A good pair of shoes can last you a lifetime. But too often, we simply throw away shoes with worn soles, holes, or broken heels and replace them with a new pair.
Repairing worn-out shoes is relatively simple and can be done with equipment costing just a few pounds, saving hundreds if you restore many beloved pairs, rather than simply buying new ones. Or, for expert help, a shoe rack can really pay off.
Antony Frith, at the family shoemaker Shoe Healer in Doncaster, South Yorks, has worked in the industry for 40 years, picking up the skills of his father and great-uncle, who started repairing shoes just after the Second World War.
He says, “Resolaring shoes is like putting a new set of tires on your car to keep it running in top condition for years to come.”
If the shoe fits: Toby Walne visited the family shoemaker, Antony Frith, to learn how to repair his favorite old leather boots.
Repairs usually cost around £45. You can also look for the Society of Master Shoe Repairers logo as a quality mark that offers a high standard of work.
Antony says: ‘If you have an expensive or well-loved pair of shoes that you want to be able to wear for years to come, hiring an experienced shoemaker can be a wise investment.
“Initially you should try a DIY solution on a cheaper pair only, just in case it goes wrong.”
Here, in five easy steps, Antony shows me how to spruce up my favorite pair of old leather boots (it won’t work with sneakers or shoes with cloth uppers).
Click here to read our Make Do & Mend installment on how to repair your old petrol lawn mower
1. Find a new pair of soles
You can buy a pair of rubber soles for around £5 or leather soles for £20 at a shoemaker, hardware store or online from marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, or internet retailers like eCobbler and Shoe Repair Supplies Direct.
2. Remove the old ones
I use a decent pair of pliers to remove the old rubber sole and heel. These cost around £10.
You need a strong grip to separate the sole from the upper and a work vise can help, if you have one.
Strip down – you need a strong grip to separate the sole from the upper and a vise can help, if you have one.
Place the shoe on a shoe tree with a cloth around it to protect the leather.
Alternatively, you can purchase a traditional shoe repair anvil to hold the shoe in place.
These are available from online retail stores such as the Etsy craft market and will set you back around £16.
3. Prepare for sanding
Next, I sand the exposed bottom of the shoe, as well as the side of the new sole that it will be glued to.
Preparation: Toby sands the bottom of his boot to prepare the surface for the new sole.
Both sides need to be rough for the adhesive to stick, Antony says. A 5lb pack of 40 grit coarse sandpaper should do the job.
4. Use glue to be able to stick
Use a polyurethane based glue designed specifically for shoe repair such as Klebfest £7.95 or Everbuild Stick2 £5.95.
Rub the glue sparingly into both the sole of the old shoe and the new sole and heel, using a sponge pad.
Make sure you cover the entire surface and leave it for about 20 minutes for the glue to get tacky.
Stick with it – use a polyurethane-based glue designed specifically for shoe repairs, like the £7.95 Klebfest or Everbuild Stick2, from £5.95
“You have to use the glue carefully,” Antony warns me. “If you miss a bit, later you might start bubbling.”
I have to press the sole or heel firmly and evenly on the shoe.
To keep it in place, you can wrap the elastic bands tightly around the shoe.
Let the glue dry for at least 12 hours. Shoemakers use a hot ‘activator’ grill to speed up drying time.
5. Trim the edges for a perfect fit
If the new sole or heel is wider than the shoe, you can trim it to fit snugly against the edge of the old shoe. A £10 craft knife will give you a clean finish.
Sole Man: Toby uses a traditional repair shoemaker’s anvil to hold the shoe in place. These are available from online stores and will set you back around £16
I then use sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges and finish with a good polish and a new pair of laces.
Finally my favorite old boots look like new!
Finished item: Toby’s boots are almost unrecognizable compared to the worn-looking old pair he brought back
How to keep shoes in top condition
You can drastically reduce the need for repairs with simple regular maintenance.
You might think regular shoe polish is ideal, but Antony Firth, of Shoe Healer in South Yorks, says: “Most people overshoe and use a dry shoe polish from a tin.”
This can damage the shoe as it draws moisture out of the leather, making it brittle. The leather then cracks. If it has dried out, buy a new can.
Antony recommends using shoe cream once a week. Shoe cream will keep the leather soft. You can lightly polish them afterwards.
He adds: ‘Two pairs of shoes will last three times longer than a single pair, because shoes need time to dry between uses. Using them every day damages them.
He suggests wearing shoes for three days, then letting them sit for two. And wear a last to help keep your shape.
A shoehorn is also essential, not only for comfort but also to protect the shoes. Antony says, “Crushed shoe backs can be a nightmare to repair.”
If you want a high-quality pair of British shoes but can’t afford the price, check out the charity shops. “They sell the best footwear, often well-cared for and rarely worn,” she says.
Store your shoes in the original cardboard box, but not in a cold garage. Instead, Antonio says, ‘Put them under the bed or in the closet. Sunlight fades leather and dries it out. Cold, damp conditions are the enemy of footwear and attract mold.’
Baby wipes are useful for suede and leather shoes. Antony says: ‘If you do accidentally get them dirty, wipes offer a great way to get them clean right away. They contain a small amount of alcohol which allows them to wipe away dirt without leaving water marks.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them, we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.