Waterproofing Your Shoes November 03, 2015 09:21 1 Comment

Did you know it rains in Vancouver?

Shocking, right? Even worse, rain will actually get you - wait for it - wet. Unheard of!

Despite this totally not-new news, every Fall I find myself walking to work with soaking wet shoes because I've somehow forgotten about this whole rain thing, unlike everyone else who seems to be cozy and dry in their rain gear. This year I decided I wasn't going to put up with it anymore, and I was finally going to waterproof my shoes.

"Why not just buy rubber boots?" you ask.

Because this is more fun, that's why! Also, waterproofing leather is something that people have been doing for centuries, and the basic recipe is surprisingly easy. Plus, it uses things I already had lying around the house. If you don't have tallow and beeswax just lying around your house, you should probably cultivate a soapmaking hobby. Or just go buy some!

 

For the first step I started melting together my tallow and beeswax. The easiest way I've found is to put them in a mason jar and put that jar in a pan of water on the stove. This allows the wax to melt without heating the tallow too high. I used 3 parts beeswax to 1 part tallow for my recipe (spoiler alert - this recipe was a bad idea!). Once the beeswax and tallow had melted together, I pulled it off the heat and let it cool to room temp.

I was a bit concerned that the waterproofing might change the colour of my shoes (it did), but it turns out that being soaking wet also changes the colour of my shoes, so you know.....no real loss there. I started out by pulling out my laces (they don't need waterproofing), and stuck my shoes in my dehydrator.

Yup, in the dehydrator. The idea is that you want to warm up the leather enough that it is more willing to accept the waterproofing solution. I found several methods online that sounded pretty good, from sticking them next to a heat vent, to rigging up a box with a space heater at one end. I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to find a decent sized box to pair with my space heater before realizing that my dehydrator is, in fact, exactly what I was trying to cobble together. I set the dehydrator to 165F, and walked away.

Once my shoes were sufficiently warmed, I pulled them out of the dehydrator and set them down on some rags to begin applying the waterproofing. It's hard to see in this picture, but the heat of the dehydrator has actually caused a small gap to form between the rubber soles and the leather. If you think this seems like it might be a problem, you'd be right, but I didn't know it yet. I was too busy happily putting waterproofing on my shoes.

Turns out, rubbing a mixture that is mostly beeswax into leather is really hard, no matter how warm your shoes are. The wax just kept pilling up on the surface, not sinking in, and I was really having to work at it.

 I kept working at it and managed to get the shoes completely coated.

At this point, I tossed them back into the magic box of heat, and let the wax mixture melt into the leather some more. By the time I took them out, they were looking pretty spiffy!

I was pretty proud of myself. I threaded my laces back in, put the shoes on, and headed out for a walk to test them out. It wasn't raining, but I figured I might find a puddle or two on my way to the coffee shop.

It wasn't til I got to the coffee shop that I realized I might have done something wrong. My formerly shiny, waterproofed shoes were looking distinctly ugly!

Turns out, all that wax I was rubbing into the leather hadn't actually soaked in. It was just sitting on top and as soon as it came in contact with cold air, it stiffened up. As I walked, that stiff wax cracked and chipped off, leaving me with this mess. Back to the drawing board!

After a bit more google searching, I decided to add more tallow to my recipe, bringing the final mixture to more of a 50/50 mix of wax and tallow. I whipped up a new batch and then started the whole process again (complete with another 165F blast in the magic box for my shoes).

Look at how much better that goes on!

I repeated the whole process, and wound up with nice shiny leather again at the end. This time, it was actually raining and I decided a test run (or walk) was in order.

 

Look at that! Perfectly beaded water, and nice dry toes - fantastic!

Except....wait....

Remember that almost unnoticeable gap in my shoes? Yeah. Apparently glue doesn't like to be heated to 165F, and my overly enthusiastic use of the high-temp setting on my dehydrator had caused my shoes to separate. 

So, next time I'll go with the 105F setting. In the meantime, I have a date with some shoe goo and some c-clamps. But at least my feet will be dry!