Better Than New | Re-crafting the Red Wing 1905 | A Continuous Lean.

Better Than New | Re-crafting the Red Wing 1905

Jan 25th, 2012 | Categories: Footwear, Work Wear | by Michael Williams

My love of Red Wing began early one Saturday morning when I was thirteen years old. My father came into my room and woke me up and drove me to the Red Wing store in my hometown on the East Side of Cleveland to get my first pair of work boots. The excitement of the gift of work boots from my dad quickly faded when I realized that I was then being conscripted into weekends and summers of manual labor. What I leaned about working for my dad was sort of surprising to me; I loved working outside and I loved manual labor. When the job was done, you are done. And each day held huge feelings of accomplishment. It was through this experience that my life long appreciation and connection to the Red Wing Shoe Company was forged.

A great part of buying a Goodyear-welted boot was the fact that I could have them re-soled, and even have it done multiple times. When you are doing physical work on your feet all day, it doesn’t take you long to realize that breaking in new boots adds a seriously unwanted wrinkle into earning a paycheck. My solution was to own two pairs of Red Wings. When the soles on one pair would wear out, I would send them in to be re-soled and would wear the back up pair while they were away. So if a pair was at the factory being re-crafted, the other pair would be comfortably on my feet. For me, breaking in new boots on the job was a thing of the past.

In 2005 I picked up the pictured pair of 100 year anniversary 1905s at the Red Wing work store in my hometown. Back in ’05 I was living in New York and was no longer harnessing the wonders of hydraulics to smash things (professionally anyway), but I still loved wearing my Red Wings. Eventually my 875s needed to be redone and I shipped them straight back to the factory in Minnesota. Since we (my marketing company Paul + Williams; full disclosure) work with Red Wing now, I asked some folks there to snap some photos of my 1905s while they were being re-crafted so I could share the transformation here.

The process is pretty significant as you can see from the photos below. The truly amazing thing is, the boots come back literally better than new. They fit you perfect and are as comfortable as ever — but have an entirely new outsole. It’s a wonderful thing. For this service Red Wing charges $95 (which includes shipping both ways). To me it is like getting a brand new pair of the most comfortable boots. I’ve had boots go through this process five, six, seven times and they only get better with age.

Little did I know that my dad would impart so much wisdom that fateful Saturday morning, but I sure am happy he did.

Comments: 59

59 Comments to “Better Than New | Re-crafting the Red Wing 1905”

  1. Michael
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:16 PM

    so boss

  2. Sangsouvanh Khounvichit
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:32 PM

    I will never tire of seeing this process documented.

  3. carl
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:34 PM

    Amazing. How to welts stand up to multiple resolings? I can’t imagine they align the stitchholes for the welt in the same place each time, so I doesn’t this eventually tear the welt beyond use?

  4. jettison
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:36 PM

    amazing… thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Miguel Ramalhão
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:36 PM

    It’s so cool that a pair of shoes can be brought back to life!
    Great post… As usual … Cheers

  6. Kevin
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:41 PM

    Nice to see that craftsmanship still exists. Good points about the break-in period. So many people would throw out the old pair, but re-soling makes much more sense.

  7. Bruce B
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:46 PM

    Why just still photos when Red Wing has this beautiful little film that tells the story so well?
    http://www.redwingshoes.com/Red-Wing-Video-Shoe-Repair

  8. Andrew Payne
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:47 PM

    Beside the history behind your connection to the Red Wing brand, I really love the overall statement for quality. None of this would be possible with a cheaply made shoe. A lot like the post you wrote a while back about your baseball glove. Great stuff, Michael.

  9. vanderleun
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:54 PM

    What a wonderful item. I thirst for thøse shoes. Couldn’t blog a pointer to it fast enough.

  10. mat
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 3:56 PM

    turned out very well didn’t they

  11. Bee Nguyen
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 4:11 PM

    this was a great post! I would have never known that Red Wing offers this service and I am a huge fan of Red Wings, I have like 5 pairs that need new soles done!

    cheers. and great blog BTW.

  12. A. Frankel
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 4:44 PM

    Great writeup. The photo of the heat lamps has to be one of the coolest things here; the individualized attention is pretty incredible.

  13. misterandersen
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 5:29 PM

    these classics go hard.. great that you were able to document the process, very cool.

  14. jj
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 7:19 PM

    5 pairs of Redwings that need to be resoled? You must use your feet Fred Flintstone Style to stop your car. You guys need to get off the pavement and out working in the yard :) Does Redwing still do plastic welting on some of their boots?

  15. Noble County Golg
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 8:08 PM

    Manual labor, something everybody should experience. That’s the stuff that built this country. Keep ‘Em Coming Mister Williams.

  16. Andrew
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 8:24 PM

    I just had my GTs resoled, def more comfortable then ever. The two boot plan is the way I go!

  17. chris
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 8:48 PM

    Did they condition/oil the leather as well?

  18. BCM
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 10:46 PM

    Great post. I’ve worn Redwings for decades. Just curious about the white crepe sole. Is it a comfort thing? Or a non-slip kinda thing? Electrical hazard kinda thing? Or what? I’m just wondering because it’s such a unique style of sole compared to everything else out there. And it looks great! Educate me. The photos are fantastic!

  19. Scaleworm
    on Jan 25th, 2012
    @ 11:46 PM

    Great post. I remember when I was a young’un (about 8?) going with my pop (a Journeyman tool maker for Chrysler’s Mack Avenue stamping plant in Detroit) to get my first pair of real shoes (work boots like these) that were union made.
    I just had my Bean boots resoled, and a pair of buffalo hide smoke jumper boots resoled.
    I love my boots real American shoes. I am a white collar employee (teacher) with a tried a true blue collar heart (Always will be too).

  20. Brian Miller
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 1:43 AM

    Lovely re-soled boots. And after seeing how unevenly the wear was (you supinate as badly as I pronate, apparently) I feel better for your knees and ankles.

  21. JRS
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 7:52 AM

    Wow – nothing better than fixing rather than replacing. Very well done.

  22. Katie
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 9:30 AM

    Such a great photo essay. Thank you for sharing this!

  23. Chris
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 10:40 AM

    Allen Edmonds performs the same painstaking, manual recrafting of their products used by those of us who demolish things professionally with financial derivatives. Would enjoy seeing a pair of your cap toes getting some love from the hardworking craftsman of Wisconsin one day also. Nice work as always.

  24. Michael Williams
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 10:53 AM

    Well said Chris. I went to the Allen Edmonds Port Washington factory two years ago and we saw the re-crafting area. They resole a shit ton of shoes there. Anyone know if Alden has a similar program? I imagine they do.

  25. Pat
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 10:56 AM

    Thank you for this post. In my past life I was a welder and used to wear Red Wing Irish Setters all the time. It was great when a “boot mobile” used to come to the job site and we could order the boots we wanted. I am an attorney now and miss wearing real clothes (Carhartt)and real shoes to work. Really love your work. Regards.

  26. Minus Manhattan
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 10:56 AM

    I just picked up a very similar pair down at the factory store in Red Wing (see here: http://www.minusmanhattan.com/post/15627680917/ive-wanted-a-pair-of-red-wing-shoes-for-a-while). Love that I’ll have them forever and can get them re-soled but keep the broken in feeling.

  27. Jeremiah Simmons
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 11:10 AM

    Yes, Alden has a resole/restoration process. Had an old pair of wing tips done through Alden and they came out really well.

  28. Kyle
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 11:16 AM

    Michael, awesome write-up. Did you use a Red Wing store to send yours back from the NYC area? I need this done as well.

    Also, Alden does the same recrafting service as Allen Edmonds (which I’ve used and is amazing). Check it out here: http://www.aldenshoe.com/pro_res.htm

  29. Stafford
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 12:00 PM

    How long does this take? I need to send mine in but I wear them everyday and I’ll miss them.

  30. maurizio
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 12:31 PM

    This is one of the most inspiring post ever. Thank you Mr Williams.
    Forget about starting new brands. The world needs people that can fix things that are important and essential, like a good pair of shoes.
    We have so much of anything we really don’t need much more.
    This post makes me think about seriously stopping the madness of making more stuff and learn the joy of giving good products a new chance. A second life.
    A great post.
    …… and so many sincere and friendly comments.
    m

  31. Tyler
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 12:42 PM

    Did Red Wing also provide the leather laces pictured here?
    Those are great — I want to make sure they use those next time I send my boots to get resoled…

  32. henrik
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 12:52 PM

    That recrafting job looks top notch. I should have done that to my last pair of Wings… Sure do miss them. Ended up hawkin’ them on the bay. Replaced them with a pair of Timberland Boot Co Tackhead boots… You know… I really like the tackheads, but functionality wise, they are just a fashion boot. They are rather subpar in the elements of any kind. They will prolly hit the bay aswell. I am tempted though to replace with another pair of Red Wings, but alas, I recently moved to Portland, home of Danner! Ahhh, the choices to make…

  33. Tim
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 1:24 PM

    very cool. i hope they gave you the little american flags that go on your laces!

  34. Peter
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 1:50 PM

    Re the white soles: One thing i found is that almost every contractor in California wears crepe-soled boots, whereas on the east coast there seems tobe a lot more lugged soles. I think it’s because there’s more mud/muck in the east.

  35. jiheison
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 1:57 PM

    Its great that Redwing, Allen Edmonds, Alden, LL Bean etc. make shoes that can be recrafted and offer the service. Recraftability is a factor when I buy a pair of footwear.

    At the same time, this seems like a good opportunity to support a good local cobbler (if you can find one that can do the work). The only thing I prefer over American-made is local.

    If anyone knows, I’d be interested in a response to carl’s question about restitching. Presumably, there is a solution. . .

  36. Dave
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 2:02 PM

    Alden does a fantastic job of re-crafting. I’ve had 3 pairs of cordovan shoes come back from them better than new, new box, shoe trees, and covers included. I have a pair of suede chukka’s that I’m debating (would be curious to hear of anyone else’s experience with suede reconditioning) sending. While a bit more expensive ($150) they have the same deal shipping both ways, and still way cheaper than, in the case of cordovan, buying new ones. Process takes a good 6-8 weeks, but, like I said, well worth it. Also, worth it to note that anyone who has Brooks Brother’s Cordovan, (made by Alden) they will treat them just the same…they even put them in a BB box when they return them.

  37. Noel
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 2:22 PM

    I just had my red wings refinished in November 2011. They do an amazing job. The leather feals great and they are as comfortable now as they were when I first broke them in.

  38. Michael Williams
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 3:35 PM

    @tim I actually still have the 100th anniversary boot lace badges…good stuff.

  39. Michael Williams
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 3:39 PM

    The white crepe sole on the 875/877 was originally designed for farmers in the upper midwest. These days a lot of ironworkers wear the boots because the flat sole (and lack of heel like on lug soles) make it easier to not fall off of the tall buildings the workers are constructing: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/magazine/ironworkers-of-the-sky.html

  40. Ray Hull
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 4:16 PM

    How au courant to have the one-piece sole/heel now too! Look fine there, but I think them a bit pretentious on dressier boots (just returned some Trusardis because of that look).

  41. M. Douglas Wray
    on Jan 26th, 2012
    @ 9:06 PM

    Love Red Wing!! What a joy to see this.

  42. 21st&Superior
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 2:28 AM

    I was a Honda mechanic for six years and I wore the same pair of Doc Martens Monday through Friday-eight to six. Still play paintball and hike in them.

  43. Smith&Ratliff
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 4:59 AM

    Really great piece, Michael.

  44. Patrick
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 7:47 AM

    Great post. I actually have a pair of 875s that will eventually need re-soling and I just wanted to know if the shoe came back as dark as the last picture. Was it just a leather treatment?

  45. Ryon
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 1:01 PM

    Damn Michael, that is some serious heal-drag. Those crepe soles are really soft and do tend to wear out rather quickly though. The uppers still look strong. Very nice.

  46. George
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 2:34 PM

    You guys are jokes. I’ve worn Red Wing boots every day for the last 40 years. My son showed me this page and I laughed for an hour. City slicking men wearing red wing boots so chicks think you may have once done something remotely masculine. Guess what? When my wife was impregnated on our living room floor, I was wearing my Red Wings. When the plant exploded and melted steel was raining down like hell fire, I climbed up to a second story window and jumped. One of my red wings caught the ledge and was torn off, tumbling back into the quickly burning plant. Of course I went back in for it, even though my co-workers called me “bat-shit crazy” and “brainless.” Sure, I lost three fingers on my right hand and I’m half blind in one eye, but I still have my Red Wings.

  47. Toni (ITS WITH AN I!!!!)
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 3:01 PM

    God I love my R-Dubs! They have been with me through thick and thin. Let me tell you a little story. I was in ‘Nam with some of the finest company I ever knew. Charlie was closing in on us from all sides. All of the boys except for me were wearing military issue boots. Me? I insisted on wearing R-Dubs. Well, we blocked ourselves off with a barricade made of reinforced steel (like the toes of my R-Dubs) but the bottom 4 inches were wide open! Those crafty gooks caught on and aimed low. All of my boys went down that day as the bullets went straight through their boots. All of them except for me, of course. Got Dayum, that’s why you never leave home without your R-Dubs! To make a long story short – I ate a couple of our military issued Go Pills (speed is what we call it now) and pulled that M2 Browning straight out of the ground and fired away! 100 dead gooks and 12 hours later, the medics came and saved my boys. Of course, they had to calm me down with a heavy dose of benzos for I was in an amphetamine rage, but wooo! Nailed a Ho Chi Min City Stripper that night with my R-Dubs on! God, I love my R-Dubs!

  48. Minus Manhattan
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 4:10 PM

    @Toni – Ignoring how awful everything you wrote is, they actually have had military issue Red Wings: https://www.facebook.com/notes/red-wing-shoes/a-story-of-the-skytrooper-boots/10150508240772879

  49. Duncan
    on Jan 27th, 2012
    @ 10:10 PM

    I find this story of the Red Wing boots *MUCH* more inspiring than the latest iPhone 4S, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    I know I would get lasting satisfaction from a pair of these in a way I could never ever hope to achieve with an iPhone. Granted the iPhone is a beautiful device in its own way, but what it comes to represent, & how it is put together, depending on globalism, which I think is not going to last, is something I find deeply troublesome. For me, I think I would find an iPhone a ridiculously intrusive device. I have even gone back to a land line w/an answering machine hooked up. Not home? Leave a message, I’ll get back to you. When I’m out the door, I have my freedom.

    I will even go so far to say I think all the “essential” gadgets are there to distract us from reality & the world that exists around us. Problems? What problems? Get texting! Check out to latest app! Same thing with TV, I’m always surprised nobody seems to draw the connection regarding why the content is called “programming”. I know this will piss someone off, & for that I’m sorry, but I threw my television out of the window about four years ago. That’s another machine I don’t want to be dependent on:) I have often asked myself why some folks get upset when I tell them I chucked my television, & I think it is because the TV is the talisman of “community” of participation in a world of shared activities & shared meanings, when in fact its a very isolating activity.

    When I think of essential things, I think of air-can’t go for more than a few minutes w/out that! Water-can only go a few days without it, and food-can only go a few weeks w/out that too. Okay, I also throw in a really good pair of boots:):)

    These boots are likeable in a way that could never be achieved from a marketing dream team from corporate America.

  50. g_wynand
    on Jan 28th, 2012
    @ 12:37 PM

    Nice to see that I’m not the only person with serious heel drag. I wonder if they offer this service to canadians or if I should take a chance with my local cobbler.

  51. TMH
    on Jan 31st, 2012
    @ 9:23 AM

    Great Post Michael.

  52. Victor Delta
    on Jan 31st, 2012
    @ 11:54 AM

    Yep. I’m retired so my Redwings lead a pretty quiet life. They are great for pushing the lawn mower around…..the sole doesn’t rip up the turf. They really stand out on the hiking trails amongst the latest and greatest from new age high tech lo cal action footwear.
    I go for the 877. Its side profile channels the Alden long wing tip.

  53. Davey
    on Feb 1st, 2012
    @ 2:26 AM

    Best advice I have ever received from a gray beard was at 18 as an apprentice carpenter. “Don’t be a dickhead and buy yourself a pair of Redwing boots.”
    Also, if your going to buy a pair of Redwings make sure they are the ones that are made in America, not the boots made in china, or else you are just missing the point.

  54. Chris
    on Feb 1st, 2012
    @ 2:33 PM

    awesome. I was about to buy this pair but went with the Heritage work chukka instead because of the casual nature of the boot. But reading this makes me itch to get these after all. Nothing like a pair of worn in work boots. Thanks for sharing

  55. Gerard
    on Feb 2nd, 2012
    @ 5:24 PM

    @ George: Relax, some of us “city slicking” guys just want QUALITY PRODUCTS made by our fellow Americans, not some foreign crap. Like the writer said, he USED TO work on a factory but later opened a “city job” so to speak. He kept his Red Wings because it’s the shit, not to mention the connection with his Dad.

  56. dintx
    on Feb 3rd, 2012
    @ 1:30 AM

    I just think its awesome you still wear the same size shoe as when you were 13 – talk about bang for your buck…

    nice post – it is crazy how they do this – turning shit to gold… thanks!

    dintx

  57. Duncan
    on Feb 3rd, 2012
    @ 9:45 PM

    Dear Michael,

    I was so inspired by this post, that I managed to find a Red Wing dealer about a half hour walk from my house. I went over & tried on a pair of 875 boots-which apparently come in a bewildering variety of colors, & picked up the normal tan ones.

    I normally take a 10D, but also tried a 10B-somewhat narrower-and they both seemed fine. The inside soles are pretty rock hard, & the sales lady told me they would take a few days to break in, so don’t do too much walking at first in them.

    I can’t believe how solid & sturdy the things are. I also showed her your website in the store, and she smiled & said “I see boots like that *ALL* the time!!!”

    Thanks for all that you do.

  58. brewdog
    on Feb 14th, 2012
    @ 11:49 PM

    my mom just found my old redwing Ruffnex which i used for boy scout trips 40 years ago. had them resoled (vibrams, not the original) and buffed/polished for about $60 at our local cobbler and they look amazing, and my kids wear them now. wish i knew about the redwing recrafting service because for an extra $30 it would have been a more thorough updating; but, these are incredible boots that last.

  59. Deke
    on Feb 15th, 2012
    @ 10:25 PM

    Just a word of warning to those on the east coast: if you bring your Red Wings into a Red Wing store for resoling, they will send them to a cobbler on Long Island. They do this because it takes a lot less time. I had a pair re-soled last summer, and I wasn’t blown away by the job they did. I’d seen the little movie about the re-soling at the factory, and I actually wish they’d told me they farmed them out to a cobbler beforehand. In fact I bet every town has a cobbler that will do about as good a re-soling job as the Red Wing guy did for me. I would’ve prefered to send mine directly to the factory as Michael did.