The Shoe Tree Guide | Trimly
Shoe trees have been used for centuries by men (and women) looking to keep their shoes in good order. Today, shoe trees come in so many shapes, sizes and materials that it would be impossible to discuss all without making this guide unpalatable.
Therefore, this guide has been written to provide you with some useful information about shoe trees. If you're looking to purchase, it will provide you with greater insight to make a more informed purchase. If you've simply stumbled upon this page, don't click the close button just yet, you're about to learn something pretty cool.
What are shoe trees?
A shoe tree is a device in the approximate shape of a foot that is placed inside of a shoe to preserve its shape.
Shoe trees undertake 3 primary tasks:
1. Preserve the shoe’s natural shape: After a day of wear, the shoe is stretched due to pressure, moisture and heat. By inserting shoe trees, the leather will reform back to its natural shape.
2. Prevent the onset of creasing: Many shoe trees today work in a spring system that gently stretches the shoe flat. This prevents the shoe from bowing up at the toe, where creases will naturally form across the vamp of the shoe. In addition, many shoe trees have a spreader or spring toe system at the fore part of the shoe trees, which will expand into the shoe and also stretch out the vamp.
3. Wick away damaging moisture: Nine times out of ten why the lining of shoes falls apart is due to moisture caused by sweat. The absorption rate of cedar, maple and birch is much faster than dispensation through airing. Therefore, wooden shoe trees play an important part in wicking away moisture and preserving the construction of the shoe over time.
Shoe trees made from Cedar Wood also benefit from cedars natural oils. The oil of cedar has a fresh, pleasant aroma, leaving a fresh, clean scent. A great ballast against foot odour.
The shoe trees will gently straighten out the sole and stretch out the vamp to preserve the shoe's shape and to prevent creasing.
Types of shoe trees
Plastic Shoe Trees
Plastic shoe trees are cheap as they are abundant. Their utility is questionable and their effectiveness is mediocre at best. Still, they are often lighter than their wooden cousins and are preferable when travelling.
Wooden Shoe Trees
Wood is the industry standard for shoe trees. It's easy to work with, it absorbs moisture and it's still used extensively within the shoe industry. Better quality shoe trees tend to use cedar, beech, maple or birch woods. Cheaper wood, such as pine, is also commonly used. There is also different quality woods within the same variation. The heartwood from cedar, for example, is of better quality than the sapwood. Cheaper wooden shoe trees found on eBay tend to use lower quality materials.
Shoe Tree Styles
The Lasted Shoe Tree
There are shoe trees and there are lasted shoe trees. A Lasted shoe tree is the wooden mould - or last - used in the production of a shoe. Only a lasted shoe tree will fit a shoe with absolute precision. Many bespoke shoes will come with a lasted shoe tree, or if you're lucky, some ready-to-wear shoes too.
The Generic Lasted Shoe Tree
For those of us without the pleasure of a lasted shoe tree, we can have the next best thing: a shoe tree cut from a generic last. The American Red Cedar Shoe Tree pictured above is the most common style. They come in either double or single sizes and commonly use a spring toe to expand into the shoe when inserted. Better quality versions will allow one to adjust the width of the toe, accommodating wider and narrower shoe fits. It is the shoe tree of choice in many parts of Europe, hence commonly known as the 'European Style'.
The Boot Tree
Boot trees are shoe trees for boots. Boot trees are often used on ankle-high boots and are similar to the generic lasted shoe trees but have a higher ankle area. Their main function is to support the heel counter, which helps preserve the integrity of the higher heel and prevent it from creasing or folding over. The fore part of the boot tree acts like a standard shoe tree and works to gently stretch out the vamp and prevent creasing.
General Purpose Shoe Trees
This type of shoe tree is not cut from any last but designed to work in the same way. Often the shoe tree will operate on a spring and spreader system. The fore part of the tree will either be a split toe or full toe design. A split toe will spread apart as the shoe tree is inserted into the fore part of the shoe and is more efficient in stretching the vamp of the shoe. The full toe stretches the vamp to a lesser extent and is preferenced for more delicate leathers. The heel can come in different styles, such as the overhang grip as pictured above.
Using Your Shoe Trees
Inserting Your Shoe Trees
[Video of me inserting all three types of shoe trees]
Removing Your Shoe Trees
[ Video of me removing all three types of shoe trees]
Maintaining Your Shoe Trees
If you've bought a quality shoe tree it will most certainly outlast several pairs of shoes. Shoe trees require little maintenance but the following advice will ensure your trees are performing at their best:
- About once a month remove the shoe trees from the shoes and allow them to rest for about 24 hours. As many shoe trees use a spring mechanism, this will preserve the integrity of the spring tension.
- For cedar wood, sand it with light sandpaper about once a month. This will ensure it remains aromatic, which is great ballast against foot odour.
- When inserting shoe trees in wet shoes allow the shoe trees to dry for about 48 hours before reusing them. Ensure they are placed in a dry, warm place, not immediately next to a heat source.
Cheaper shoe trees will often be made from materials that do not weather well over time. The type of wood used may be prone to decay or attract insects and other pests. Cheaper metal-wear may be prone to rust or tarnishing. Just like shoes, you get what you pay for at the end of the day. Invest in quality and you will not be disappointed.
What makes a quality shoe tree?
When I started Trimly one could still find shoe trees on places like eBay. The problem was, they just weren't very good. I've learnt through bitter experience that the differences between similar looking shoe tree products can be stark. Having visited numerous shoe tree manufacturers, I can name less than a handful that make them very well, and a long tail of businesses whose products range from average to bad to downright dodgy. There is a reason why the top handful of producers, like ours, are used exclusively by the top shoemakers and will not be found, en mass, on marketplaces.
So what makes a quality shoe tree?
Equipment. Many of the smaller manufacturers use older, and less precise equipment. Their equipment is such that the wood is cut quite rough and sanded down, or cut, to size. Better producers use computer-precision equipment, which can rough and finish the wood to a fine detail. Better equipment means greater precision, smoother finish and fewer problems with the shoe tree's moving parts and general fit.
Metalware: Most metalware used in shoe trees is an alloy of some sort - two or more metallic elements. Some alloys corrode quicker than others. Some alloys break easier than others. The integrity of the alloy can vary depending on their respective elements but also the quality of production. If you want your shoe trees to outlast your shoes, then you want a producer who invests in quality metalware, not one who skimps on this and shops at the lowest-bidder. A quality allow will mean your shoe trees mechanism functions as it should for a very long time.
- Wood, Species, Quality: There is a wide variance in cost and quality between woods and their suitability as shoe trees. Birch, maple and cedar are well-regarded woods used the production of shoe trees. However, this isn't really an indication of quality. For cedar wood, we use Western Red Cedar. Within this species, one can loosely divide quality into three parts: 1. Inner Heartwood, 2. Outer Heartwood, 3. Sap. The closer to the core the better the quality: higher levels of tannin oil (more aromatic and bug resistant), a nicer pinkish colour and generally fewer imperfections. The closer to the edge, the more imperfections it has, the less tannin oil there is, the cheaper it will be. Then there is Fir wood a.k.a Chinese cedar... It looks like cedar but is inferior in quality and does not belong to the cedar family. We use the inner and outer heartwood. Many lower quality cedar shoe trees will use the sap, or worse, Fir wood. A common trick is to spray cedar oil on shoe trees that use inferior or fake cedar. A quality wood will look better, smell better and be less prevalent to decay.
The following buyer tips will help you find the right shoe tree for your shoes:
- The majority of shoe trees available are cut to European size (although there are a few businesses in the US and UK that make a few of their collection on home soil and size them appropriately) Unless the business has deep pockets, they don't want to pay for a set of lasts to be made and graded for their particular international size preference. So they simply purchase the European size and do their best to match it with the US / UK / Japan etc. size scale. This is more art than science.
Selecting a size