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Changing the felt soles on your wading boots requires little work... but a lot of glue!
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 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:
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.
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:
If your boots were studded, make sure to avoid damaging the 'sockets' for the studs. Carefully sand around them.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Ideally the sole will protude a bit all the way around the boot. Continue with the second boot.
Finally refit the studs or add new ones.
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