Military Life

Bull your boots: The art of polishing for a military shine

Watch: Step-by-step guide to bulling boots to a mirror-like shine.

The term 'bulling' is used by the British military and refers to the method used to polish shoes or boots, giving leather a shine with a mirror-like finish.

Learning the art of bulling can take many months or even years to perfect.

Armed Forces personnel taking part in parades, ceremonial events or even state funerals are mandated to have their boots or shoes highly polished.

How to shine military boots and shoes

Here is how they do it …

First, boots must be packed full of sand. This is to ensure that when the leather is heated, it does not shrink.

The Ministry of Defence buys beeswax in bulk for personnel to use in this next part of the process.

Heat and beeswax

Using a heat gun/paint stripper, the boot is heated to a high temperature, then beeswax is melted into the leather.

Boots Pic BFBS
Learning to bull leather can take months, or even years, to perfect.

Once the beeswax dries, and the boots become solid, the next part of the process can begin.

With a firm bristled brush, you need to brush polish on to the boot, then brush off – this is to remove any excess wax or sand and to prepare the leather for bulling.

Now the process of building up layers of polish (bulling) on to the leather begins.

Boots BFBS
Black Kiwi shoe polish is a favourite among troops.

How to bull boots for a British military shine

Bulling is done by using a Selvyt polishing cloth. It must be cleaned with soap and a nail-brush before every use – this is to remove any dirt or debris, as any grit would cause imperfections in the final shine.

Then the hard work begins. The trick to bulling is to add the perfect amount of polish to the cloth, then apply just the right amount of pressure to the boots, with the correct amount of moisture in the cloth. This is the art.

After many hours, days and weeks, many layers of polish will have been added to the boots and this is what gives them the deep shine and mirror finish.

Each pair of boots can take up to two tins of black Kiwi polish to get them to inspection-ready standards.

Boots BFBS
Ceremonial troops are required to have a mirror-like shine to their parade boots.

What is the best shoe polish to use?

There are many makes and brands out there, but the go-to polish for Guardsmen is black Kiwi shoe polish, as it gives the best overall shine to the leather.

Bulling – love it or hate it?

Most guardsmen will tell you that some find it therapeutic, others hate it and would rather pay a colleague to do theirs, rather than do it themselves.

All of the above hard work can be undone in minutes.

When standing on guard outside Buckingham Palace in the soaring summer heat, you can feel your boots 'melting' in the sun and there isn't a thing you can do about it.

Mostly, all you can do is cry inside, knowing you are going to have to stay up most of the night bulling your boots back to parade standards – hopefully, in time for your next parade!

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