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Spit shines

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
I believe I've heard that a spit shine is where the finish on the shining gives the shoe a "shiny" mirror-like appearance. Is this correct? If so, my question is how well does it work? I have a pair of Johnston and Murphy Cellini oxfords that I really love. The leather, I think, is pretty darn good. The only problem is that it doesn't have the shine that cordavons do. I'd like to give it a little bit more of a high shine and don't know how. Should I just go to a shoe shine guy in the subways or get my own kit?
post #2 of 21
There are others much more informed on this, but I can say that in my experience different leathers simply get a different level of shine depending on their texture and finish. Unless you cake on polish and buff only that so you don't even see the leather anymore you can't get some leather as shiny as others. The procedure I know of for 'spit' shining is to clean the shoes with a damp washcloth, let dry, put on some polish with the small brush, rubbing it in deep and evenly and let it sit a while to soak in or whatever (not sure if this matters), then buff it off with the wide brush in quick light strokes. This gives you the base of the polish. Then you can add a few drops of water (or spit if you really feel like spitting on your shoes) and buff it off with a soft cloth very quickly across the toe, vamp and heel. I do all this except the water as I don't really see much difference. However my buddy that was in the Army had a different procedure that involved a damp cloth to apply the polish, mix it together, or something, and he called that spit shining as well. It got his boots very shiny and used up a lot of my polish. My way uses barely any polish and seems to work as well as anything. If you have nice shoes, get a shine kit or you are throwing money away every time you wear them unprotected. Once you learn how it takes like 5 minutes to quickly freshen up a pair and you look 10x better, plus they will last a lot longer.
post #3 of 21
The classic "spit shine" is done by to applying a base of wax-based polish, let it dry, then dampen a cloth, apply a small amount of polish to that wet cloth, and use the wet, polish-laden cloth to slowly buff out the dried polish. You also spray water on the shoe as you go--the idea is to keep the polish wet as you are buffing. It takes a long time, and uses a lot of polish, but creates a marginally shinier shoe than simply applying the polish and buffing it off. It will not turn a rougher-finished leather into glistening patent leather, but it will make the shoe as shiny as the leather allows.
post #4 of 21
Thread Starter 
So, I followed both your instructions. My shoes -- which had been worn about seven times and had not yet been polished (they are J & M Cellini plain toe oxfords -- not a bad shoe, but not the best ones in my closet). The polish did make them blacker, but only marginally shinier. I guess I am just jealous of the C & J handgrades that were posted on this site last week. But, it appears that if you want to get a high-mirror finish, the shoe has to be built for that. Ahhh, jealousy. Maybe I'll try a waxier polish next time. Is there a particular brand I should look for? I picked up a shoe shine kit at TJ Maxx -- seemed pretty decent with nice horsehair brushes. Would you live by the maxim "the shinier the leather, the better the shoe"? (putting aside those plastic leather shoes that certainly have a high shine.). By the way, why is polish good for the life of the shoe? Does it actually protect the leather, or is that the job of a shoe cream/water protectant?
post #5 of 21
You are going to need more details to do this successfully: A spit polish works by building up many many layers of polish on top of each other, all very thin. As J said you have to build up a good base first. Then you start the spit polish. Wrap a soft rag around your finger, and dab a TINY amount of wax polish on it - the less the better. You can either mist the shoe with a spray bottle (not recommended - it's easier to mess it up that way) or dab a bit of water on top of the polish (on the rag, on your finger.) It takes practice to get the amount of water right - that's crucial. You then use your finger, covered by the rag with the bit of polish and water, and polish the shoe in a circular motion. It's best to cover a small area at a time - like the size of a quarter. Polish in a circular motion until the area gets shiny. Then put a bit more polish on the rag, wet it and repeat. Don't be tempted to put a lot of polish on the rag - the solvent in the polish will eat through the coats you have already put on and you'll have to start over. As you can see, this method takes FOREVER. Also it is only good for areas of the shoe that have a stiffening layer (toe cap, heel counter) as the finish is hard and will immediately crack if you polish the section where the shoe flexes. I spit polish the toe and heel only. You can get a mirror finish on low-quality leather, but it is going to take a lot longer. 30-40 coats is what it takes to do a toe cap properly IMO. The upside is that with reasonable care the cap will have a great shine for probably a year - just buff any scuffs with your handkerchief and it looks perfect again. There is supposed to be another method that uses just water and elbow grease, without building up all those layers, but I haven't figured that out yet. A low-effort alternative is the freeze-polish I posted about a while back, but that doesn't work nearly as well on lower quality leather. I'll post a link in a moment...
post #6 of 21
Andrew, what polish do you usually use for spit shinning?
post #7 of 21
Kiwi wax polish.
post #8 of 21
post #9 of 21
A Harris' method, and number of coats is right on. At the shop, I substitute dark beer for water and we use/sell Lincoln Stain Polish - the best wax IMO. Also, final buffing is best done with a piece of silk, maybe an old necktie. You can build up more heat with the silk to burnish in the topcoat.
post #10 of 21
I have tried saliva and found the name 'Spit' shining to be misleading. Much better to stick with cold water. Military shining is something one should only undertake when one is actually in the military, or when one wishes to wreak havoc on a former cow's arse. And even then, you should only do the following to the toe (as this is the only part anyone will really care about). The reason I warn so vehemenently is because a military shine involves melting the polish into the leather, which clogs the pores and takes away all those advantages of leather about which we have heard so much. The first step is to apply a thick layer of polish (Kiwi, naturally) onto the toe and then melt it in with a flame, trying not to burn the polish as this changes the chemical composition. Apparently the guards use half beeswax, half Kiwi and pour a molten solution onto the boot. This is really hard without the proper torches (as it will harden and create 'drop' markings on the boot) but it makes for a shinier surface. After this base coat has been applied you simply apply a thin layer of polish (with a damp, cold flannelette cloth) every so often to keep up the shine. Saddle soap can be also used: by itself it does a pretty good shine on top of the base coat. And, once again, no spit, ever.
post #11 of 21
A Harris' method, and number of coats is right on.  At the shop, I substitute dark beer for water and we use/sell Lincoln Stain Polish - the best wax IMO.  Also, final buffing is best done with a piece of silk, maybe an old necktie.  You can build up more heat with the silk to burnish in the topcoat.
Love the idea of substituting dark beer for the water. For the final buff, I've always used an old nylon stocking for the same reason as RIDER mentions; using fast, light strokes (and lots of them) with a foot and a half to two feet of nylon stretched between your hands really builds up the heat and burnishes that top layer of polish to a high gloss.
post #12 of 21
As someone who spent too many years in the military, I think I am qualified to comment on the topic of spit shining with some expertise. First of all, Andrew Harris is right about only doing the heel and toe. I wouldn't waste my time doing it anywhere else, in fact you might want to consider only doing the toe. It just takes too long for the rest of the shoe. I do, however, disagree about only doing a spot the size of a quarter. I will generally do the entire toe, or half a heel at one time. As far as spit vs water, definitely go with water. I will breathe on the area I am shining towards the end to get extra moisture if needed. When I am done, I go over it with a woman's nylon to remove any last moisture without causing any streaking. Second, I have never seen or heard about anyone pouring molten polish on a shoe or boot. Not to say it isn't done, but I have never even heard of it. Last time I was at M. Penner in Houston, the shoe shine guy there used a technique where he lit the polish on fire. I was unimpressed. It came out looking like a regular brush shine, but it would have definitely ruined a good spit shine. When spit shining is done correctly, it should look like glass. I have never seen a brush shine that comes close to a really good spit shine. Now that I am in the business world, compared to my spit shined shoes, I never see anyone else with even a comparable shine on their shoes. In the US Military, generally it's the guys who went to the service academies who are the best at spit shining. They had four years of keeping their shoes shined to a pretty high level. Other than basic training, or maybe ROTC advanced camp, there just aren't many situations where the regular soldier needs spit shined shoes or boots. Although someone in some sort of honor guard type unit would clearly be an exception.
post #13 of 21
I got the notion of pouring molten polish-and-wax over the boot from a poster at Andy's forum.  I tried it and it worked reasonably well. I have used the usual buildup method of polishing for a while, though, and the results are almost as good.  Which means that for normal people (i.e. civilians), millions of layers of polish are preferrable to closing the pores of your boot.
post #14 of 21
Dont know where I got the idea from however what i recall reading about shining is that after you do one coat of regular shining with regular wax (Kiwi of course) wet your fingers, and flick the water onto the shoe and buff (with a brush or you will wipe the water off) again. Not nearly as fun as the beer finish but it certainly adds to the shine (takes less time than what I am reading here). JJF
post #15 of 21
A.Harris, et. al: Do you have to use wax for a spit-shine? I prefer to use cream -- I buy from Johnston & Murphy and Allen Edmonds -- because it is better for fine leathers than wax.
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