AlecH

WW2 Gebirgsjäger Boots - How to soften the leather ?

15 posts in this topic

Purchased a pair of Gebirgsjäger boots a couple of weeks ago, condition is good, although the leather boot tops are hard and stiff. I intend to rub a coat of dubbin over the boots, leave to soak for a week, then reapply another coat of dubbin and so on until the leather softens. I've never tried this before, thought it best to check it out in case I'm doing anything wrong or perhaps members have a better suggestion. Any information welcome.

Regards

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Believe it or not, an old army trick was to fill the leather boots with err . . . .human urine . . . no, I am not taking the Pee. :cheeky:

The boots would need to be laced up, filled up and left to soak for about 2 - 4 weeks,

then washed out with warm soapy water

then a light mixture of

dettol - domestos to kill off any wiff, if still stiff a second application of pee,

then the boots would need to be packed with old news-paper to absorb any remaining moisture,

then allowed to dry at room temperature, well away from any heat source such as a radiator as it would shrink and crack

the leather, once dried out a stiff bruising, then a liberal application of dubbing or leather fett to all the upper area.

For the soles, a good stiff brushing, a light sandpapering to the cleats, then a very light application of dubbing,

stand on a pile of old newspapers till the leather absorbs the excess dubbing.

Do not be tempted to apply wd40 as this can eat into the leather material.

Kevin in Deva. :beer:

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ID: 3   Posted (edited)

Thank you Kevin,

For your intriguing post - reading through it, it appears to be anecdotal - i.e. you've never tried the technique yourself ?. No - I'd not heard of it, but I have heard of, for contrary reasons soldiers soaking their feet in basins of urine in order to harden them up, before going out on forced marches. Thinking about your suggestion, it does seem the ultimate, ultimate, last resort solution. I've to think about it for a long time, however one point you bring up, I will adopt - I'd never given any thought to the boot soles, as you say, I shall give them a clean up and a light coat of dubbin can't do any harm.

Regards

Edited by AlecH

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Urine??!! :shame:

I understand Dubbin is more of a wax than a cream. I think any natural shoe products can be used to preserve and softhen leather. These take the forms of creams that are neutral in colour (not black or brown but usually a murky/transucent white) that can be applied straight to the leather. The creams will then be absorbed by the leather, moistening it and making it more pliable - it will not restore the leather to its former glory but may prevent it from cracking if bent slightly.

It effectively returns natural oils that would have dried up over the years. I had used such a cream several years ago on a pair of dispatch rider boots for which the leather had dried up becoming rather brittle in parts! It worked wonders - I do not remember the brand unfortunately but I am sure that any modern cream that is both natural and neutral will help and should not causing any damage! Once I applied the cream some three times, I then proceeded to polish them up a bit.

Not sure what you can apply to the steel studs given that they touch the leather soles.....I think that the leather will not take too nicely to any form of oil that can prevent/reduce rust and that may remain/become more of a problem if rust sets in.

Hope that helps!

Jim :cheers:

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ID: 5   Posted (edited)

Jim,

Thanks for your post, interesting to read. I remember many moons ago as a schoolboy footballer, after playing, we cleaned the boots and then gave them a good coating of dubbin to keep them supple. However the town I live in, we still has a couple of shoemakers, they make predominately orthopaedic shoes for diabetics and people with special foot needs.I'll drop by one of them and ask for any advise they may have.I'll let you know, what they say.

Regards

Edited by AlecH

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Do let us know AlecH, before we all take to peeing in our boots :beer:;)

Jim :cheers:

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Believe it or not, an old army trick was to fill the leather boots with err . . . .human urine . . . no, I am not taking the Pee. cheeky.gif

Urine has been used for centuries ...

Cleaning

In pre-industrial use as a cleaning fluid due to its ammonia content.

Munitions

Urine has been used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Urine, a nitrogen source, was used to moisten straw or other organic material, which was kept moist and allowed to rot for several months to over a year. The resulting salts were washed from the heap with water, which was evaporated to allow collection of crude saltpeter crystals, that were usually refined before being used in making gunpowder

Tanning

Tanners soaked animal skins in urine to remove hair fibers—a necessary step in the preparation of leather.

Textiles

Urine has often been used as a mordant to help prepare textiles, especially wool, for dyeing. In Scotland, the process of "walking" (stretching) the tweed is preceded by soaking in urine.

As for the steel studs, once you've got them clean of any rust, why not coat them in a thin layer of Vaseline. I do this with all my tools (saws, chisels etc) if I'm not going to use them for a while, I clean them off, and rub on some vaseline with a paper towel. Keeps any moisture away from the metal so prevents rusting.

Steve

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Do let us know AlecH, before we all take to peeing in our boots :beer:;)

Jim :cheers:

Or peeing on them, as we stagger out of the Lounge on the way home on a cold frosty night! :whistle:

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Let's forget old service tricks.

Boots over 70 years old cannot be revived to issue status.

Over 70 years of time have dried out the leather, an fibres have lost their connections and structure, they are like cardboard. It is foolish to think these boots can regain their original use and flexibility. You can only slow future decay.

So let's concentrate on that. Moisture will improve fungus and fungus loves moisture.... also in pee.

Grease slows decay because it fills the cells, but because the material is dead, grease maight suck in, but only on the surface supplied (inside and out), it does nothing for the tissues in between. Oil might penetrade deeper, fill the cells, for a bit, but these cells are dead. Only the cell walls might absorbe some oil, but they will not pass the lubricants on. Long time rubbing may progress this, but over 30 years of experience does not support the idea.

Forget the idea that you will walk these shoes, but keep them oiled, and they will last for many years to come.

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Odulf is right in saying that they cannot be revived to "issue status" and very right in saying that "you will walk these shoes"

However, a significant difference can be noticed between leather that may crack upon the least bit of pressure before treatments as opposed to leather that becomes more pliable after treatment. Put the boots on and walk 20 metres in them and they'll probably fall to bits anyway!!!

Yes - the idea is to slop or at best, slow the process of decay!!

Bear in mind that there is salvagable leather and leather which has passed the point of no return!

Jim :cheers:

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Dropped by the shoemakers at the weekend. Asked for his best advice regarding softening Gebirgsjäger boots. Quite simple really, according to him, one coating of dubbin applied to boots, leave for a few days, then rub off the residue should do the trick. I did mention the Full Urine Boot treatment, he gave me a sad look, shook his head and said - a urban myth.

Regards

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I did mention the Full Urine Boot treatment, he gave me a sad look, shook his head and said - a urban myth.

Oh how embarassing to have him look at you like that!! :cheeky:

Let us know how it goes with the dubbin and these boots on a 1 - 10 score.

Jim :cheers:

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ID: 13   Posted (edited)

The short and simple answer is 'Do nothing, you're more likely to make it worse than better. I do a little [amateur] shoemaking and repair and so I've heard all the 'granma says' - 'heard it in a pub' - 'the little old cobbler down the street told me' solutions. As Odulf says, leather losses its oils and moisture and begins to break down, just like any organic fibre. [ I'm breaking down faster and faster these days myself! :cheeky: ]

No one would believe that soaking an old plank in water would turn it back into green wood, but people persist in believing they can make old leather new again with fats, oils and creams. One light coat of dubbin probably won't hurt. It is meant mostly to keep water out and natural oils in, but even hours of rubbing won't turn this artificial fat/grease compound into natural oils. The same for saddle soap - it cleans the surface and puts a sheen on but its like waxing a rusty car - does b***er all for the rust. Leather has a natural life span just like the beasties it comes from and 70+ years is old leather.

This topic has been debated for decades, even among conservators. If you want chapter and verse, the US National Park Service [who run literally hundreds of museums] publish "Conserv-o-grams". Here's the one on leather care: http://www.cr.nps.go...ogram/09-01.pdf

Sadly, the same is true for the cleats: there is nothing chemical you can use which won't hurt the leather. In fact, the iron nails in shoes react with moisture to damage the leather. Watch a cobbler re-heel a pair of shoes and notice the dark stains around each nail - the iron oxide actually rots the leather. That's why shoemakers often used brass nails or wooden pegs [among other reasons]. Buff or sandpaper the cleats and then keep them dry.

Bottom line: clean the boots gently and leave them be. They can look good again, but they're always going to be old boots!

Edited by peter monahan

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The short and simple answer is 'Do nothing, you're more likely to make it worse than better. I do a little [amateur] shoemaking and repair and so I've heard all the 'granma says' - 'heard it in a pub' - 'the little old cobbler down the street told me' solutions. As Odulf says, leather losses its oils and moisture and begins to break down, just like any organic fibre. [ I'm breaking down faster and faster these days myself! :cheeky: ]

No one would believe that soaking an old plank in water would turn it back into green wood, but people persist in believing they can make old leather new again with fats, oils and creams. One light coat of dubbin probably won't hurt. It is meant mostly to keep water out and natural oils in, but even hours of rubbing won't turn this artificial fat/grease compound into natural oils. The same for saddle soap - it cleans the surface and puts a sheen on but its like waxing a rusty car - does b***er all for the rust. Leather has a natural life span just like the beasties it comes from and 70+ years is old leather.

This topic has been debated for decades, even among conservators. If you want chapter and verse, the US National Park Service [who run literally hundreds of museums] publish "Conserv-o-grams". Here's the one on leather care: http://www.cr.nps.go...ogram/09-01.pdf

Sadly, the same is true for the cleats: there is nothing chemical you can use which won't hurt the leather. In fact, the iron nails in shoes react with moisture to damage the leather. Watch a cobbler re-heel a pair of shoes and notice the dark stains around each nail - the iron oxide actually rots the leather. That's why shoemakers often used brass nails or wooden pegs [among other reasons]. Buff or sandpaper the cleats and then keep them dry.

Bottom line: clean the boots gently and leave them be. They can look good again, but they're always going to be old boots!

hear hear

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Use Pecards leather dressing.  Use light coats and rub with finger in small areas.  After each coat let sit for 24 hours.  After it starts getting glossy let it sit for a week or so and let the leather suck all of it up.  Boom it's done.  Do not add polish or anything else.

i just did this to a pair of mine.  I was even able to save the original laces using this method.  Also take a tooth brush with the pecards and get in the creases of the boots.  Also do the inside of the boots.  Finally put pecards in the soles to stop the hobnails from continuing to rust.

 

Trust me this works and is the best method!!!

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