Monday, June 25, 2012

How to spit shine boots!

Spit shining boots seems to be one of the biggest points of frustration for a new recruit. There's not too many things more frustrating than spending hours into the night applying coats of polish, only to show up the next morning to have your R.T.O. tell you how it looks like you polished your boots with a Hershey bar. First, your R.T.O. needs to come up with an original line. Second, there is hope, and once you put in some time to properly put a good base coat on your boots, your shine time will be cut down tremendously for all future maintenance polishings.

There are a lot of online instructions for spit shining, but I've found that even though the instructions are correct, it leaves out important details that will be helpful to the inexperienced shiner. I'm going to include a lot of detail in this post. It's all the things I wish I had known when I started polishing boots.

Selection of the boots is the start point. Some boots are a lot easier than others to shine and some just look better when you finish. I've seen recruits go with the boots that look good polished but aren't very comfortable. I've also seen recruits go with boots that are very comfortable, but are a bear to polish to the standards of a police academy. Most recruits at our academy wear Rocky brand boots with a nice big toe cap. When selecting a good boot to shine, try to get one with a solid and smooth toe on it. I say solid because if you get a boot where the toe is soft and flexes easy, the polish will crack or have creases in it all the time. Smoothness is important because you are going to polish it with the goal of having it as smooth as glass. If you start with a rough and pitted surface, it will be a lot more challenging and take more time to get it how you want it. It's not an absolute necessity to have the toe solid and smooth to start with, but it will sure make your life easier. Some boots have been treated with a silicone coating or other oils or chemicals. Shoe polish will not work on top of these surfaces. If you can't remove whatever chemical is on there, don't get that boot.

Now that you have your boot, let's talk supplies.

1. Polish!

Some say regular black Kiwi. Some say Lincoln. Some say Kiwi Parade Gloss. Some have some off brands that they swear by. I've tried about 5 different brands and types and the differences have been negligible for me. I use Kiwi Parade Gloss because it feels smoother to me and I feel like it's easier to work with.

2. Water.

I've found that room temperature water works best (unless the temperature of your room is freezing). Cold water hardens the polish quicker when you are polishing and you end up with a haze that takes some work to get rid of. So fill up a small bowl or cup with some room temp or slightly warm water and that will work great. This is your "spit." What can be done with spit is accomplished with water all the same. It's just a lubricant while polishing.

3. Polishing cloth.

This is probably the most important part to make sure you don't take short cuts on. If you pick the wrong polishing cloth, you can end up fighting swirls and little scratches the whole time. You will want a soft cotton cloth. Other fabrics just don't get the job done. The cloth must be clean! It seems logical to use some old rag since you're going to just stain the crap out of it, but you cannot use a dirty cloth. A dirty cloth is counterproductive to the shine you're going for. The best cloth I have found is a thick sock. I used tshirts for a couple of years before I used a sock one day because I didn't have a tshirt. It worked great! The thickness helped lighten up the pressure during the polish and it looked great. Some swear by cotton balls. I've tried them and again, it's not that it didn't work, but I prefer working with a soft cloth.

4. Heat source (optional)

Lighter, hair dryer, heat gun... Opinions differ on the use of a heat source. Some feel it compromises the integrity of the leather. I have had excellent results with both a lighter and a hair dryer. I haven't tried a heat gun, but from what I've read online, it's a great option. The process I'm describing here is going to include heating.

5. Edge Dressing

After spending so much time on polishing the tips, a lot of recruits neglect the rest of the boot and still get hammered during inspection despite the great shine. With all the running around you're going to do in these boots, edge dressing is an easy way to keep the edges of the sole looking good. Some edge dressings come in a bottle with an applicator. Some come with a foam applicator tip. Both will get the job done.

6. Brush

Many boots have nooks and crannies where dust gets into and you can't reach it with a rag. A soft nylon brush works great for this.

Alright, now that you have your supplies, clean your boots. Make sure there is no dust or dirt anywhere on the boot. Use that brush to get the hard to reach places. Always do this step first. Cleaning after the polish will mess up your polish job. Leave the edge dressing for the end. If the area to be polished has small particles of dust on it, those particles will be rubbed into the surface and cause scratches. Make sure the boot upper is clean and free of blemishes. Applying some polish to scratches and dull spots will make it look even. If it's more than just a few scuffs, you might have to go with a leather dye to freshen it up. If there are metal eyelets or rivets with black paint chipping off, glossy black nail polish works well to fix that.

Now that your boot is clean, let's get to the polishing. Think of polishing like trying to paint a real grainy piece of wood. If you want it smooth, you have to sand the surface smooth and apply plenty of coats of paint. Most of the coats of polish you will apply will be the "sanding" of your boots so to speak. Once the surface is smooth, then the real spit shining can take place. Don't expect to have good results after three, four, or five coats. This initial polishing takes time.

Step 1.
Take your rag and smear it around the surface of your polish to get a good amount on the rag. Apply a coat onto the surface of the toe of your boot. Don't apply a bunch of pressure. A light touch is key. You want the polish on your boot. This is an area I had questions about when I learned. How thick is too thick if a coat? Well, after applying this coat, you want to set the boot aside and let the coat dry a little so the polish hardens up some. If it's taking longer than just a few minutes to dry, the coat is too thick. The purpose of applying the coat is to start filling in and building up polish in the pits and grooves in the leather, but putting a super thick coat doesn't make it happen quicker.

Step 2.
After the coat has hardened up some, take a clean portion of your cloth and dip it in the water. Get it really wet. Don't wring it out before applying it to your boot either. You want it dripping wet. With very light pressure, rub the wet cloth over the polished surface in small, one inch circles. This is where the "sanding" takes place. As you rub the wet cloth over the surface, you are working on rubbing out the peaks of the polish to try and even it out with the pits and grooves of the leather you are trying to fill in with the polish. With the early coats, don't expect the surface to become perfectly smooth. It's gong to look rough until those pits and grooves really get filled in.

Step 3.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have at least 5 or 6 coats on. You want a good thick base of polish before applying heat. If you apply heat too early, the coat will be too thin and it will just melt it down to the leather.

Step 4.
Apply another medium coat of polish like you have been doing in step one. Now apply your heat source to the polished area. Depending on what you are using, it might be a quick heat application and it might be a little longer. With a lighter, it shouldn't take any longer than a few seconds to melt the entire polished surface. With a hair dryer, it takes a little longer depending on how hot your hair dryer is. Whatever your heat source, apply the heat until the polished surface shows a high gloss shine. That shine means the polish has melted. When it melts, it smooths the surface out. If you're using a lighter, hold your boot upside down so the flame can reach it evenly.

Once it is nice and shiny, remove the source of heat. If you leave it on too long, it will just melt it down closer and closer to the leather surface, which is not what you want. When you remove the heat, the surface will quickly go from shiny to dull and will have several splotchy shades of black and gray. Don't be alarmed. It's supposed to look like that. Set the boot aside and let it cool off for a few minutes before going on to the next step. Never apply heat with any amount of moisture on the polished surface! The heat will cook the water and cause bubbling in your polish.

Step 5.
Repeat Step 2, but apply extremely light pressure and make your circular motions really fast. Light pressure is key! You will start to see that smooth surface forming and for the first time, your efforts will start to seem worth it. Now check the surface for smoothness. If it still has that orange peel texture on the surface, go back and add a couple more coats (Step 1 and 2), and then complete Step 4 again. Keep repeating these steps until the surface has a glassy smooth surface. This does not mean it should reflect and shine like a mirror! The final polishing step is still to come. You are just trying to get all of the texture out of it so you have as smooth a surface to polish as possible.

Step 6.
Once the surface is nice and smooth, get a clean spot on your cloth, apply a SMALL amount of polish on the cloth at your fingertip, and dip that portion of the cloth in the water so it's soaking wet. The amount of polish you want on the cloth is so slight you might wonder if it's going to make any difference at all. Remember, you already smoothed the surface out. This goal here is to apply an very thin coat to make the surface glassy and deep black in color. Rub the polish onto the surface with very light pressure. Water should be running all over the toe because your cloth is that wet. You should barely be able to feel the surface of the boot because you are rubbing that light. When you look at your cloth, you shouldn't see any black on it because the polish was all left on the boot surface. If it's black, you applied too much pressure and the boot pushed the polish back into the cloth instead of staying on the surface. Do small sections at a time. You will have to get more polish and dip your cloth in water multiple times before you have covered the entire toe area.

If it's not even, repeat this step. If you apply 2 or 3 finishing coats and it still looks rough, you might need to repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 a couple more times. You will know when you are done when you can see yourself in your boots and the surface is as smooth as glass.

Depending on your academy staff, you might need to also polish the heel of your boot. It's better to show up on the first day with a high polish on the heel and not need it, than showing up with a dull heel and get yelled at about it.

Now apply the edge dressing. Make sure it gets applied evenly around the entire sole edge around the boot.

You're boots are now good to go!

If your laces start looking like crap...get new laces.

If your boots start looking like crap even with a good polish and clean...go get some new boots. I have had the same boots for three years and they look great, but the day they look less than professional I'm buying some new ones. Don't try to polish a turd.

From this point on, you should only need to clean the toe with water and repeat steps 5 and 6 to keep the surface shiny. This usually works 4 or 5 times for me before I put a medium coat on and melt it to get the surface nice and smooth again. The initial shine will take hours, but each maintenance shine afterwards should take only 5-15 minutes depending on if you need to melt a coat on.

Occasionally you will get a deep gash on the polished surface. This sucks and will require you to work a long time to fill it in with polish. You might even need to strip polish off to get down to the depth of the gash and start with an even surface, but you can get it back to looking good with some work.

Don't be a slacker when it comes to your boots. Who do you shine your boots for? Not the public. Not your R.T.O.'s. Not the suspects. You shine your boots for yourself. If you take pride in how you look, it will show in how you carry yourself. Command presence is very important in this job. Looking good and exuding confidence is a huge part of this.

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