Moving to a new state last fall means getting to know a whole new community and them getting to know me. I’m getting to talk about being a baby bootblack in a whole new way and it’s been such a delight to share this with folks. Recently, I had someone ask about what I’d suggest for a basic kit and I wanted to share it here too.
To start, I suggest getting yourself a nice box of some kind. A bag can work too but something like a toolbox gives you a little more organization, especially if you end up expanding your kit. I’ve recently moved into one of those craft organizers on wheels (multi-directional! No strain on my back!) and it has so much space. I love it. But start with something small and simple. This also gives you portability if you’re able to go to a community event to learn from other bootblacks or Leather folk.
The Basic List
This list is the very basics. I’ll mention a few optional things at the end but if you’re just wanting to learn and get a feel for it, here’s all you need to start.
- Soap – There are two options here – saddle soap and glycerin soap. I use Fiebing’s saddle soap. Glycerin soap needs to be the real basic soap. You can go to a craft store and buy the glycerin soap base and melt into a container of your choice.
- Polish – Black or neutral is great to start with. You can get Kiwi brand polish at nearly any grocery store or Wal-Mart. Kiwi polish is a classic and holds a great shine. Other popular brands include Lincoln and Angelus but you’ll have to go to a cobbler or look online.
- Conditioner – There are a few different varieties depending on what you’re doing. Huberd’s is a great conditioner and my preference (it smells like fire and sex!) (If you’re allergic to pine, please don’t use it!). Obenauf’s is a great beeswax conditioner and smells lovely. For lighter things (think gloves, dress shoes) I use Cadillac. However, not everything needs to be conditioned every time and saddle soap has some conditioners in it.
- Brushes – There are few different brushes you’ll want in your kit. There are applicators for polish but I prefer to apply by hand so I’m not familiar with those. For polishing a boot, you’ll want a simple horsehair brush. I think Kiwi sells a simple kit that has a brush with it if you’re unable to find another source. Googling something like “horsehair shine brush” or “shoe polish brush” brings up great options. You’ll also want a round dauber brush for soap/cleaning the leather. Everything comes in variety of sizes and it’s a matter of what’s comfy for your hand.
- Spray Bottle – I get mine at the dollar store. I like the ones with the little lock on the handle. Just a little one that you can fill with tap water and use to lather up your soap.
- Clean cotton cloths– These get used for a variety of things. Brushing off dirt (or use a brush), wiping away soap, and buffing out a shine.
A few things that aren’t necessary to start with but I found nice to have on hand early on:
- Q-tips – Cleaning out grommets is way easier with a few of these. I have a travel q-tip case but a baggy works fine.
- Toothbrush – Scrubbing edges of soles and other parts you can’t quite do with a bigger soap brush
- Lighter – Burn off any loose threads.
- Black Paint Pen – I like to repaint grommets but not everyone does.
- Extra Laces or Paracord – Good to have on hand just in case you need to replace laces, want longer ones, etc.
And that’s it! The beginning of a bootblack kit!
Don’t get me wrong – I have a lot more of this now and am continuing to get more things. I love playing with different brands of products, seeing if I like the smell and feel (and taste) of different polishes or conditioners. I also work on garment leathers so I have products that work for that. In time, if bootblacking really calls your heart, you’ll collect more things too but, for now, just a few products is all you need to get started.