How to 3D Print your own Shoe Lasts with Working Hinges

How to 3D print a shoe last with working hinge

Have you ever wanted to 3D print your own shoe lasts, or at least get them printed locally? Did you want to do it with a working hinge? If so, read on, this post is for you.

All of the shoe lasts we sell are 3D printed here in North America, where most of our customers are. This saves on shipping costs compared to overseas shipping. But even domestic shipping costs are rising fast. And of course we have some international customers who end up paying more for shipping than for the shoe lasts themselves! And besides monetary cost, there is the environmental impact of shipping heavy shoe lasts all around the world.

The solution is for the shoe lasts to be 3D printed closer to our customers. In the early days, we had envisioned distribution centers in different countries. But given the rapid adoption of highly capable consumer desktop 3D printers, we think it makes a lot of sense to at least provide the option for end users to 3D print their own shoes lasts–or at least get it done locally. In a way, we already support this by providing the option to purchase 3D models that can be 3D printed. But now we are taking it a step further by providing the option to incorporate a working alpha hinge (required for removing the shoe last from most types of shoes). Our alpha hinge requires no hardware except for a few common wood screws.

This isn’t to say we’re planning on not selling physical shoe lasts ourselves. We recognize that most shoemakers want to keep things as simple as possible, so we’ll keep up this service. But for those wanting to give 3D printing shoe lasts a try, we’ve put together the following guide on 3D printing your own shoe lasts.

Choosing a 3D Printer

Most modern desktop 3D printers can make shoe lasts. But the best option, in our opinion, is the Prusa i3 MK3S+. Here is what it has going for it:
– Highly proven with great community
– Reasonable price
– Good build volume that can fit a full pair of shoe lasts or at least one side for very large lasts
– Enclosure available (purchased or DIY) which is helpful for preventing warping from the build plate
– Heated build plate (most have them these days) which is essential for reducing warping
– Good slicer software included
– Is no more or less complicated than required (no unnecessary multi-material etc.)

Best 3D printing for 3D printing shoe lasts

If the MK3S+ doesn’t fit your needs for whatever reason, there are plenty of other 3D printers out there that could do the trick, and more. For instance, we’ve been interested in IDEX printers like the Raise3D E2 given it might be able to print left and right shoe lasts side simultaneously to save time (depending on settings, printing a pair on an MK3S+ can take about a full day). It can also do support materials for interesting projects and comes with a built-in enclosure. But this isn’t a printer we’ve tried ourselves, so can’t really say for sure how it will work for shoe lasts.

Choosing a Filament Material

The material we use to 3D print our shoe lasts is PETG. It is much less brittle than PLA, and softer, making it much better for receiving nails during the lasting process. PETG is still harder than conventional high-density polyethylene though, so you want to make sure you use sharp nails, like Blued Brads. You also want to print enough perimeters to get about 5mm wall thickness so the nails aren’t just penetrating a thin shell.

But if you aren’t planning on nailing nor applying much force, a thin wall PLA should do just fine.

For the elliptical spring (explained later), it’s actually better to use PLA, given the higher stiffness.

Getting your 3D Models

Any of our shoe lasts can be ordered as a 3D model with alpha hinge. Just choose that option in the ordering form as shown below.

Once we’ve processed your order, we’ll email you the files. Note that we only send files for the front and back parts of one side of the shoe last (unless there are differences between left and right sides). The other side can just be mirrored in slicing software. The elliptical spring and discs for creating the alpha hinge will also be provided.

3D printing Shoe Last Alpha Hinge 3D model parts

Below is a link for a sample shoe last design with alpha hinge you can test print before purchasing other designs from us. It has a chopped off toe so it can be printed quickly as a test.
Sample Shoe Last Design with Alpha Hinge for 3D Printing

3D Printing Settings

There is a ton of information out there to help you learn 3D printing. So we wont go into much detail here, except for a few specific settings that can help when 3D printing your own shoe lasts.

Most of the default settings will get you up and running. We recommend using a 0.6mm nozzle and print hot thin layers for stronger layer adhesion. As mentioned above, you should use enough perimeters to get 5mm wall thickness if you plan on nailing. A slightly more advanced setting you might want to play with is Max Volumetric Speed. Increasing this will allow you to print faster, up to a point.

Hinge Hardware

The only required hardware is some common wood screws (#8, which is a standard deck screw). You’ll want the right length such that they go most of the way through the shoe last but don’t protrude out the other side.

Alternatively, 1/8″ dowel pins approximately 2″ in length can result in a tighter alpha hinge.

Optionally, you can pick up some 1/2″ copper pipe and cut it to the right length such that it can be used as an insert for the thimble hole. This is important if you want to work on the shoe last on a lasting pin as otherwise the plastic can break.

3D Printed Shoe Last Assembly

How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 1

Once you have your shoe last parts printed, the following steps will guide you through the assembly.

  1. Screw the screws all the way into the holes in the front and back parts of the shoe last to make sure they properly pass through the holes exiting the spring channel.
  2. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 2

  3. Back off both screws so that just about 1mm is protruding into the hinge spring cavity.
  4. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 3

  5. Guide the elliptical spring onto the protruding screw tip for the front part of the shoe last via the slot on the elliptical spring.
  6. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 4

  7. Insert the front screw the rest of the way in.
  8. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 5

  9. Insert a handling screw into the elliptical spring, choosing the hole that is furthest out from the joint face.
  10. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 6

  11. Move the elliptical spring into the fully up position and insert the pivot discs into the front part of the shoe last.
  12. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 7

  13. Place the back part of the shoe last on the front part such that the pivot discs and elliptical spring are contained and the alpha hinge is in the open position.
  14. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 8

  15. Use the handling screw to pull the elliptical spring’s remaining slot over the back protruding screw tip.
  16. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 9

  17. Insert the back screw the remainder of the way.
  18. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 10

  19. Remove the handling screw and close the shoe last.
  20. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 11

  21. Optionally, hammer in the copper pipe section into the thimble hole.
  22. How to Assembled 3D Printed a Shoe Last Step 12

As mentioned in the previous section, dowel pins can be used instead of screws and can result in a tighter alpha hinge.

We’re excited to see other shoemakers get in on 3D printing shoe lasts. It truly is mesmerizing to see a shoe last gradually form layer by layer seemingly from thin air. And the result is a perfectly functional shoe last. Let us know if you have any questions!

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