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How to Waterproof Suede Shoes

In today’s post, we will show you how to waterproof suede shoes. Don’t be intimidated by getting your suede shoes wet, we’re here to help. Follow these 3 easy steps to get your favorite pair of suede shoes ready for any rainy day activity.

Preparing to waterproof your shoes:

Waterproof Suede Shoes - Step 0: Brush

Before Step 1, it is important to brush the suede on the shoes. Here we used our Hanger Project Suede Cleaning Brush. Brushing the suede ensures that there is no dirt accumulated before sealing it with Saphir Super Invulner spray.

Step 1: Spray Saphir Super Invulner

Step 1 - How to Waterproof Suede Shoes

The first step is to spray the Saphir Super Invulner 6 – 12 inches away from the surface onto your suede shoes. After applying, allow 30 minutes to dry. It’s important to spray the Super Invulner into the welt of the shoe — it is a potential entry point for water into the shoe.

Make sure to complete this step outside or in a garage to keep the aroma of from lingering for a long period of time.

Step 2: Apply Wax Polish to Welt

Step 2: How to Waterproof Suede Shoes - Welt

Next, is to add some Saphir Pate De Luxe Wax Shoe Polish in Neutral onto a welt brush and apply the polish at an angle to the welt. As a result, this step’s essential to protecting and cleaning the welt of suede shoes. Be careful not to apply too much polish onto the brush because you run the risk of getting the polish on the upper suede of the shoe.

Bonus Tip: Bonus Tip: Waterproof Suede Shoes

In addition, if you are worried about getting polish on your suede, we learned a cool tip from shoemakers. Simply apply masking tape onto the suede surface edge of your shoe before applying the polish.

Step 3: Apply Saphir Sole Guard

Step 3 - How to Waterproof suede shoes

Also, it’s important to waterproof the soles of shoes, Saphir’s Sole Guard was created to do that. Shake the bottle well and apply onto a cotton chamois. Then, rub the cotton chamois onto the sole of the shoe. Lastly, allow approximately one hour for the Sole Guard to dry.

Shoe Care Sole Care

When to Replace Soles

Replacing Soles

Good soles are much like tires for a car. There are always cheaper brands out there and someone willing to replace them for next to nothing. But cheap tires can ruin the drive of a luxury automobile and always end up failing sooner than later. Shoe soles are the same. If you have invested in a fine pair of shoes, do not send them to your local cobbler where they will throw a cheap sole on the shoe using who-knows-what techniques. Instead, here at The Hanger Project, we highly recommend using an established, reputable cobbler.

In the United States, Nick at B. Nelson’s Shoes without question has the best reputation. He is highly-regarded by shoe aficionados for his work and is trusted with repair work on John Lobbs, Edward Greens, Allen Edmonds — that is to say, the finest shoes available anywhere. This article was written with his help.

How to Determine if Soles Need to be Replaced

It is important that you replace the soles of your shoes before you wear holes into them. There are three ways to evaluate whether your soles need to be replaced:

  1. Press into the center of the sole with your thumb. If the sole feels spongy or weak, it is time to replace it.
  2. If you see a circular wearing pattern on the bottom of the shoe.
  3. If you look at the edge of the shoe where the sole meets the welt and see uneven wearing due to pronation, then it, again, is time to replace the sole.

And, obviously, if you have worn a hole into the bottom of your sole, then it needs to be replaced immediately.

Not All Soles are Created Equal

It is important to replace shoe soles with an equal or better quality sole than what originally came with the shoe. Nick from B. Nelson offers several different styles and grades of soles.

Styles of Soles:
  • Leather Soles
  • Synthetic Crepe Soles
  • Natural Crepe Soles
  • Dainite Rubber Soles
  • Commando Soles

For its leather soles, B. Nelson uses two types: (1) a super-prime grade leather sole from Italy and, as an even higher premium option, (2) an oak-bark tanned leather sole from Joh. Rendenbach (“JR”) in Germany. Because of the tight grain of an oak-bark tanned leather soles, they wear longer and require more infrequent replacing. If you are looking to resole your shoes with the best leather sole available, then, without a question, go with the J. Rendenbach oak-bark tanned sole.

As Nick explains it, “If you spend the money to purchase an expensive car, when the tires need to be replaced it makes sense to spend a few extra dollars to purchase tires that complement the car and enhance its performance. If you drive an inexpensive automobile, why would you spend extra money for a high performance tire?”

Replacing the soles of your shoes is also an opportunity to change the look of the shoe. It has become trendy lately to use different colored soles to augment the look of one’s shoes. Pictured below is a pair of boots where Nick replaced original, rather bland sole with a bright red Dainite. As you can see, it completely changes the look of the shoe.

What are the benefits of Metal Toe Plates?

Metal toe plates are not recommended for everyone. However, if you have a gait where you tend to drag or scuff your toes, metal toe taps are the perfect remedy for you. B. Nelson flush-mounts their toe taps with brass-plated metal screws. They are done with the same quality one would with factory-installed toe plates. Not only will the metal toe plates prevent the toe of the sole from wearing, but they will also protect the welt from damage. Below is a picture of a metal toe plate installed on a pair of Corthay shoes.

An alternative to toe taps is two parallel rows of nails. This still helps guard the tip of the sole from pealing back but is not quite as visually obtrusive as a toe-plate and does not make any noise while walking.

How to Condition and Waterproof Soles

Now if you’ve determined that you’re soles are not ready to be completely replaced, you can follow our video guide on taking care of soles to prolong their lifespan.

Shoe Care Sole Care

Protecting Your Soles with Heel and Toe Taps

There is nothing more frustrating to the purchase of fine leather shoes than watching them deteriorate prematurely. The least obvious and often most costly damage occurs when friction or walking habits erode leather toes, which requires resoling to repair.

A trip to the cobbler can cost you upwards of $100 depending on the quality and construction of your shoes. Considering this process may be required in as little as a few months of regular wear, the equipped gentleman can install heel and/or toe taps to prevent wear-down on the soles of their dress shoes.
We all walk differently, some men heel forward or other men toe forward. Even more painful than doing this barefoot is gouging the toes of your favorite pair of new shoes. Enter heel and toe taps.

Heel and toe taps bear the wear instead of the outsole or sometimes even the welt of the shoe. The welt is the strip of leather, rubber or plastic stitched to the upper and insole of the shoe. Depending on your gait, your shoes may wear down on the inside or outside of the heel, toe, or, in worst case, the welt of the shoe, which makes it much more expensive come resole time. (Read this post on When to Resole Leather Dress Shoes).

Plastic toe taps can be purchased at most cobblers for as little as $4.00, but we would highly discourage against their use. The problem with plastic toe and heel taps that one can purchase at the store is that they dramatically reduce the stability of shoes because they are affixed on top of the flat surfaces, making it easy for your shoes to slide out from under you.

An experienced cobbler, such as B. Nelsons in New York, can properly install high-quality toe taps to even the finest shoes. In order to prevent a shoe from becoming unstable, metal taps should be installed flush with the sole.
You will not notice taps on your shoes after you walk in them a bit, but if the feeling concerns you, these “sunken” taps may be the right solution.

The above picture from Ich-Dien on the Style Forum shows sunken metal taps on the heels and toes of leather soles.

Shoe Care Sole Care

Replacing Dress Shoe Soles

With the proper care of your shoes using Saphir Shoe Polish, your shoes should be able to last decades. However, just as you have the replace the tires of even the best taken care of vehicle, you cannot get around replacing the soles of your shoes if you use them often.

This pair of Grenson Handgrade shoes were one of the first nice pairs I ever purchased. Purchased back while I was in college, they have anywhere from seven to 10 years of good use on them. And they’ve never had the soles replaced (until now).

For a nice pair of shoes like these, there is no one else to turn to other than Nick V at B. Nelson’s Shoes. He has built a shoe repair business that specializes in the repair and resoling of high-end shoes. It’s probably the only place I would consider sending anything better than Allen Edmonds (and he does plenty of those, also).

One of the great thing about Nick is that he stocks a very wide variety of different soles. From the highest-end JR soles that are oak bark tanned in Germany to rubber Vibram soles in a variety of colors, he has everything.

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This is a picture of my shoes before Nick did any work. I knew it was time to replace the soles because (1) there was visible cracking due to excessive wear around the ball of the foot and (2) the sole was “spongy” when pressed by my thumb. So, off to B. Nelson’s shoes in New York they went.

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The fist step is to remove the old sole, which exposes the original cork filling. If you enlarge the image by clicking on it, you can see how the cork filling no longer was sold and had visible gaps and cracking. This is what produces the “spongy” feeling when pressed with the thumb and is a clear indication that it is time to replace the shoe soles.

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At the beginning of the recrafting process, wooden lasts are inserted into the shoes to ensure that they will not change shape during the re-crafting process. In the above picture, the bottom shoe shows the foot-bed stripped of the corking and the bottom of insole (brown leather) and gemming exposed (white trimming). The top shoe is exactly the same except a leather scrap was fitted and nailed through the insole into the last (the same will be done to the left). The shoes are left to cure over-night in this condition, which helps re-level the insole. It also allows for a flatter surface when apply the new cork foot-bed.

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Next, a new cork foot-bed is applied, leveled to welt, smoothed, and shaped. The soles are now ready to be applied.

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Now that the soles have been attached to the bottom of the shoe (the welt has not yet been stitched, though), a flap is opened and a groove is carved out to allow the goodyear welt stitch to sit flush when flap is sealed. This is called a “channeled sole” and is typical of English shoe construction. It is purely cosmetic in that it conceals the welt stitch on the sole (vs. an Allen Edmond where you can see the goodyear welt stitching on the sole). The bottom image shows the flap open before the channel is grooved and the top images shoes the sole with the groove (note that there is no stitching yet).

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Now that the sole has been attached and the welt groove has been carved out, the goodyear welt is stitched, attaching the sole to the uppers (top photograph). The shoe on the bottom shows the stitch with the flap still folded back while the shoe on the left shoes the welt after the flap has been sealed back down, thereby completely concealing the goodyear stitching on the sole of the shoe. Also, the heel has been roughed up in preparation for attaching the base of the heel.

Before After
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With a few coats of Saphir Renovateur or our Presidential Shoeshine, these 10 year-old Grensons will be ready for another decade of great use! Total cost of replacing the soles using the highest-grade sole available (the JR’s) ran about $165 with shipping. Total time about two weeks. Not bad!

Special thanks to Nick V. at B. Nelson’s Shoecare for the great work and the photographs.