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Justin, "The Shoe Snob"

Monday, June 25, 2012

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 'How To Create A Patina' 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. 

Before's 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!

After's to 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 and either put it next to the heater, but not on it, just next to it or if it is summer, then use a blow dryer to dry it up. But keep it at least 6 inches away from the shoe. 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"


  1. To remove the wrinkles sometimes I use fire (a cotton ball soaked with alcohol and hold by a pair of scissors). Stick in a good shoetree and pass the wrinkles over the flame, with a fast motion.

    You have to be very careful, as you risk to burn the shoes or worse, your hands... Do not try this at home!

  2. Nice restauration!

    Justin, I've been meaning to ask you, do you have any advice on protecting your shoes while driving? I think about using galoshes to protect them from scratching but I'm worried about the grip. Changing shoes is not a viable option since I'm in&out my car 20-30 times a day, every day.

  3. Justin,

    If shoes are too tight is there a trick to widening them some?


  4. Il Satiro - yes, this is a bit more daring....

    Anon - honestly, since I have been in Europe (almost 4 years now), I have not driven and therefore don't think about these things really. Can't say that I know of a remedy to this besides being careful. Sorry that this is probably the not answer that you wanted to hear...

    Greg - yes, take the end of a broom handle (it must be round) and shove it inside the shoe where the leather is tight and rub it (don't be afraid to give some force) to loosen the leather. Use your hand that has the shoe in it to guide where you want to rub, it will be more effective.


  5. Justin,

    Thank you for publishing these 'tricks of the trade' and all credit to you for teaching us techniques which could potentially take business away from you.


  6. Now all I need to do is just find a pair to practise on

  7. Snapper - Glad that you appreciate it. My philosophy is that if no one shared what they know, then no one would know anything.....always glad to share my knowledge!

    Matt - I feel the same way....


  8. Make a spray of 50 percent rubbing alcohol and 50 percent water in a spray bottle. Spray the inside of each shoe and wear for about 20 minutes

  9. Hi Justin, thanks for publishing these tricks. I was just wondering how you might get the wrinkles out of a oxblood Dr. Marten boots, without ruining the colour? The thing is, my left boot has got the sort of creases in which you would expect and don't take away from there look of the boot, and the leather remains tough,and has got a good shape. The right boot is another story. The creases are very 'over the top', with the leather feeling far too soft if you press it, and hasn't held any shape. How would I go about remedying this?

    Kind regards


  10. Jason - Unfortunately my friend, without seeing or feeling what you are talking about it is going to be hard for me to give you any kind of direction....Getting creases out in reality is very difficult and if they are over the top as you say, then there might not be a way...there are a lot of factors that play into why wrinkles come about and without knowing what those might be for your situation, I simply cannot give you a blind suggestion...sorry


  11. Hi Justin,

    thank you so much for sharing this!

    I have a pair of new vass Oxfords that have significant stretching due to bigger shoe trees (half size). I can see the stretch marks at the sides.

    I wonder if you would recommend the soaking and drying method? Should I rub in warm water or just soak the entire pair? Is it ok to use a hair dryer?

  12. Anon - soak the entire shoe, submerge it in water....and then use a hair dryer I guess...just don't hold it too close.....once done make sure you condition the leather as not to let it dry out too much....

    best of luck




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