Originally published May 18, 2012 with the title, Shoes for the Driller and How to Shine Them, this is a major update to help answer questions (fill in those blanks) that people send me.
Plastics: The term, poromeric, refers to a class of breathable synthetic leather. Corfam (not “Corfram,” “Clorfam” or Clorfram”) is made by the DuPont Chemical Company. Clarino, manufactured by the Kuraray Company, is another synthetic high-shine leather found mostly in flagstaff harnesses. Patent Leather, first created in England in the late 1700s, gained popularity after inventor Seth Boyden of Newark, New Jersey created his own version with linseed oil. These are all synthetic resins. Note: to clean poromeric shoes and equipment that have scuffs or run marks, use Brasso.
Pros: Never shine shoes again! Just keep the heel, sole, and welts black with high-gloss edge dressing. You do not shine poromeric shoes, you clean them.
Cons: They can get HOT! If you are facing the sun for a long time, you may need to treat the tops of your feet for burns. Really. Wear two layers of thin dress socks or a thicker dress sock to protect your feet.
Natural leather shoes.
Pros: Break-in period can be shorter than synthetic shoes/boots and they can last for years.
Cons: Shinning them over and over and over and over.
If wearing leather boots/shoes and you want the mirror shine without the constant maintenance, use Leather Luster. Here are the directions to use it. And here is a great video from the people at Lather Luster!
Shining Standard Leather Shoes/Boots
They can be tough to shine but, polish, a little water, cotton balls or an old cotton t-shirt are perfect for making leather shoes like mirrors.
Brand new leather shoes are perfect for shining. Sometimes there is an oil coating on the shoes that will hinder a shine. If so, it is best to remove it with some rubbing alcohol and a rag. Now you are ready to begin.
I first learned how to shine shoes from my dad using polish, a cloth, then use a brush, and finally suing a shine cloth. However, to shine them to a mirror finish, Old Cadets taught me when I attended New Mexico Military Institute. We used Kiwi there and it always worked really well for us.
How to shine: Using shoe trees helps (see Shoe Care below). Lightly wet a cotton ball, dab it in the polish and work the polish into the shoe making little circles. When the cotton ball starts to make scratches, get a new one. It takes many hours to build up a base coat of polish and then have it shine like a mirror, but once you have the base coat, you can easily touch up your shoes. If you are going to make all of the shoe mirror-like, be aware that as soon as you take your first step, where the shoe naturally bends with your foot, the polish will crack and flake off. So, you may want to limit the mirror parts to the heels, the sides and as much of the toe as possible, highly shine the rest- including the tongue!
It is all about building up a base and when you first being it will seem like it takes forever, but as you progress, it will take less and less time to shine your shoes. If your shoes have leather soles, you will be able to sand the outside of the sole and shine it with shoe polish as well. If your soles are rubber or some sort of synthetic material you will have to use edge dressing.
Edge Dressing: Kiwi stopped making their Honor Guard Edge Dressing years ago as soon as the military transitioned to suede boots. Honor guard units now use Angelus Brand Roll Call Military Grade Edge Dressing which is available at Glendale Paradestore and elsewhere.
How to Remove Edge Dressing: After a few coats with edge dressing, you will need to strip the welt* (the top of the edge, where the sewing is) and also the sides of the sole so as not to have that buildup that eventually looks terrible. For the outside of the sole, use steel wool to scrape away excess, a putty knife works well also. For the welt, you can use the putty knife corner, but be careful. Sometimes the edge dressing will flake off or come off in small chunks. If not, you may have to use Leather Luster Remover. Sand (very fine sandpaper is best) the sole and the side heel tap (if attached) so that it is even and then reapply the Angelus Edge Dressing. *Some shoes have an extremely small welt. I prefer the wider welt.
The man-made, synthetic lighter soles are not the most desirable for the military Driller but are the most prevalent. Leather soles are great because you can pivot easily. Make sure to blacken the sole if it is a lighter color. Do you have a squeaky sole? Read this!
Especially with a competitive team (i.e. JROTC drill team), the team needs to lace their shoes exactly the same. Using wax-coated laces helps them stay tied.
Shoe care. Pictured at left are my shoes. You can see in this photo that I use shoe trees. Shoe trees come in wood and plastic and help to keep the shape of the shoes by keeping them stretched in the width and length. You can also see that I use shoe bags. Shoe bags are cloth bags that fit over your shoes to keep them protected and also protect your clothing when you travel.
Heel Steel: Side heel taps (“Cheaters” or “Clickers”) are great whether you execute closed-toe movements or use the traditional 45-degree angle. You can get different colors: silver, gold or black. Silver and brass are great if you want shiny but you will have to constantly shine them. Black cheaters don’t need maintenance. Note: if you have black and put edge dressing on them, it will chip off and you will need to strip the metal and reapply so it doesn’t ‘cake’ up.
If you have cheaters that are shiny brass or steel, keep them shined and attach them with the same color sheet rock screws (top-right in the picture). Never use the screws that come with the cheaters (middle screw) because they can eventually split the heel (see below). Note: these screws have now been replaced and come with a much better option to use right out of the package.
In the picture at the right, at the top is the Old Guard-style Cheater (highly recommended) and at the bottom is the Civilian-styled Cheater (they work and sometimes people with smaller feet must use these). When attaching cheaters, you can put spacers (washers) behind them or screw them solidly into the side of the sole. Since these taps are curved, you can either match your heel curvature or put a space between the tap and the heel to see if there is better sound quality.
Horseshoe taps can be dangerous and mark up floors, but sound awesome- especially in a large formation. Ask any farrier, horseshoes need to fit a horse’s hoof exactly all the way around the hoof. Ask any cobbler, horseshoe taps don’t. As a matter of fact a cobbler usually offsets the tap into the center of the heel by 1/16 of an inch from the back and keeps a gap of 1/8 of an inch on the sides. Horseshoe tap sizes are for smaller and larger feet (heels) and nothing else. Their sizes fit shoe sizes: 9-10, 10-11, 12-13.
Toe taps come in plastic (not recommended for marching, they will disappear in weeks) and metal. The nails have a ridge on them or you can use small, thin screws with a flat head.
Toe and heel taps are excellent for creating sound but require a tremendous amount of practice. If you do not have the time to put in, don’t wear them.
Putting taps on modern cushioned soles can be difficult as the nails can come out easily. Leather soles are best but you must special order those shoes.
I suffered plantar fasciitis for years. Exercise for my feet helped tremendously as well as stretching both muscles in each calf. You must wear shoes and boots with a wide toe box. Even if you have never worn “wide” shoes, do your research and keep your feet as healthy as possible.
Heel striking while running is apparently bad for you. Not having the heel hit the running surface is very helpful: whole foot strike or toe strike only.
Sometimes, you need temporary relief for different reasons. Lacing your shoe/boot differently can be of great help. Look up the different lacing methods that can relive pressure in different places, which is too much to go into here.