How $3,000 Custom Cowboy Boots Are Made | Master Craft

Joe Avella: Lee Milleris a master boot maker.

He makes hundreds ofpairs of boots each year in his Austin shop, Texas Traditions.

Lee Miller: A lot of peoplethink that their running shoes are the most comfortable things they own.

This is more comfortable.

I own running shoes, and my boots feel betterthan my running shoes.

And I buy good running shoes.

Joe: They start at $3, 000.

The wait list is so long it takes four years to get a pair.

These better be the best boots ever.

Lyle Lovett, Harry Connick Jr.

, Willie Nelson, they all got a pair.

I have no opinion on those two other guys, but Willie Nelson is a legend.

So, why so much, and whydo they take so long? Lee takes his time handcrafting each pair, using old boot-makingtechniques and traditions passed on to him by another boot-making legend, Charlie Dunn.

Lee: Handmade boots are quite different than a store-bought boot.

So, everything from the last, which is the shape thatthe boot is made on, to all the differentmethods of construction, we're kinda like the Ferrari.

You know, everything here is done by hand.

Some methods go all the way back to the days of the Roman Empire.

So, unlike factory-made boots, Lee is dedicated to the finest standards.

To get a pair, you have tovisit Lee's shop in Austin.

Lee: Everybody has sat onthis throne.

Everybody.

That's where Miss Bacall sat.

Gary Hart was running for president.

He sat here.

Slim Pickens, Tommy Lee Jones came in.

He sat here.

That was 1989.

Joe: Lee starts bycreating a foot blueprint using a pedograph.

The ink imprint giveshim an accurate picture of the arch shape andpositioning of the toes, which he will use to build a custom last.

A last is a form shapedlike the customer's foot that Lee can use to build the boot around.

Lee: And I would takemeasurements with a tape measurer to give me circumference.

The whole process takes 20 minutes.

Joe: Customers work withLee on the boot design, picking specific elements they want, including leather, color, toe style, and heel.

Texas Traditions has a wide variety of leathers to choose from.

I didn't know there wasvarieties of leather.

Lee: So, we have leatherhere from all over the world.

This is from Italy.

This is kangaroo skins.

It's very, very strong.

Makes a wonderful pair of boots.

So we use a lot of kangaroo.

This is bull hide from Spain.

We use a lot of pigskin, and pigskin is incredibly tough.

Water buffalo.

This is French calf here.

We use, of course, alligator and crocodile.

This is white alligator.

Let's look at some ostrich.

It's a product of South Africa.

Here's some gray ostrich here.

So, I would say that this is the oldest leather in the world.

This is a Russian reindeerfrom St.

Petersburg.

It was tanned in 1786, but this was on a ship that sunk off the coast of England in 1786.

And for 200 years it laidat the bottom of the sea, till they found it in 1986.

Had been covered with black mud, preserving the leather.

So this leather, even thoughit was tanned in 1786, it's still very usable.

It's now extremely hard to get.

Joe: Once the last is made, Lee attaches a leather insole.

He nails down the insole temporarily and trims it into shape.

Lee: This is a German pit-tanned leather, specifically made for insoles.

And this is an insole.

Joe: Meanwhile, the teamdesigns the four panels of the top part of the boot by cutting out the detailsand stitching them together.

Lee: We'll cut out allthe different pieces.

The foot portion will be crimped, and little by little we'll just start doing all the fancy stitching and making any details.

Joe: He then stretchesthe top part over the last and temporarily tacks it into place.

Another distinction thatsets his process apart from mass-produced boots is how the team attaches the soles.

Lee: We'll start hand-sewing, and then you'll notice, as we put the soles on, we're using wooden pegs.

And the wooden pegs go allthe way underneath the heel.

That's something that you'llsee in a handmade boot, not in a factory boot, where they'll just nail it.

If you notice the incredibly fat shank, underneath it is a techniquethat the Romans used, which was taking a nailand laying it in there, and that makes it rigid, and it also makes it humpy.

Joe: He hand-sews a small rim of leather known as a welt to the rim of the boot, allowing the sole to be attached.

And now they're ready tobe polished and buffed.

Lee: The standard handmade boot takes about 40 hours to make.

It can take a lot longer, looking at some of the detail that we do.

You know, if it's a fairlysimple boot, 40 hours.

But if it's a very complicated boot, it might take you 60 or 80 hours.

Joe: Lee makes boots for anyone.

That is, anyone with a fewthousand dollars to spare.

Depending on your design, stitching, and leather choices, it can really start to add up.

Lee: Crocodile is themost expensive leather that we offer, and so a boot like this would probably start at $5, 000.

Joe: Before Lee tookover Texas Traditions, it was run by boot-makinglegend Charlie Dunn.

He's known as the”Michelangelo of cowboy boots.

” Lee: I think it was 1973.

Somebody said, “Hey, yougotta hear this song.

Jerry Jeff Walker wrote asong about a boot maker, and his name is Charlie Dunn.

” ♪ Charlie done the bootsthat are on my feet ♪ Joe: In November of 1977, Lee went to work as anapprentice for Charlie.

Lee worked alongside himuntil his retirement in 1986.

Lee and his wife, CarrlynMiller, took over the business.

Today, Lee and his team are keeping Charlie's boot-makingtraditions alive and well.

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