Weapon Maintenance

We all love a good sword, or a nice axe, and that’s not just a Viking thing. Whenever we set up a living history display at shows the weapons and armour are always really popular, it seems that everyone wants to try on a helmet and pose for a photo holding a sword or an axe and scowling at the camera.

We love giving people the chance to do just that, but it’s important to remember that even gentle use like that can damage a weapon, just like using them in combat displays can.

So how do we keep our weapons in the best possible condition?

For a start, this being England it’s not at all unusual for events to feature a fair bit of rain, we can’t let a bit of weather stop the fun so it’s impossible to say your weapons will never get wet – so important point number one is to always make sure they are properly dry again before you put them away.  As Ford Prefect told us, always know where your towel is.

Tent next to a puddle - A very wet morning at a reenactment event.
Typical re-enactment site

It’s not just water that can provoke rust, greasy fingerprints are equally bad for your blade.  If it’s been part of a living history display you can pretty much guarantee that someone will touch it, healthy skin is coated in a naturally acidic grease, even if you can’t see it, it’s there and if left on a blade it will cause discoloration which can lead to rust and pitting.  Always remove the fingerprints at the end of the day, you can do this with water on a washing up sponge, an alcohol based wet wipe or if it’s really bad, a paste of biological washing powder.  Make sure any detergent is rinsed off and the metal is thoroughly dried after cleaning.

Second important point – keep the weapon in a scabbard or blade cover when not in use – prevention is a lot easier than cure. But if the inside of the scabbard is wet dry it out thoroughly before putting the weapon away.

If you have used the weapon in combat it will probably have clashed with other weapons and shield edges.  These kinds of impacts can damage the edge of the weapon, this can weaken the weapon making it more likely to break in later use, and can create sharp burrs that are dangerous to yourself and others.  Third important note – Weapons with sharp burrs are not permitted on the combat field as fully blunt edges are required for safety. 

After each use it is good practice to check the edges, if anything doesn’t feel perfectly smooth you can smooth the area with a file which will prevent a larger flaw from developing.  It’s useful to keep a file with your kit for this sort of quick maintenance as it can greatly prolong the life of your weapon.  Always file in the same direction, usually away from the centre of the blade. You will feel flaws even if they are too small to see so touch is the best way here – just remember to clean afterwards!

Sword edge with a burr from damage
That burr can cause injuries and leaves the weapon weakened

If you start to see areas of discoloration or rust you can remove them using a rust erasing block, the quicker you treat them the better so regular checks are essential.  If the rust is allowed to spread it will cause pitting and can eventually eat away at the metal.

Rusty axe head
Rusty axe head, definitely needs some love

If your weapon has removable parts, you should remove them for a thorough clean.  if it doesn’t just clean the visible surfaces. You shouldn’t force anything apart.

At least once a year, maybe after the last show of the season, give all of your weapons a thorough clean and apply a thin layer of mineral oil to the metal – it just needs a few drops of oil on a cloth (an old cotton sock works well) which you wipe all over the exposed metal.

It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort, but checking for damage after each use and following these few simple steps to keep your kit in order will ensure your weapons last for years.

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