Friday, June 22, 2012

DIY: How to Resole Your Birkenstocks

I started wearing Birkenstocks back in the 1970’s and I’ve been wearing them ever since.  I bought my first pair in a health food store in Venice, CA.  When I wore the soles down the same health food store sold me a pair of precut soles in my size and a 2oz tube of Barge cement and pretty soon I was back on the road.

Today Birkenstocks have some fashion cachet and I’ve found precut soles impossible to find.  But it is possible to purchase the sole material by the sheet.  These days the accepted way of replacing a worn sole is to take them back to where you bought them.  An Internet search will show a number of authorized Birkenstock repair businesses around the US, your local cobbler can also help. 

I recently returned from a trip to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and the combination of aggressive sightseeing and tropical heat wore the soles down to the point where they were not as comfortable as they used to be.  I hadn't replaced soles in years so I searched the Internet high and low but no instructions could I find, only advertising for Authorized Birkenstock Resoling.

How to do an Unauthorized Birkenstock Resoling

The first step is to remove the old worn out soles.  I did this by putting my Birks in a 200F degree oven for 10 minutes.  The old sole will shrink and cleanly pull away from the cork bottom.  Don't force it, if you try to tear the old sole off like a strong man ripping a phone book in half you risk pulling away some of the jute and cork from the shoe with the sole.

Once the old shrunken sole is off of the Birk bottom rough up both the new sole surface that's going to adhere to the bottom of the shoe and bottom of the Birk.  I used a Dremel tool.  Then clean both surfaces, any schmutz left behind will weaken the bond between the new sole and the shoe.  As you can see above I've cut 2 sections of sole from my large sole sheet.

Coat the new sole bottom and the bottom of the shoe with rubber cement specifically made for shoe repair, I used Barge cement.  Follow the instructions on the container of your chosen adhesive. Barge says to coat both surfaces and let them dry.

Once the glue has dried for the recommended amount of time carefully join the 2 surfaces together and make sure that there are no gaps in the bond between the sole material and the Birk bottom.  It doesn't look like a shoe yet so it's time to trim off the excess sole material.

I used a utility knife and a pair of snips.

The new sole material is tough, be careful and don't cut too closely to the cork.

I ground the rubber sole edge near flush with a Dremel tool and voila!  After allowing 24 hours for the bond to cure my resoled Birkenstock padded footbed Milanos are once again ready for pavement.

UPDATE 3/31/2013 - I've noticed at least one seller of Birkenstock sole material on eBay referring potential purchasers to my page for DIY instructions.  He's selling two rectangles of sole material for slightly less than you can purchase pre-cut soles in your exact size.  Personally I'd pay a few bucks extra for the precise fit and to avoid the rubber dust mess that the Dremel tool makes.  The problem of course is where to get the resoling material in the quantities you may want and at a decent price.  

It used to be available in large sheets or pre-cut from the same store that sold you the paid a Birkenstocks.  To make a long story short my Father asked me to purchase a sheet of Birkenstock sole material for him 15 years ago.  He didn't use much of the sheet and when he passed away what was left of the sole sheet came back to me.  By then the original formulation of Barge Cement was seen as an environmental hazard but if you search it's still available in quart or bigger sizes.  But the sole sheets are even harder to come by.  I get it, the resoling business is probably a cash cow for the stores that sell the shoes so the importer carefully doles out the soles to not undercut business and relations with the retailers of their product and to keep the price of soles and resoling high.  

Me, I'm in no hurry to get more.  I just resoled 2 more pair of Birks from my Father's sheet and have enough material left over to resole at least one more pair.  Where I live Birkenstocks are seasonal and I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time so I have lots of time to find more soling material, by the time I'm ready good quality knock off soles may be available.  But just in case, if anybody knows of a good and reasonable source of Birkenstock sole sheets please let me know in the comments or by email, thanks.