Bulling Shoes

Every once in a while, I like to bull my shoes. Bulling refers to a shoe polishing technique that results in a high, glossy shine. In the States, they call it spit shining.

To bull shoes, start by stripping down the leather with Lexol leather cleaner. This will give you a clean, new surface to work on. Next, go through the regular routines for any polishing technique - apply leather conditioner, buff them out, let them sit for thirty minutes, and then apply cream polish before buffing them out again.

Now, to get the high shine, you need to use a bit of wax and water. I find Saphir Pate de Luxe Wax to be the most effective. Wrap a soft cotton cloth around your fingers, swipe it in the wax, and then dab it in some water (or, if you’re an old-school American, lightly spit on it). Lightly rub this on your shoes using small, circular motions. Keep doing this until you feel the paste starting to get dry, and then add a minimal amount of water again. After a while, you’ll find that a mirror shine will start to appear, and the leather will feel very glassy and smooth. The key here is to only use a minimum amount of polish and water. You don’t want too much of either. Do this to the toe caps, heel cup, and back quarters, but not to any areas where the leather bends. If you do, you’ll get unsightly cracks in the wax. 

The whole process takes a long time. Three to five hours, depending on how well you work and how finely grained the leather is. This isn’t something you want to do if you just want smart looking shoes; you have to enjoy the process. I recommend putting on some music, sitting back, and just enjoying yourself. 

Above are three photos. I shot the top one at night, right after I finished bulling my left shoe and before I started on my right. You can see the effect it has when these two are placed side by side. The other two photos I took in the morning, after I was done polishing both of them. 

Will from A Suitable Wardrobe just posted a wonderful video on how to polish shell cordovan shoes. The video features KeaLani Lada from A Shine & Co., who has been a guest on Will’s podcast and clearly knows her way around shoes. 

KeaLani demonstrates the importance of preparing the surface of your shoes before you apply any leather treatment. Many men forget to give their shoes a good buffing before they start working on their shoes. As a result, they can rub in dirt and dust as they condition and polish, which ends up scratching the leather. She also shows the importance of buffing in between each kind of treatment, which helps smooth out each layer and helps prevent build-up. Without such care, you risk creating spots where material has caked up, which will later create unsightly flakes or creases. 

There’s also a part about deer bone, which I had previously not known about. I find it curious, to be honest, since shell cordovan is so dense that I wonder how any of those oils can penetrate it. I talked to Nate Humble once and he told me that shell only needs a good layer or two of wax every few months. Who knows who is right, but I’ll tell you this - if I had shell cordovan boots as nice as Will’s, I’d pour kitten blood on it if I believed it would help maintain them. Those are some damn nice shoes.