poppy field

Beds & Herts Counties

(published with thanks to 2313 Squadron (Rickmansworth & Chalfonts) RAFAC

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. Bizarre stories of using a spoon, 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 following:

  • You
  • 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 bit wussy (more on that later).

Bull 1



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 blackened 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:

Bull 2





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 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. When starting off, aim for about this much:

Bull 3

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 (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 you know.

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 liquid on.
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 won'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 said 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.....

Recognising 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 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 wasn't kidding.

For an inexperienced Cadet (first timer, newbie etc), to get to the "smooth" state:
One boot will take around (ish) 1.5 hours ... therefore
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 ...therefore
Two boots will take around two hours.

It is totally dependant on the state of the boot and skill level.

Finishing Off

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!

Bull 6