Properly polishing a pair of leather shoes involves multiple stages and takes a few hours. It also requires a variety of leather care products and several tools. This article describes each step of our process, as well as the products and tools that we use. To avoid repeating ourselves, it goes without saying that everything that we use on your shoes is of the highest quality and are the same things that we use on our own.
Except where noted, at each stage of the process we treat every exterior portion of a shoe’s upper, including the tongue, as well as the welt, heel, and sole edge.
Even shoes that have no visible soil will still have very fine dirt embedded into the surface of the leather and tucked into the crevice between the welt and the upper. It’s important to clean this away because it can abrade and gradually break down the leather. For the initial cleaning, we use a short-bristled horsehair brush. All of the brushes that we use are made in Germany by Burgol.
In some cases, shoes have a buildup of polish that can be unsightly, harbor dirt, and inhibit the absorption of leather conditioner. We remove this with a pure, high-quality turpentine. The turpentine that we use is produced in Georgia by Diamond G Forest Products and is different than the impure varieties found in tins at the hardware store. While it’s still an effective solvent, it's free of impurities and has a clean, pleasant pine fragrance.
When polishing a customer’s shoes for the first time, we prefer to clean them with turpentine to establish a fresh base, as many common shoe care products contain substances that are, in fact, harmful to leather. This step would be unnecessary in subsequent polishings.
When leather is produced, it’s filled with fats, oils, and waxes which preserve and protect it, along with making it soft and supple. If a leather article is used and unmaintained, these will gradually wear away and leave the surface of the leather dry. At the least, dry leather is less attractive. However, if left untreated, it will eventually crack or, in advanced cases, begin to break down altogether. Of course, such an extreme example would take many years of neglect, but it illustrates why it’s necessary to replenish the moisturizing elements with which leather is made.
Our service includes a thorough application of leather conditioner. Like all of the shoe care products that we use, this is made in France by Saphir. It’s called Renovateur and is part of their top-shelf Medaille d’Or line. After applying it, we allow it to absorb into the leather for an hour before proceeding.
Depending on the frequency of one’s shoe care routine, it may be unnecessary to apply conditioner with each polishing. The cream polish that we use in the next stage also has nourishing elements and is often adequate to maintain the leather’s moisture until the next polishing. A well-maintained shoe should need a full conditioning only every few polishings. If you establish a regular routine with us, we’ll take that into account. Otherwise, we’ll evaluate the conditioning needs of each job individually.
In cases of significant disrepair, or in the restoration of vintage shoes, we may need to employ a stronger conditioner such as mink oil or dubbin graisse.
Applying wax gives the leather the appealing and satisfying glow of a well-shined shoe. Just as important, it helps retain the nutrients of conditioning, inhibits dirt and water, and provides some protection against light scuffing.
Our service includes one coat of Saphir Medaille d'Or Creme 1925 cream polish, followed by one of their Medaille d'Or Pate de Luxe wax polish. The cream polish includes several kinds of waxes, as well as shea butter, which nourish the leather and begin to build the finish. The wax polish has much of the same waxes, but with a higher proportion of the harder ones, which create a more durable, protective finish and elevate the shine. Together, they yield a lovely soft matte gloss, while imparting a good deal of leather nourishment and protection.
Also, the turpentine in the polishes helps remove any deeply embedded dirt that may remain. We apply the polishes with a cotton cloth, which collects the dirt, rather than with a brush, which leaves much of it behind. Furthermore, we frequently move to a fresh area of the cloth in order to maximize the dirt collection. We allow each coat of polish to absorb into the leather for half an hour before proceeding.
For those that prefer a deeper shine, we can apply a second coat of the Pate de Luxe polish to the entire shoe. Additionally, we can put a mirror shine on the toe box, which imparts an especially distinguished finish, as well as provides even greater protection against the elements. A mirror finish is a particularly intensive process and can add upwards of an hour of hands-on time to the job.
We buff the shoe after each coat of product that we apply. This removes any excess, as well as any dirt that’s bound within it. For all intermediary steps, we use a standard horsehair brush. For the final buffing, which brings out the full shine, we use a yak hair brush. This somewhat esoteric tool, which has uniquely dense, fine, and soft bristles, yielding a nicer finish than any other type of brush.