Cleaning or Restoration of a Sword
Posted 05 June 2009 - 09:44 AM
I thought I would show the sword and talk about edged weapon cleaning and conservation as opposed to restoration. Here is the sword as it came to me from a plumber who took it in as trade for some plumbing work.
The sword is an Ames Sword Company presentation grade sword with a highly chased custom hilt and white metal grip. Notice the age patina and dull gilt over the brass castings. Also notice that there is old white powder residue, particularly on the grip, from ages old polishing. There is no damage that needs restoration and nothing is missing that needs to be replaced. While there is no damage to repair the sword was in need of conservation and stabilization.
Before I do anything, I first evaluate the condition of the sword and and decide how I want it to look when I am done. I decided that I wanted this sword to retain some age patina and that I did not want to polish it because it seemingly retains more than 50% of its original finish under the dirt and grunge. So, with that in mind, I decided to slowly clean the hilt to determine what finish remained and to remove the old cleaner/polish residue and dirt.
I cleaned the hilt outside with ammonia and a soft tooth brush. Only use ammonia outside and use a mask or you will have a sinus headache that you will remember for some time and your wife will continue to remind you to go outdoors for years. I start in an inconspicuous place, in this case the underside of the clamshell guard, to test how it will look when clean. This way if I overclean the underside I can lighten up on the other areas. I clean a small area at a time before I move on to something else. I cleaned the underside of the guards then stopped. I then cleaned the top of the guards and then stopped. I then move on the D guard, then the pommel, etc. I saved the grip for last because it was a different metal than the gilt brass. This process usually takes days. I found that I have the best results if I stop between areas such as the hilt and the scabbard so I can examine the process and determine if I want to clean further or stop. These self enforced stopping points are necessary for me or I tend to get carried away and overclean.
Posted 05 June 2009 - 09:51 AM
Posted 05 June 2009 - 09:57 AM
Posted 05 June 2009 - 09:58 AM
Posted 05 June 2009 - 03:00 PM
I've also found that Varsol on Q-tips or a soft baby's toothbrush does a good job of removing built-up grime without removing orginal patina on the brass or harming gilt.
Edited by Varangian, 05 June 2009 - 03:01 PM.
Posted 05 June 2009 - 05:08 PM
Posted 06 June 2009 - 07:14 AM
One of the reasons I opted to keep the patina on the hilt and scabbard is the blade. It is gilt and there is not much cleaning that one can do without destroying the remaining fragile gilt finish.
I just have to live with the age and spotting to the blade and if the exterior is too polished up the blade does not look the same as the rest of the sword.
Posted 06 June 2009 - 07:33 AM
Your sword collection is outstanding! It isn't an area in which I collect, but I can certainly appreciate the time and effort you place on these beautiful items. Thanks for sharing!
Posted 27 July 2014 - 11:44 AM
I wanted to bring this topic back in order to continue to discuss the cleaning, repair, and restoration of edged weapons. While I am talking about cleaning a sword, this discussion could apply to any edged weapon.
Collectors should know the difference in simply cleaning rust, grunge, or patina and repair or restoration. Cleaning removes something that was not originally on the sword such as dirt or grime. Sometimes it is best to leave old grime (sometimes called age patina) as that will give the best appearance to the object. My rule of thumb is not to remove any finish that is aproximately 51% or more there. You have to ask if the appearance will be improved and if not I generally elect to leave it alone. The removal of rust depends upon if it is active (red) rust or inactive (black) rust. Active rust should generally be removed or neutralized. Inactive rust has already done all the damage it will do and is no longer eating away at your blade when exposed to air. Some collectors of dug artifacts coat the iron or steel with something akin to microcrystaline wax to seal the rust and corrosion away from air to ensure it remains inactive.
An example of not removing age patina is this example of an early nickel silver US Model 1902 Army Officer Saber made at Springfield Armory. I elected to leave the 100+ years of patina on this sword because it is about 98% and not unattractive... at least to me. I know what it would look like cleaned up and I see no compelling reason to clean it. Another reason is that it has unit markings on the backstrap and the patina shows that the engraving has been on the sword for a very long time.
Posted 27 July 2014 - 12:00 PM
I would also like to point out that after taking these photographs I did perform some repair on this sword. You will notice that the outside branch of the guard is bent into the next branch of the guard. I debated for a time with myself the pros and cons of restoring this branch to its original position. After considerable thought I decided to do the repair and restore the outside branch to its original position. I did this knowing the hilt and scabbard were soft nickel alloy and probably would bend without breaking as there was no visible crack. I took the calculated risk and was able to reshape the guard. This is clearly a repair but an invisible one to the naked eye. I removed nor added anything to the sword that was not there when it left Springfield Armory. It should be clearly understood however that this was not conservation but was repairing something that can be seen as damage.
Posted 28 July 2014 - 08:40 AM
Collectors should recognize that sometimes it is best to do nothing at all in the way of cleaning or restoration. Always remember that once you have removed grime or patina it is gone forever. Generally speaking cleaning is something that cannot be reversed so think hard and long before you act has always been my motto.
Here is another example of a decision not to clean a sword. This early Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) CW veterans sword was coated with shellac long ago. This was done by the owner to protect the original finish and it has subsequently turned a golden hue due to the inherent ingredients of old shellac This coating is not like the age patina on the M1902 Saber above. This coating is something that was never meant to be on this sword, it did not come from the factory with shellac all over it, and it is not a product of age, except it has turned a somewhat attractive golden color over time. I elected not to disturb the shellac and to leave it in place. If I remove it the old shellac will be gone forever but on the other hand it can still be removed at any time in the future. I have elected to go with the medical advice of, "do no harm" and leave the applied finish in place.
Edited by SARGE, 28 July 2014 - 08:45 AM.
Posted 28 July 2014 - 09:48 AM
Sarge, you are WAY out of my league...beautiful work!
Oh, Sarge mentions safety regarding ammonia.
I work in Intensive Care and Emergency...
Ammonia is FATAL to the body
It is an incredibly toxic substance to the body
As mentioned, use outside, mask (respirator preferred), gloves, eye protection
I beg you, please stop using it at the first sign of headache...
It is very, very dangerous in its pure form
Posted 30 July 2014 - 08:25 AM
Thanks for the kudos ka bar and thanks as well for the warning concerning the use of ammonia. As you say, it is not something to use lightly so take precautions if you use it.
We have covered cleaning but not the next step, which is repair or restoration. Repairing something that is broken is an attempt to restore the sword to something akin to its original condition. Replacing missing wire in the grip wrap would be an example of restoration. You are adding something to the sword that was originally there but is now missing. This is a step that should be carefully considered. Do you have the wire? Do you have the expertise to properly replace the wire? How do you want the grip to look when you are finished? Restortion is not conservation!
Here is a before example of a Model 1872 US Artillery Officer Saber with some problems. Somewhere along the line someone painted the sharkskin grips white. The blade of the sword was also bent. The sword also has some active rust on the scabbard so it needs to be cleaned and repaired.
Posted 30 July 2014 - 08:53 AM
The blade restoration was not much of a problem. It was bent sideways and I was able to slowly straighten it without breaking it. This was done by placing it a slot between two wooden boards, so it would not be scratched, and slowly bending it in several places along the area of the bend in order to bend it back to straight. This is a restoration and not conservation. The nickeled blade finish was dull so I polished it using semi-chrome. The semi-chrome will polish the plated blade bright and leaves a thin protective coating. Other polishes will do the same thing to brighten the blade. This blade was etched with the name of the original owner so one must be careful not to over-polish that area particularly if it is gilt or blued.
The paint was a particularly vexing problem and I tried several things on it. I did not want to use a caustic paint stripper that could damage the sharkskin wrap. I tried turpentine but it did not work as the paint was too old and stubborn. I tried an organic paint stripper and it sort-of worked but would not remove all the paint. In the long run I was able to remove the paint from the brass without leaving spots and I was able to blend the very stubborn paint into the sharkskin grip so the appearance was improved.
The scabbard had most of the original nickel plate but the plating had many spotted places where it had lifted and rust had formed on those areas. I first used 0000 fine steel wool to clean the plating and get into the crusty areas close to the brass fittings. I then used Brasso on the scabbard body making sure to avoid getting it on the brass as I wanted to retain the age patina on all of the brass which had lost its original gilt. I chose Brasso because it tends to penetrate the plating and get to the underlying steel on the scabbard body. Again, it also leaves a protective film to keep air away from any remaining rust. One must also be careful with Brasso as it has ammonia and is fairly agressive so use it with care on subborn problems only. The scabbard wound up looking better and the rusting was curtailed.
Posted 04 August 2014 - 07:05 AM
I am pinning this edged weapon cleaning thread for future reference. There is also a general topic area on preservation that looks at other material culture items made of metal, leather, etc. that the reader might find useful through use of the search feature.
Posted 04 August 2014 - 07:44 PM
A great tutorial;thank you for posting it. I have found that a good way to remove minor rust spotting without doing any damage to the surrounding metal is to rub the spot gently with a #2 lead pencil.Amazingly the rust comes away rather quickly.A good source is large diameter(2mm)lead drafting pencil such as is made by Staedtler. They are reasonable in price(under $10 US)and the good thing about them is the lead can be used to clean out the inside of a pocket knife;especially in the backspring area.
Posted 09 April 2015 - 07:01 AM
Some great tips, Thanks Guy's! Sarge your photo's of the Model 1872 Artillery Officer's Saber solved the "What Is It" identity dilemma I have had over a sword that has hung at our Legion Post for ages. Odd that it is so plain in look being an Officers. My Grandfather was in a unique position at "West Point" where he collected or was sent 'Bladed Weapons' by former Cadets during their Army Careers. I now have the time to try and make sense of them along with the bayonets. My early interest in them was brought to a "Screeching Halt" at about the age of 5 when I was caught 'dueling' with the Family Couch. "No more Sword Barrel for you Mister." A 'tip' I discovered when presented with a CW Naval Officers Sword with the leather scabbard in two pieces was that "Super Glue" didn't work. Not on the first try anyways, but what it did do was soak into the old leather, harden and later when I tried the glue again and it bonded as good as any Weld. There was a bulge on one side that with a sharp knife I all but removed and colored the plain leather with a black Sharpie (rubbing as with stain). I left the small imperfection so as not to deceive because the bond was seamless.
Posted 07 May 2015 - 06:58 AM
Thanks for your kudos on this thread. I am glad that the photos of the Model 1872 Artillery Officer Saber helped you identify your unknown saber.
I will point out that the saber that I show belonged to General Wiloughby Walke who wore it as an Artillery Officer in the 3rd Battalion Artillery during the Spanish-American War. Walke was an expert on explosives and published works, including a standard manual, for the US Artillery School, where he was a lecturer. Brigadier General Walke also served as Commanding Officer of the Middle Atlantic Coast Artillery during WWI.
Posted 13 June 2017 - 06:43 PM
Thank you for the Varsol tip.
I had never heard of that before.
I am with you in that less is better.
I like natural patina, but not the dirt and grunge.
I have always used sudesing ammonia which is great for gilt areas.
Next time at the H. Depot I will pick up some Varsol and give it a try.
Posted 16 June 2017 - 06:17 AM
Thanks David. I am happy the thread is helpful. I still have not tried Varsol but if you do please let us know how it worked out for you.
Posted 16 June 2017 - 08:08 AM
I think your going to have a difficult time getting Varsol these days in the U.S.. Some people use the name interchangeably with "white mineral spirits", but chemically they aren't exactly the same.
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