How’ve You Been?
Um… I couldn’t quite hear that, but I hope that things are good.
I’ve been super bust so far this summer. It turns out that all the cool things happen in the summer, which means way less time to talk about cool things.
We’re living in an awesome house and gardening and I’m still learning new skills that make me feel like a grandpa.
The most recent life change, though, has been about how I spend my Sundays. I never seem to get any work done, even if I try. Sundays, no matter what I have planned, always involve a big breakfast and what seems like a lot of time on my hands. Unintentionally honoring the Sabbath, I guess.
Anyway, I figured that I’ll dedicate this time to things that I really like doing but always wish I had more time for. Baking, playing music, sharpening my kitchen knives, gardening, woodcarving, sewing, and (just recently) shining my shoes.
This is one I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Not only is it meditative and crafty, It’ll help my shoes last for years. On top of all that, I’ve lately been trying to present myself in a manner that’s a little more, well, presentable. Keeping casual shoes shiny is a good step, especially since the trend for mid-twenty year old guys is to where sneakers with everything. I can’t help but smile when I’m in Boston making cotton candy in my nice boots and a young MIT guy walks by wearing a suit and a pair of Asics. That said, that MIT guy has a couple of zeros on me in the savings department, so I really need to make sure that my boots last. I only have two pairs of leather shoes, one pair of Clarks that have been beaten up pretty bad and a pair of Johnston and Murphys that are pretty new. I think they’ll both look real nice.
I spent about two years getting the bits and pieces of my kit together, which meant that the Clarks got some weird maintenance as I was pretty much experimenting with them every time I learned a new step. Here’s what I’ve got:
- A couple of rags (torn up shirts)
- Some Glycerine (or saddle) soap
- Leather Conditioner
- Two horse hair brushes, one small and one large
- Brown Shoe Polish (I only have brown leather shoes)
- Spongy shoe polish applicator thingy.
I have to tell you, though, that the way with old timey crafts is that there is never just one way to do it. I tend to research as many different sources as I can find, then synthesize what I’ve heard. This is how I did things this time.
First, I had to clean everything. I used the little brush to get off any dirt or dust that was sitting on the surface, taking extra care to get everything out the the small crevices (Next to the tongue and right above the sole especially).
Next was the saddle soap. This is sold by leather workers, whether boots or saddles are their specialty, because it’s essential in caring for leather. Other soaps, such as dish, laundry, and bath soaps, would be too harsh and remove almost all of the oil in the leather, which is exactly the opposite of the goal of leather maintenance. The oils are responsible for keeping the leather supple, which not only keeps it comfortable but also prevents huge cracks from forming (RIP work boots). This fellow, A saddle doctor in Australia, makes the point that we’ve taken the leather off the cow but left the oiling system behind with the carcass.
So, that leaves it up to me to keep every drop of oil in there. It’s going to come out over time by getting rained on or scuffed, but maintaining things is just another way of being awesome.
That’s not to say that the saddle soap is the only step, though. Sure, it keeps all the oil from coming out, but the shoes still need some conditioning after getting scrubbed.
There’s a bunch of different types of conditioners, from old fashioned mink oil to new synthetic solutions to home remedies like coconut oil. I don’t have enough experience to have an opinion, so I just used some “Lexol” conditioner that I got for a bike seat a while back. It seems to work fine. I just used my hands to slap on thick coats of the stuff so that it would really soak the leather. By the time I finished with the fourth shoe, the first seemed about ready, so I wiped off the excess and got ready to polish.
Everything I’ve done up to this point was pretty familiar, as I’d been cleaning and conditioning my shoes for awhile without really knowing about the shining process. This meant that I got really excited to use the polish and probably didn’t wait as long as I should have to let the conditioner soak in, but it looks like it didn’t do any harm. In the future, though, If a pair looks like those clarks did after cleaning, I’m probably going to let them condition overnight just for good measure.
Using the sponge applicator thing, I took up a little bit of polish at a time and worked it in to the shoe with quick, circular motions. I actually ended up having to put two coats on after it became obvious that the first coat was too thin (the sponge soaked almost all of it up). On the Johnston and Murphy boots, I decided I’d try the “spit shine” method to get a really fine shine. this involved buffing the first coat with the big brush, then applying another coat of polish with tiny additions of water (like, one little drip on the toe, one little drip on the heal). It… seems to have worked? I don’t know.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. One thing that all the sources agreed on was that the polish needed to sit for a good half an hour before getting buffed, so I made myself obey this step.
Hey, you wanna see the garden while they sit?
Oh, hey! They’re ready.
Since I’d never used a horse hair brush before, I was still unclear on how to best use it. It seemed like people used it for everything from dusting to applying polish to buffing. I decided I didn’t want to gum mine up, so I reserved it for dusting and buffing and it seems to do a good job of both. I whistled a little bit and brushed over the entire boot to give it a good shine. The real magic, though, came from the rag. Using a dry rag, I buffed the toe and heal as much as I could while still wearing the shoes.
End Result? Swag.
Seriously, I’ll never say that again.
Now the Clarks turned out a little different and here’s why I think so.
First, they were probably still soaking up the conditioner when I applied polish. Second, I tried the spit shine right away and ended up with some clumping of the polish. Third, the leather was much rougher to begin with, which made it harder to apply an even coat of polish.
From far away, they look alright.
But up close, there’s a lot of streaking going on.
My plan is to let them sit for a bit and continue to hit them with the brush and shine cloth to get them down to a uniform level.
Overall, I’m really happy with how they turned out. Looks like I’ve got another thing to do on Sundays.