As I mentioned in my post from Monday, I’ve been working on my own latest upcycling project, a project intended to combine this with this, a modern take on upcycling tire tread into shoe soles, and at the time I’d hoped to unveil its successful completion today.
Sadly, after many hours of research, consultation and work, I’ve had to go back to the drawing board, details to follow, but, I thought I’d blog about this failed first attempt, since I love reading about others’ creative process, and I thought others might enjoy mine, at least to hold you over until I do complete the project. (And, believe me, I am determined to do so!)
The shoes you see here in the first photo are made by a company called Sanuk, and their tagline for the product line is: These are not shoes. They’re sandals!
And, like a pair of lightweight sandals or flip-flops, they are extremely comfortable, like wearing slippers, not at all suitable for rainy or snowy conditions, but I wore mine everywhere and LOVED them, until…
So, the only way Sanuk can make these “sandals” as lightweight as they are is to use a material for the soles that is more suited for a sandy beach or a swim club than concrete, tarmac, or even hiking trails, and sure enough I wore through mine in less than six months, while the uppers of the shoe were still in perfect condition.
Having grown up in the 1960s and ’70s, I vividly recall the tire tread sandals that were worn by many a member of the counterculture of the time, and since I couldn’t stand the thought of throwing out my Sanuks, for environmental reasons and because I loved them so much, an idea was born: Replace the soles with tire tread!
Now, finding a used tire to work with was the easiest part, as a local tire shop let me have one for free.
Cutting the tire up, well, that’s a whole other story.
Short version, for anyone not so inclined to read the rest of the story, I can sum up the reason for the failure of my first attempt in two words: steel belt.
See, hippies didn’t stop making tire tread sandals because they fell out of fashion. No, they stopped because, by the mid-1970s, most car tires were steel-belted, meaning a belt of steel mesh was embedded in the rubber, resulting in a much more durable tire. Problem is, as I came to find out, the new tire technology was an extremely poor material for making sandal soles.
Using a combination of utility knife, tin snips, and bolt cutters, not to mention a ton of good ol’ elbow grease from me and my 14-year old son, in an hour we got this far…
Brutal, and it was painfully obvious that it would take a MUCH better tool to cut out the actual shape of the sole.
My first attempt, a trip to the local hardware store for metal-cutting blades for my handheld jigsaw, was a colossal waste of time. The up-down motion of the jigsaw blade made the rubber vibrate too much, and, because the jigsaw I own doesn’t have enough power, the blade easily got stuck in the rubber as it tried to make its way through.
A shout out for help led me to the shop of my industrial designer friend, Tom, owner of M I N T Architectural Elements, who was generous enough to let me use his band saw.
MUCH, much easier, but, sadly, the celebration was short-lived, as one problem after another arose from that point forward.
First, after cutting out the shape of the sole, there were hundreds of steel wires sticking out of the sides, making it extremely easy incur puncture wounds and scrapes just gently handling the things.
My friend Tom suggested his Dremel with a grinder bit…
…but the little wires wiggled too much and once the the grinder hit the rubber, the rubber would smoke, releasing what I can only assume was a thick, toxic plume.
So, I decided to move on, figuring I’d get the soles attached and then decide later how to deal with the exposed steel mesh.
On advice from the hardware store, I bought some Barge Cement, often used for shoe sole repair, followed the instructions, clamped those suckers together, and let them dry.
Once dry, the shoes were ready for a test drive, which revealed the next problem: steel-belted tire tread is heavy and rigid, the opposite of the lightweight rubber foam soles the shoes came with.
As a result, with each step I took, I could feel that the tire tread was not flexing much at all, resulting in my heel, annoyingly and ultimately unacceptably, popping out of the shoe.
I had the idea of cutting out some horizontal grooves in the tread, specifically where the most flex is needed, but it took an hour of work to make just one groove, and I finally had to accept that it was futile.
Cuz, you see, just creating this one groove took a LOT of work, it produced a LOT of toxic smoke, and the second test drive proved that the groove, located at the most important position on the sole, directly under the ball of the foot where most of the flex happens, didn’t bring one bit of improvement.
And so, the decision was made to go with a new idea: Look for a tire without a steel belt!
They are hard to find, especially tires with tread as wide as these need to be, but I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got. I want these shoes badly, and I’ll not rest until they are mine!