How To Bull Your Shoes
Feeling depressed about the sorry state of your shoes or boots?
Think you should look 100% all the time? Think you're good enough to be a Cadet NCO? Think you can do better than your peers? If the answer is "Yes!" to these questions, then read this!
Keeping your appearance above 100% will never hinder your ATC Cadet career, and having shiny shoes will make you stand out from the crowd as someone who cares about the way they look in uniform.
Spit and Polishing (aka. "Bulling","Polishing" etc.) has been around for many a moon, and there are about fifty different methods handed down from cadet to cadet over the years. The one you are most likely to hear about is:
• Cotton Wool method - using a wad of cotton balls, water and polish.
The method I am going to be describing will use the following implements:
- Your finger
- Kiwi Shoe Polish (Black) - must be Kiwi (its the best). If you want to use Kiwi Parade Gloss, then be warned that it contains paraffin which will have a detrimental effect on the quality of shine you achieve. I would suggest you use the good old, standard black Kiwi polish.
- A duster or soft rag (you can get them from your local supermarket)
- The shoe or boot you wish to polish (dur!)
- Some water in a bowl.
OK, here we go. This is not a quick fix; it will take you hours (literally) to do this properly, so the first thing to do is to find a comfortable location. I would heartily suggest an old chair (with appropriate protective coverings to ensure that polish doesn't get on the furniture - you have been warned! Parents don't appreciate black sofas!) in front of the TV. Take a seat. Comfortable? Right then we will begin:
- Take the top off your newly acquired tin of Kiwi Black shoe polish and observe the shiny surface. Also note the smell. Kiwi is a mix of oils, waxes and colorings, it has a pungent odor. Become one with your tin of polish, do not be put off by the smell, it will not hurt you!
- Pick up your boot (if you are doing a shoe, then pick up the shoe...for these purpose we are doing a boot). The toe cap should be free of mud, dirt and dust. Give it a wipe with your nice new shiny duster. If it is covered in filth, wash it all off and leave them to dry and come back to them later.
- Are there any large scratches or holes in the boots? If yes, then the job will take longer: more scratches = more time.
- Pick up your duster and wrap it around your index finger. You are aiming for something like:
Points to note:
- The pad of your finger (where your finger print is) is smooth. That is, there are no wrinkles in the duster. This is vital, you will polish with the pad of your finger.
- The tin of polish is open, cocked, locked and ready to rock.
- Take the pad of your finger (the one with the cloth wrapped around it) and apply some polish to it from your Kiwi. When starting for the first time do not take on a big load of polish . You will use less and less as you go on, but you need to build a layer of polish to polish upon first, if you see what I mean! When starting off, aim for about this much:
Layers and Applying the Polish
In order to get the "black mirror" effect i.e. when you look into the toe cap you can see your own reflection, we firstly need to talk about layers. Bulling (spit and polishing) is about layers. You need to have good base layers to polish upon further to obtain the desired "black mirror" effect. When you first start, you will need to apply thick layers, once you have got enough thick layers onto the leather, you will have a surface you can turn into glass!
OK, here we go.
- Take your duster with the polish on it and apply it to the toe cap of your boot in a circular motion. Do not press hard, you only need to have a slight pressure on the pad of your finger.
The first thing you will notice is that whilst polishing, it feels "rough" and is almost putting pressure back onto the duster, making the process harder. This is because you need to lubricate the polish being applied. This is where your small amount of water comes in.
Dab the pad of your finger (with the duster with the polish on it) into the bowl of water. Start applying the polish again in a circular motion. Whenever you feel the pressure or roughness coming back, apply more liquid to the cloth not to the boot itself.
Top Tip: The circular motion is vital. Aim for a motion of about an inch in diameter. Too small, and you will be there all day, too big and you don't really achieve anything.
Swirls and moving on with the process
OK, when you are applying the polish (in a circular motion), you will see polish "swirls". Do not be afraid, this is quite normal and healthy.
"Phew" I hear you say! Swirls are good, they show that you are doing it right. As you keep polishing, the swirls will start to go away. This too, is very normal, it indicates that it is time for the next layer.
I stated that you will need big layers at first, depending on the state of the toe cap. More scrapes and scratches = more layers required. Your next layer should be as thick as the first one.
Start your next layer, when it feels "rough", apply more liquid, when the swirls start to go away, apply your next layer!
You are now "Bulling"!! Congratulations....! Now it gets interesting...
Recognizing the Signs
When you have been applying thick layers for some time, you will notice that you are beginning to build up a thick layer of polish over the toe cap, the scratches and scrapes will start to disappear the more layers you apply. A good indication of when enough is enough is when the surface of the toe cap is smooth: there are no scratches, potholes or anything else to be seen apart from a smooth surface.
Many people ask me how long it takes to get to to this stage. My standard answer is that it depends on the state of the boot, how long you have been "bulling" for overall and how much time and effort you have put into the process. I said it takes hours and I wasn't kidding.
For an inexperienced Cadet to get to the "smooth" state:
One boot will take around (ish) 1.5 hours
Two boots will take around three hours;
For an experienced "Buller", to get to the "smooth" state:
One boot will take around 3/4 to an hour
Two boots will take around two hours.
It is totally dependant on the state of the boot and skill level.
Once you have reached the "smooth" state, you can now turn the shoes into "black mirrors" or "glass". To do this, start to reduce the amount of polish you use on each layer. As you carry on, reducing the amount of polish with each layer, you will start to see the boot start to gleam. They are getting really shiny. Don't think you are finished yet!
Keep going with the layers until you are only having to use a spot of polish:
You should be able to see your own reflection in the toe cap now, if you can then WELL DONE! If you can't, here's some more top tips:
Top Tip: You will know if you are using too much liquid because the surface becomes "duller" quickly: to fix this, use more polish to soak up the liquid.
To finish the process, simply polish away the last of the swirls from the last layer. And there you are, some highly polished shoes or boots any Warrant Officer would be proud of! Good effort!
If you have any questions:
• Ask your SNCO's who should know this backwards.