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Making Wooden Shoe Shine Boxes

Here are the mitred corners on our Ultimate Shoe Shine box in Douglas Fir coming together.   It looks easy but almost a full day went into setting up the table saw to get it perfectly aligned so these 45 degree angle cuts would come together like this.   

 

Building boxes in the garage. #woodcraft #carpentry

A video posted by Shinekits (@shinekits) on

 

 

 

Grandpa's Shoes

Today's guest blog is by Steven Briggs from Hanover, Illinois

GEORGE DEWEY TYE.  He was my Grandpa.  I’m told my first steps were taken toward him --- running.  I don’t remember that, but I do remember him holding my hand as we walked along the streets of Inglewood, California in the early 1950s.  Of course, I was closer to the ground than he was, and his eyesight “wasn’t so good” as mine.  I could see shiny particles in the sidewalk, and I used to ask him “Why are there diamonds in the sidewalk.”  He said it was to “remind us that our shoes should always shine.”  He also advised that it was important for me to “take good care of” my things, because I was lucky to have them.  Then he told me that he didn’t get his first pair of shoes until he was 12 years old.  He said he loved those shoes. I remember asking him probably too many times after that, “Grandpa, tell me again about the shoes.“

One Saturday morning when I was about ten, Grandpa said he wanted to show me something, and he told me to get my “good school shoes” (black leather brogans) and meet him on the back porch. We sat on the steps in the sun, and he handed me a brand new “Griffin Shinemaster” shoe shine kit.  You know, one of those ubiquitous four-footed boxes with the angled foot platform on top.  It had two cans of polish (black and brown), two brush applicators, and two buffing brushes.  It was right then and there I was about to move up in the world.  And man, did I ever.  Grandpa taught me how to shine shoes.  

From then on, every Saturday morning, Grandpa and I would shine our shoes together.  He taught me to clean ‘em off first.  “Get the mud off real good,”  he’d say.  I wondered how many times as a 12-year-old boy in the hills of Tennessee he had done that himself.  Grandpa showed me how to pry the polish cans open with my thumbs.  He said I should take off the shoelaces so I wouldn’t get polish on them (this may have been a veiled attempt to teach me how to lace them up again).  And then came the most fun part of all --- he showed me how to spit in the can!  To this day, I still do that, just like Grandpa did.

Well, that was 58 years ago.  That Griffin Shinemaster is broken apart, but it’s still here.  I’m sorry to tell you that Grandpa isn’t.  And I got out of the habit of shining my shoes.  I’ve always missed Grandpa, but I didn’t realize until recently that I missed shining shoes too.  So I bought a new “shoe shine kit” about a week ago.  A nice one.  A really nice one.  Since then, I’ve probably shined a pair of shoes every other day.  It’s a ritual now.  It takes me back.  It “centers” me.  It makes me feel like a gentleman.  

The smell of the polish, the sound of the applicator and buffing brushes on the leather, and the relatively instant gratification of seeing shoes that look proud to be shoes.  All that stuff makes me feel alive.  It makes me appreciate how fortunate I am to have shoes.  And it reminds me of that gentle, caring man --- my Grandpa --- who took the time to show a little boy how to shine his shoes.  As it turned out, that simple lesson taught me so much more.

Steven Briggs


P.S.  In about three years I’m going to show my grandson how to shine shoes too.

Why women should shine their shoes too.

Today's blog entry is a guest post by Nicola Lyon.

My father is an expert shoe-shiner. I think his mother taught him the value of being impeccably dressed and a stint doing national service honed his polishing skills, but he has a real passion about it. I always used to wonder what all the toothbrushes in his kit were for and why would you need a cloth and a brush? But he knew and our shoes were always clean. Very, very clean. Our shoes would go missing at night and reappear with a sheen as if Grimm’s elves had themselves been involved. Now, when I visit home, they still do. I personally think I rebelled against the routine because rebelling is what a lot of daughters are supposed to do, is it not? But he definitely made an impression. I feel remarkably untidy in unpolished shoes and I do live by the adage that you can learn a lot about a man by his shoes. Women too! We are told not to judge others, but we do. If people didn’t judge a book by its cover I would never have got a job as a graphic designer.

I am not saying I have never ventured out in dirty shoes but I have done so distracted, in the same way that I might feel if going out in creased clothes, or made up for a party in perfectly applied make-up but no lipstick.

Swarovski rhinestone covered heels are all well and good and a lot of fun and those embellishments can cover a multitude of sins including misshapen feet. However, I do crave a simple well made shoe, perfectly designed to enhance the foot and ankle and elongate the leg. I find myself glancing down at them admiringly when my mind should be elsewhere. Quality leather feels just as good on the inside as it looks on the outside. But they have to be perfect. Minimalism calls for attention to detail and every scratch and bump will cause distress to my distracted mind and my anxiety will rise as I notice a dull area that I know cannot be fixed by rubbing with a damp finger but I try anyway. 

I myself, have not been blessed with beautiful toes and a slight tendency to walk pigeon toed means I am prone to scuffing. One foot has a cheeky bone sticking out, a “bunion" (such an ugly word), that becomes painfully obvious when the colour of the leather wears away even a little, highlighting the dome of the offensive area like a spotlight.

I have come to judge hotels by the goodies they leave in bathroom. It’s one of the first things I check out after I’ve claimed my side of the bed. I can do without the shower cap and overly perfumed body lotion but a sewing kit and shoe shining glove are a sign that the hotel knows their clientele are those rare birds who can still sew on their own button and don’t require room service to polish their shoes. Invariably though, I find myself searching out a local store for that little jar of polish and have collected various brands with instructions in several languages. A souvenir bought along with a vow that next time I will pack better. I am very impressed if I am provided a single serving application of polish, though it is rare. How I wish they were provided in disposable wipe form - maybe they are, somewhere. The lone shoe mitt is good but not much use to me when I am faced with a patch of bare beige leather on a pair of black court shoes. I do, however, strongly appreciate the gesture and they do make excellent cleaning cloths for your laptop screen.  

The truth is I think subconsciously I like the process of buying the polish. A travel kit is so simple. Reassuring simple. And cute. Some polish and wax, a couple of brushes and a cloth. Usually wrapped up in a leather wallet. Shoes and a bag - two of a girl's favourite things are they not? So why are women not so interested in the process? Women are happy to paint their own nails if they can’t get a mani/pedi conveniently. Some of us can french tip our friends’ nails with the precision of a brain surgeon. Why not look after the ridiculously expensive shoes we’ve been craving after for six months? If only to examine them in detail as we do it.

I’m a strong believer that we should learn how to do these simple processes well so we are prepared in an emergency. Come the apocalypse, we may not be looking judgementally at each others feet as I do today but it would be nice to know we are confident about doing a simply task well. Like making a good cup of tea. So many ways, so many traditions. How charming is that? So "Jane Austin”. I haven’t much to boast about on my list of acquired skills but I have managed to procure a husband regardless. In a technologically savvy world isn’t it comforting to go back to some basic tasks and do them well? And they don’t all need to be “girlie” tasks. I’m the one who puts the Ikea furniture together. I’ve been the one to figure out why the car is making that awful noise and if there’s an accident involving blood I’m your go-to girl. But when I put on my little black dress I have a pair of well polished pumps that I cleaned myself and I know they have been done well because my dad taught me how. 

- Nicola Lyon

 

Reclaimed Mahogany from the SS Princess Mary (1911)

We recently got some very interesting reclaimed wood to use in the construction of our Douglas Fir shoe shine kits.   It is over one hundred years old and came from a steamship called the Princess Mary. 

The SS Princess Mary was a famous steamship in the Pacific Northwest.   She was built for the Canadian Pacific Railway by Bow McLachlan and Company  in 1911 in Paisley, Scotland.    Princess Mary was part of CPR’s “Princess Fleet” with ships including the SS Princess Adelaide, SS Princess Alice and SS Princess Sophia.   

A small ship at just under 250 feet and 2155 tons Princess Mary was known as a “pocket liner” having been outfitted with luxurious amenities common to the larger ocean crossing vessels of the day. The interior was trimmed with beautiful long wooden strips of mahogany that most likely came from Cuba or Honduras.     

Under CPR the ship serviced a route including Powell River, Nanaimo, Comox and Vancouver.    During the First World War, Princess Mary took the 30th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to combat in 1915.  

In the 1950’s the ship was retired and broken down.   The converted hull was made into a barge and lost at sea under tow with a tug in a storm off the Alaska Panhandle  in 1954 with a loss of 14 lives.  Part of the dining hall and smoking room was cut away from the superstructure and used on land as a coffee shop for the employees of the Island Tug and Barge Company.  Word spread about the fantastic seafood chowder and It later become a much loved local seafood restaurant in Victoria BC famous for shrimp cocktails and Sooke oyster brochettes wrapped in bacon with butter, mushrooms and tartar sauce.     My wife and her two older brothers have many fond memories of fish and chip dinners with fried clams, shrimp cocktails and Shirley Temples.    The Princess Mary restaurant closed recently and we knew someone who had salvaged some of the original 1911 mahogany trim during a renovation a few years ago.  

It makes for a beautiful insert with a wonderful historic connection to the island grown Douglas Fir we use.  

 

What Makes The Best Shoe Shine Box?

shoe shine box

Here at shinekits.com we have a simple goal - to sell high quality shoe shine kits made locally with locally sourced materials wherever possible. Our shoe shine boxes are made by local craftspeople using wood grown right here on Vancouver Island. We think we have that part of it nailed. But there's one item conspicuously missing from our shine boxes that you may have noticed. Yes - it's that wooden shoe-shaped doohickey on top.

Here's a picture of the kind of typical shoe shine box you see on many sites:

Image courtesy of amazon.ca

Notice the wooden foot rest on top. I think this fits many folks' notion of a traditional shoe shine box, but the question is - how useful is that thing, and is it the best design for your own shoe shine kit at home?

When I'm shining my own shoes at home, I have the shoe in one hand and I work the polish and brush with the other hand. There's no way you could put the shoe on a shoe rest on your box and have it stay still while you polish it. Similarly, you'd have to be mighty flexible to keep your shoe on your foot, get your foot up there and shine your own shoes while hunched over the box. That's because that wooden foot rest you see on a lot of boxes is really for shining other people's shoes.

It's a leftover from the days when you'd see kids on the street shining people's shoes for change. Here's a photo of a shoe shine boy at work back in the day:

image courtesy of http://hyperallergic.com/

This image gives you a good idea of how the wooden shoe holder is useful if you are a shoeshine boy, but is next to useless for shining your own shoes at home.

To us, the wooden shoe holder is a throwback that, while good for nostalgia, isn't practical on a modern day shoe shine box for home use. It makes the box awkward and unwieldy and prevents it from being stowed away easily in a closet or under a bed.

That's not to say we'll never make a shine box with a wooden shoe holder. We've discussed making a kit for professional shoe shiners, or maybe making a kit with a detachable shoe holder for people who want it all.

For now though, we think the best shoe shine box is one that is sturdy, beautiful to look at, made of quality materials, and is made right here in North America.

Good Things Are Worth Saving

When Jamie and I started this business I was quick to jump on the China train.  www.alibaba.com was making big inroads in opening up the world to small businesses that wanted to buy in reasonable wholesale quantities without overwhelming minimum orders and take their chances reselling online.     There was a world of shoe shine brushes and softwood pine and cedar boxes were available to us through this portal at some pretty attractive price points. All we had to do was make an order about as difficult as completing an ebay transaction and we’d have the widgets we’d need to sell online in a matter of days.  The first days of searching for product were a flurry of activity checking out samples and fielding dozens of emails.   


I’d had a background in retail before and remembered the glory days in vending before Jerry Garcia died.    Summer tour with the Dead, Lollapalooza, HORDE and up here in Canada there was the ever popular Roadside Attraction with the Tragically Hip.   Sitting in a field under a 10 x 10 KD canopy  listening to Metallica,  Cypress Hill, Hole and the Ramones and stuffing fistfuls of $20 bills into a fanny pack in exchange for some silver we’d picked up in Taxco Mexico or Bangkok.   Back then you could buy a set of silver hoop earrings for about $.30 (by the gram) and sell them for $3 a pair.


We had stuff from all over  the world.   Indonesia and mostly Bali for coconut wood boxes we sold by the dozens.   They would come by the container load, all wrapped in local newspapers and still soaking with humidity and in some cases salt stains.    What we would buy for a dollar we could sell for five.   It was easy.     Batik dresses and sarongs. Yet twenty years down the road, I realized I don’t have any of that stuff.     It all fell apart, chipped, frayed, faded or broke when it hit the ground.   It didn’t last.


My kid’s bikes are the same deal.    I love a good bargain.   I bought the cheap stuff at Walmart and I’m paying the price for it.   These aren’t bicycles.  They’re BSO’s.  Bicycle Shaped Objects.   They look like bicycles and they occasionally ride like bicycles but over time it becomes dramatically apparent that they’re not in it for the long haul.   The bottom brackets fall out and wobble and even the simplest turn of a bolt with a ratchet reveals they’re made from a buttery soft pot metal that just strips the threads away.  This leads to a tired sweaty dad, swearing at various bits of useless components in his backyard.  


This had me rethink our decision to source the cheap stuff.  We’d seen the so called “cedar” shoe valets and read all the amazon.com buyer reviews on shoe shine kits and shine boxes.   They broke.  They cracked.  They didn’t last.    After an afternoon of cursing at a particularly mangled cheap caliper brake I decided we would make our own boxes and make them here.  Make them out of real wood and make them to last.    Vancouver Island has a wealth of gorgeous woods here and we hooked up with our boxmaker in Sooke to see the beautiful grains inherent in Douglas Fir and Yellow Cedar.    We learned the difference between a cheap stain and an oiled waxed finish.     I liked the new boxes.     They were solid.  They had heft.    They would last.  




IMG_0388.jpg



We found this old Raleigh BMX out on the curb the other day.    It was made in 1989, the year I started University.    It was made in Canada.  Back then the Internet barely existed except for Pine email and Telnet and the International Business Courses I was taking about China didn’t even really cover the concept of going offshore for cheap production in a massive labour market of people willing to work for so very little.    Back then we still made things in our country.     


We’re going to rebuild this thing.  Strip it down and repaint it.    It’s a great little frame.  It’s solid.  It’s built to last.  It is worth saving.   

Shine your damn shoes.

char·ac·ter

  [kar-ik-ter] 

noun

  1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing. 

It kind of seems like a no-brainer that taking pride in your stuff and keeping it in good shape is a reflection of a person’s character. Anyone with money can buy a fancy pair of leather footwear, but it takes character to roll up your sleeves, pull out your shoe shine kit and get to work making them look like brand new.

Whatever your opinions may be of the military, there’s a reason why a soldiers quality is reflected in how well he or she shines their boots. It says something about how well they will go about their other duties. Will they handle a task with patience, dedication and attention to detail, or will they do a slap dash, substandard job?

We’ll be the first to admit that we have a bit of an uphill battle against us.  The days when everyone wore leather shoes and boots on a daily basis are in the past.  Now sneakers, sandals, Vans and Crocs rule the day.

And you know what? We have nothing against that. It’s summertime and I’ll be wearing my own beat up, yet trusty, Columbia sandals most days. And there’s nothing like the feeling of your bare feet in the sand and the water when the chance permits.

Nevertheless, everyone needs at least one good pair of leather shoes or boots. Maybe it’s for that important job interview, a wedding (your own?) or a special get together with friends and family. 

A good pair of well maintained leather shoes says something about you; that you care about your appearance and recognize there are times when what you wear can be a reflection of your mindset. Leather footwear, properly maintained, shows that you have respect for the occasion at hand, and respect for yourself and others. 

It can seem sometimes like we live in a throwaway society. It’s easy to buy something on your credit card and if it breaks down or gets old you just buy a new one. But there was a time when people knew how to look after their possessions, how to properly maintain things, and fix them when they broke. 

Granted, fast moving technology makes that kind of hands on attitude more difficult.  It's not as easy to fix your own car now that they are mostly computerized, and it's tricky to repair your own Xbox if it breaks on you.

But you can damn well get a nice pair of shoes, shine them regularly and make them last forever.  That’s one simple way to say that you are a person who recognizes the value in having things of quality and making them last. We’d like to think that if everyone did that, there would be a bit more character in the world.

If character is the sum of all the things you do, let shining your shoes be one of those things.