So, I've got a wedding to go to the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm a groomsman, so I have to look snazzy. I haven't shined my boots since about two months after I got home, so had to rack my brain and re-learn some of my old tricks to polish up my shoes. Figured someone here might be able to use the info, so here it is...
For those of you interested, the following is a tutorial on how polish your military/law enforcement boots to a high shine. I learned in the military, and it worked pretty well for me. We used to get called up on the weekends for surprise inspections, and we’d have to have two pairs of highly shined boots. Most of us just bought extra pairs of boots, shined them, and never wore them, in case of inspection, but I’m going to go over working (the ones you wear day to day) boots.
Now, there are as many ways to shine boots as there are people shining them and we’ll go over a few of them, but for me coat after coat of polish worked the best. You’ll have to find the style that works for you, but this worked for me when I was in the military, so hopefully it’ll help you as well.
First off, let’s go over the different ways you can make your boots shine. Take a look at the surface of your boot. It’s new (hopefully), so it may have a bit of factory sealant on it, giving it just a touch of reflectivity, but no real shine. You could use leather luster, but it’s hard to get a solid surface on the boot, and it tends to tear along the natural break of your foot. You could use quick shine sponges, but they’re also hard to get a good shine, and you have to constantly re-shine the boot. Future floor polish makes a beautiful mirror shine and protective coat that’s hard as hell, but it cracks when you walk, so you wind up with what looks like broken glass across the break of your foot, and if you get scratches in the polish, you have to take off every layer until the scratch is gone.
Now, since boot selection is just as important as how you polish your boots, you want to select something that will take and hold a shine well. Something designed to be polished to a high shine, and yet to be comfortable. For the ultimate boot, I’d have to choose the Corcoran II 10” Field Boot. The original 10” Field Boot is wonderful for display purposes, but for comfort the Corcoran II can’t be beat. It’s soft, comfortable, and supportive. The top edge is soft, unlike the original so it doesn’t dig into your calf as you walk. The soles are hard wearing, and still give great traction. The toe and heel are designed to take a mirror shine, and the rest of the leather is soft and flexible without being bad for your base shine.
Let’s talk about supplies. For me, in optimal conditions, I’d have the above mentioned boots, and the following things.
1 Black & Decker Heat Gun
1 Bag Of Cotton Balls
1 Bottle Of Rubbing Alcohol
1 Dish Or Bowl Of Water
1 Can Black Kiwi
1 Can Neutral Kiwi
1 Can Mixed Black And Neutral Kiwi
1 Can Black Lincoln
1 Can Black Angelus
Now, you can use whatever shoe polish you like, but these are the ones that work best for me, and I’ll explain why as we go along. At the bare minimum you need 1 can each of Black and Neutral Kiwi.
Now, to start with, we’re going to strip the boot. All that means is that we’re going to take the factory or sales shine chemicals off and get down to the raw leather. First, take the laces out of your boots. They’ll just get in the way. Now take a cotton ball and some rubbing alcohol and rub down the boot. All the leather parts need to be covered. The alcohol should evaporate rather quickly, so it shouldn’t take long. When it’s done, you should have a matte black leather boot. If it’s still a little shiny, just do another pass of alcohol.
Now, after your boots are stripped and dry, you’ll need to prepare your polishes. I prefer to just work out of the can’s directly, using my heat gun to soften the wax when needed, but some people like to light their polish on fire. The heat gun is much safer, and more easily controlled, though, so I recommend that method.
If you want to try the fire method, have the lid to your can ready, so you can put it over the flame and extinguish it. Take just a little bit of rubbing alcohol and pour it over your polish. I prefer using a long lighter to ignite the alcohol, since lighting a flat can of wax with a cigarette lighter is complicated and dangerous. Once your wax has burned enough to liquefy the top few millimeters, put it out. You don’t need it any softer than that. Now, being careful, since your metal wax can WILL be hot, take the lid off and let it cool down a bit.
Never put melted wax on your boot. It’ll dry too fast, flake easily, and look pretty shoddy in general.
Now, you’re ready to apply your first coat of wax. We’ll start with basic Black Kiwi on the toe cap, since it’s the area designed to take the shine, and it’s not too large an area. Grab your boot and sit the heel of it on your leg. Slide your hand inside the boot like a foot, so that you’ve got control of it. Never try to polish the boot on a flat surface. You’ll drive yourself crazy.
When your wax is hard enough that it’s not at all liquefied, take a cotton ball and dip it in your water. Squeeze it out until it’s about half wet, and then put it to your wax, holding it between your index finger and thumb. In small circular motions, rub the wax until you’ve got a nice little bit on it. Apply the wax to the toe of your boot using the same motions you used to pick the wax up. You won’t be able to cover the whole toe on in the first pass, so pick up more wax as needed. You always want a light coat of wax, since it’s just your base coat, and you’ll build more on it. All your coats should be light, actually, since it's much easier to add more layers than it is to strip them off.
Set your cotton ball aside once you’ve got the toe covered with a light coat of wax. Grab your heat gun, and holding it a good foot or two away from the boot, start melting your wax gently. You don’t want the heat gun too close, or you risk drying out or burning your leather, or making your wax too runny. You want to melt it just enough that it turns shiny, and flows into a smooth surface. The high bits of wax will melt and fill in the low spots, so it is nice and smooth.
Once it’s melted properly, set your heat gun aside, and grab a new cotton ball and put it in your water. As the wax cools, it’s going to turn sort of hazy. This is a good thing. It means it’s cooled enough that it’s not at all liquid, and it’s hard enough to polish. Grab your soaked cotton ball, and in light circular motions, rub your wax until the hazy look is gone.
Repeat the whole process for a few more coats, until you have a nice smooth surface to work with. This is the basis of everything you’ll do from now on, so I’ll skip the step by step polishing from now on, and just give you the coats you need. Remember that all your coats should be lightly applied, so you can add more if you need, but you never have to take off. The hardest part of shining a boot is having too much wax on the boot surface.
Here’s where our styles diverge. Your next layer should be Neutral Kiwi, if you’re going with the two color method. It’ll protect your base coat, and give a little more shine to the boot. After that just alternate coats of Black and Neutral Kiwi in a two to one ratio until you’re happy with your shine. Two Black layers, one Neutral layer. This will give your shine a bit of dimensionality. It’ll look deeper than just a basic shine. Your last layer should always be two or three light coats of neutral. It shines up clear, and so you wind up with a nice protective outer coat.
If you’re going with the multi-wax shine method, your next layer after the base coats of Black Kiwi should be Black Lincoln wax. Lincoln wax is technically black, but it’s a very blue black, which will give your base a deep, rich color, and it’s very soft wax to start with.
Do a single coat of Lincoln, and then more Black Kiwi. Alternate for two layers. Base Kiwi, Lincoln, Kiwi, Lincoln. Your shine should be starting to shape up nicely.
Next you want to do a single layer of mixed Neutral and Black Kiwi. This is a protective layer that is also color, so it’s not like starting over. You still get the deep blue color from the Lincoln wax, so you’re still adding depth to the boot. After this, you want to alternate Black Kiwi, Black Lincoln, and Mixed Kiwi for a few layers. By now you should have a good shine on the boot, and should be able to see semi-clear reflections in the surface.
Once you’ve laid down your last Mixed Kiwi layer, open up your Black Angelus wax. Angelus is a dark dark black, but it’s very hard too. It flakes easily in the can, and can do the same on the boot if you’re not careful. It definitely needs to be melted to make it softer. After you’ve done that, lay down a layer of Angelus. It won’t get soft in the can like Kiwi does, so don’t worry about it flaking on your boot too much. Use your heat gun to melt it down, and polish it up.
Alternate layers of Angelus, Lincoln, and Mixed Kiwi wax. This adds more layers and more depth to your shine, and will eventually come out to be your mirror shine. Once you’re happy with the shine, lay two more layers of Angelus over the top. It’s harder than the other waxes, so it is like a solid color protective coat. Lay a few layers of pure Neutral Kiwi over the top of the Angelus, and you’re done!
You should have a gorgeous mirror shine that you can read with. It should be so black that it looks blue under the sky, and you should be able to pick out clouds on your toe on a bright day.
Now that your toe cap is done, repeat the process for the heel. It’s a little harder to shine, since it’s got a more extreme curve around the back, but the process is the same. For the sides of the boot, don’t use so many layers. The leather there is more flexible, and so it won’t shine up as well, but it can still have a high shine on it. Just do single layers of wax, except for your base coat.
Now you have yourself a highly shined boot that will pass even the most stringent Drill Sergeant’s inspection. All you have to do now is polish the other boot…