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A Tale of Two Shoes: Fixing a pair of Bruno Maglis Photoessay

post #1 of 107
Thread Starter 
By popular request, here is the post as it appeared in December shortly before the hard drive crash. "A Tale of Two Shoes" I managed to find these at a thrift store in town and thought they would be a perfect candidate to do something like this about. Usually when a pair of testonis, Lobbs, or anything else comes in there isn't much time for me to bother the master cobbler with holding the shoes still while I set the aperture on my camera to take a photo. In any case, a reheel, half-resole, and a general cleanup was done, along with a very minor antiquing. I'll try not to be too long-winded in my descriptions of what's going on in the pictures, but just enough to answer any questions that might pop up. Part 1 - The heel and sole They came in... looking like this. A closeup of the heels. Caught just in time. At this point the heel really needs to be changed. Starting to get the heel off. Maglis are annoying because of the way the heels are nailed in from the inside. Makes it quite hard to take the heel off without damaging it. More surgery. You can see the nails from this angle. Getting the nails out. Gently.
post #2 of 107
Thread Starter 
You'll see that the heel is actually in a couple of pieces. Only the bottom heel (rubber and leather hybrid that actually hits the ground) needed to be taken off, but the way that it was nailed down, this was hard to do. Seeing if the Italian soles we've got will fit the shoe. Luckily they did. These soles are from a company that no longer exists - Kis. Fortunately we stocked up before we even heard the news because they are quite possibly the best. Cutting the edging. The reason why this is done is because the way most shoemakers do half-soles makes them prone to breaking at the crease. However, if you shave down enough of the shoe's sole where it's cut off, and of the new half-sole, this won't happen. This is quite hard to do. It'll be demonstrated later on. Taking it apart. When a half-sole is done, the sole isn't taken off even if the heel is. Instead, the part that needs replacing is... cut off. Old leather is grainy and hard to cut with a blade, so shears come in handy. Soles off. Shaving off the excess to have a nice gradient. Edges of the sole. What isn't shown is how the rest of the bottom of the shoe is also cleaned using a finer-grit abrasive. The cleaner the surface, the better the glue will stick, so it's important that a shoemaker pays attention to this.
post #3 of 107
Thread Starter 
Cleaning the bottom of the the new half-sole a bit, and creating the gradient. Reason why shaving the sole into a gradient is hard - when the two meet, there can't be any variation in the thickness of the old sole, the new sole, or the inch and a half or so of space where they actually merge. Gluing. More gluing. At least three layers are put on, with at least a few hours between each coat to let the glue dry and settle. After the first coat. The same thing is done to the heels. Second or third coat. I forget.
post #4 of 107
Thread Starter 
If the heels are just put on top of the sole, there's not much that's keeping them together. Most shoemakers use some big stationary nailers that basically shoot a wire through the sole to take care of that. But we're traditionalists. Nailing the heels from the inside with a nice new set of nails. Old ones always rust out because of the moisture that seeps in from the inside of the shoe. If you don't like your shoemaker, you can wear really warm socks in the summer so your feet sweat a lot and then in the fall you can ask him to do a resole. They'll be so rusty that they'll break when he tries to get them out. Don't blame me if you find a surprise in your shoe, though. Heels after they're nailed from the inside. Right, that was the second coat. This is the third. Or the fourth. I forget. All the glue has to be applied in thin layers, otherwise it just cakes together and you get lumps that you feel as you walk down the street. REALLY sensitive part. The glue that's used is really strong. You'd need some powerful pliers to rip it apart even if it touches slightly. It also rips off that chunk of glue that it touches, so mistakes are costly. After the sole is put on, it's pounded down with a smooth-headed hammer to make sure all the fibres intertwine with the glue sufficiently to ensure maximum durability. Ok, I'm completely making this up. I have no idea what the fibres are doing, but basically you pound it down to squish the glue and stuff. The edges are pressed down. Very vital part, so there's an entire machine that basically does just that. A closeup. An extra piece of leather or rubber is placed underneath the sole so as not to damage it.
post #5 of 107
Thread Starter 
Afterwards, the excess is cut off. This is done roughly because the next step is to shave it down very close. At this point we encounter a problem. The thing is that if a shoe is not properly balanced, it wears away at the heels in the wrong way, puts pressure on the wrong part of the spine, and just plain does bad things to your feet, and, more importantly, to the shoes. Here's where we first caught it: A closer inspection... ...confirmed it. To fix this, part of the heel has to be shaved off. The problem is that the heel height has to be properly observed in order to not counterbalance the shoe even more when the heel cap is put on. The heel height is usually measured in 1/8 of inches, across the heel breast... Ok, one more definition. The heel breast is the semicircular part of the heel that faces forward. These Maglis, specifically, were at about 3/4 when we got them, and probably between 7/8 and 8/8 when new, so that's the height we were aiming for, but now the heel had to be shaved down while keeping the heel height uniform across the entire breadth. The perils of a shoemaker's life. After doing some very scientific measurements, the nail-biting begins. Success. The half-millimeter gap at the fore of the heel is on purpose, you'll see the reason for this later. Here are a few shots of the work before the precision cutting and shaving begins.
post #6 of 107
Thread Starter 
First, the heels are shaved down with a rotary blade wheel on an old Landis machine. Some sanding is done to make sure that the curve is even around the entire heel. This attachment is very useful because the head is curved so you've got more control over how much is taken off and at what angle. This rotary finisher is then used to give the heel a smoother finish. Edge smoothing. Yes, we do recycle. This is how the heel breast is very patiently smoothed out. Taking off a very thin layer of the finish.
post #7 of 107
Thread Starter 
This is done for several reasons. (1) Logos of some tannery on a brand new sole are ugly. (2) The soles or heels that are used can be old, and a bit dry, especially if they're kept in an arid closet in the back of the shop. A cream/moisturizer is applied liberally to the leather, and seeps in, conditioning the leather and thereby making it more durable, more flexible, especially in cold weather. (3) It allows a new finish to be put on, polished and shaded to blend in well with the rest of the sole. Yes, we actually are that anal. The transition between the old and new sole is cleaned up. A very fine-grit sandpaper is used to clean the sole some more. The shoes before anything else is done to the soles. The tidied heels with markings for the nails. A small sigil representing our shop. The sides are painted to match the color of the upper leather. Usually the rubber part of the hybrid heel is left untouched, but in this case it didn't seem to fit for some reason, so the entire heel was painted. The heels being nailed. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to take any shots of the sole-finishing process, but It's not terribly exciting stuff to begin with, and in any case, the end results are coming up.
post #8 of 107
Thread Starter 
Part 2 - Cleaning and fixing the upper This part was a bit tricky because I had no idea what was on the upper to begin with. There were salt and water stains all over the toes, but there was other stuff as well. If there is a lot of dried, crystallized salt on the shoe, it can be a bad idea to put alcohol on it directly. To take care of that regular household vinegar is used. Afterwards, any water stains that remain can be taken care of with a clean cloth and either some rubbing alcohol or acetone. Preparation - to clean the seams and broguing and medallion, some water, a cloth and a large (but sharp) punch is used. A couple of punches. Clean cloth. Rubbing alcohol. Diluted acetone. Leather conditioner. Not pictured: Elbow grease. A closeup of the toe before cleanup. Getting all the dirt and gunk out of the medallion. Cleaning off layered dirt with a bit of water. You can see some difference already. Cleaning up the welt. Afterwards, alcohol is used to clean the leather out. You can see lighter part near the bottom half of the picture. This is where the alcohol has already dried and taken some of the color out of the leather. It's better to use regular rubbing alcohol before trying something like acetone because the results of cleaning leather are similar, but acetone can destroy the finish of a leather very fast. Then a leather conditioner is used to moisturize the leather after the alcohol has evaporated. This prevents the leather from drying up.
post #9 of 107
Thread Starter 
Part 3 - Et voilà Here is the end result of the work. I didn't picture any of the regular polishing or antiquing because there have been some great threads about this already and I figured I've wasted enough of everyone's time as it is. Glamour shot. The leather is for a bespoke belt for a customer, but it just happened to match the new color of the shoes. No flash, and natural light. Another one. With belt and hornback bag. Natural light. A closeup of the medallion, all tidied up. The soles. Before and after And I think that's it. I hope you all enjoyed seeing this little photoessay as much as I enjoyed making it. Questions and comments are welcome. A few people asked for the shop information, so here it is. Norris Shoe Repair EDIT: For information, please contact me directly at
post #10 of 107
Wow, I love seeing the fruits of artisans' labors. This truly is amazing.
post #11 of 107
As beautiful and astonishing as the first time I saw it!

Thank you for posting it!
post #12 of 107
That is simply an amazing job.

On a somewhat related note, do you know how I can go about finding a decent shoe repair shop?

Any particular questions to ask a proprietor?

I have a pair of driving shoes that I love wearing, but they look horrendous now. Want to get them repaired.
post #13 of 107
An alltime favorite post of mine Dimitri! Thanks for brining back.
post #14 of 107
Wow, wow wow. That is truly amazing. "The breath of life", only for shoes.

Thank you very much for the informative post.
post #15 of 107
Undoubtedly, one of the great Style Forum posts. Thanks for bringing this back.
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