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(Last revised: May 13, 2008)
MAINTAINING YOUR SWORDS
This will not be an all-encompassing article, as restoration and
removal of deep rust is beyond its scope. However, some simple cleaning
and rust prevention can be done simply and cheaply.
Keeping your swords in a shiny and lustrous condition is not very
difficult but does require some attention. This topic comes up
frequently on various forums. When I used to run a website for
selling swords and weapons, I had written a
back then, but I decided to write something more succint based on more
experience over the years.
Before sealing the sword against future rust, you must first make sure
that it is clean of rust-inducing agents. The most common sources of
problems are moisture and skin oils, the latter of which are very acidic
and can etch or rust the blade very quickly.
If you've ever seen your blade begin to rust underneath the protective
layer you've applid, you'll understand how important it is to thoroughly
clean the metal first.
To clean the blade, you want to make sure skin oils and moisture are
removed. People use a varity of materials to do this. I've found that
liquid dish soap and warm water work very well to clean off oils. Windex
also works in a pinch. But you must be sure to thoroughly dry the blade
afterwards, otherwise you'll seal in some moisture. The steel can be
dry to the touch and yet retain trace amounts of moisture, since the
metal will always have microscopic pits and texture that can contain it.
WD-40 works very well at this stage. It's designed to displace water by
having a greater propensity for being drawn into pits and crevaces by
capillary action. It will remove moisture, and even some rust. By itself,
WD-40 makes a very poot sealant since it evaporates quickly, however
sealing some of it into the steel's surface texture is far preferable
to trapping moisture there.
After applying the WD-40, be sure to remove as much of it as you can
and dry off the blade. This can be done by wiping away all of the excess,
until it seems that there is nothing left on the blade. At this point,
optionally, you may choose to also use a blow-dryer to dry the blade
as much as you can. However, trapping WD-40 under your new sealant coating
will not be harmful.
Now that the blade has had harmful moisture and skin-oils removed, it's
time to seal the blade. This should be done with a wax or oil that will
not react with the metal, and will remain on the blade for a long time
with a minimum of maintenance. This is where there appears to be the
greatest variation in people's preferences. And your choice may be affected
by how much you wish to handle the sword.
Renaissance Wax is a brand of wax designed specifically for this purpose.
It's a little expensive, but lasts a long time and does the job well,
while also applying smoothly and invisibly. However, it also contains a
mild polishing agent, which you may not want.
Turtle Wax works well, though it will leave a smeared surface unless you
rub it in to the point of being very thin. It is however very cost effective,
and if you don't handle it a lot, will protect for a long time.
Mineral oil does the job, but generally leaves a smeared or glossy/oily
surface. It's very inexpensive and easy to work with, but will not last
if you handle the sword.
Gun oil has the same advantages and issues as mineral oil.
Depending on what you've used and how often you handle your swords, as well
as the environment in which you keep them, you may need to re-apply the
sealant at regular intervals. If necessary, you may need to repeat the
entire process of cleaning the blade. Dish soap works very well to remove
the previous sealant layers, but you may find other household products
that work just as well. Use your best judgement.
Storage should also be considered. Storing swords in their scabbards is
frequently considered a bad thing, particularly leather scabbards, since
they will draw and trap moisture. However, if the blade is oiled up (and
perhaps thus coating the inside of the scabbard with oil), you may be fine.
Some more expensive scabbards might even have wool interiors whose natural
properties protect against rust.
Swords should not be stored in areas where they will be exposed to moisture.
This can include water vapor and microscopic droplets. Areas to avoid are
bathrooms, kitchens, and close proximity to aquariums. An aquarium with a
solid lid still generates unseen droplets and will induce rust surprisingly
quickly. Properly sealed, swords may still be OK in these areas. Again,
use your best judgement. Your results may vary.