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How To Make Your Leather Boots Last Forever (Or at least longer than the next guy's)

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Good boots are not cheap. Cheap boots are not good. As a utility lineman, I spend a lot of time outside under harsh conditions at work. My boots, while tough (they have to be), often pay the price as I slog through mud, water, snow, salt and rocks, not to mention the beating they take while wearing steel climbing hooks and abrading against a telephone pole. There is, however, a way to delay the inevitable and preserve your boots to survive at least as long as this crappy economy. NOTE: This 'ible is for regular tanned leather boots only-'rough outs' or suede type boots like UGGs, etc. will not respond as well to this treatment.

Step 1: The Basics. Start With Oil.

Picture of The Basics. Start With Oil.
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Maintaining your boots is not difficult or expensive, but it needs to be done at regular intervals. I have found a good pair of steel-toed work boots (like those made by Red Wing and other work boot specialty companies like Hall's Line Supply) will generally survive a year and a half to two years with good care under rough line work conditions. Your boots or shoes may not be subject to such harsh conditions, and may go much longer. If you are just looking to make your Doc Martens last longer for more concerts, etc. you could expect to double the life of them by doing regular maintenance. A friend of mine had a pair of Doc's shoes for five or six years, wearing them nearly every day, and through regular oiling (and I think at least one re-soling) was able to keep them until they fell apart at the seams, literally.

Here's what you need:

Neatsfoot Oil-there are plenty of oils and creams out there that all promise to do various things. For my money (and probably yours if you are on here, we are a thrifty lot!), nothing is better than good old Neatsfoot Oil. My company supplies us with Fiebing Brand, and we keep a bottle in the office to work on our boots when we have the time. Additionally, I keep a bottle at home, as I like to oil them right after I dry them overnight. The 32 ounce size shown here will probably last a lifetime unless you have an army.

Store your oil bottle in a zip-loc bag-the design of the bottle creates dribbles and it always ends up on the bottom of your bottle, leaving a nice oily rectangle wherever you put it down. NOTE:it is important to know that Neatsfoot oil will darken the finish of your leather-if your Docs are that perfect shade to match your handbag now, oiling them will change the shade substantially.

 
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a.l.3 years ago
A lot of good advise. Had I read through this five years ago it would have saved me misery. Two pair of boots, daily cleaning, beeswax, and carefull drying are essential if you work in rough environments. I still go through a pair of boots every six months or less though. Currently I am trying out Matterhorns Nytek Mining boot, but I do not know what to put on it other than silicone. I wanted to try something other than leather since the concrete slurry, steel shavings, salt water, hydro oil, and other hazards that come with doing concrete cutting and demolition in dams, ports, tunnels, peirs, etc seem to destroy leather. Any suggestions?

I know this is an old thread but i'm commenting anyways...... In them working conditions, your boots have to good. Never scrimp on your boots, or your bed. There the two thing you be in for up to 16 hours a day.. lol Have you tried a good pair of Rigger boots, like Timberland or DeWalt Tungsten.? Treat your leather with Obenauf's Heavy Duty Leather Preservative, and Obenauf's Leather Oil. This product is fantastic, made in your country the US of A...

Timberland Pro Cruisemax Awesome "Ible" really good information, bookmarked.. Cheers everyone from the UK..
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ehmbee (author)  a.l.3 years ago
The Timberlands APPEAR tough-and some of my coworkers now have a pretty tough looking ballistic nylon/leather combo boot....I'd look for something with a sizable toe cap on the outside for one-sometimes you can even have them capped. I've seen guys use silicone-honestly I can't see anything wrong with it...I'll take a look at those Matterhorns, they're new to me but the brand itself is a damn fine boot.
KleinK2 months ago

Hi Ehmbee,

I came across this article after googling "Waterproofing boots". Great article, thanks for putting it together, it's very well done.

After reading the article, I called Fiebing's to get their take on the best method for treating boots. The gent I talked to said that the Neatsfoot oil is really not what they'd recommend for waterproofing boots. He said they recommend a product called Snow Proof, that since it's a wax, it's got properties designed to actually wax leather and create a moisture seal, versus softening it, (which, by his admittance, does somewhat waterproof leather as well as soften it). So I guess I just wanted your thought on that, have you ever used anything for "waterproofing specifically", or has the Neatsfoot oil always served you just fine?

How often would you say is too often to oil one's boots? I'd like mine to last until the leather wears out, like the reviewer below, and I figure with regular resoling and repairs when necessary they probably can. They're L.L. Bean's so they're really good quality. I could probably oil them once a week if I wanted to, but would that be excessive? How much is too much?

Public Alias8 months ago

Thanks for the advice. Until recently I thought that kiwi shoe polish was all that is necessary to maintain leather boots. Even though I would polish at least weekly, road salt would still penetrate them, so I started reading and learned about using conditioner or oil before polishing. What I'm wondering is, will the polish I have already applied block the oil or conditioner from absorbing? I'm guessing no of it can't even block the salt from absorbing?

ehmbee (author)  Public Alias8 months ago
I would thoroughly clean the shoes to remove as much polish as possible-leather is a porous material, and has 'living' characteristics despite no longer being on the cow. I recommend a good washing and brushing with something like Dr. Bronner's soap, then the oiling process. Polish lacks the oils necessary for waterproofing. Once done, keep them oiled regularly as I have previously mentioned. Good Luck!
Estella201410 months ago
Thanks for your advice. It will be helpful for me to protect my genuine leather boot that bought at Walkers' Wit last month.
ehmbee (author)  Estella201410 months ago
Glad to help-I'm still overwhelmed at the amount of comments on this 'ible over the last few years!
satkinson31 year ago
The word everyone here is looking for, is "Cobbler".
1bad71SS1 year ago
I have been in construction for 35 years and have owned many high dollar boots such as Wolverines, Chippewas,Danners and Redwings. I have found Filson's to be the best boot out there. I'am done experimenting. I will never own another brand. Made in the U.S.A.
Takelababy2 years ago
Try oiling your boots while the leather is damp and the pores are open. I like to use Dubbin and slather it on with my hands. The leather is allowed to rest overnight then more Dubbin is added to the dry spots. Again overnight. This is followed with lots of rubbing with the bare hands to generate heat. Allow to dry then buff with a soft cloth. I promise you the rain and snow will bead right off.
JIMMCCRANK3 years ago
Nice instructable. As a lineman for the past 40 years you can imagine I have gone through my fair share of boots. In Ontario there was a boot maker in Huntsville and his boots were favored by many linemen. Most of us used dubbin to treat their boots as they were so expensive you had to make them last. I have known guys who had theirs for more than 15 years. Not sure if he is still in business but the boots were the best anywhere. Be safe also. Tramp lineman forever. :)
ehmbee (author)  JIMMCCRANK3 years ago
Thanks-currently caught up in the CWA/IBEW strike-hoping for a resolution soon!
inchman4 years ago
 Great 'ible.  Thanks for sharing.  But there is one tip to make boots last that is really important.  Next time you buy a pair of boots, buy TWO pairs (you might get a discount even.)  This allows you to let a pair "relax" for a day as you rotate them every day.  If the boots are wet, it doesn't matter, you are wearing the other set the next day.
This is how the military "trains" it's new recruits (or at least did 20 years ago when I joined.)  Note, combat boots (the old leather ones) cost about $8 to make.  They were CHEAP boots.  But they lasted well because soldiers always had to polish them and keep them clean and rotate wearing them.
ehmbee (author)  inchman4 years ago
That is a great idea. Sadly, for some guys, two pairs of boots may be tough, especially at $150 and up per pair for good ones. What I've started to do is keep my climbers on the truck. Anytime my 'everyday' boots get muddy or wet, I can switch over.  Since I only need the climbers to, well, climb, I can slowly break 'em in, using them as needed. My everyday boots are Wolverines with DuraShok soles, and side zips for easy on and off.  They don't have steel shanks or quite enough a heel for climbing, but the DuraShok sole makes them feel like wearing a sneaker all day.  If you have the chance to get a boot with a DuraShok, get one-the soles are glued, but can still be replaced by qualified repair persons.
inchman ehmbee4 years ago
 You're right.  It might be hard to pony up for two pairs at the same time.  One thought, if you can convince one or two of your co-workers to do the same, if 3 guys walked into a store that caters to working men (and women), and all were ready to buy two new sets of boots, the discount might be pretty deep (and you can share it among everyone.)

As for the DuraShok soles, do they make a military boot?  I still got a few years before the Army tells me to go away, and I know I have LOTS of ruck marches left in me.  I'd like to try a set if I could find a pair that were authorized.  Thanks for the 'ible again!
ehmbee (author)  inchman3 years ago
There are a ton of combat books with Durashok or similar soles now-just about every major manufacturer from Corcoran to Danner and the rest have something with either Durashoks proper or their brand's version. www.resoleamerica.com has also told me they can fit almost any boot with a similar style sole. Check them out if you don't have a skilled or willing shoe guy in your area-you may be able to resole a pair you already have.
patmatchue3 years ago
Neatsfoot Oil is a great product...but I prefer to use Lexol Leather Conditioner...its not quite as oily and does a great job....conditioning, waterproofing and reheeling or resoling your workboots can make them last for many many years without having to break in a new pair. Visit your local shoe repair shop to purchase Lexol or contact Bill's Shoe Repair in Midland Park NJ
ehmbee (author)  patmatchue3 years ago
I have been using Lexol as a weekly application as of late-spraying on and rubbingin after brushing dirt off. The spray does make it easy...I still use my neatsfoot for penetrating and impregnating the leather though....I do my complete wash and oiling now with Dr. Bronner's soap, then Lexol cleaner or saddle soap, dry, then brush on the neatsfoot. my Carolinas have been in use over a year now and look great.
patmatchue3 years ago
Although they are hard to find ... there are many fabulous shoe repair men still around. If you do not have one in your local area you can mail your shoes to Bills Shoe Repair shop in Midland Park, NJ. I am talking 26 years experience and a great reputation.
ehmbee (author)  patmatchue3 years ago
Awesome-good to remember....
huntjulien3 years ago
my dad has a pair of roots leather boots sadly this was there last year. he bought them 18 years ago!!!!! they werent used everyday but many. they were worn everyday during are harsh saskatchewan winters up in canada. great boots. only reason there done now is he wore right through the leather itself. best product ever bought. i almost teared up wen i saw the hole.
ehmbee (author)  huntjulien3 years ago
Where was the hole? Sometimes a skilled shoe guy can patch for you-I just missed out on an old Singer "Patcher" leather treadle machine myself on Ebay....would have been a ton of stuff I could have fixed....
abadfart3 years ago
im going on 5 years with my black leather jumper boots
ehmbee (author)  abadfart3 years ago
NICE!
abadfart ehmbee3 years ago
ya i polish them 2 times a week and have had the soles replaced 1 time
ehmbee (author) 4 years ago
Nice 'ible-I find, though, that such an amount of air is probably too much for leather-if it's on hot or warm...if that were just cool moving air, it would be ok, although a bit power hungry...crap, maybe I'll just READ it so I know what's being used, lol. BTW, my Peet has been plugged in nearly 12 years now and still works flawlessly.
stormthirst4 years ago
A good leather preservative is worth its weight in gold. It's always best not to use artificial heat on your leather boots and such, but always let them come to room temperature while applying LP and conditioner.  One product that has gained in popularity at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics was TOBR Leather Preservative and Conditioner.  A non-contaminate, will not attract dust and dirt, is a natural ingredient formula that employs wild beeswax with no chemicals, petroleum products, animal fats or oils, but relys on its antiseptic properties to nourish and feed the leather. Once TOBR has completely dried, leather will buff to a resilient shine with a soft cloth or brush. Use an old toothbrush to apply TOBR in between the soles and uppers, ensuring that stitching is well saturated. Inhibits mold and mildew and protects your leather against red rot. Dries scent free and is environmentally safe for rivers, lakes and streams.   A 6 ounce round will last for any harsh winter and muddy spring to follow.  
uncle_al_05 years ago
I'm 19 years old and I've been wearing boots everyday for the past 7 years. I started with the cheap JCPennies $50 steel toes and was going through a pair of boots every 5-6 months. Now I've moved on to using Caterpillar boots, I work in an auto shop and in construction (pretty hard environments for boots) the last pair of Cats lasted me a year and 3 months with no oiling at all. If I can make them last that long without oiling, I can't imagine how long they'll last if i start oiling them. Thanks for the 'ible. Added to favorites
ehmbee (author)  uncle_al_04 years ago
I'm guessing you spend a fair amount of time kneeling doing body work-consider getting a soft plastic cap or guard glued on to your toes-you can get them at some shoe stores or have a shoe guy install them.  It keeps the leather over your steel toe from wearing out prematurely if you spend a lot of time kneeling to work.
try surplussed combat boots they work well and are affordable
 Hi...I have these boots
 
They are leather, but the cover over the steel cap is synthetic. They also have a zipper up the other side, unseen in the picture.

what would you recommend for this?


www.gothicshoes.com.au/components/com_virtuemart/shop_image/product/RIOT_20_48c385af5ba94.jpg



ehmbee (author)  CybergothiChe4 years ago
It would most likely depend on how worn your boots are. If they are new, you'll have noticed the finish is still a bit shiny.  if you want them to take oil, you may need to "Rough" them a bit to get them to absorb the oil. Personally I'd use a light scouring pad (plastic, not steel wool or Chore-Boy) and see how much of the finish gets abraded. If it doesn't work, go up a level in coarseness or 'grit'. Body shop suppliers have Scotchbrite pads in varying levels of abrasiveness if you want to truly know how much a jump you are making. Then go through the process as I have outlined and others have added or amended. The oil or preservative you choose should absorb just fine. It will make the boots dull, though.

If you want to keep the shine, you'd have to do polish, preferably a "spit shine"-look here on the Instructables site for a good 'ible on polishing if that is what you want. I burn my polish into boots I want a shine on, with a butane lighter, then polish them by spraying water as I go. It's a process, but the results are amazing.  Polishing those babies looks like it will take some time, getting around all the straps and hardware :-). Hope this helps, and good luck.
 woo! thankyou so much, and thankyou for your prompt response :)
ehmbee (author)  CybergothiChe4 years ago
No problem, glad to help...
 and by 'these boots' I mean the ones in the link...I hope that didn't cause too much confusion... :P
joeyjojoe5 years ago
wow !!! never mind your calf, i thought it was your waist!!!! lol
ehmbee (author)  joeyjojoe5 years ago
Sadly, my waist is MUCH larger than this-I can count my gut as a point of contact when I climb a pole. :-)
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