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Author Topic: What's the secret behind varnish?  (Read 495 times)

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Offline sampaguita

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What's the secret behind varnish?
« on: May 30, 2017, 04:56:01 AM »
My skates had varnish for waterproofing. The outer layer in some parts are now peeling, exposing the leather sole. However, the leather sole has been treated -- it looks very brown, almost like varnished wood. It's definitely not Sno-seal.

The one who waterproofed my skates is a super secretive guy so no point asking him what he uses. Also, no point in having it revarnished since I have to save up for that.

Does anyone have a guess on the treatment used, prior to applying that plastic outer layer? I am thinking of applying Sno-seal until I can afford revarnishing, but that might be incompatible with the treatment used.

Offline Loops

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2017, 07:50:58 AM »
Are your soles black or natural?  Back in the day, before the natural sole was an option and we all had black soles, they were varnished.  I had something at home (that I got from my skate tech) that I would put on.  I feel like I  did it every time I polished my skates (so pre-competition/exhibition.....), but that seems a lot. Maybe someone on here remembers what the product is, and/or maybe your tech sells it!

Another thing I saw back in the day in synchro when the natural soles did start coming out, some teams insisted that all the skaters had black soled skates.  So, those with the natural soles would cover them with black electrical tape.  I use white electrical tape as sk8tape...(WAY cheaper).  It comes off my leather without a problem.  Haven't used it on the soles, so I don't know how it would come off.  But it might be a decent stop-gap measure.

Good luck!


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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2017, 07:52:33 AM »
Most skate techs use polyurethane because that's what the factories are using on new skates.  Bill_S would know better than I, but I thought the two finishes couldn't be mixed.

Back in the day, we used to varnish our skates.  The varnish did not peel away - it chipped off, little by little.  We had to sand it smooth before applying new varnish.

The coating on your skates is peeling?  Take them back to the your super-secretive guy and tell him to correct his mistake. 
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Offline FigureSpins

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2017, 08:01:03 AM »
Are your soles black or natural?  Back in the day, before the natural sole was an option and we all had black soles, they were varnished.  I had something at home (that I got from my skate tech) that I would put on.  I feel like I  did it every time I polished my skates (so pre-competition/exhibition.....), but that seems a lot. Maybe someone on here remembers what the product is, and/or maybe your tech sells it!

I had forgotten about "Heel and Sole Enamel," which comes in a bottle with an cotton applicator inside the cap.  It did have some stain color.  Loops might be onto something - the skate tech might have used it to waterproof originally.  It takes a long time to dry between coats, so that would explain the cost.

Riedell still has it on their website - but there's a disclaimer: "UNAVAILABLE TO SHIP IN SUMMER DUE TO HEAT OR IN WINTER DUE TO COLD"  It's a Spring and Fall item, like Mallomars, lol.  http://www.riedellskatebuys.com/boot-care-heel-sole.html
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Offline Bill_S

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2017, 12:03:27 PM »
If the existing finish is peeling (not chipping), it might point to an adhesion problem with the leather. Any leather conditioner with silicone in it could do that. Nothing sticks to that stuff. Beeswax may be OK under an oil-based varnish, but I haven't tried it. You're on your own there!  :angel:

Leather and wood have a lot in common - both are somewhat porous, both are damaged by exposure to water. I don't know what the skate tech used, but I'd experiment with an oil-based urethane finish. The oil solvent penetrates wood fibers and darkens wood, and I would expect that to work the same way with leather. I'm trying General Finishes Arm-R-Seal urethane varnish on my next pair of skates. It wipes on with a piece of cloth, and cures fairly quickly for a varnish.

BTW, ordinary furniture urethane varnish doesn't withstand UV light rays well (think long-term exposure outdoors in sunshine, like finish on patio furniture or exterior doors), but that's usually not a problem for skates.

Also, don't use shellac. It isn't waterproof. Too bad, because it applies so easily and dries in an hour.
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Offline Query

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2017, 01:23:16 PM »
We had to sand it smooth before applying new varnish.

If the o.p. handle it himself next time, I suggest he first sand off the old finish. Peeling is very common, on many surfaces, when one finish is applied over another one. Unless the second finish was specifically designed to be applied over the first finish.

And - read the instructions that come with your finish. Some finishes are designed to adhere to smoothly sanded surfaces, some are designed to adhere to roughly sanded ones. And the instructions often say what materials the finish is designed to adhere to. For example, there are a number of dyes (paints) specifically designed to dye leather.

If you think the leather itself is peeling, this blog post, from Mahi's forum on leather, might help.

Offline Loops

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2017, 03:55:08 PM »
I had forgotten about "Heel and Sole Enamel," which comes in a bottle with an cotton applicator inside the cap.  It did have some stain color.  Loops might be onto something - the skate tech might have used it to waterproof originally.  It takes a long time to dry between coats, so that would explain the cost.

Riedell still has it on their website - but there's a disclaimer: "UNAVAILABLE TO SHIP IN SUMMER DUE TO HEAT OR IN WINTER DUE TO COLD"  It's a Spring and Fall item, like Mallomars, lol.  http://www.riedellskatebuys.com/boot-care-heel-sole.html

Yes, yes!!! That's exactly it!

Offline tstop4me

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2017, 04:59:36 PM »
I had forgotten about "Heel and Sole Enamel," which comes in a bottle with an cotton applicator inside the cap.  It did have some stain color.  Loops might be onto something - the skate tech might have used it to waterproof originally.  It takes a long time to dry between coats, so that would explain the cost.

Riedell still has it on their website - but there's a disclaimer: "UNAVAILABLE TO SHIP IN SUMMER DUE TO HEAT OR IN WINTER DUE TO COLD"  It's a Spring and Fall item, like Mallomars, lol.  http://www.riedellskatebuys.com/boot-care-heel-sole.html

Are you sure this product can be used to coat the entirety of the heel and sole?  I used to have Riedell boots, and I think their instructions were to use Sno-Seal on the flats of the heel and sole (at one time their boots shipped with a packet of Sno-Seal).  The Whittemore's enamel was recommended for touching up the black edges of the heel and sole (that is, the surfaces when the boot is viewed from the side).

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2017, 05:55:33 PM »
Are you sure this product can be used to coat the entirety of the heel and sole?  I used to have Riedell boots, and I think their instructions were to use Sno-Seal on the flats of the heel and sole (at one time their boots shipped with a packet of Sno-Seal).  The Whittemore's enamel was recommended for touching up the black edges of the heel and sole (that is, the surfaces when the boot is viewed from the side).

I wasn't recommending that the OP use it as a full waterproofing product, I was theorizing that the OP's skate tech may have done that since she says the leather looks tinted where the finish has "peeled" off.  (For the record, I've never had skate finish peel off.  To me, that sounds like the tech made a mistake.  However, the OP might have meant "chipped."  Things do get lost in translation.)

The box and bottle look the same as what we used in the 1980's.  It came in black and brown, but brown was hard to find.  Sno-Seal wasn't an option for skates, although it may have been a product.  I never heard of it until the 1990's. 

As I said before, we used to sand the heels/soles and apply varnish in several thin coats, letting them dry well.  The Heel and Sole enamel was applied to the outer edges as a touch-up and also required time to dry. 


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Offline sampaguita

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2017, 07:17:21 PM »
Are your soles black or natural? 

The soles are natural. They used to be a light shade of brown (Jackson Freestyles), and now they're a dark shade of brown, except for the cork layers, which are still the same color.

Are you sure this product can be used to coat the entirety of the heel and sole?

I think so. The heel and sole both have the same dark brown color.

For the record, I've never had skate finish peel off.  To me, that sounds like the tech made a mistake.  However, the OP might have meant "chipped."  Things do get lost in translation.

I think "chipped" is the right word. It seems I hit the front of my skates (just above the toepick) somewhere (maybe I fell? hit it with the other skate? I don't remember), and now that area feels like, well, very rough leather, even rougher than when it was new from the factory.

The skate tech did mention his waterproofing technique takes a long process, because he has to "dry" the skates. I assume he also applied layers on it.

Beeswax may be OK under an oil-based varnish, but I haven't tried it. You're on your own there!  :angel:

So I'm going to be the first? Hahaha!

But from chemistry, should there be any problem with using Sno-seal? If I use a hairdryer to set the wax, would that damage the surrounding undamaged parts?

Offline tstop4me

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2017, 09:40:31 PM »
  Sno-Seal wasn't an option for skates, although it may have been a product.  I never heard of it until the 1990's. 
I first got a packet of Sno-Seal with a pair of Riedell Royals that I bought when I was in grad school ... in the mid 70's.

Offline tstop4me

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2017, 10:03:28 PM »
Note that some nominally clear finishes (without intentional coloring agent) will darken natural finish leather; so there may in fact not be a separate base layer.  At one time, I used marine spar varnish, which darkened the leather for sure.  It worked fine.  I don't know how dark your finish is, but even Sno-Seal darkens natural finish leather to some degree.

If your tech used some sort of varnish, I wouldn't use Sno-Seal because (1) You don't know the service temperature of the varnish that he used.  Excess heat could cause degradation of the varnish and the leather.  (2) Sno-Seal is primarily beeswax.  If you plan on using varnish (or other coating) later, it's very likely that Sno-Seal would interfere with adhesion of the varnish (or other coating).  Sno-Seal also tends to fill in the leather pores.  If you plan on using a different coating in the future, you want the coating to absorb into the pores.  Once you've applied the Sno-Seal, it will be very difficult to remove without damaging the leather.

My current pair of boots came factory treated with some sort of coating, so I didn't add anything else.  But, if I were to treat leather, I would go with a variant of Bill's suggestion:  I would go with oil-based marine polyurethane, the modern replacement for marine spar varnish.  Spot test over your existing finish to make sure it adheres properly.  If there are no problems, you would want to demount your blades, scrape off any chipped or peeling coating, sand lightly, and coat the whole surface; several thin coatings, allowing each coating to fully dry and harden before applying the next.

Offline sampaguita

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2017, 02:03:53 AM »
If you plan on using varnish (or other coating) later, it's very likely that Sno-Seal would interfere with adhesion of the varnish (or other coating). 

I see. I did apply Sno-seal to my current boots before giving up and having them varnished. I don't know if there were any problems (I didn't see my boots until after they got varnished) but you have a valid point, especially now that it has been varnished.

Right now, the rest of the sole is fine -- I could spot test the marine polyurethane finish (if I can find one) on the points where the varnish has chipped off.

Here's a picture of the boot. It's not evident in the picture, but the two spots above the toepick are rough. It could be the leather that got chipped away.

Offline Bill_S

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2017, 09:04:43 AM »
I think your plan is good - find a water-resistant urethane finish and touch it up. A good marine urethane finish like Epifanes would be great, but don't dismiss other urethanes for this application (General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, or even Minwax). Check woodworking shops for these products.

The touch-up may not match perfectly, but it should reduce the lightness of the damaged area.

If it's still too light for your tastes, there are some glazing tricks with wood stains that could be implemented. Cross that bridge later.
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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2017, 09:08:21 AM »
I'm following this thread with mild interest.  I've owned two pairs of Jackson Free Style boots during the last 6 or 7 years.  Both have come with a black finish of some sort on the bottoms of the soles and heels.  I skate several times each week, year round and have never done anything to them in terms of varnishing or sno-sealing or whatever.  Other than having a lace eyelet tear out of the upper of one boot of the first pair, I've never had any problems with either pair.  I don't seem to have any problems with rot or abnormal breakdown of the soles or heels that others are reporting here. I sorta feel left out.  Am I missing something?  I build and repair small boats, so I have a ready supply of West System epoxy and various marine grade paints and varnishes kicking around out in the garage, but I'm thinkin' benign neglect is the way to go on this subject!

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #15 on: May 31, 2017, 12:14:35 PM »
I'm following this thread with mild interest.  I've owned two pairs of Jackson Free Style boots during the last 6 or 7 years.  Both have come with a black finish of some sort on the bottoms of the soles and heels.  I skate several times each week, year round and have never done anything to them in terms of varnishing or sno-sealing or whatever.  Other than having a lace eyelet tear out of the upper of one boot of the first pair, I've never had any problems with either pair.  I don't seem to have any problems with rot or abnormal breakdown of the soles or heels that others are reporting here. I sorta feel left out.  Am I missing something?  I build and repair small boats, so I have a ready supply of West System epoxy and various marine grade paints and varnishes kicking around out in the garage, but I'm thinkin' benign neglect is the way to go on this subject!
I see from your icon that you're a guy.  So am I.  I have the Jackson Elite Suede model from 2+ yrs ago.  The bottoms of the soles and heels also come with a black finish of some sort.  I didn't put any additional treatment, and the skate tech did not suggest any.  I've had no problems, but I'm real careful in drying off my boots and blades at the end of each session.

On the other hand, I know a girl who bought a pair of Elites ~ 1yr ago and another girl who bought a pair of Freestyles ~ 2 mos ago.  These are white boots.  The bottoms of the soles and the heels are natural finish and appear to have at most a superficial polish.  Neither received any special waterproofing.  The girl with the Elites skates on an outdoor rink during winter weekends (as well as indoor sessions during weekdays).  If it happens to be an unusually warm day (and there were plenty this past winter), she skates through puddles.  Although her boots were only ~ 1 yr old, they had extensive water damage, and her screws were rusty.  I reconditioned them as much as I could so she could continue skating while awaiting new custom boots.

Offline Bill_S

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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #16 on: May 31, 2017, 12:30:34 PM »
FWIW, my men's Riedell's came with a natural leather bottom, and no waterproofing finish. I used Sno-Seal on these when new 10 years ago, with a refresh a few times since then. The soles are still solid.

Here's a photo while I was mounting the blades after I had Sno-Sealed the leather on the right sole...


While the soles are still healthy, the leather lining inside the boot is starting to crack. Ten years is a long time though, especially for leather inside a boot (warm, moist, etc.)

BTW, here's how I store my skates between skating sessions. They air out nicely. No blade rust either, even with several months of not skating in summer.




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Re: What's the secret behind varnish?
« Reply #17 on: June 01, 2017, 12:21:15 PM »
By the way, with Sno-Seal or other wax, you definitely need heat. I think you are trying to get the leather to absorb the liquid wax, not just lay on top of it.

  http://www.atsko.com/sno-seal-application-tips-and-instructions/

See also this technical sales guy from Jackson:

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZG2oskaO2N0

And I read somewhere, that you should wait 12 hours after skating, to make sure that the leather is dried out. You wouldn't want to seal water in! Just like someone told me to only apply house paint or wood varnish to very dry surfaces, at least with non-breathable paints like Latex paints.

I notice Jackson's web site lists appropriate materials for waterproofing

  http://www.jacksonskates.com/html/care.html

Doesn't mention Sno-Seal - but I'm pretty sure that is mostly bee's wax, with a few extra chemicals to lower the melting point.

I suspect, but don't know, that marine epoxy (like West Systems epoxy) would do a great long lived job - if you sanded off the other finishes first, and prepared the surface, including appropriate degree of roughness, for application of the specific epoxy. And there are lots of marine paints and dyes which can be applied on top or included in the resin that give incredibly beautiful finishes - including finishes with glitter, if that was what you wanted. But for many people here, it is too dangerous to work with. Highly toxic and carcinogenic, skin, eye and lung protection (e.g., externally pumped air) strongly advised. (A fair number of people in the whitewater boating community who used to build composite boats using epoxy died, because they didn't realize that. The other marine resins, like vinyl ester and polyester [?],  used for similar purposes, are also quite toxic and carcinogenic. Virtually any material that forms new plastic chemical bonds is, because they are by their very nature mutagens.) Plus, if you got it on your fingers and they got stuck together, you might have to do something drastic to get them apart. So I'd be really hesitant to advise the general public here to use epoxy, et al.