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Experiments in shoe/leather refinishing

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
Following the intrepid lead of one of our fellow shoe lovers, I decided to try my hand at refinishing some leather and, subsequently, some shoes.  For the initial try, I used some high quality calfskin which I purchased at Crack & Sons in Northampton, England.  This leather is a medium reddish brown.  On its own, it is quite a nice piece of leather.  I used acetone to remove the finish, and the leather after the acetone treatment was returned to its "crust" state, i.e. with no significant color of its own.  I then tried a couple of treatments of this leather - the application of different shoe polishes and the use of some shoe cream.  Each left the leather a different color; I preferred the shoe cream over the shoe polishes, as I think it left a slightly more mellow and subtle tone to the leather, although some of the shoe polishes gave the leather a nice color as well. After this experiment, I decided to try my hand at some shoes.  I own a couple of pairs of Allen Edmonds that I've rarely worn, in part because I don't really like their color, so I decided to test things out on these shoes.  The first pair is a pair of bluchers, with a skin stitched apron and toe seam, in what I guess you might call a London Tan.  However, I have always thought the leather was a bit too yellow, and it looks a little "˜plasticky' to me.  The application of the acetone brought this shoe to a near crust state with relatively little effort.  Because of the color I was going for, I used an Edward Green Burgundy shoe polish to color the leather.  The shoe has acquired a tone fairly similar to that which it had originally, but the overall appearance is, IMO, much better.  The removal of the factory treatment seems to yield a leather that is much more attractive, with a sort of 3D appearance (it seems like you can see into the leather, sort of like you can with certain types of wood) that I find typical of nicely polished calfskin. I have also found that I can burnish/antique the leather in this process.  All that is required is a bit of elbow grease to build up some heat in polishing the desired section of the shoe; the heat in essence scalds the leather, yielding a darker appearance.  The challenge in doing this is to go slow and not overdo it, since (I think) the burnishing is a one-way street -- overdo it and there may be no way to redeem things.  I added a touch of antiquing to this first pair of shoes. ] This is the first pair, with the original finish on the left, the refinished shoe on the right. This is a close up of the toe, where you can see some of the antiquing. This is another image with the original finish on the left, the new finish on the right. My next pair was a pair of AE Chester wingtip oxfords that are a dark brown.  I have always found these shoes a bit lifeless, since the brown is just sort of dull.  The application of the acetone left these shoes lighter than they were to start, but not all the way back to a crust state.  For this pair, I used a medium brown shoe cream from Cavalier.  The shoe is now what I would call a chestnut, again with a lovely 3D quality to it.  I then did some burnishing of the toe area, the sides, and the inside heel.  While not quite up to Edward Green standards, the burnishing looks nice. This is the wingtips, with the original on the right, the new finish on the left.  Note: this picture is before I have added the antiquing to the new finish. This image is the newly finished shoe, with antiquing, on the right, the original finish on the left. One other pic of the newly finished shoe, with antiquing. A couple of other points.  I tried this technique on a two pieces of black leather, with no success, and also on a very dark brown piece of cowhide, again with essentially no success.  I don't know if it is the tanning or the initial leather color that determines success or failure.  You need to be a bit careful with the acetone; it is highly flammable, so do this outside.  Also, the acetone seeped into one of the stitching seams on my uppers and left sort of a "˜water mark' along this seam on the upper.  This mark is noticeable even after the application of the polish, so go easy with the acetone.  It can also be a bit of a challenge to get the original finish off the leather right under/next to a seam.  My wingtips have a hint of a darker tone right next to the stitched areas where the leather overlaps, though this is barely noticeable.
post #2 of 30
How did you burnish the leather?
post #3 of 30
Another very important point - you should avoid inhaling acetone vapour.
post #4 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
How did you burnish the leather?
I have found that you can do this whether you have used shoe cream or shoe polish to refinish the shoe.  I simply used a rag on my finger, with a bit of polish or cream on the rag, and made small, circular or back-and-forth motions (depending on where I was burnishing) with the finger/rag while pressing hard.  You want to build up heat from the friction; you'll feel your finger getting hot from the heat through the rag, so you know the leather is getting hot too.  As I said, just try not to get it too hot, since you don't want to overdo it.  I think if you try it, you'll find it quite easy to do.  I originally discovered this when I unintentionally burnished a spot on a pair of Foster & Sons/E Green shoes.   I think this is similar to how Green does their burnishing (based on a conversation with Tony Gaziano), but they use powered rotary burnishing/finishing brushes.
post #5 of 30
Why not just run a lighter over the shoe for a second or two and then rub with the rag? (If your response includes something about the polish being flammable, just say "Kaboom").
post #6 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Why not just run a lighter over the shoe for a second or two and then rub with the rag? (If your response includes something about the polish being flammable, just say "Kaboom").
Haven't tried it; it might be hard to control where the shoe gets hot, and how quickly it burnishes. Also, I'm not absolutely certain from a chemical perspective what causes the burnishing, so the flame might not achieve the same effect. If you try it, let us know how it works out.
post #7 of 30
Thread Starter 
This is picture of the leather I originally tested.  From left to right the top row can be numbered 1, 2, 3A, 3B (these are all one piece of leather, stitched together - I'm practicing skin stitching a la Green), and 4.  The bottom row is 5, 6, 7, and 8. The following treatments were used: 1.\tJM Weston neutral shoe polish (beeswax).  Made the leather look sort of dirty, IMO. 2.\tThe original finish. 3A. E Green Brown shoe polish.  Pretty good.  Burnishing evident Between 3A and 3B you can sort of see the color that the leather took on after being wiped with acetone. 3B. Cavalier "˜Medium Brown' shoe cream.  The best color and finish, IMO.  Burnishing evident. 4.Cavalier "Medium Brown' shoe cream, with out burnishing. 5. Kiwi "˜Dark Tan/Marron Rouge' shoe polish.  Nice chestnut color and appearance. 6. JM Weston "˜Cirage Marron Moy' shoe polish.   Nice, slightly lighter color than the Green brown polish or the Cavalier cream. 7. Kiwi "˜Light Tan' polish.  A bit light for my taste, somewhat lighter than #6. 8. E Green Burgundy shoe polish.  Surprisingly, didn't really make the leather very red/burgundy, unlike #5.  Nice tone, similar to #3A and #3B.
post #8 of 30
I am one of the earlier experimenters Shoefan referred to, and I applaud the extra effort to which he has gone to publish photos. If I may add a couple of notes without hijacking the thread: 1. In Shoefan's pix, I cannot see too much of the translucency and richness added by stripping the finish. However I would assure readers that based on my own acetone-stripped shoes, the effect is there when viewed in the flesh. It just does not fully translate in photos. 2. Avoid soaking a shoe in acetone. I used acetone soaked paper towels and simply wiped away the finish. This may help avoid the "watermark" Shoefan experienced. 3. Re burnishing, I have found that a felt 6-inch wheel rotating at 1200 rpm on a drill press can be used, but only after it has been "loaded" with some wax polish. The wheel should be fairly narrow (1/4 inch), and the burnishing should be done on seams only, with the direction of rotation parallel to the seam axis. Experiment first.
post #9 of 30
Armscye and Shoefan: Do I see you following in the footsteps of Bemer, Berluti, Cleverley, Lattanzi, Lobb and Vass?
post #10 of 30
what exactly constitutes the crust state? should I be using enough acetone that it completely removes all color. If i use a little, i get what looks like the finish off, but really only makes the leather a few shades lighter than what it was. should i be able to remove all traces of color, leaving the leather totally unfinished? and, if so, what is that unfinished color?
post #11 of 30
Well, I tried the flame experiment on my Alden captoes -- they are not more than 3 months old but something just kept bugging me about them. I decided that it was the coloring -- it just looked "blah" to me and only accentuated the "clunkiness" that some people complain of. So, first I took a match and ran the tip of the toe cap under the flame for about two seconds. What occurred was a kind of "shining" and darkening of the leather -- the leather seemed to get much smoother, and hence shinier, on the area was it was exposed to the flame. It also certainly got darker. I decided that the flame was too difficult to control, so I then went with a butter knife and held it under the flame, and then streaked the hot knife across the parts where I wanted some burnishing. This worked pretty well, but the problem is is that the antiquing is much more inelegant and amateurish than doing antiquing by a wheel or by a finger. Instead of the antiquing effect being sort of "spotty" (look at your shoes and you'll see that the antiquing effect is sort of in dot patterns -- kind of like pixels), it was more streaks. However, in the end it is clear that the flame/hot knife had significant coloring effects on the leather, and did not seem to effect the leather's quality. If anything, I think the shoes patinated actually. Would I recommend this as a technique? Well, it was a fun experiment, but don't try it on shoes whose finish you like or on really expensive shoes. Also, be aware the flame really darkens the leather significantly. For me, I like the shoes a lot better know. They look nice and old and patinated without looking used. They are also darker and shinier. I wonder what will happen when I polish them, but I would predict that they will spit shine much better. I'm not going to post pics because my camera sucks and it would be hard to see anything signficant.
post #12 of 30
Another means of burnishing is by applying 1/2 a teaspoon of cream onto the shoe and then rubbing the area you want burnished with a sleeking bone.
post #13 of 30
Re Crust state leather: if leather has (as is quite common) been drum dyed, the color is all the way through, and applying acetone will remove only the glossy surface layer-- leaving the shoe a few shades lighter. If the leather has been spray dyed, it may have a light-tan colored core, but I have seen that very rarely in modern shoes. Anything that doesn't wipe off in five seconds of scrubbing with a paper towel probably is color that goes all the way through. None of this applies to black shoes, in my experience. Black generally stays black.
post #14 of 30
One solution to getting more of antiqued look in shoes that start out as a dark brown -- buy them in a light or medium brown and then apply varying amounts of blue and dark brown and/or red shoe creme. Then end result will be nicely antiqued shoes (make them as dark as you like); no acetone needed.
post #15 of 30
l've got an old pair of Florsheim boots (20 years old). l'll give it a burl. l will take the finish off [with acetone] and will use a lighter to have a burnt pine antique finish. lf l reck the shoes; no big loss. Gee; you must be a real big shoe fan shoefan [to go to all this trouble]. Well done. Thanks for such an interesting topic. BTW; pic's didn't take long. P.S: thanks for sharing Mr Norman.
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