As a kid, Luke Traver whittled wood. Little did he know that wood carving was his future. Traver explains, in college, “I’d met a guy named Bob Siegel who was a master wooden shoe carver, who taught me how to carve.” Fourteen years later Luke is now a master carver, demonstrating the centuries-old art of wooden shoe carving at events all over the country.
Traver tells the origin story of the Dutch farmers’ wooden shoes or klompen. He says, “As they were working in the fields, their leather shoes constantly rotted out on them. And they always had wet feet. So somebody thought about carving up a wooden shoe, which allowed them to work in a field all day long. And at the end of the day, they can put the shoe by the back door and it would dry out overnight. And they could have a dry shoe for the next day.”
A specific kind of wood is used to make klompen: aspen logs. Aspen is moist wood, prime for carving. After the logs are crosscut and split into lengths, an ax is used to cut the wood into blocks.
Traver uses a block knife, a tool with a 20-inch blade made specially for carving wooden shoes. The inside of the shoe is hollowed out with another specialized tool called a spoon auger. The hardest part, he says, is “getting the arch in the right place, and getting the right height arch, getting enough space for everything to fit just right.” Traver holds up the shoe to the light to see “if you see the light coming through. And if you’re quite there or not. And you have to be really delicate by the end of it,” he says.
Taking a chunk of wood and turning it into a shoe appeals to Traver. He explains, “It’s something that’s still usable, and still practical. When you get it right and you make a good shoe, I mean, it’s awesome.”