how toMonday, August 17, 2020

How To Customize Air Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap, With The Shoe Surgeon



The Shoe Surgeon, aka Dominic Ciambrone, is the LA-based cobbler-turned-shoe-creator behind some of the world’s most sought-after bespoke sneakers. In our exclusive series of video tutorials, we give you a unique insight into some of the core techniques used by Dominic and his Surgeon Studios team to create their 1/1 custom sneakers.


In our fifth and final episode, Neil Caro – the Director of Schools at Surgeon Studios – walks us through the basics of how to customize your own Air Jordans by performing a sole swap. In this video, Neil uses the Air Jordan I OG ‘Court Purple’ to create a custom Retro I colorway, but this technique can equally be used on most other sneaker silhouettes. Watch the full video below and keep reading for more in-depth instructions.





How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Before You Begin



  • 2 x sneakers - one pair for the finished sneaker, one pair for the donor soles

  • Contact cement - bonds the sole and uppers back together

  • Acetone - dissolves the factory glue when removing the donor sole

  • Marking pens - to mark the glue lines when applying the contact cement

  • Horsehair brush - for cleaning soles after sanding

  • 1” chip brush - to apply the contact cement 

  • Scratch awl - used to unstitch soles

  • Rotary tool - for sanding down the surfaces of the uppers and soles in preparation for the contact cement. If you don’t have a rotary tool you can use sandpaper.

  • Claw hammer

  • Bone folder - helps to separate the sole from the upper. If you don’t have one, you can use a butter knife or a flat-head screwdriver instead.

  • Malaysian crepe - a rubber material that erases excess contact cement

  • Hook awl - needed to restitch the soles (can be purchased from

  • Thread snippers - to trim excess thread when restitching soles

  • Last - can be purchased from

  • Heat gun

  • Convection oven – to cure and reactivate the contact cement.


Where to find donor sole units:

‘We remove soles from already existing shoes, we don’t buy the sole units separately,’ says Dominic Ciambrone. ‘Purchase the shoe that has the soles you like, remove the soles and use them in your next project.’


Can any sole unit go on any sneaker?:

‘It's all about the last. If you have the proper fitting last for the sole that you want to put on, you can re-last the upper to fit the sole. This technique is more advanced but can be done. Our Shoe Surgeon Shoe School teaches the in-depth process of how to do this.’


Can dress shoe soles go on sneakers?:

‘Technically yes, but it’d depend on the type of sole on the dress shoe, and the manner in which it was originally constructed and attached to its original upper. Additionally, you would need to make sure that the shape and construction of the upper you intend to adhere it to is compatible.’


Where to find a last:

‘We sell various styles of last on our website,


How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Prepping Your Donor Shoe


Unless you’re planning to use third-party sole units, you’ll need two pairs of shoes – a ‘donor’ pair which will provide the soles, and a ‘recipient’ pair which will provide the uppers and therefore receive the donor soles. This is how to remove the soles from your donor shoe.


1) Unpick stitching

  1. Remove the laces and the insole.

  2. Unpick the stitching that attaches the soles to the uppers by using the scratch awl to get under the thread and pull it out.

  3. Once the thread is released, tug on it to release it from the sole.

  4. Repeat steps 2-3 until every bit of stitching has been removed.


2) Acetone soak

  1. Soak the inside of the sneaker with acetone, ensuring you tilt the shoe so the liquid gets absorbed by the sidewalls of the shoe. You’ll know when you’ve used enough acetone as the sides of the uppers will feel cold to the touch.

  2. Let the acetone work for 20 minutes. In the meantime, you can begin removing the sole from your recipient shoe.


3) Releasing the sidewall

  1. Use the squeeze test to see if the sole is ready to be removed: when you press the area of the uppers closest to the sole, it should separate from the sidewalls.

  2. Find an area where the sole and uppers are fully separated and insert your bone folder. Using the same twisting motion as before, separate the sidewall from the uppers.


TIP: Always point the bone folder towards the shoe rather than the sole. 


How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Prepping Your Recipient Shoe


Heat is used here instead of acetone to preserve the uppers of your custom Retro 1s.


1) Releasing the sidewall

  1. Remove the sidewall stitching of the sole as you did with the donor shoe.

  2. Use the heat gun on both your flathead screwdriver and the side of the soles at the same time. The idea here is to heat up the screwdriver and help dissolve the adhesive of the shoe.

  3. When the sole and screwdriver feel sufficiently warm, insert the screwdriver in between the sidewall of the sole and uppers, using a twisting motion to help separate them.

  4. Run the screwdriver around the entire edge of the sole, continuing the twisting motion until the sidewalls of the sole are fully released from the uppers.


How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Removing The Sole From Your Shoes


Now you need to pull the uppers away from the sole to remove them. We recommend you start at the heel as most sole technologies (e.g. Nike Air, Adidas Boost) are found in the middle of the shoe and you risk separating them from the midsole if you start at the front.


TIP: Once you’ve revealed part of the sole, you can make the process easier by pressing the sole against a flat surface with one hand, and pulling the uppers away with the other.


How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Cleaning Uppers & Sole


The residual glue left over from the factory finish will stop the new sole from adhering well to the uppers of your sneaker, so it’s important to remove it first when creating your custom Jordan 1.


  1. Use the rotary tool on the inner sidewalls of the sole.

  2. Do the same with the uppers of the shoe, ensuring you don’t hit the stitching that attaches the strobel board.

  3. Repeat steps 1-2 until there is no residual glue left and the surface of the sole unit is smooth.

  4. Use the horsehair brush to remove any rubber or glue debris from the soles.


TIP: If you don’t have a rotary tool you can use sandpaper, however this approach is more time consuming.


How to use the rotary tool safely:

‘Take your time and keep it at a lower speed. Mask off the area above the sole glue line so if you do slip, you have a safeguard.’


The differences in technique between a rotary tool and sandpaper:

‘The rotary tool is a faster technique, but may take some practice to get comfortable. Sandpaper is time consuming but more controlled.’


How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Attaching The Sole


Before attaching the soles to the uppers, you’ll need to mark where the top of the sole sidewall ends on the uppers. This ‘glue line’ will indicate the maximum limit of where to apply the contact cement on your custom Jordans.


1) Marking the glue line

  1. Insert the last into the uppers, then place both into the donor sole.

  2. Using your marking pen, make a line around the perimeter of the shoe where the sole meets the uppers.


Contact cement is the adhesive that’ll glue the uppers and the sole together. You’ll be spreading it on both the uppers and the sole for a stronger bond. Ensure you use light coats otherwise you may get an uneven result – begin by applying a small amount, then add more later if needed.


2) Applying contact cement

  1. Apply some contact cement into the center of the sole unit. 

  2. Using the 1” chip brush, spread it evenly along the interior surface and up the sidewalls. Repeat this until you’ve covered the entire interior of the sole.

  3. Do the same with the uppers, applying contact cement to the underside of the strobel board and spreading up to the glue line. Repeat until entirely covered.


Unlike regular glue, contact cement is activated by heat, so for the best bond you’ll need to use a heat source of some kind on both the soles and the upper of your Air Jordan custom.


3) Curing the cement

WARNING: You must use a convection oven as it provides a more even heat. Don’t use your regular baking oven as it will burn your shoes. 


  1. Place the sole and the uppers separately in the oven for 2-3 minutes. 


TIP: If you don’t have a convection oven, you can use a heat gun to reactivate the contact cement before sticking the sole to the upper.


4) Attaching the sole

  1. Starting with the toe and working backwards, attach the sole onto the uppers ensuring the sole fully covers the glue line. 

  2. Using the claw hammer, hammer the sides of the whole perimeter of the sole to reinforce its bond to the uppers.

  3. Use the Malaysian crepe to erase any blemishes and remove any excess contact cement that may have accidentally gotten onto the upper shoe material.


How To Create Custom Jordan 1s By Performing A Sole Swap: Restitching The Sole


Most contact cements are durable and create a permanent bond, but if the sole that you removed was sidewall-stitched originally, we recommend that you restitch it after the sole swap is completed. The sole can be restitched to the upper using the hook awl and thick thread. Use thread snippers to trim off any excess thread to finish your Nike Air Jordan 1 custom.


Thanks for watching our five-part video series with The Shoe Surgeon – we hope you’ve been getting creative at home. You can rewatch any of the episodes by clicking on the links below.



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