HOW TO SPIT AND POLISH
(published with thanks to 1280 Squadron ATC,
Keeping your appearance above 100% will never hinder your 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 airman to airman over the years. The ones you are
most likely to hear about are:
- Cheating - using paints, varnish's etc. Basically
quick fixes that any good inspecting Officer will pick up on in 2
seconds flat. Top Tip: Don't do these!
- Cotton Wool method - using a wad of cotton balls, water and
polish. This method does work, but will not give a very good
results for reasons I will not bore you with.
- Bizarre stories of using a spoons, irons and other
household implements to get big layers of polish onto the shoe
quickly. Top Tip: Don't do these, of if you do, don't
say I said that you could when your mother goes nuts because you
have used her best iron to polish with!
The method I am going to be describing will use the
- Your finger
- Kiwi Shoe Polish (Black) - must be Kiwi (it's
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. Use the good old, standard black
Kiwi polish. Buy a new tin if you have to.
- A duster or soft rag (you can get them from your local
supermarket) (Marines will tell you to use a white cloth diaper
that's been washed a few times.)
- The shoe or boot you wish to polish.
- Some water in a bowl if you are a wussy (more on that
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 colourings, it has a pungent odour. 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
- 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 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
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
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 (if you are a wussy). Personally, I do not use water, I
use spit, hence "spit and polish". If you use water, you run the
risk of having too much, which is bad, as it dulls the polish. The
perfect amount of liquid required for this process can be found on
your tongue. Now before we go on:
I hereby absolve myself from blame of anyone who is daft
enough to swallow polish, the duster or the boot itself and
consequently damage themselves in any way. Just so I don't get
If you wish to use the water, then fine, but for this
demonstration, I will use my tongue. Dab the pad of your finger
(with the duster with the polish on it) onto your tongue. 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. Spitting on the boot puts too much
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
"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....you have half
a brain! 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
Many people ask me how long it takes to get it 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
For an inexperienced Cadet (first timer, newbie etc), 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
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 gleem. 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
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!