How Peeling, Yellowed, Cracked, Punctured, and Torn Soles Are Restored



  • Professionals show us what it takes to restore five different damaged soles.
  • Outsoles are removed from Birkenstock, Lucchese, and LLBean boots so new soles can be applied.
  • Louboutins and Air Jordan soles are restored without having to replace the entire sole.

Narrator: These Lucchese gator boots have been worn for about 10 years. The friction of wear has created a hole in the toe area. They will be restored by Unsung House, a Tennessee shoe-repair shop that specializes in restoring cowboy boots. A cobbler removes the heel block and outsole using nipper pliers and a round-point leatherworking knife. Then he cuts off the boot’s gemming, since it will be replaced later. He patches the hole in the boot’s toe area using a special glue and a piece of leather, which he sands to comfortably blend into the shoe. A new gemming is glued on. Then he sews it in for added security. A new leather welt goes over the gemming. This creates a layer to attach the uppers to the outsole. The cobbler then cuts, glues, and hammers in new cork midsoles. The cork is grated, glued, and attached to the new outsole. He uses two machines to finish the outsole. One cuts the excess sole, and another sews a Goodyear welt. Then the soles are sanded and dyed. To finish the restoration, he attaches the heel block with glue and nails. Once the heels are dyed to match the rest of the sole, the boots are given a final polish.

After a year of heavy wear, these Birkenstock soles have worn out, exposing the cork footbed and causing serious damage. To repair them, Rio Kim starts by removing the foam outsole with a knife. He cuts, rather than peels, the soles apart to avoid damaging the cork footbed further. He applies glue in the crevice of the cracked cork and squeezes the joints together for one minute, while the glue dries. For the shoe with the damaged heel, Rio trims cork footboard to fit the area, then secures it with glue. He shapes the cork with a sander and 40-grit sandpaper. Then he uses the old outsole to create a pattern for the new ones and roughly cuts them out. Rio sands the foam outsoles and bottoms of the shoes to even out the surface. This creates a clean canvas and helps the glue stick. He applies glue to the shoe bottom and the foam outsole, then bends the outsole so it fits the curved footbed comfortably. The body of the shoes and outsole are then pressed together, and Rio cuts the excess off. The last step is sanding the sole to shape and applying sealant to the cork footbeds.

These well-loved LLBean boots are now torn between the sole and upper. They were mailed back to the LLBean factory for resoling. A special machine deconstructs the boots by sawing the outsoles apart from the uppers. A technician then strips the boots of the remaining brush guard using scissors and a flat knife. The remaining stitches will be individually plucked off the uppers by hand. A rub machine with rotating bristles loosens the stitches and makes the work easier. With the stitches removed, the boots can be reassembled. Cement is applied to the boot’s new sole and the upper, then the soles and uppers are attached. To finish, a vamping machine drops three rows of stitches to secure the uppers to the sole.

After these Louboutin loafers were worn in the rain, the paint at the bottom bubbled. To restore the trademark red bottoms, Sunny applies a rubber protective sole. He starts by deciding where the new protective soles and original soles will meet. He tapes a guide, then uses a knife to skive an end joint. This is where the new thicker protective sole will blend into the original. He follows the same process on the shoe’s heels. Then he sands the soles and heels to remove their paint and even out the surface. Sunny applies glue to the bottom of the shoe and the new protective soles. The soles and shoe body are then pressed together. He trims the excess sole, then sands it to the shape of the shoe. To finish, he dresses the edges and polishes the shoe.

These Air Jordan 11s are from 1996 and have yellowed with age. To repair the discoloration, Richard Brown deconstructs the shoe. He peels the soles apart from one another by hand. When the outsoles are removed, he separates the midsole from the upper of the shoe. He deoxidizes the outsoles using ultraviolet light and 40-volume creme, a gel lightener. This repairs the soles’ yellowing. Then he removes old glue from the outsole, midsole, and bottom of the shoe using a rotary tool and acetone. The outsoles, midsoles, and uppers are reattached using a special glue formulated for sneaker repair.



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