Although people think of sword as being powerful pieces of steel that are virtually indestructible, swords are not indestructible and need to undergo care and maintenance to remain in optimal serviceable condition. This is something that is stressed to the members of New Ulster Steel Fighting training in the New Ulster Fighting System. Furthermore, the basic methods of maintenance described herein can be used for any number of different edged weapon types.
Here are some very simple ways by which you can take care of your sword that will take relatively little time to complete should you practice regular sword maintenance after each training session. The maintenance methods described here are meant for use on weapons that are made for martial artists that train with “live” steel or those of whom perform choreographed stage fights. This means that the weapons have blades with blunt and dull edges and tips. NO sharp edges. So, DO NOT use all of these cleaning techniques on your sharp sword (especially the hammering part). You will ruin the edge. But, if you use a weapon made for “live” steel training or stage fighting, this article is for you. The tools to be used are basic and inexpensive. Use a metal file, standard hammer, small sanding pad, WD-40 oil/lubricant, and a clean rag.
One of the first rules of proper blade care is to not touch the blade of your sword with your bare hands. The reasoning is that your body’s natural oils secreted by your skin will leave marks on your blade that are very prone to rusting. So it is always important to wear gloves when handling your sword. There are certain styles of sword combat that call for handling the blade as well as the sword handle, thus gloves being important for blade care as well as care for your hands when in action. If for some reason your blade does get touched with bare hands, wipe it off with a dry rag and then spray the blade with WD-40 or another prefered oil and gently wipe down the blade with a rag. I use cloth baby diapers or an old t-shirt.
Another thing you should never do is stick the tip of your sword into the ground so that the ground is holding up your sword. This is bad for a couple of very important reasons. Firstly, you may get moisture or stains from ground vegetation as well as mud on your sword, increasing the chances of rusting. Secondly, you need to remember that free-roaming animals such as cats (and a multitude of other animals) can leave their fecal matter or urine on the ground wherever they go. You may not know it, but you may be sticking your sword into it. Again, bad for your blade, but also extremely bad for your sparring partner if your blade ends up scratching or cutting them even the slightest bit. So, while people may think it is cool the stick their sword into the ground so the Earth can hold up their sword for them while they adjust their uniform,gear, or simply talk with someone, it is unclean and dangerous. NEVER stick your blade into the ground like that.
At the completion of a training session the first thing I do is to remove any dirt, sweat or any other foreign materials that may be on my blade, crossguard or pommel with a rag. The rag can be damp when doing this, but be sure to dry off the steel parts of the weapon once the foreign materials are removed. The next step is to take a metal file and slide it down the edges of the blade and file off any barbs or jagged blade bits that you may come across. You will do this on either side of the blade’s edges. Once you have finished the filing stage you will tap the blunt edges of your blade with a hammer. This compacts any extra barbs or jagged parts of the blade that may have been missed or were unable to be taken care of completely with filing. DO NOT pound of the sword with the hammer. Firmly tapping with the hammer is the correct way to conduct this stage of maintenance. Once the filing and hammering are completed, the next step is sanding. Search for any areas of your blade, crossguard or pommel that looks stained or appear to be at risk of rusting. When I find such an area I apply the sanding pad. Again, be sure your sanding pad or paper is of a very fine grit that is made for sanding metal. The pressure you apply should be light. It is important to understand that this may leave some level of scratching on the blade, or may at least cause a difference in the gloss or matte finish on the blade in the area sanded. But, this for the members of New Ulster Steel Fighting has been the most effective way of dealing with rust or other blemishes. So, if you have another prefered method of doing this by all means do so, but our swords have met with no functional impairments nor do we feel it has made our swords any less appealing to the eyes. Once you have sanded the spots, wipe the blade with a dry rag to remove any dust particles. Then spray the blade with oil.
I hold my sword by the handle with the blade pointing down when I spray it with WD-40. This allows the oil to run down the length of the blade. Then I gently wipe down the blade with a rag. Wipe lighting enough to coat the blade, pommel and crossguard with the oil. Do not wipe it all off. You want to leave a light coat of oil on the sword’s metal parts. Once you have finished this wipe-down you are at the last stage of sword maintenance. Next up, storage.
You want to store your sword or other bladed weapons in a dry and secure place. Also, be sure to never store your sword inserted into its scabbard. Most people believe this is okay, but believe it or not depending on the temperature, humidity and length of time in the scabbard, your sword may actually “sweat” inside of the scabbard or sheath and cause rusting. Your scabbard or sheath is for use when you are carrying your sword on your person or transporting it. And finally, secure your sword in a safe place where it is out of the reach of children or any other people not designated permission to handle it. This is a paramount safety practice that can prevent injury or death. Always secure your sword/s and other weapons in a safely secured and locked up area.
Again, these methods are NOT for sharp-edged weapons. The filing and hammering will almost certainly RUIN a sharp weapon’s edge. Likewise the same fate is true for a display weapon. Do not use these methods. Provided your sword is made of at least good quality steel (high carbon steel) and is forged for actual steel-on-steel training use or stage combat rather than a less expensive and lesser quality display sword, following these steps for sword or bladed weapons care can assist you in keeping your sword in service for a long time.
By: Jefferson P. Webb