Happy Super Bowl Sunday. And congrats to the Broncos. This morning I was actually worried that the local grocery store would close early but then I remembered that today wasn’t an actual US holiday. It only seems that way.
This post is about trying to restore a sad pair of Florsheim Imperial Shell Cordovan PTBs. These shoes were not the worst I have seen but they were high on the list. Looking at them, you thought “What the hell????”. I am guessing the previous owner tried to make them look like black patent leather. The shoes were covered with a thick layer of black shoe polish/wax.
I have tried a few products in attempts to strip Shell Cordovan: Acetone; Lincoln Patina Cleaner; and heat. Of the three, heat has had the best results. This pair would require a nuclear reactor. But I didn’t have one so used a heat gun instead.
I set the heat gun on low and held it about 6″ from the shoe. Once the wax heats up, it wipes off easily with a towel. To avoid burning the leather, I heated an area of the shoe until it was very warm but not hot. I know that is a bit vague but I didn’t have anyway to measure the leather temperature. An internet search has wax melting around 122F (50C) and solidifying at 99F (37C). This takes a bit of practice to get right but its not difficult once you get the hang of it.
This was a slow process because the wax will cool and solidify quickly. I used a lot of towels. A hair dryer might work as well but I haven’t tried one. The hot air from a heat gun is much more focused than a hair dryer.
After stripping the shoe, I used Lexol NF to condition the newly revealed leather. Here is a shot of the shoes mid-process. I estimate 2 to 3 hours total time on the shoes but that was spread out over a week.
When both shoes were done, the results looked great. The shoes were very shiny. This was due to the residual wax on them. I didn’t use any polish or wax. Did this process damage the shell cordovan leather? It didn’t appear to. No cracking occurred. The chemical cleaners that I mention above can strip the glossy finish from the shell cordovan leather.
So how did they wear? Not so good. I wore them around and my feet hurt at the end of the day. The shell was a bit stiff and the existing rolls in the leather pushed into the top of my feet. Florsheim’s trademark 5 nail soles lost four nails during the day. And the leather around the base of the shoes appeared to be disintegrating (the shoe dust in the photos below is from sole leather). These shoes were DONE and I relegated the shoes to the BIN. What’s the BIN? A bin of old shoes that I test products on. Sometimes I cut them up too.
In summary, the heat gun stripping process worked well but the shoes were shot. I have used this method successfully on many other pairs of Shell Cordovan shoes. Would I do this process on a $600 pair of Alden or Allen Edmonds shoes. Yes, its better than other options. Heat doesn’t completely remove all wax but it will remove the majority of it. If your shoes have visible cracking from over waxing, then this is a fairly easy way to remove the excess wax.
Before they entered the BIN, I took a few last photos after they were worn. RIP PTB.
10 thoughts on “Stripping Wax from Shell Cordovan”
Instead of the BIN, why not a candidate for recrafting?
Good question and idea. If the shoes were at least semi-comfortable, I would be more in favor of new soles. I am getting new soles on another pair right now.
FWIW, I’ve had really good luck with recrafting vintage shoes. Especially if you have a service reline the footbed with hot cork. The shoe is re-lasted and tightened up and the new cork, welting, and outersole make them wear much more comfortably, and they re-break in to your foot. The creasing pinch is tough, I have a pair of shoes that does that. They creased oddly the first time I wore them and they’ve never been particularly comfortable. I’d just hate to see a pair of vintage shell Florsheims get chopped in half ;).
BTW, I really enjoy your blog. Keep posting!
Ive stripped old wax off shell cordovan using a hair dryer and it worked very good but slow.
Since then my partner and i have used a “magic eraser” and what a difference! Youll need a couple of erasers for a pair of shoes, especially the brogued wingtips. Brogueing just tears the eraser to bits. This is a great discovery for us because it is soooo much faster than heat, we just couldnt believe our eyes! Id recommemd using some shoes from the b in to practuce on because ifyou keep rubbing it will even remove most of the dye as well. In some instances we do take off the dye because the previous owner has dyed them a darker color than the original and didnt do a good job. We remove alll the old layers and give the shoes several coats of leather conditioner before adding color or polish. Try the magic eraser , its so awesome!
Its magic, right? I have used magic eraser on rubber heels but not leather. Have you tried it on calf skin? Or does it only work on shell?
David, would renomat be an option as well for removing old polish?
Yes, renomat would work but you would have needed a lot of it with this pair.
Tried Renomat and it didn’t work at all. Been searching the net and i landed here.