Getting a pair of boots to shine is a fairly straightforward procedure that most of us learned when we were children. Doing a spit shine is a step above that. There are various ways to accomplish it, and much military lore ranging from cotton balls and hot spoons (both of which work) to pyrotechnics (not recommended!). Here are the guidelines we follow:
Wash your hands. Your skin contains natural oils in addition to whatever dirt you may have picked up. You cannot polish a boot that has oil on it, nor can you polish a boot with oil on your skin.
Clean the boots. For a new or relatively clean pair, all you will need to do is put a small amount of saddle soap on a soft shoe polish dauber, dip it in water, and lightly scrub the boots. The saddle soap will foam a bit. Then wipe off the soapy water and dry the boots with a clean towel. If the boots are really dirty, more drastic measures, such as a scrubbing brush and water, may be required. Don't forget the dust in the tongue of the boot!
If the boots already have old layers of polish on them, strip the old polish off using mineral spirits on a clean rag. Lighter fluid will also work, but is more expensive. You will find mineral spirits in the paint thinner section of your hardware store. If you are buying something labeled "paint thinner", read the label to make sure it is indeed mineral spirits. Provided it is mineral spirits, the cheap stuff works just as well as the major brand names.
Using your bare hands, rub a layer of soft shoe polish onto one boot. We use Angelus Polish, but find that regular Kiwi shoe polish works just as well. Buy the big tins, as you will use more of this than any other supply. Remember to apply polish to the tongue of the boot, and also to the edge of the sole and heel. Use a toothbrush to apply polish to the "catwalk" where the sole meets the upper shoe leather.
Now here comes the technology: After you have applied the polish to the boot, take a hair dryer using the hot setting, and slowly blast hot air over the boot. You will see the polish melt briefly as the hot air does its thing. This melts the polish into the leather.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the other boot.
Repeat steps 3 through 4 three more times, so that you have melted four layers of soft polish into the leather.
Now comes the spit shine.To do this you need the following 3 items:
- A very high quality polish such as Kiwi Parade Gloss or Lincoln Stain Wax. (The latter is marked USMC approved.)
- A damp 100% cotton cloth, cut into a square the size of a handkerchief. This should be old - an old T-shirt is ideal. If it is not old, run it through the laundry a few times till it is nice and soft before using it. It must be 100% cotton. Polyester will strip off the polish, which is the last thing you want at this stage.
- Clean water to keep the cloth damp. A spray bottle works really well.
Wet the cloth and wring it out - you want it damp but not dripping wet. Wrap it round the first two fingers of your hand and grip the excess cloth so that you have a nice taut surface at your fingertips. Put a small amount of polish on the cloth at your fingertips and begin lightly stroking the surface of the leather in little circles, working a section at a time. You have to be patient. At first you will think a shine will never appear, but keep doing those little circles on the section you are working on. Eventually you will see a mirror shine begin to appear through the haze of polish. (Don't forget to do this to the edges of the soles and heels too.)
This process takes a bit of practice. In time you will develop the technique that works best for you. You will also find by experimenting that variations on the little circles, such as back and forth buffing with the damp cloth, work better on certain areas of the particular boot you are shining. Turn the cloth to get a clean surface occasionally.
On some boots, a single layer of spit shine is all that is needed. On others, such as Canadian Garrison boots which come with a slightly pebbled surface when new, you may need to build up many layers. Use polish sparingly - the layers must be thin, or else the polish you just applied will strip off and form little bits of grit in the cloth, ruining the shine you have so far. Keep the cloth damp using your spray bottle or whatever. The purpose of the water is to make the polish stick to the leather not to the cloth. It is the thin layers of polish that gradually fill the tiny holes and bumps in the leather, thereby producing the smooth surface that shines like a mirror.
When you have finished the spit shine, make sure you rub all traces of polish off the soles with an old towel or something. This is especially important with boots that have heavy treads such as Vibram soles.
Maintaining the shine is much easier than the procedure just outlined. Provided you have no major scuffs, all you really need to do is add another layer or two of spit shine polish with your damp cotton cloth.
If you have a large scratch, you can dip your finger in mineral spirits and melt the polish in the scratched area., then rebuild the layers. Personally, we find it easier to strip the polish off a somewhat larger area (typically the toe cap), and then redo the entire process described above on that area (giving new meaning to starting from scratch).
There usually comes a time, when the old polish is chipped, flaking off in places, and/or has major scratches, that your only option is to strip the polish off the entire pair of boots and start afresh. US military tradition requires the old polish to be stripped on a regular basis. Canadian and British tradition is to build up layers of polish over the years. Choose your tradition!