Beech Wood Shoe Brush Set

3-piece beechwood set with a pointed applicator brush, a cow hair polishing brush and brass-bristled sole brush. Handmade in Berlin, Germany, and designed by Judith Seng. (more info)

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This no-frills shoe brush set is handmade by blind craftsmen using traditional techniques. The bristles are stitched into the wood with an unbroken piece of bronze wire, so no matter how furiously you shine your shoes, the bristles won’t fall out. The three brushes — a stiff brass-bristled sole brush, an applicator brush with a pointed tip, and a cow hair polishing brush — will bring anything from a coddled brogue to a mud-caked work boot back to beauty.

Polishing will also help shoes last longer — the polish nourishes the leather and protects it with a waxy water-repelling layer.

The company that makes these brushes works with renowned designers, and the brushes of this set were designed by Berlin-based Judith Seng.

The cow hair bristles on the polishing brush is soft — it won’t come close to damaging the smooth finish on your leather. It is very slightly stiffer than horsehair (another natural bristle often used for polishing brushes). This is a traditional bristle type in Germany, where these brushes are made, but a stiffer bristle also helps compress the polish to a brighter finish. At 5.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, it fits nicely in your hand, letting you make the quick, short strokes used in the polishing step.

The applicator brush has a long handle, cow hair bristles, and a wedge tip to really get into seams, under and around straps, and that groove where the shoe leather meets the sole.

The handled, brass-bristled sole brush is the gritty workhorse of the set — this is used to scour dried out mud and dirt from the soles of your shoes, and is particularly handy for hiking boots, sport shoes and lug soles. You’re likely to use this brush to clean your shoes even between polishings — but don’t rub the brass bristles on the shoe leather, this can scratch the surface.

Dried out leather knows no gender. Shoe shining is often thought of as a man’s game, but there’s no real reason for that. Men's and women’s shoes alike will benefit from regular care. 

Use & Care

Not every kind of shoe can be shined. Shoe shining with wax polish and brushes is only for smooth leathers, not nubuck or suede. (Rubber and fake leathers also won't benefit from a waxy, leather-moisturizing treatment, they can be cleaned with a damp cloth, like you would a counter top.)

Shoes should be shined every two weeks or so, depending on use and weather conditions.

Here's how to shine a shoe:

1. Clean off surface dirt and debris from the shoe with a slightly damp cloth. Using short swift strokes, use the polishing brush to clean the leather. If necessary, scrub the bottom of the shoe with the sole brush.

2. Pick out a shoe polish that matches the color and needs of your shoe. An all-purpose polish will protect, condition and shine (for more on how leather wants to be treated, read our blog post on shoe shining, especially the bit by the leather expert). Other polishes may focus more heavily on conditioning (for very dried out leathers), and hard waxes are used more for looks, to get a really high-gloss shine.

3. Use the applicator brush (also called a "dauber") to rub a thin layer of shoe polish onto every surface of the shoe or boot. Work section by section, and make sure every part gets a little polish. Shoe polish goes on matte, so if you hold it up to a light you can make out which parts you've missed. Let the polish dry for a bit. The time it takes for you to put polish on the other shoe is enough drying time.

4. Buff the shoe with the polishing brush using short, swift strokes. The more pressure you apply onto the brush, the more compressed the polish will become, and the shinier the shoe will be.

5. This set doesn't come with t-shirt rags or torn nylon stockings. These are the optional finishing tools for a really bright "spit shine" on your shoes. Polishing with a cloth compresses the polish even further. Use a dampened (and thoroughly squeezed out) cotton cloth. Rub the leather vigorously, the more elbow grease you put into rubbing, the shinier the shoe will be. The point of using water (or spit, if that's your thing) is to keep the polish from coming off onto the cloth (the water on the cloth repels the wax polish), so the rubbing is pure friction that doesn't take polish off the shoe. If the cloth starts to color and take on polish, use a clean, newly dampened area of the cloth.

If you want it even shinier, the final step would be to take a knee-length, light-colored nylon stocking, wear it like a glove, and give the shoe another vigorous once-over. This trick will give it a subtle but noticeably shinier finish.

Production & Design

These brushes are handmade in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany, by the artisans of the Berlin Institute for the Blind, and designed by Judith Seng. Not all the artisans are completely blind, but the director of the Institute reminds us that the blind see with their hands — a skill that bears out in these precisely-made brushes.

The collaboration between designers and the Institute started as a project by industrial design duo Oliver Vogt and Hermann Weizenegger, who used to walk by the windows of the Institute and admire the craftsmanship of the brushes and baskets.

Vogt and Weizenegger joined up with the Institute, building on traditional manufacturing practices while incorporating contemporary designs. Called Die Imaginare Manufacktur (The Imaginary Factory), this is a widely-lauded, ongoing collaboration between artisans and industrial designers.

The cow hair for the brushes is sourced from South America, and the beech comes from the woods of either Germany or the Czech Republic. 

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Judith Seng / Die Imaginare Manufacktur

Handmade in
Berlin, Germany

Length: 5.5 inches (13.97 cm)
Width: 1.5 inches (3.81 cm)

– Cow hair bristles
– Oiled beech wood handle
– Bronze wire

Buffing polish to a shine

Brush base: 1.5 inches (3.81 cm)
Total length: 6.5 inches (16.51 cm)

– Cow hair bristles
– Oiled beech wood handle
– Bronze wire

Applying a thin layer of wax polish to shoes

Brush base: 1.75 inches (4.45 cm)
Total length: 6.25 inches (15.88 cm)

– Brass wire bristles
– Oiled beech wood handle
– Bronze wire

Scrubbing dirt from shoe soles
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