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Felt soles


Changing the felt soles on your wading boots requires little work... but a lot of glue!

By Martin Joergensen

  
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Oops! - That was not the intention! Unfortunately the stitches on these Chota boots held not only the soles, but also the upper part. That - of course - came apart when I cut the stitching to remove the old felt.
Oops!
 
A fair warning
As you can see from the picture to the right, a handy man's way with things is not always the right way... In the process of making my boots better, I actually wound up ruining them.
The stiches that held together the felt and the sole, appeared to hold more than that, and now my boots are slowly falling apart. I can have them stitched again by a shoomaker or restitch them myself, but if I do nothing, they will definitely die.
Take care not to do the same if you decide to refelt your boots.

 

If you - like me - prefer wading boots with felt soles, and - like me - fish often in a rough environment and walk a lot, your boots will some day be up for a change of felt soles. Most modern wading boots will last at least two or three sets of soles, and changing the felt only is a lot less expensive than buying new boots. The process is quite simple, and changing the soles can be done in a day.

But... and there is a but: the boots have to be absolutely dry. That means drying them thoroughly for a few days to a week. And you cannot use them the first days after the new felt has been glued on. So prepare for a break in your fishing.

All pictures in this article are clickable.
Felt has the magical effect of being able to cling to the most slippery rock or stone under water. That is why wading boots have felt soles.

Felt soles can be bought in most tackle shops. If they do not stock them, they can usually get them quickly. Many manufacturers produce soles especially for their own boot models. Chota had ready made soles for my STL boots.
The felt must be a rough and durable quality made for wading boots. Felt from a craft shop might work, but I would not bet on it.
The precut felt soles are fairly expensive, so be prepared. In some instances the soles come with heels. Sometimes you get studs and sometimes you get glue too. Make sure the soles are large enough to fit your boots plus a bit, and check that the new studs fit the threads in your boots.

And buy more glue! A single tube is not nearly enough, and I recommend buying a can of glue, preferably with 0.25 liters or more. That is about 10-12 fluid ounces for the non-metrically inclined.

Removing the old felt
The first step is to remove the old felt soles. These are mostly worn and in many cases already partly coming off by themselves, and doing the last bit is usually not difficult. You will need:
  • A heavy set of pliers
  • Scissors
  • Knife
  • Tool to remove spikes if applicable
If you have studs or spikes in your boots, these usually need replacement too. Remove them first.

Grab a sole on the edge and use the boot itself as lever and break boot and sole apart. If the boots are stitched like my Chotas were and the stitches still hold, you will need a knife to cut the stitches before pulling too hard.

Take your time and try to get the sole off in one piece. This saves a lot of cleaning later on.

Studs: If you prefer unstudded boots, now is the time to get rid of the studs. The studs are usually threaded into knobs on the base of the boot. Use felt soles with no holes and cut and sand the bases or 'sockets' for the studs down after unscrewing the metal with a set of pliers. Proceed as if the studs never existed.

Cleaning the boots
When the old felt is gone, you need to clean the underside of the boots, to make sure that the glue will adhere to the base. This is done in two steps: sanding and cleaning with a solvent.

You will need:

  • Rough sand paper
  • A rag
  • Thinner or acetone
My Chotas had stitches and I started by trimming off the small thread butts sticking out with a pair of scissors. I then used a rough sand paper (40 grit) for the initial removal of old glue and felt. After that I wiped the bottom off with a clean rag soaked in thinner. Acetone will do too.

If your boots were studded, make sure to avoid damaging the 'sockets' for the studs. Carefully sand around them.

Warning: Working with thinner, acetone and contact glue is hazardous and not exactly healthy, so do the job outdoors or at least in a well ventilated room - and do not smoke, eat or drink while you work.

Drenching the soles
Because felt will absorb so much fluid you have to preglue or drench the soles before the final gluing to the boots. Start by spreading a generous amount of glue over the whole surface of the sole. Make sure you match the soles to the boots... there is a left and a right. Most soles have no over- or underside, so matching them symmetrically will be sufficient.
Felt for studded boots will have holes for the studs. Make sure these holes match, and be careful not to block them with glue in any part of the process.

At first the glue will almost disappear into the felt and leave little trace on the surface.

Let the felt dry for a few hours and apply a second coating. This time you will see the glue partly covering the felt, but the surface will still be rough and highly absorbing.

Leave the soles to dry again and apply a third coating. This time the glue should form a smoother layer on the surface of the felt, and three layers are usually sufficient. This will be the last layer prior to the final gluing step. Leave the soles to dry overnight.

Getting ready
Now is the time for the big step: gluing the soles and boots together. This will require two steps: pre gluing and assembling. These two steps take place with a 20-30 minutes interval. You will need the following for these steps:
  • Glue
  • Stiff cardboard bits
  • Hammer or other heavy metal object
  • Rubber mallet
Glue the soles for the last time, this time applying the glue as thinly and evenly as you can. Make sure you cover the whole surface and be particularly meticulous on the edges.

Now cover the cleaned undersides of the boots with an equally thin layer of glue. The boots need only one application. Set everything aside to dry for 20-30 minutes. The surfaces must be non-sticky, and no wet areas must be visible.

The next step is critical and calls for some precision. Put one sole on a table top and find the matching boot. Place the boot over the sole, but do not lower the boot yet! Grab the boot with both hands, and 'levitate' the boot a couple of centimeters or less (½") over the sole. Let your fingers run around the edge of the boot to make sure that the sole sticks out on all sides. Lower the boot slowly, constantly checking the placement of of the boot.

The instant the boot and sole connect, the deal is done. Gently press the two together from the center and out.

For studded boots you might want to do the opposite: put the sole on the boot. This makes it easier to see the exact placement of the holes in the felt over the bases on the boot.

Joining
The glue will bind immediately, and your job is now to make that bond very strong. This is done by hammering the two halves together. Use a heavy metal rod, a hammer or a similar heavy, dense object to create counterweight to the strikes of a rubber mallet (or another hammer).

Put the hammer into the boot and strike on the underside with the mallet. Work your way all around the felt surface.
The edges can be secured by holding the hammer to the upper side of the rim, which you usually find around the boot. Hold the hammer steady and strike on the edge of the underside of the felt sole. Work your way all around the edge. Check that the two halves connect and absolutely no gaps are left.

Ideally the sole will protude a bit all the way around the boot. Continue with the second boot.

Heels: If you want to add heels to your boots, follow the same drenching procedure for the heel pieces and the underside of the soles. When the last layer of glue has been left to dry for 20-30 minutes, mount the heels and hammer them thoroughly in place using a hammer as a counterweight inside the heel of the boot.
 

Trimming
Leave the boots to dry for at least 24 hours. On my glue the instructions read that the glue would first bind fully after seven (7!) days. You can trim the soles before that, but it is probably a good idea not to use them before at least a few days.

Finally refit the studs or add new ones.

 

Bob Abrams submitted a comment to this article:
The article is great.
Two things I might add. There are big felt buffing disks that are use to polish floors with big electric buffers. Some of these pads are perfect material for cutting out felt soles and because of the size they are a lot cheaper than individually wrapped sole shaped pads.

Secondly, when I do a formica counter top with contact cement I put a piece of waxed paper between the formica and the counter material when the glue is dry. It wont stick at all and if it does that is a good indicator that the glue is not ready. So you position the two peices perfectly and slowly pull out the waxed paper and as you do they meld together beautifully.

 


User comments
From: Christine - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted September 7th 2014

You could also make your own felt using wool roving, hot water, soap, and elbow grease.

As an aside, what are the downsides of having felt soles for everyday use? Does it wear/tear easily?


From: Shoua - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted October 13th 2011

What with the banning of felt soles in so many states now, are there any ways to replace your felt with rubber soles?


From: Aaron Devine · Aaron·at·aaron6.orangehome.co.uk  Link
Submitted July 8th 2010

Hey there...i live in northern ireland and have found it very difficult to find anywhere to fix the felt on my waders (which stinks) which is peeling off..after numerous calls i found a replacement kit on ebay which i am now waiting to be delivered...After all the searching i have also heard that evo stik wet grab which you can get from B&Q for around £8 is supposed to work very well too....going to try the replacement kit first to see how it works...so fingers crossed this works...
Great article!!!
Thanks Aaron


From: john edelen · kimbajmann·at·msn.com  Link
Submitted September 28th 2008

Use ghorrila(sp) glue it is many times better than the crappy contact glue and it only takes one application and you can adjust the felt on boot perfectly. Then duct tape the sole to boot - pulling the sole tight and let sit overnight and you are ready to fish after pulling off tape. Be aware that ghorrilla (sp) expands when it cures so do not apply too much. You only need to apply glue to felt not boot then place felt over boot. Due to expanding qualities it will fill any gaps. Also works great to put felt on any boot right over lugs as this glue will expand to fill gaps in tread under felt. I think most wader boots offer crappy support and are overal crummy construction compared to other boots, so I just get good boots that are capable of draining and glue felt strips on them right over the lug sole. In this way you get better support as well as both rubber and felt soles and the strips ( placed about 1/2" appart perpendicular to the foot) really grap like all hell and you do not slip out of the water. Also helps to get boots with a actual heel as this will really help prevent slipping along banks on wet grass and snow. Most fishing supply stores online can sell you 1 inch wide strips of felt for exactly this purpose. You just dry size the felt and mark it with a sharpie at exact width for the spot you are glueing that strip onto the boot and glue it then move to next strip and repeat. Once all strips are glued on wet, then you duct tape them on to serve as a clamp. For me with even spacing I get three strips in front of instep and two on heel. Picture how this works in stream with the edges of rock tops grapping in space between the felt strips and you can see how well this works - much better than a solid felt sole. Tust me on this, this glue is much better than contact cement and it is thick enough to not get sucked into felt while at the same time it expands as it cures to really do the job. The cure takes about 2 hours till it is fully expanded and I like to let it cure the rest of the way overnight.


From: LK · lkreh·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted August 24th 2008

Just followed your instructions using Barge cement, felt and my trusty 12 year old Battenkill wading boots. Headed to Idaho for a week soon. Will let you know if the felt replacement job held up.


From: Gordon Isaacs · lisaacs·at·nb.sympatico.ca  Link
Submitted June 3rd 2008

What a great article. I was in the process replacing the felts on my own Chota's and had a few questions which were very well addressed in this article. My boots had raised plastic inserts for studs but I cut these of and sanded the entire sole of the boot flat on my electric sander.


From: Carl · webmaster·at·flyfish.kimvertise.co.za  Link
Submitted March 18th 2007

Very informative indeed!
I've made my own wading boots by utilising a pair of leather army boots and glueing the soles with the carpeting used by upholsterers to do car flooring. This material lasts very well and can be glued with any good contact adhesive applied liberally.
The army boots are exceptionally hard wearing and provides good ankle support in any rocky river terrain.
The carpet soles adhere to slippery rocks like crazy!


From: Eric Hess · eehess81·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted February 7th 2007

Is it possible to line a pair of rubber lug soles with felt? I bought a pair of chest waders that are rubber lug soles and wish I had gotten felt lined. Can you think of any way this could be done?? I appreciate any information you can give me.


From: Gabe · slipangle2·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted October 26th 2006

Great article. I have another method which I've used to re-felt a pair of 30 year old Weinbrenners several times. I use Weldwood contact cement. Barge's cement works well too. I stuff tightly packed paper towels, dampened to compress tightly, into the boot body. I stuff it HARD into the toe of the boot and work out from there, trying to compress the stuffing material as tightly as possible. Damp cotton t-shirt rags work too. I let this partailly dry and make sure I have a solid, stuffed boot. Then, I glue on the felt as mentioned above, and wrap the whole boot VERY tightly with Duct tape, pulling HARD as I wrap the tape from the sole up to the body of the boot. This works best if the soles are trimmed nearly to corrrect size with little overhang. Let the contact cement dry overnight and remove tape and boot stuffing. This method works well for me. A cobbler's last would be nice, to fill the boot and provide a firm form to fill the boot, if you have one!


From: Moreno Borriero · moreno·at·alpiapuane.com  Link
Submitted October 12th 2006

Hi Martin

Just what I needed! My Chotas after a years honourable service including lots of guiding are nearly worn out! Thanks for the advice. As far as glue goes, I've been advised to use neoprene based glues as they are particularly waterproof. Any comments or suggestions on what kind of glue to use? If you cannot indicate commercial names, please pop me a mail!! The only problem is finding a week when I won't be going fishing!!! ;-)

Cheers

Moreno


From: Denis Dyson · dendysons·at·supanet.com  Link
Submitted October 11th 2006

I find the article very informative , but have you any suggestions regards which glue to use.
Best regards
Denis Dyson



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