Polishing a Shoe

'Of course I don't have to do this,' one middle-aged man said, carefully cleaning the table with a damp cloth. He put the cloth in a little pouch, sat down beside him. 'But look; this table's clean.'  
'Usually,' the man said. 'I work on alien - no offence - alien religions; Directional Emphasis In Religious Observance; that's my speciality... like when temples or graves or prayers always have to face in a certain direction; that sort of thing? Well, I catalogue, evaluate, compare; I come up with theories and argue with colleagues, here and elsewhere. But... the job's never finished; always new examples, and even the old ones get reevaluated, and new people come along with new ideas about what you thought was settled... but,' he slapped the table, 'when you clean a table you clean a table. You feel you've done something. It's an achievement.
The Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks

Maybe you are not aware of it, but I'm a shoemaker. Together with my girlfriend we run The Fancy Puffin, a handmade shoe workshop. Go and give it a look, I'll be here when you come back. All our designs are unique and custom made: you can ask for almost anything of us. Checked them? Good! I hope you liked some and are ready to ask for your custom made Oxfords or some fancy woman shoes.

One of the most striking things about good, quality shoes is how they shine. Leather (unless it's patent leather) is not particularly shiny. That unearthly shine good shoes have in pictures and feet comes from a labor intensive work of polishing.

That shine (which is known as military shine, because US soldiers were supposed to invest a lot of time to have their boots shiny) is relatively straightforward to get, albeit time expensive. Of course the end result is quite striking, as you can see below with my everyday pair of Oxfords. These are the shoes I wear most often (more than 1 day of every 2.) Both shoes have been cleaned of most dust, and both had a layer of horse fat a few days ago (it's good to grease your shoes from time to time to keep leather flexible.) One has been polished, the other has not. Can you guess which is which?

I learnt to get that shine from a very interesting blog (The Shoe Snob.) As I said, it's not hard. I didn't completely follow the directions of the blog, which probably results in a less impressive (but faster shine.) How did I do it?

1st step: Clean all the dust off your shoes with a shoe brush.
2nd step: Pick some cloth (I used rags off an old t-shirt) and wrap it around your index finger. Use it to spread a thin layer of black wax based shoe polish all over your shoe. You can get the layer thinner by repeatedly passing your clothed finger around the same area: if you are very intensive you'll get a mild shine. Don't be so intense, but keep polishing until you feel the shine is "almost there". There's a bit of trial and error here: no problem in getting a little shine in some areas until you get the correct amount of removal.
3rd step: get a small amount of water in the lid of your shoe polish (or a small plate.) This step is usually done by spitting on your shoes... Water is cleaner. Get a small amount of polish, put it on the shoe and spread. Then, get the tip of your pinky wet and put a small amount of water in the just waxed area of your shoe. Quickly spread the water with your clothed finger repeatedly. It takes a while for the leather to absorb all the water. The process goes as follows:

  • There's a trail of droplets. You pass your finger on them
  • The wax gets wet and turns a dull black. Keep passing your finger in a circular motion around the area
  • The wax feels thicker to your finger. Keep at it, slowly passing your finger in a circular motion around the area.
  • A shine starts. Keep at it!
4rd step: There's no 4th step: just get the shine all over the shoe. You can repeat step 3 several times, but eventually all the poruses (porus? pori?) of the leather will be clogged with wax and it won't accept any more. 
5th step: Actually there's a 5th step. Get some nylon cloth (a woman tights, for example,) wrap it around your finger and pass it all over your shoe. It will get a brighter shine out of it.

And voilà! A good shine can last many days, of course it will depend on many factors (weather, type of pathways you walk, hours you keep your shoes on and some other.) But a good polished shoe is sure to attract a few looks. It has happened to me countless times!
Written by Ruben Berenguel