Intro: Waterproof Boots With Beeswax
In part using a propane torch, I added a layer of beeswax to make dually sure that my new workboots (already advertised as waterproof) would keep the water out.
Working in a butcher shop, your boots are always wet. This wreaks havoc on leather boots - they never get a chance to dry out and the leather rots. Plus you pick up all kinds of...foreign materials... that probably don't help anything.
I've added some pics of my old boots, there are big holes where the leather meets the sole. The sole itself and where the boot is covered by my pantleg look nearly new, but the toe and seam are shot.
For those of you who are going to say "if you buy expensive boots they'll last longer," well, my colleague got $250 made in America name-brand boots, and the seams blew out in 6 months (in the same places as mine), he returned them, had the same thing happen a second time. More butchers in my shop wear these Sears brand boots than anything else.
Two years ago when they were new I used liberal amounts of silicone sealer on the now old boots. The efficacy of that is debatable, so this time I thought I'd try beeswax and see if the life of the boot is extended. Plus, if I get stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean and end up gnawing on my boots, they'll taste faintly of honey.
Step 1: Melt the Beeswax
Not wanting to scald the wax I made a double boiler with an appropriately sized and pan and metal mixing bowl.
I got the beeswax a long time ago at the hardware store, it's a hunk about the size and shape of a hockey puck. You can see it's picked up a lot of crap on the outside over the years, but when the wax melts in the double boiler the impurities settle to the bottom. Moreover, I'd imagine impurities are inconsequential in this application. I'm not exactly waterproofing a NASA spacesuit.
I used a knife to cut some off and drop it in the pan to melt.
Step 2: Apply the Beeswax
I used a clean towel to apply the beeswax onto the boot. You can see that as I'm applying it, the wax is solidifying and turning white. I did my best to rub it into the seems during the brief molten state.
Step 3: Further Melt the Beeswax Into the Leather (and Repeat)
For maximal water protection I wanted the leather to really absorb the beeswax. To achieve this the wax clearly needs to be as liquid as possible - a job for a propane torch.
I started with the torch quite a ways away from the wax laden leather, figuring that the wax could smoke if it got too hot. After a while I realized that this didn't seem to be the case - at times I had the flame right on the boot, to the point where the synthetic sole discolored a bit. Despite this the leather seemed fine, and the wax soaked into the boot.
From the pictures, it's apparent that the wax 'disappears' into the leather, which I'm betting makes a good waterproof seal. There was a little wax left on the surface of the boot, which I buffed out.
I repeated this process a number of times: apply the wax, hit it with the torch, do the other boot, repeat. I did the entire boot once (per boot) and the toe and "exposed areas" and especially the seams that aren't covered by my pantleg an additional two times.
Step 4: Leave Excess Wax Around the Seams
It seemed prudent to leave a bead of wax on the most problematic parts of the boot. I figured that this would give a heck-of-a waterproofing seal.
Step 5: The Finished Product
Here's what the boots looked like after the procedure, pretty much like new boots - which is good! You can see that the water beads right off of the leather (and the seams too).
A few footnotes are in order:
Although I've heard of using wax to waterproof canvas, I've never heard of waterproofing leather in this manor. It probably would have been a good idea for me to google it. But I didn't. It seemed like a good idea so I did it with absolutely no research. We'll see if it works or not. Although I know leather is quite heat / flame resistant, for all I know the heat from the torch may have damaged the leather more than the wax helped it - who knows!?
That bead of wax around the seam almost immediately came off. There was glue adhering the sole to the leather that I didn't see; it was kinda like there was a small bead of caulking sealing the sole to the leather - exactly where I put this bead of wax. Unlike the porous leather, the wax didn't soak into this glue and didn't really bond to the glue. Consequently the bead of wax came right off during the first day wearing the boots. Moreover, the torch may have damaged this glue / seal.
Because the laces are synthetic, I didn't want to get the flame too close to them. In the final picture you can see that the water beads up nicely where I put the wax on, but there isn't a visible seam differentiating where I waxed and where I didn't, and the water is beading up nicely from the factory waterproofing seal. This fact begs the question: did this procedure actually do anything?
Who knows, we'll just have to wait and see!