blacken your boots...
a common misconception among reenactors that German
Army boots were commonly left in a natural or brown
state. Every so often you see someone wearing
a nice, shiny brown pair of boots straight out of
the box without any conditioning whatsoever. While
it is true that footwear often receives less than
it's fair share of attention, incorrect, untreated
(mistreated), or poorly dyed footwear can draw one's
eyes to an obvious problem and otherwise damage a
In most cases, German boots were dyed black.
This frequency can be increased to "almost every
case" when speaking of Marschstiefel or "jack
boots". In the infrequent situations where
Schnurschuhe or "low boots" were not dyed, you can
rest assured they were well treated (and therefore
darkened) by conditioning and dubbing agents,
bringing their appearance to a very deep brown
Information on the proper treatment of leather
footwear is something that can be found through
simple online searches and can be achieved through
products available at a wide range of retailers
(Mink oil or Pecard's for conditioning and Sno Seal
or Huberd's for dubbing work well). A proper
leather treatment paste was practically a part of
the soldier's basic kit, as it was incumbent upon
him to maintain the leather items issued to him as
much as it was his responsibility to maintain his
weapon. For this article's
purpose though it bears mentioning that newly dyed
boots should be conditioned again once the dye has
set and before use.
soldiers also had several dying mechanisms available
to them, including liquid leather dyes not
dissimilar to those available at major retailers,
paste dyes, and tinted polishes. The following
method is not documented to have been used by the
German Army in particular, but if done correctly the
results mirror a period correct finish and provide a
good base for the maintenance of the black color in
The reactive steel method
of blackening has been around for many years as I was
told of it by an old fellow in Nashville who used it as
a child back in the 1930's. It has been used to make
black ink, leather dye and wood stain. Steel wool pads
have been around since the late 1800's as a polishing
by-product from the waste turnings on metal lathe
machines. Sometime during the early 1900's it was found
that by placing the steel wool pads in vinegar for a few
days, it would make a beautiful "black ink"
when rubbed on leather.
The chemical reaction between the steel wool, vinegar and air is simple. The vinegar is used to break down the steel wool slightly so that it will "rust" and allow the hydrogen ions and iron acetate to become a clear ferrous
tannate. When this solution comes in contact with the air and is allowed to dry, it becomes a black ferric tannate which has the color from dark gray to black. I was told by the gentleman that this was used in place of shoe polish and often used to dye farm equipment leather.
The reason I respect this procedure is because it allows you to have a true, black/dark gray base or primer when staining leather. Modern store bought chemical dyes are often bluish or purple in tone. This procedure gives you a rich background to apply your black shoe polish which will in turn give you a superb
is simple to do. You will need a few house hold items
and some fine to med/fine steel wool pad (Do not use
Brillo or detergent laced pads). The items include:
Pour enough vinegar into the plastic container in order for the steel wool to be submerged. Store for about
3 to 5 days. During this period, clean your leather with the denatured alcohol in order to clean off any post manufactured contaminates.
Upon opening the vinegar / steel wool container, you will notice the steel wool is unchanged and the vinegar is still clear. This is normal, it will not change color in this short time (but over time may become rusty). Wipe your leather thoroughly and liberally with the wet, steel wool. The steel wool will not harm the leather. Remember, you will not see a difference right away.
Once the leather dries, you will see the gray/black color in which your leather is now stained.
Polish your leather with black shoe polish as normal.
Since the leather will be getting wet and then drying during the staining process, it will need to be oiled on the backside to make it pliable again.
This procedure can be used to touch up your leather at any time. The steel wool can be stored in the vinegar for many months before you need to make a new batch. If it gets too rusty, your leather will have not only black/gray stain but also a rusty brown on it as well. I hope this will help you if you ever need to dye some leather black.
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