Of Windmills and Klompenmakerij

“手工两小时 机器五分钟!” (By hand two hours, by machine 5 minutes!)

I would sometimes utter this phrase out of sudden, for no apparent reason at all. I guess it is a statement that made a big impact in my life. I first heard this in a wooden clog workshop on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Yes, a craftsman of a traditional product is the person who first taught me the powers of machines and modernization.


I traveled Europe with a tour group instead of backpacking. One of the cities we visited was Amsterdam, and one of the agenda in Amsterdam was to visit this lovely place on the outskirts of the city, called the Zaanse Schans. Actually, if you join a tour, you will inevitably be led to this place, it is one of the most touristy places of Amsterdam.

If you love lovely scenery and Holland windmills, you will definitely fall in love with this place upon arrival. I know I did.

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But apart from the scenery and windmills, there is one interesting building here..

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A klompenmakerij! A woodenshoe (clog) workshop! I know for a fact that klompen in Dutch means clog, so I presume makerij means workshop?

It’s called a workshop, but I think it is more like a museum-workshop-shop hybrid. Here you can find an interesting collection of clogs on display…

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You can also buy clogs to wear/as souvenir…

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But most important of all, you get to see a live demonstration of how a wooden clog is made…

I guess I’ll cheat and show you a couple of videos.. If you are too lazy to watch the videos, then I’ll provide a further cheat in the form of transcripts for the videos..

The wood that we use in English (is called) poplar tree or willow. We make our shoes using fresh poplar wood recently cut because when the wood is still green, it’s relative soft. At the moment, half of the weight is water, makes it easy to work with. Traditionally these shoes were made by hand, using the big knife to cut the outside shape, then spoon scoops are used in various shapes and sizes to dig out the inside. To make it by hand took 2 hours, but the machine will do it in 5 minutes. 手工两小时 机器五分钟! The machine for the outside shape is 17 years old, it will copy the model… (then some technical explanation and live demo on how the thing works)… phew, that’s the outside shape done.

For the inside of the shoe we do the same thing, again we have a model (and the explanations and somewhat naughty live demo on another machine)… and that’s the inside done. Now the two remaining pieces, the heel and toe I’ll cut off by hand.. (cut cut cut with a big knife).. any of the girls wants a quick manicure, I can help her out with that.. (cut cut cut).. now this is the final shape of the shoe. I told you there’s a lot of water in it, I can show it.. (blows the inside of the shoe and water really came out).. Poplar absorbs 700 liters of water every day, now water in Holland we’ve got plenty. The shoe is dried slowly, then polished on the sandpaper belt. You can feel the difference in weight (between watered and dried shoe). Now we wear these shoes quite big, they look bigger than the other shoes, and thick woolen socks is worn, and a finger space is kept behind the heel. This way, they move without rubbing, when you come home, kick them off, leave them by the door, keep the house clean and your mama happy. If anybody laughs at me, I can (pretends to take off one shoe to throw at the crowd).. And why do we wear these shoes? Well, they are cheaper than leather shoes, they are quite strong. They offer protection in the factories and on the farms, safety shoes for all. But the most important reason is the fact that wood insulates. We live in a cold and damp country, this kept our feet warm and dry.

He has a slight Dutch accent, but I think I am 95% accurate..


Now, Amsterdam is a very lovely city by all means. The lovely canals, the lovely buildings, and the lovely red light district and everything, but on a personal level, I love Zaanse Schans the most from my visit to Amsterdam.

20 Comments

  1. I’ve got some miniature ones (souvenir gifts). Hey, if I got a pair of those clogs, I would wear them….around my porch when I’m washing it…kekeke…coz they’re anti-slip like our Chinese clogs!! 😀

  2. When I see windmills I think of Holland jor, and those ‘wooden clogs’.. Eh I won’t wear those clogs la even though they have my size, looks weird, bet I cant even walk properly, hehe.. Kik kok kik kok like that.. For decoration ok la..

  3. Interesting read, thank you. On my next ever London trip again, I will definitely head on to Amsterdam and Barcelona. Are the clogs comfortable? They look a bit like the rubber Croc shoes! Crocs copied Clogs!

  4. I went there too! But I didn’t go to that clog workshop/museum. I took a tour out to the smaller Dutch villages, including this one and a couple of little towns. In Marken, we visited a clog workshop and they did a demonstration. It was awesome! But I was thinking “who actually wears such clunky shoes?” But then coolest part is seeing that people in those small towns actually do wear those wooden clogs!

    • I think only locals would wear these for practical purposes like what that guy in the video said. Us, we would just keep them as souvenir, if we buy them at all! 😀

  5. I love Amsterdam windmills too! I went on a bus tour there too but can’t remember whether we were brought to Zaanse Schans or not but I remember visiting a cheese making place and a clog making place. The only place I remember is Volendam where we ate a lot of jeruk raw fish. ah, to go here again, one day. I can only wish.

    • If bus tour inside the city then probably not, this place is like 20 or 30km outside Amsterdam city.

      It is a lovely city indeed, isn’t it? The only (minor) downside is that Amsterdam is one of the more expensive cities to live in. Would be great if I can find a job there 🙄

      • Oh, by bus tour I mean I was on a travel agency coach tour travel from KL. Of course they brought us out of Amsterdam city cos I do not think there are windmills in the city, right? Volendam itself is out of the city, did you visit there?

        Jobs in Amsterdam? Get on to one of the online job search and try to find a job there. Who knows, there may just be one for you! 😀

        • Nope, we were at Zaanse Schans, then Amsterdam city. I checked the map, I think Volendam would be a nice visit, since it is by the Ijsselmeer (the big dam)..

          You know, I very nearly got a chance to move to Amsterdam a couple years ago. But that’s another story for another day. Not appropriate to share the details of that nearly experience at the moment 😉 .

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