Home Blog DIY: Suede Shoes into Smooth Leather

DIY: Suede Shoes into Smooth Leather

by jrwarfield

I know the title says how to turn suede into smooth leather, but that is technically impossible because the leathers are manufactured differently. Suede is smooth leather that is ruffed up to give it the nap. Where smooth leather is just left as is, but my tutorial will show how to take a pair of suede shoes and make them look like smooth leather. I looked everywhere for a tutorial like this online, and only found people saying it wasn’t possible, or just no results at all. My mom has also done this to a few of her older pairs of shoes as well, and they looked great!

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Here is the Before and After picture just for reference.

 

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I started out with my pair of Clark Wallabee Shoes. I bought them in this sand color over 6 years ago, and had always wished that I had gotten their pair of dark brown, smooth leather ones instead. I love the lighter color,but they are so hard to keep clean that I didn’t wear them much lately.

 

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I wouldn’t suggest buying a pair of suede shoes to change,but you could if you wanted. Mine were just mainly dirty,and they didn’t have an bald or rubbed smooth areas. My mom however had shoes with a lot of bald/smooth areas, and this technique worked for them too.

 

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First clean your shoes as best as you can, I just used a typical Suede cleaning kit that I got at Walmart, but other stores sell their versions too. A magic eraser works great too.

 

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If my shoes hadn’t been so stained, I would have used clear shoe polish(Yes, it exists!) to keep the lighter color, but that wasn’t an option for me. I used a dark brown polish to match closer to the shoes that Clarks sells in the smooth leather. I just had a cheap shoe polish kit that I used for this tutorial.

 

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Use a rag or a sponge to rub the shoe polish all over the shoes after taking the laces out.

 

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Use your brush to rub it in and buff the shoes.

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This is what they looked like after that, a lot of suede shoes don’t have a very high nap,but these shoes did, so I decided to give them a light standing so you wouldn’t see the lighter color underneath. My mother had a few pairs that she did this to, but she was able to polish them once with shoe polish, and they looked perfect. She never had to sand,but mine just needed a little bit of extra care.

 

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I used the general 220 sandpaper because that is what I had on hand.

 

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I sanded down all areas that I could.

 

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This is how it looked, kinda dusty.

 

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I added another coat of brown shoes polish with the foam sponge.

 

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Then I buffed with the brush.

 

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Then this shoe looked like this, you could do another coat of polish and buff again if you think it is necessary.

 

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To get the shoe polish in the divets where the stitching is, you can use your finger(shoe polish stains so wear rubber gloves), or you can use a q-tip.

 

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See the nap is nice and smooth now.

 

DSC_3775Do the same process to the other shoe, and then shine with a cotton cloth like a t shirt or the cloth that comes in the polishing kits.

 

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Here you can see my shoes next to my husband’s smooth leather Clark’s Desert Boots which look a little scuffed,but he prefers them to have more of a matte look so I will just rub Clark’s weather guard on them so they won’t be as shiny but protected.

 

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Clarks offers replacement laces HERE, but I liked my original ones which are the same color as my husband’s above. However if you prefer to order a different color, you can find some here too.

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Just some before and after shots.

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Please let me know if you have any questions, or if anything is unclear.

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58 comments

Andy Scotts October 29, 2014 - 10:22 pm

Wow! You did a great job in transforming an old shoe to a new looking one and the best part is you don’t have to break it in to be comfortable. When my suede shoes are unrecognizable I think I’ll re-read and follow your post.

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Michael September 2, 2015 - 7:50 pm

Hi…saw your tutorial for polishing suede leather….looks like you did a great job in the transformation. I recently bought a pair of Dexter two-tone oxford’s on ebay….light tan and darker brown trim on sides and back….and from the pics on the ad, they looked like regular leather, and not suede, so I bought them not knowing until they arrived that I had bought suede shoes. The suede is a very fine nap, and it actually looks as though they “could” take polish. So…..I think I’m going to give it a try. There were so many ads online saying to definitely DON’T polish your suede shoes….and you’re the first to say otherwise. Thanks….and I hope I’m as successful as you were…..take care. ~Michael~

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jrwarfield September 3, 2015 - 9:19 am

Michael,
I had the same issue! My mom said she had done it to multiple shoes once the nap was looking bad, but online it is a NO NO. I will say in the middle there will be a freak out moment where you think, WHAT DID I DO? and then it gets better. 🙂 I hope yours turn out amazing!

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Mr. B July 21, 2019 - 3:42 pm

This article encouraged me. I started by sanding the suede shoes and the results started immediately. The leather was smoothed by the sanding. Then I cleaned the shoes with a Mr. Clean Eraser type of sponge and a little water. The shoes were dry in a short time and I started with brown shoe polish. I quickly found that it is better to start with a moderate amount of polish instead of starting with a thick coating. Better to build it up and fill in. I used an acid brush (small half inch wide stiff bristles) to work the polish into the spots the regular applicator could not reach. I let all the polish sit, the used the buffing brush. Retouched the spots revealed that needed more polish, let the shoes sit a little longer, then buffed again. Then used the polishing cloth and VOILÀ, new shoes. THANKS FOR THE TIPS!

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Gabi October 21, 2015 - 6:34 am

:))) It’s so funny, how they look, both pairs in the picture with your husband’s aside. They look as two little dogs, with their heads sloping… :)) They look so niceee… And I like what you’ve obtained by polishing too.. Such great shade.. Too bad they are leather, while I’m a vegan and my heart skips at this thought. But they still look nice as some undefined shoes in there… That picture is crazyyy..

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Claire February 23, 2020 - 4:59 am

Hi. I’m about to buy a light beige pair of suede shoes and I want them to look like leather but still stay the light beige colour. I know you mentioned a clear polish but I wasn’t sure what you meant to do. Could you give me any advice please? Many thanks.

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jrwarfield February 23, 2020 - 9:24 am

They Sell clear shoe polish, and that is what I would recommend. Clear Polish I personally wouldn’t buy shoes to then change them to look like smooth leather, but it should work with enough elbow grease and time. I would just wait to buy a pair of shoes that I love exactly how they are, but good luck.

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zee March 14, 2016 - 2:08 am

Can this procedure be followed for coloring a swede handbag? I have a beautiful large beige handbag which has got slightly discolored though it wasn’t used much and I want to change the color to a rich brown? I was thinking of using varnish to color it, but after seeing the fantastic result on your shoes I am wondering if I too can use shoe polish. Or will it rub off onto my clothes?

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Stephonte Thomas March 14, 2016 - 9:25 pm

Will You Tell Me How Long These Will Stay At This Texture

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jrwarfield March 15, 2016 - 8:21 am

These should stay at this texture indefinitely. My mother has 3-4 pairs of shoes she did this with which are now more than 20 years old. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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Armin June 29, 2016 - 3:38 am

How does the texture feel to the touch? I recently bought some leather sneakers with a suede interior and it’s a pain to put them on as there’s too much friction with socks. Do you think this method would make the surface smooth enough?

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jrwarfield June 29, 2016 - 12:27 pm

Armin,
The texture is smoother than the sueded,but not as glossy smooth as typical smooth leather on the outside it. With socks, it might be easier to get in and out of,but it almost has a slightly rough texture to it since it doesn’t have years of being worn with it this way. A few of the pairs my mom owns are almost identical to normal smooth leather. I would think it could make it smooth enough,but not sure if it would be a lot more comfortable since it might be slightly rough in areas.

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larasolara November 2, 2016 - 12:12 pm

This is awesome! Thank you so much for posting all the photos too—super helpful.

I’ve been watching Ebay for a pair Fly London’s that are no longer in the stores. A suede pair popped up this week. Because of your post, I decided to bite the bullet and get them anyway. I can’t wait to try out your technique and convert them.

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How To Clean Suede Shoes Like A Pro - Cleaning-Expert.net November 9, 2016 - 4:41 am

[…] Image Credits: Warfield Family […]

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Derek December 9, 2016 - 4:43 pm

Suede isn’t “roughed up leather”, it’s the result of splitting thick leather into two (or more) layers. The finished leather side is the outside (skin side), and you’ll notice that the other side of a piece of leather is “suede”. Leather that is “suede” on both sides is the result of splitting the skin.

You cannot turn suede into finished leather because there is no skin on it.

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jrwarfield December 10, 2016 - 8:29 pm

Thanks for the information, I guess I should have written the title to the post differently.

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Maria December 16, 2016 - 10:59 pm

Heya, I’m looming into how to make suede a bit shiny like leather for a cosplay project I’m working on. Would the clear leather polish maintain the brightness of it? There are some areas that need to be darkened from green to brown, and for that is prolly go for the brown polish you used, but most of it is bright green. Any suggestions,on case the clear darkens the suede?

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jrwarfield December 16, 2016 - 11:03 pm

I might have misunderstood so correct me if I’m wrong,but if your suede is a green color already, a clear polish will darken it somewhat, it will give it probably a look as if it is wet. Then the areas that you use brown polish will of course look brown. I would test a small area inside or an area that isn’t seen to see how it will look with the clear polish first. You could try brown polish on those areas, and a try of spray to give it a shinier look. Or even try a polyurethane since it tends to dry clear and shiny on furniture at least. Hope that helps!

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Michele Lee McDonald January 20, 2017 - 1:03 am

Thank you! I have been looking how to dye suede, but had no idea you could change the look entirely! I hope my boots turn out looking as awesome as yours do!

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Theresa March 16, 2017 - 10:44 am

Will this waterproof my boots as well?I want to make them shiny as well. Thanks

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jrwarfield March 16, 2017 - 7:05 pm

Theresa, It won’t waterproof your boots, you will need to use something like this for water proofing. Thanks!

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Jeri Kay March 21, 2017 - 6:44 pm

JRWARFIELD. I just wanted to say thank you for this tutorial. I bought a gorgeous pair of blush pink nubuck Frye flats and the first day I wore them I dripped something on them that stained them in such a way that I would be embarrassed to wear them. I washed them, since I had nothing to lose, but the stains persist. I think I will try to give them a brown leathery appearance. I might try using a Tarrago leather dye in Cognac with some hints of deeper brown. I know it’s not exactly what you have done, but you’ve given me hope. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

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jrwarfield March 21, 2017 - 6:46 pm

Jeri,
I really hope that it works for you, and that you get some beautiful shoes your aren’t embarrassed to wear in the future!

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Nancy March 30, 2017 - 8:04 pm

Worked GREAT… I took a pair of black suede Dansko clogs and tried your idea.
I used a neutral color cream polish … after the first application I buffed the shoes with a shoe brush.
I then used a fine grade sand paper to buff off the nappy areas and reapplied the neutral polish and buffed. I repeated the polish/buffing 2 more times.
The clogs are beautiful…
Thanks for the idea!

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jrwarfield March 30, 2017 - 9:16 pm

Thank you for the feedback, and I’m so pleased that it worked well for you!

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jrwarfield March 30, 2017 - 9:16 pm

Thank you for the feedback, and I’m so glad that it worked so well for you!!

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Russ May 4, 2017 - 8:38 pm

I just bought a beautiful suede guitar strap with conchos on it. Having never owned a leather strap before, it didn’t occur to me that the underside of the strap, which is also suede, would grab the material of my shirt when I was standing and playing, and pull the shirt down away from my neck. This is fairly uncomfortable, and look a bit goofy.

I was wondering if something like this trick with the shoe polish would work, but I thought that maybe a colored shoe polish would stain my clothing. I was not aware of clear shoe polish until I read your article. Does the shoe polish leave a greasy feeling or residue feel after it’s applied, or does that go away after the buffing and sanding? I suppose either way I’ll try this since I’m now stuck with the strap after modifying it slightly after purchasing.

Thanks!

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jrwarfield May 4, 2017 - 9:20 pm

Russ,
As you mentioned with colored shoe polish, I would assume over time the color would rub off onto your clothes. I can’t guarantee it,but logistic stands to reason. I would try the clear polish,but maybe on another piece of scrap suede material if at all possible so you don’t ruin your strap. Any type of residue should be gone after the buffing and sanding,but I don’t have tons of experience with it. However, it is the route I would try. I’m sorry I don’t have a more definite answer.

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Paul June 24, 2017 - 10:13 pm

What would happen if I use liquid shoe polish on suede

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jrwarfield June 25, 2017 - 1:02 pm

I don’t see why it would be a problem. I would test it on a small area just to be sure.

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Solomon February 10, 2019 - 3:41 am

I tried Kiwi brown liquid polish on my Clark desert Nubuck boots – Sand colour. Turned out crusty and the nap settled down. I wished I had not done it.

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jrwarfield February 11, 2019 - 9:31 am

I am sorry it didn’t work out for you, but it takes a lot of coats and the sanding to really get it looking smooth.

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Paul July 16, 2017 - 12:37 pm

One more thing would this work on suede D.C. Skate shoes I’ve only worn them 4 times but one shoe is faded

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jrwarfield July 17, 2017 - 7:34 pm

I don’t see why this wouldn’t work for those shoes. I hope it does. Good Luck.

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Sandpaper isn’t just for sanding. Here are 13 nifty ways to use it in everyday life August 31, 2017 - 1:04 am

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military Shoes October 29, 2017 - 12:32 pm

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Brian L. November 24, 2017 - 4:30 pm

I have a suedeleather jacket, same color as wallabees, hate suede. I was thinking of doing exactly what you’ve done but I didn’t think of the sanding…BRILLIANT.
Email me and I’ll send you update photo as it progresses. B.

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jrwarfield December 9, 2017 - 6:11 pm

I look forward to seeing your progress!

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Woad September 16, 2018 - 3:44 pm

Hello, I have a brown suede coat and a grey-brown suede guitar flight case.

To the commentator, please tell us how the undertaking went? What were your results for something like a jacket?

And to the author, I have always disliked suede, though I like both of these posessions and would like to make them more like leather.

Can I apply parts of this toturial to achieve this?

It is my intention to make them more leather-like and then to treat them to be more water-resistant, because I live somewhere near the sea and I cannot stand that these things cannot be used when it rains.

Also suede is so damnably delicate. I would like to see my pieces age nicely.

Most endearingly grateful to any response,

An admirer.

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jrwarfield September 20, 2018 - 6:04 pm

I don’t see why this wouldn’t work for either of your other applications. It might take a lot of time and effort, but the results should be the same. You just have to get past the “Oh, Crap what have I started” part, and then it gets better from there. I also am not a fan of suede. I bought these shoes, and then hated myself for getting them in suede even if I liked the shoes themselves.

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Abi DyQues January 7, 2018 - 5:35 pm

I just ordered/received a pair of navy suade winter boots from a Timberland. I wanted smooth leather so I am going to use your process ! Thanks

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jrwarfield January 8, 2018 - 1:23 pm

Wonderful, I hope they turn out great!

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Paul January 20, 2018 - 11:23 pm

Liquid shoe polish hardens it and does nothing else do u know if black wax or paste polish would work? My suede dc shoes on one side is kinda shiny

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JRWarfield January 21, 2018 - 1:42 pm

Did you sand them enough? I took multiple coats and sanding for it to get to a good finish. I have never tried black wax or past polish, so I don’t really have advice on that.

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April February 12, 2018 - 12:33 pm

So the color doesn’t rub off? I want to do this to nubuck. I want the boots to be shiny, not matte, but I don’t want to leave traces of color everywhere either.

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jrwarfield February 12, 2018 - 1:53 pm

As long as you correctly sand and polish until shiny and smooth you shouldn’t get any color coming off. Just like with normal polished shoes.

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Guthrie Bowron September 20, 2018 - 8:42 am

Those look like the ‘veldskoene’ (bush shoes) so ubiquitous in South Africa.

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Sanguine October 11, 2018 - 7:33 am

German boots in ww1, and the foot section in ww2 were constructed from suede, and soldiers were required to polish them black. Just needs a few layers of polish/wax to get them shining and almost as good as smooth leather.

Also, if you want to make leather black, soak steel wool in vinegar for two days, then rub the blackened vinegar over the surface to blacken the leather, then polish over to keep the colour.

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Aru January 12, 2019 - 8:07 am

this is nice , am gonna try this for my ecco suede shoes

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DanntheMANN March 24, 2019 - 7:51 am

I got a 2010 pair of charcoal jordan 9s for 35 bucks they sell on ebay for 150-500 but the top portion of nubuck was ruined on 1 shoe hit em both w sum black polish and bam im stylin n if anyone says isnt it spose ta be nubuck on top ill juss say ya it was at 1 time but these are older then your kid lol

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successful home entrepreneur May 6, 2019 - 9:09 pm

Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you so much, However I am going through difficulties with your RSS.
I don?t understand why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else getting the same RSS issues?
Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond?
Thanks!!

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jrwarfield May 7, 2019 - 8:28 am

I will have my Tech person look into it, and hopefully get back to you on why the RSS is not working.

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Carlo March 5, 2020 - 4:06 am

I am wondering what would happen if I were to use tokenole edge burnishing gum to suede and buff it. I would expect to get a slick finish… What do you think?

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jrwarfield March 18, 2020 - 6:45 pm

Honestly, I have no idea, but please let us know what happens if you try it.

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Sterling J. Ramone September 7, 2020 - 9:00 pm

I bought 2 pairs of vintage Kodiak pull on western work boots in tan suede. a bit too “Dukes of Hazzard” or “Dwight Yoakam” for my taste, I prefeer something darker and shinier. I found this site, and bravely gave one pair a brush buff with black polish, and the other with brown. Now both look exactly like pristine dark brown leather. They need a quick buff every few days, as scuffs reveal the original color, but I couldn’t be happier!

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jrwarfield December 6, 2020 - 12:00 pm

I am so glad that this worked for you!!

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joeytheoneandonly February 4, 2021 - 12:42 pm

I just bought a pair of used snow boots for an awesome price. Thanks to your post, I have hopes of changing them from brown suede to black, smooth leather.
Something that came to my handyman brain…
Wouldn’t increasing the grit on the sandpaper, make for a smoother leather surface?
Just a thought and something I will be trying.
I’ll follow up and let everyone know how it goes.

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