It seems everyone has their own method of cleaning, conditioning, and polishing their boots. There are a slew of products out there and each boot company seems to have their own opinion (along with pushing their own cleaning goods) on how to treat their leather shoes.
Personally, I like to keep it simple. The method that I use, with variations, seems to be doing just fine for my boots and does not take a long time. I wanted to keep the cost down as well and not having to own so many different products. Without certainty I can say that this way is not the best because I am in no way a professional leather crafter or cobbler. I encourage everyone to do their research and in the end come up with what they think is best for their shoes.
Red Wing Iron Ranger 8085s Before & After Cleaning and Conditioning
John Doe Shoes Natural Chromexcel Boots Before & After Cleaning and Conditioning
Why these Products?
I use Saphir products, which are well known in the dress shoe world as the "premier" shoe care product manufacturer, because of how well they provide nourishment to the leather. My main concern with boots is that the leather dries out and cracks. Having a shiny boot with no scratches, creases, or scuffs is not my priority as I like to beat them up so I don't use polish. I finish up with the leather balm because of the natural beeswax in it that provides waterproofing. Also, most leather balms are all natural, provide the leather with nutrients, and add a little extra conditioning. I have tried using just leather balm, which would be ideal, but the ingredients from the Saphir products really seem to moisturize the leather more.
This method does initially darken the leather but the color slowly returns to normal with wear. The developing patina stays put as well as some of the scratches and marks. If you prefer a more formal look and want to get the imperfections out than this method is not for you. I do not use cleaner, such as saddle soap, when wiping down my boots because the ingredients in some of those products can dry out leather, which is the opposite of why I do this method in the first place!
Always remember to use shoe trees between wears!
I recently got a pair of slightly used Iron Rangers 8111s with the original cork soles. After wearing each for a bit I have noticed some differences in the two boots. The two major ones between these two Iron Rangers is the leathers used and the soles. Those two aspects of the boots will be the main focus of this article.
8085: Copper Rough & Tough Leather
8111: Amber Harness Leather
Both of these leathers are oil tanned at Red Wing's own tannery; S.B. Foot Tanning Company. My understanding of the oil tanning process is that it is similar to chrome tanning but with an extra step of applying oils and waxes that help the leather stay strong and be more water resistant. The tannery itself is located in Red Wing, Minnesota so quality control for the company is top notch as they are right next door.
Personally, I enjoy the Copper Rough & Tough Leather more. It has more character in that the color changes with each scuff and scratch. The patina potential for this boot is great! If you go on r/RedWingShoes you can usually find a post or two showing the aging progression of a person's Red Wing Boots in Rough & Tough Leather. Each person seems to have developed their own unique pair of boots. The Amber Harness seems to have similar characteristics to Chromexcel, albeit without as much color differential. By no means is it a bad leather and has its own pros.
One pro is that it seems to be more flexible than its Rough & Tough brethren. Additionally, the Harness Leather of the 8111s seem to adapt more to a person's ankle making the reinforced heel and backstay more comfortable after being broken in. As you can see below, the opening of the 8111s is smaller than that of the 8085s which results in the boot hugging your ankle more. That to me is more comfortable and provides more flexibility.
When you move down from the ankle, the Harness Leather is tighter around the balls of my feet as well as the bridges. This aspect is a double edge sword as the boots feels snug at first but over the coarse of the day gets to be a bit much. By no means is it overbearing, just a contrasting difference than the 8085s which seem to fit my feet in a more comfortable way and stay that way.
Running your hand over the leather, the Amber Harness feels smooth and waxy. On the other hand (pun intended), the Rough & Tough Leather has a, well, rough feeling. Neither one is "better," although according to what I have read, the 8085s' leather needs less overall care than the 8111s. Red Wing has made two videos (below) that help explain how to take care of each type of leather.
8085s: Vibram Mini Lug Rubber Sole
8111s: Cork/Nitrile Sole
The original cork sole on the Iron Rangers were used back in the day due to its ability to combat slippage and wear resistance. Cork is also pretty lightweight compared to many other kinds of soles and also allows for a boot to maintain a sleek silhouette much like that of more traditional leather soles.
The new Vibram rubber sole that was introduced to the Iron Rangers recently the majority of people seem to prefer because of its ability to provide more traction than a cork or leather sole.
From what I have read, the mini lug sole is something that many Red Wing diehards have been asking for. J. Crew offered a half rubber sole Iron Ranger Model and Brooks Brothers had their own model with a fully lugged Vibram Sole. However, the Red Wing Heritage line itself continued to make Rangers with a nitrile/cork sole for a long time, probably because it stays true to the origins of the boot.
After testing both soles in the frigid winter conditions of Chicago, including snow, ice, and an"Antarctica level" polar vortex, I can agree with the majority on the mini lugs making a difference in terms of helping a person keep their balance on slick surfaces. On icy surfaces, the mini lugs helped, but with either pair I was stepping cautiously regardless and didn't fall. When tracking through about eight inches or so of densely packed snow, it really didn't seem to matter if I was wearing the 8111s or the 8085s. I believe the main difference will be seen in the spring time (assuming that comes) and it starts to rain more. That is where the mini lug will outshine the cork sole by leaps and bounds in my opinion.
In terms of aesthetics, I can really not see much difference and the Vibram sole does not take away from the look of the Rangers. Weight wise, the 8085s maybe a tad heavier but it is very minimal. The cork sole does flex a bit more compared to its counterpart and the shock absorption seems better as well. Again, both of those differences are very miniscule and hardly noticeable.
In the end, I would choose the Vibram mini-lug on the 8085s because of the little extra grip they do provide. I am not totally opposed to the cork/nitrile mix however and find it to be much more weather resistant than a standard leather sole. Although, cork is not my ideal choice as I plan on swapping out the 8111s original sole for a rubber one when it needs a resole. Red Wing might want to continue to offer cork soles for those who want the traditional model, especially if they live in dryer climates.
Natural Oak Bark Tanned Leather Belt by Carmine Jack Leather Company
Early one morning I woke up to a message from Ryan Buonamia, founder and crafter of Carmine Jack Leather Company. Ryan had sent me a message asking me if I had heard of oak bark tanned leather. Having little knowledge of oak bark tanning, other than that it was really hard to get here in the States, Ryan told me all about this amazing leather. Intrigued, and since Carmine Jack is one of only a few crafters (the only other one I know is Isaac at Pigeon Tree Crafting) in the US to carry it, I ordered a custom oak bark tanned bridle leather belt from him and went on to make Carmine Jack a Feature Page.
The belt I got from Ryan is made from leather tanned at J & FJ Baker, "Britain's last remaining traditional oak bark tannery." The tannery has been around since 1862 and is still owned by the Baker Family! They sell their hides in three categories: Equestrian Leather, Interior Leather, and Shoe Leather. When it comes to making their leather, one hide takes around 14 months until it is finished tanning!
The cocktail is simple, J & FJ mix water from the local river with oak bark which becomes a liquor. Hides are put into the liquor, which can vary in strength, and after the long process of being submerged they are then hand-dyed (called aniline). The dyeing technique really helps show off the full grain leather's texture while providing protection for the surface of the leather. Learn more in the video below:
Another well known oak bark tannery is Joh. Rendenbach Jr. in Germany. JR specializes in leather for the soles and heels of dress shoes. The JR tannery as been around since 1861 and, just like J &FJ Baker, still family owned. Their tanning process is done in three parts: "Dyeing" (around 4 weeks), then "Submersion" (approx. 6 weeks), and finally "Ground Tanning" (anywhere from 4-6 months). The JR leather soles are considered to be the best on the market and can be given the 'waterproof' label as well (unheard of for leather soles). Below is a video of Kirby Allison touring the JR Tannery and going through the whole process of making their product:
I find oak bark tanned leather to be the best leather out there. Everything, and I mean everything, about it is quality. The smokey smell, the way it forms to your needs, its durability, and the beautiful patina it develops. A cherry on top is that the entire tanning process is 100% environmentally friendly and the leather is biodegradable once (or I should say if) it has finally broken down.
The long process is certainly not fast fashion friendly and there is a reason this leather is both expensive and hard to find. My oak bark tanned belt is my favorite and I definitely wear it more than any other belt in my collection. Definitely check out Carmine Jack Leather Co. (based in Minnesota)! Pigeon Tree Crafting has some oak bark tanned goods as well. You owe it to yourself to have a product made from this leather! Click here for examples of the JR oak bark soles!
When buying a wallet, everyone has their preference. There is the minimalist card holder for the light packer, the popular bifold for the cash carriers, and the infamous trucker (or biker) wallet for the "everything in one" people. The problem these days is that cheap wallets flood the market (like these Walmart ones). Much like fast fashion clothing, most of these wallets fall apart within a manner of months, get thrown away, and end up not decomposing in landfills due to being made from unnatural materials.
Before getting into quality leather goods, I probably went through two to three cheap wallets a year that I got at local department stores. Then the RFID scare started and everyone, including myself, thought their credit cards were endanger of being hacked by the person in line behind them so we bought "safe" wallets to feel better.
I've had every type of wallet made from every type of material! There was the paper wallet, a handful of faux leather bifolds and trifolds, and all the cool gadget wallets... Now, I have my every day carry Big Dude Short Wallet (trucker wallet) made by JC Leatherworks, some cardholders (mostly gifts that I use for business cards, insurance cards etc...), and a passport wallet all made of full grain leather in the United States by real crafters.
Do most of the above wallets cost more than your standard store wallet? Yes. However, they also last and age beautifully. The Big Dude Short Wallet has been with me everyday for the last six months and there is no loose stitching or any quality concerns, just a nice patina coming along. With some of my old wallets, stitching would start coming apart within a few weeks followed shortly by peeling. Lastly, the death of the wallets would happen due to holes opening up and/or card slots just falling off. For products that are supposed to hold valuables, it probably should be made well!
So if you no longer want to worry about getting a new wallet every couple of months, spend the extra cash to buy a product that is not only well made, but constructed by people who love making them. That extra care that goes into the making of the wallet shows true craftsmanship and will last you a lifetime!
Below are some examples of different types of quality wallets:
Good for quick trips to the store, a night out, and for people who only want to carry as little as possible. Great for front pockets and some hold a little cash.
*All Photos Above By Retailers, Click On Photo to Go to Their Store
For people who like to have their ID, some credit cards, insurance, and as much cash as possible with them at all times. Can be put in front or back pockets and perfect for formal occasions.
*All Photos Above By Retailers, Click On Photo to Go to Their Store
Trucker Wallets are perfect for people who move around a lot and need everything with them. Having a wallet lanyard with these wallets also makes one heck of a fashion statement. Most of these wallets can only fit in back pockets. Probably not the best kind of wallet for formal occasions.
*All Photos Above By Retailers, Click On Photo to Go to Their Store
For the around the world travelers! Many of these wallets also double as a Field Notes Cover.
*All Photos Above By Retailers, Click On Photo to Go to Their Store
Red Wing's Rough & Tough Iron Rangers Vs. Thursday's Arizona Adobe Rugged Captains Part 1- Initial Impressions
Most people like to compare Red Wing Iron Rangers to the Wolverine 1000 Mile and with good reason; both are well known, made in America Heritage Boots. However, there is a new player in town, Thursday Boots. Thursday is becoming well known for offering quality footwear at lower costs than most of its competitors. Not only that, Thursday Boots have a sleek look that are make more of a fashion statement than some of the older brands that pay homage to the hardworking Americans of days past.
I have had my pair of Thursday Adobe Arizona Captains for a few months now and I feel they are a perfect representation of boots designed now versus boot models that are 100 years old... Such as the iconic Red Wing Iron Rangers.
Since my time with my Iron Rangers has only been a few days, my first "versus" article will focus on straight out of the box impressions of each boot. As my Iron Rangers become a staple in my boot rotation, I will explore more about how each boot is holding up. I will not go much into the overall look of each boot (Thursday is slimmer, Red Wings have that bulky toe) as one is not necessarily better than the other and it comes down to personal preference. Let's look at each boot's specs side by side:
Different Yet Similar...
Some people will turn up their noses at the Thursday Boots, "Made in Mexico," label. In my opinion, it is not about where something is made, it is about who makes it. An example, my Santalum X Pigeon Tree Crafting Collaboration Boots were made in Indonesia. No, it was not made in a large factory by underpaid workers. In fact, Santalum is a company of two cobblers who literally hand make (handmade is such an overused term) each shoe to a person's exact foot measurements.
The Thursday Boots were comfortable right out of the box, and that is to be expected by them. The glove leather lining, overall thinner leather, shock absorbing insoles, cork midsole, and fiberglass shank (more flexible than the more traditional steel shank in the Iron Rangers) all allow the Captains to require no break in period whatsoever.
So yes, out-of-the-box comfort definitely goes to the Thursday Captains. However, where Thursday does not come out on top is quality control with the construction. The stitching is not as clean, with some loose threads on the upper and the goodyear welt stitching, while being 360 degrees on the Captains compared to the Iron Rangers' 270 degree welt, had a broken stitch or two. It is worth noting that the thread on the Iron Rangers is also waxed for durability while the Captain's thread is not.
As for the soles, the Thursday Boots have a studded rubber sole, reminiscent of the infamous Dainite sole, while the Red Wings have started using a Vibram, a very well known company, mini lug rubber sole instead of their standard cork sole. I personally prefer the studded sole as it provides traction while not collecting up dirt and grime. However, the Vibram rubber is thicker and the rubber is harder which leads me to believe the Iron Rangers sole will ultimately last longer. The sole on the Iron Rangers is perfectly stitched to the upper while the Captain's soles have a bit of separation (it does not seem to effect the water resistant properties but it is noticeable none the less).
Thursday Boots get most of their leather from Horween in Chicago or Le Farc in Mexico, both very highly regarded tanneries. On their website, Thursday states that the leather on their Rugged Collection is from Tier 1 USA cattle hides, so very few, if any defects. However, I am not sure which tannery the leather comes from. Regardless, the leather is just as beautiful as the Iron Rangers, albeit, a notably thinner amount was used (which helps increase comfort as there is less leather to break in). The Rugged Collection leather is "custom created to look great with years of hard wear and minimal care." That is a nice description but Thursday never really goes into what makes it so resistant. It has a very similar feel to the Rough & Tough leather and smelled like it was conditioned with Saphir Creme Cuir Gras (which is best used on oily leather), or something like that, when I unboxed my pair. I imagine Thursday's leather for the Arizona Adobe is very similar to Red Wing's. I love both leathers and I do not believe one is "better" than the other.
Of course, only time will tell which leather is of more quality as will which boot is better constructed. I would say out-of-the-box, the clear winner is the Red Wing Iron Ranger. There were just some quality control issues, however minor, with the Thursday Captains. The Iron Ranger is also better constructed and more sturdy, as it should be for being $120 more! But if it's straight out of the box comfort you want, the Captains are the way to go. We will see how each age together!
Part 2 in a few months!
I love me some leather boots, that is for sure. Am I an expert on them? No, not even close, I just know what I like and what looks good on me. The width of my feet are the standard 'D' size so I am able to fit in most Direct-to-Consumer brands. My feet are also are very shallow and creasing can become very noticeable on my boots. I have found that the cap toe style (as well as using shoe trees), compared to the plain toe boots help with that. Lastly, being in the Midwest means I should probably steer clear of 100% leather soles as the weather is unpredictable.
Below I listed what are the basics I look for in a boot for me. I have split them into two categories; "everyday wear boots" and "dress boots" as I have different criteria for each.
Everyday Wear, All Seasons Boots
From Left to Right: Natural Plaintoe Chomexcel Boots by John Doe Shoes, Arizona Adobe Rugged Captains by Thursday Boots, & PTC Collaboration Boot #2 by Santalum
Stylish, Fashion Boots
From Left to Right: The Troy Boots & The Rome Boots in Black by TAFT, Customized '48 Boots by Undandy, & the Dotter Boots by Velsaca
Top Left: Blake Stitched, Bottom Left: Blake Rapid Stitched, Top Right: Veldtschoen Welted, Bottom Right: Goodyear Welted
Left: Rubber/Leather Combination, Right: Studded Dainite Sole
If you are looking for great boot reviews and more about boots in general, I recommend the website Stridewise.
I joke with my fiance that if we have a daughter, we could name her Patina. Even though I am joking, it does sound like a good name right? RIGHT?!
Besides just being a word fit to name your child, patina is something beautiful that develops in quality leather goods (as well as other material). What exactly is patina? Well the dictionary definition breaks it down this way:
For leather in particular, I would say it is when a leather good takes on elements of its owner. The color of a pair of boots darkens because the person spends much of their time in the sun, the edges and back of a belt take on indigo from the owner's raw denim jeans, and a satchel picks up scratches from being tossed around all the time. A nicely developed patina on a leather product will make the item more beautiful as it ages, not uglier.
For us denimheads, patina in leather is similar to the fades we work so hard for in our raw denim clothing. Patina, just like the fades on your jeans, helps tell your life story.
It is important to note that not all leather goods develop patina equally. Most any kind of leather that is not full-grain will not patina. Not only are you spending a little more for quality, you are also getting something that will be more personal. You are getting a product that tells others who you are, reminds you where you have been, and what you've done throughout your life.
Some examples of developing patina below:
My Dakota Leather Satchel by Portland Leather Goods.
Brand new on the right, after lots of use on the left.
My Big Dude Wallet & Braided Lanyard made by JC Leatherworks. Brand new on the right, aging nicely on the left.
My J & FJ Baker Oak Tanned Leather Belt made by Carmine Jack Leather.
Brand new on the right, after some heavy wear with raw denim and being through several thunderstorms on the left.
When I first started looking into quality and handcrafted leather goods, I was astonished by how much products cost compared to what I usually found at Target and Kohls. However, what I was getting from those stores were usually poorly made and wouldn't last me that long before falling apart. Let's do a comparison using wallets...
Take for instance this wallet from Kohls, that is retailed at $40.00. Made of genuine leather, it is designed to look good initially and that "genuine" label makes it sound like it is well made. Not so fast. Genuine leather, as it turns out, is one of the lowest grades of leather and products made out with it tend not to last long.
My $40 genuine leather wallet started falling apart after a few months and needed to replaced within a year. Which means I would spend another $40, and be doing so every year.
Now, let's look at a full-grain, handmade wallet from a leathercrafter. Not only is the leather far superior, it is also more likely to be vegetable tanned. Vegetable tanned leather is much more environmentally friendly than the much more popular technique of chrome tanning. It is also considered to be more durable as well.
Regardless of the quality of leather, the wallet being made would be useless if it wasn't put together well. Another benefit to a wallet being crafted a skilled artisan is that it will most likely be hand stitched over machine stitched. While there are many pros to machine stitching, hand stitched leather is considered much more durable and resilient.
For most, the unique qualities of a handmade wallet are not important. We live in a fast-paced, instant gratification society and waiting patiently for a handcrafted wallet just isn't worth it. That is unfortunate because skilled trades such as leathercrafting, woodworking, and shoe making are being replaced by soulless, factory made, big box store items.
When you first hold a wallet specifically made for you, it is yours. There is no other wallet like it. While there are similar ones, the wallet in your hands has the natural scars and marking from the leather hide used. It will also develop character and patina to your lifestyle. The most important part? The wallet will most likely last you the rest of your life and will tell its own story.
However, it all comes down to the cost. An upfront payment of $40 for a wallet is much easier to stomach that $85-$150. But remember that the cheaper wallet won't last and you will be spending another $40 in a short period of time. So in five years, you might spend $200 on five cheaply made wallets
It started off as a hobby that quickly lead to an obsession which became a passion.
I started off making belts, wallets, and other small leather items from kits I'd buy at Hobby Lobby. I wasn't very good and I really didn't have enough space in my place for all the necessary tools. Not to mention the constant sound of me trying to use a mallet to make stitching holes was most likely driving my neighbors up a wall! Add in a pair of shaky hands and it was going to be really difficult for me to become much more than just an amateur leathercrafter using pre-cut kits.
I was going to give up all together but I just loved everything about leather. Since I couldn't really craft in my living space I would spend much of my free time scouring the internet, learning as much as I could about one of nature's best gifts to man.
That's how I stumbled into the related worlds of boots and denim. I bought a pair of Wolverine 1000 Mile Boots for 40% off and got some pre-worn Gilded Age raw, selvedge jeans off of Ebay. Little did I know the rabbit hole I would go down...
Just like I did with leathercrafting, I started to read and learn everything I could about boots and raw denim. I started a blog, Stylin' Asian, wrote reviews, and posted terrible pictures I took with my phone on Instagram and the website. Yet still, I wanted to be more productive...
So I let my passion for all things leather, boots, and denim drive me to create a unique business to help companies who are actually making quality goods fight off the department stores and fashion name brands. That is how Branded By U LLC came about. As of right now I am making Feature Pages for companies and promoting them on social media (primarily Instagram) for free. Who knows? Maybe one day this little marketing website of mine will blossom into a full time job. Regardless, I am getting away from the depressive work of social services and office drama to do work I enjoy. I am meeting passionate, skilled workers and finding hidden treasures. I have the most beautiful, supportive lady. Life is good.