I had no idea what that meant and I’d never worn cowboy boots.

What do you enjoy best about boot making?

Inseaming. Although I’m best known for my intricate inlay and overlay designs I particularly love the process of actually putting the boot together.

Do you consider boot making an art form or a craft?

Oh, don’t get me started! This is one of my favorite topics. Boot making is, in my opinion, the perfect example of the marriage of art and craft. The tops on a cowboy boot are pure art; there’s no function to the wild colors and design. But from the ankle down it’s all about craft. The boot has to be properly balanced and fit well. It’s possible to make a beautiful boot that’s crooked or doesn’t fit well–good art but poor craftsmanship, or an ugly boot that sits up straight and fits perfectly–poor art but excellent craftsmanship. The challenge is doing both well.

How long does it typically take to make a pair of boots?

I allow a month to build a pair of boots, and since there’s a lot of wet/dry time I can build two to three pairs in one month. Working on one pair at a time is inefficient because you’d just be sitting around waiting for things to dry.

What is the difference between custom made boots and boots made at a factory?

Quality of materials, quality of craftsmanship and fit.

Have you made boots for any celebrities?

Nope, they’ve all wanted me to donate and I don’t donate what is essentially a month of my own hard labor, not to mention one half-one third of my entire monthly income.

How long have you been in business?

I opened Sorrell Custom Boots in 1996. Before that I had a small business, Custom Boot Work, stitching and inlaying tops for boot makers across the country. I did that for three years.

Who are your mentors?

Jay Griffith and one of his former students Ray Dorwart

Are you taking orders? Do you have a waiting list?

Yes. It’s usually around a year.

http://www.customboots.net

Categories: Boot Maker Profiles.

Joe’s Shoe Service Still Kickin’

It’s shops like these that make you realize hard work is still relished. “These days, Book said, “You buy ‘em, you wear ‘em out, you throw them away” and purchase a new style. “We’re a throwaway society.” Boot and shoe makers rock.

Article here

Categories: Boot repair, Cowboy Boot Articles, Custom Boot Ramblings.

The Art of A Great Find

Don’t you just love it when you order an awesome used book from AbeBooks for only $12? And don’t you just love it even more when you open up that book and find an autograph from one of the authors? Sweet.

Categories: Custom Boot Ramblings.