With the proper care of your shoes using Saphir Shoe Polish, your shoes should be able to last decades. However, just as you have the replace the tires of even the best taken care of vehicle, you cannot get around replacing the soles of your shoes if you use them often.
This pair of Grenson Handgrade shoes were one of the first nice pairs I ever purchased. Purchased back while I was in college, they have anywhere from seven to 10 years of good use on them. And they’ve never had the soles replaced (until now).
For a nice pair of shoes like these, there is no one else to turn to other than Nick V at B. Nelson’s Shoes. He has built a shoe repair business that specializes in the repair and resoling of high-end shoes. It’s probably the only place I would consider sending anything better than Allen Edmonds (and he does plenty of those, also).
One of the great thing about Nick is that he stocks a very wide variety of different soles. From the highest-end JR soles that are oak bark tanned in Germany to rubber Vibram soles in a variety of colors, he has everything.
This is a picture of my shoes before Nick did any work. I knew it was time to replace the soles because (1) there was visible cracking due to excessive wear around the ball of the foot and (2) the sole was “spongy” when pressed by my thumb. So, off to B. Nelson’s shoes in New York they went.
The fist step is to remove the old sole, which exposes the original cork filling. If you enlarge the image by clicking on it, you can see how the cork filling no longer was sold and had visible gaps and cracking. This is what produces the “spongy” feeling when pressed with the thumb and is a clear indication that it is time to replace the shoe soles.
At the beginning of the recrafting process, wooden lasts are inserted into the shoes to ensure that they will not change shape during the re-crafting process. In the above picture, the bottom shoe shows the foot-bed stripped of the corking and the bottom of insole (brown leather) and gemming exposed (white trimming). The top shoe is exactly the same except a leather scrap was fitted and nailed through the insole into the last (the same will be done to the left). The shoes are left to cure over-night in this condition, which helps re-level the insole. It also allows for a flatter surface when apply the new cork foot-bed.
Next, a new cork foot-bed is applied, leveled to welt, smoothed, and shaped. The soles are now ready to be applied.
Now that the soles have been attached to the bottom of the shoe (the welt has not yet been stitched, though), a flap is opened and a groove is carved out to allow the goodyear welt stitch to sit flush when flap is sealed. This is called a “channeled sole” and is typical of English shoe construction. It is purely cosmetic in that it conceals the welt stitch on the sole (vs. an Allen Edmond where you can see the goodyear welt stitching on the sole). The bottom image shows the flap open before the channel is grooved and the top images shoes the sole with the groove (note that there is no stitching yet).
Now that the sole has been attached and the welt groove has been carved out, the goodyear welt is stitched, attaching the sole to the uppers (top photograph). The shoe on the bottom shows the stitch with the flap still folded back while the shoe on the left shoes the welt after the flap has been sealed back down, thereby completely concealing the goodyear stitching on the sole of the shoe. Also, the heel has been roughed up in preparation for attaching the base of the heel.
With a few coats of Saphir Renovateur or our Presidential Shoeshine, these 10 year-old Grensons will be ready for another decade of great use! Total cost of replacing the soles using the highest-grade sole available (the JR’s) ran about $165 with shipping. Total time about two weeks. Not bad!
Special thanks to Nick V. at B. Nelson’s Shoecare for the great work and the photographs.