Restoring Old Shoes

A blog reader, in light of the shoe polishing contest, sent it a few pictures of some of his old Loake’s (he reckons 12-20 yrs old), that he had taken from rubbish bin status to relatively new looking in just a matter of a few hours with some of the methods that he learned on the ‘A Guide To Dyeing Your Shoes‘ post. While you can use most of those methods to really do the same thing that I will explain in this post, I will add a few more that are strictly for the sake of rejuvenation of a shoe’s leather and its overall look. In reality, it is really hard to completely ruin a pair of well made shoes. One of the only things that you cannot repair is tearing the upper leather. Sure, there are some people who might be able to patch it up for you, some way or another, but it will never look the same. However, as long as you don’t rip the upper or put a whole in your insole, most things done to the shoe can be resolved and with a little bit of know-how and the right products in order to bring the shoes back to life

The ‘before’ to the ‘after’ above, done by me. Just a shine though – no stripping of finish

As you can see, his Loake’s were in quite a state. Most people would look at these and probably feel bad about the thought of maybe giving them to a homeless man with the amount of crap that had built upon them. But luckily the reader did not throw them away but rather saw a chance to make a project out of them to see just how well he could bring them back to life. Below I will quote his words,

“Today I found a pair of old Loake’s that I bought around twenty years ago, as probably my first “proper” shoes (incidentally, no Loake’s seem to have fit me properly since!). From the first picture, you can see these neglected beasts were in a sorry state: squashed, scratched, dried out, covered in mould and generally looking ready for disposal.

But thanks to your blog, I was inspired to go out, buy some nail polish remover, strip them down and find a lovely tan to stain in the leather, re-moisturise them with beeswax and linseed, and give them a polish. Here they are with some funky laces, and now delivered to the shoe repairer for new soles.

From garbage to salvation in about three hours! I wouldn’t have done it without “The Shoe Snob”, and I’m rather proud of these!”

And proud he should be because he did an amazing job, as you can see below!

The after to the before above

Now one other trick that I have never talked about before on this blog is reshaping the leather. When you have shoes that are 20-30 years old and have had a lot of wear and tear and then a lot of neglect, you tend to get some deformity in the leather, and a whole lot of creasing, and maybe significant loosening of it too. So to fix these things, I will share with you a few tips and tricks.

To mold the leather into nice form again:

Submerse your shoe into water, completely, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. After that, take it out, put in your shoe trees (preferably snug ones) and put it next to the heater for a few hours, but never on it, then use a blow dryer to dry it up, drying from about 6 inches away (but dont do the sole…let that dry naturally). Dping this basically shrinks the leatjer onto the form of the shoe tree. This idea is kind of like how they tell you to form baseball caps or the way in which you shrink your clothes: High heat after being soaked will shrink that leather (and most things) into place.

To help get the wrinkles out:

First things first, you will want to put a shoe tree in your shoe that is one size too big so that you have a really tight fit, as you need the wrinkles to be as stretched as possible.

One way, of which is not practical for the average person, is to use an electrical heat gun (at close proximity and when the leather is dry) to blow over the leather where the wrinkles/creases are. The high heat while the leather is taut, will help to relax it and unset the wrinkles. Obviously nothing will be as good as re-lasting, but for a house remedy, it will help do the trick. The other way, which is probably more practical is to do what is called spooning. This is a old military spit-n’-polish trick whereby you heat up a spoon (with a lighter or some kind of flame) and then burn the wax into the pores of the leather to get a real smooth surface. Only this time we are not using wax but you will want to do the same thing of rubbing the leather in the crease area (while having big trees in) with the hot spoon to shape the leather back into place. Don’t be afraid to put some force into it.

Now, there is a warning when it comes to spooning. This will burn the leather. On black you will not see it, but on a tan you definitely will. So do not do this method on a new pair of shoes that you are still fond of that are lighter than dark brown. If you are going to strip the finish anyway, then it does not matter….

Best of luck restoring your old shoes!

-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”