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Sword and Armour Care and Maintenance

Sword Cleaning & Maintenance

The type of sword that you have will dictate which cleaning method is best to use.  Swords tend to fall under 2 general classifications, stainless steel wall-hangers or spring/high carbon steel functional swords. There are exceptions, but in general, your sword will likely fall into one of these classifications.

Stainless steel wall hangers are usually very decorative and designed to look good when hanging on your wall. What they lack in in functionality they make up for in ease of maintenance. Simply wiping them down with furniture polish/window cleaner and a soft cloth will remove any greasy fingerprints or grime. You can use special stainless steel cleaning compound if you want to get a highly polished finish on the blades.

Cleaning functional swords is a little more tricky.

Foreword

We would not recommend that you use any of the following methods on antique swords. If you are lucky enough to own an antique sword, please seek specialist advice.

Most sword related injuries occur whilst performing maintenance and cleaning. It’s not really an issue with blunt swords. However, if you are working on a sharp sword we would highly recommend the use of cut resistant gloves and remove any distractions.

Rusting/Oxidisation

Carbon steel blades are prone to oxidisation and rust. The usually culprits are greasy finger marks that are left after touching the blades. If the blades are not protected with a layer of oil or polish/wax, oxidisation will take place quite quickly.

If the rusting is light, it is relatively easy to clean. Despite what you may hear, WD40 is actually pretty efficient at cleaning blades. Used in conjunction with a synthetic scouring pad, WD40 should lift any surface rust with relative ease.

If the rust is a little more embedded, we would recommend the use of a fine grade sanding sponge – available from most hardware stores. Sanding sponges are great for removing rust patches. If the fine grade doesn’t work, we would recommend using a medium grade until the rust is gone, then go over the same area with a fine grade.

Excess Oil

Manufacturers want their carbon steel blades to reach you in pristine condition. As such they tend to apply a lot more grease than is actually required to ensure that they don’t rust in transit and whilst in storage.

This grease is easy to clean off with a soft lint free cloth and some rubbing alcohol. Once you have taken all of the grease off the blade it will be unprotected (albeit a lot less greasy!) so you will have to apply another, less liberal coating of oil or wax. We’ll talk about this later.

Abrasions and Minor Scratches

These are more likely to occur if you are using your sword for cutting practice or drilling/sparring. If they are fairly light they can be removed with some metal polishing paste such as Peek or Auto Sol. United Cutlery produce a polishing paste called “Metal Glo” that is specifically designed for swords and is available in the UK from The Knight Shop. We have found this product to be superior to all other polishing compounds on the market.

Protecting your Blade

Carbon steel blades need a protective coating to form a barrier that prevents tarnishing and rust. Applying a light layer of oil or wax is an ideal way to protect your blade.

Specially formulated oil such as Hanwei Sword Oil is a natural choice for oiling your blade but in truth, any machine oil (3 in 1, sewing machine oil etc) or light mineral oil (liquid paraffin) will do the job. Some people swear by WD40 but we don’t recommend it as it evaporates over time.

Another choice is waxing the blade with a product such as Renaissance Wax. This wax was developed by the British Museum for protecting their artefacts and is a great choice for sword blades. Apply it with a lint free cloth and it will set hard to form a protective barrier against rust.

We would recommend that you oil your blade around once a month or after every use. If the blade is kept in a humid climate it will need oiling more often.

Hilt Fittings & Scabbards

In general, swords with carbon steel blades tend to have hilt fittings made of steel or brass. Steel hilts can be cleaned and oiled/waxed using the same method that is used for the blades. Brass hilts can be cleaned with brass cleaner such as Brasso and then protected with a layer of Renaissance Wax. Be careful not to get oil on your leather grip as it will cause the leather to rot very quickly.

Leather grips and scabbards can be treated with Renaissance Wax or a good quality leather paste wax. Scabbards can also be treated with neatsfoot oil to waterproof them (although this will darken the leather). Don’t use this oil on your grip as it will make it slippery. 

Wooden grips can be treated with a good quality wood oil to prevent cracking. Lemon Oil or Tung Oil are recommended but there are many types of oil that will suffice.

Storage

Scabbards are really designed as a way to carry your sword and not get injured in the process. They are not ideal for long-term storage. Wooden scabbards can be ok if the sword is only very lightly oiled. Excess oil will cause the wood to swell. Leather scabbards trap moisture and will cause rust spots on the blade.

If you are planning on storing your sword for a significant length of time, we would recommend greasing the blade with Vaseline, wrapping it in oily rags and storing it in a cool, dry place.


Armour Cleaning & Maintenance

The type of armour that you have will dictate which cleaning method is best to use. Armour tends to fall under 2 general classifications, decorative armour or carbon steel functional armour. There are exceptions, but in general, your armour will likely fall into one of these classifications.
Decorative armour is usually produced from thin steel and is manufactured for display or theatrical purposes. It is normally highly polished and can be zinc plated and/or lacquered. As such it is fairly maintenance free and just requires wiping with a cloth and some furniture/window polish to remove and greasy fingerprints or grime.

Functional armour is usually made from carbon steel and is designed for Re-enactment or HMB (Historical Medieval Battle). The steel is much thicker than that used in decorative armour and is designed to absorb blows. Unfortunately, carbon steel armour is susceptible to rust and requires regular maintenance.

Foreword

We would not recommend that you use any of the following methods on antique armour. If you are lucky enough to own antique armour, please seek specialist advice.

Rusting/Oxidisation

Carbon steel armour is prone to oxidisation and rust. The usual culprits are greasy finger marks from handling the armour and wet weather when worn outdoors. If the armour is not protected by a layer of oil or polish/wax, oxidisation will take place quite quickly.
If the rusting is light, it is relatively easy to clean. Despite what you may hear, WD40 is actually pretty efficient at cleaning armour. Used in conjunction with a synthetic scouring pad, WD40 should lift any surface rust with relative ease.
If the rust is a little more embedded, we would recommend the use of a fine grade sanding sponge – available from most hardware stores. Sanding sponges are great for removing rust patches. If the fine grade doesn’t work, we would recommend using a medium grade until the rust is gone, then go over the same area with a fine grade.

Excess Oil

Manufacturers want their armour to reach you in pristine condition. As such they tend to apply a lot more grease than is actually required to ensure that it doesn’t rust in transit and whilst in storage. The armour is then wrapped in plastic packaging to ensure the oil does not rub off.
This grease is easy to clean off with a cloth (or paper towels) and some rubbing alcohol. Once you have taken off all of the grease the armour will be unprotected (albeit a lot less greasy!) so you will have to apply another, less liberal coating of oil or wax. We’ll talk about this later.

Abrasions and Scratches

These are more likely to occur when you are wearing your armour. If you are fighting in it, this is inevitable - and will probably be accompanied by deeper scratches and dents. If they are fairly light they can be removed with some metal polishing paste such as Peek or Auto Sol. Deeper scratches, depending on how deep they actually are, can be removed with a coarse grade of sanding sponge, followed by a medium and then a fine grade. Some scratches can be too deep for this method and will add some authentic “battle scars” to your armour. The simple rule is, if you want your armour to stay pristine, don’t fight in it!

Protecting your Armour

Carbon steel armour needs a protective coating to form a barrier that prevents tarnishing and rust. Applying a light layer of oil or wax is an ideal way to protect your armour. A highly recommended method of protecting your armour is waxing it with a product such as Renaissance Wax. This wax was developed by the British Museum for protecting their artefacts and is a great choice for armour and swords. Apply it with a lint free cloth and it will set hard to form a protective barrier against rust.
Wiping your armour down with machine oil (3 in 1, sewing machine oil etc.) or light mineral oil (liquid paraffin) is another method of protecting it from rust. It is also a lot cheaper than using Renaissance Wax. Some people swear by WD40 but we don’t recommend it as it evaporates over time.
We would recommend that you oil or wax your armour after every use. If the armour is kept in a humid climate it will need oiling/waxing more often. 

Leather Straps & Buckles

Applying Renaissance Wax is not only a great way to protect metal, it is also a great way to protect and condition leather straps. Straps can also be conditioned with a good quality leather paste. If you are oiling your armour it is important to avoid getting oil on the leather straps as this will cause them to rot quickly.
Buckles need little maintenance. If they are brass they can be polished with Brasso and coated with a protective layer of Renaissance Wax. Steel buckles can also be oiled or waxed to prevent rusting. 

Storage

If you are planning on storing your armour for a significant length of time, we would recommend greasing it with Vaseline, wrapping it in plastic and storing it in a cool, dry place. 

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