The antique sword business is without a doubt booming, but it’s unlikely you’d want your own swords to have an antiquated look ahead of their time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the sword maintenance advice out there, some of which is just plain wrong, counterproductive, or misleading.
For example, you may come across articles which advise you to use WD40 to prevent rust on your newly purchased sword. However, an experienced sword collector would most likely advise against such a choice. Because of advice like this, it's easy to understand why a beginner might be confused.
Truth be told, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will help you care for your sword. The best method depends on the type of sword, how it’s being used, how it’s being stored, and the climate and conditions the sword is subjected to.
However, there are a few basic tenants of sword care which you can use to find the best solution for your unique circumstance.
Cleaning Your Sword
One of the few good points about owning a stainless steel sword is that they are pretty much rust-proof, which means you need only to wipe them down and occasionally reinvigorate the shine with a spot of window cleaner.
If you own a much better-quality katana or other type of sword that is made from carbon steel, then you need to give it a bit more consideration to prevent rust. You’ll often find that sword manufacturers will coat newly forged swords with a lot of grease - this is to prevent rust while the sword is stored or during transit.
When you receive your new sword, one of the first duties you’ll want to perform is to remove the manufacturer-applied grease. This is easy to do with a lint-free cloth and a dot of rubbing alcohol. Do not use alcohol on any coloured or plated blades are the alcohol can strip the plating.
Quick word of warning: take care when cleaning. A new sword is likely a sharp sword and can easily cause injury for those not paying attention. This is one job where you’ll want to have your full attention on the task at hand, especially if you’re new to handling swords as they can be cumbersome.
You’ve cleaned your sword, and you now have a shiny beautiful katana, but the blade is now vulnerable to the elements, so it’s time to apply some oil.
How frequently you’ll need to oil your sword will depend a great deal on your climate. In a temperate zone you might find that a monthly application is more than sufficient, whereas if you’re in a humid environment, you may find yourself reapplying oil weekly.
If you'd like to get some oil, this maintenance kit on Amazon comes with some, as well as many other helpful tools.
Long Term Options
If you’re looking to store your sword for a long period of time, you’ll no doubt want to consider a longer-term alternative.
One very easy and cheap option is to cover your sword in a liberal coating of petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Just get the store-brand stuff, it does as good a job as the name-brands. Once coated, wrap your sword in oily rags and store it in a dry, cool space. You’ll still want to inspect the sword periodically, but this treatment should last at least a year.
If you can get your hands on it, Renaissance Wax is a brilliant option for long term storage. Renaissance Wax was developed by the British Museum for exactly the purposes of long term storage, so it definitely works.
To use renaissance wax, you simply apply a small amount using a cloth. The beauty of the wax is that it dries hard, and will protect your sword from rust for years. It’s very easy to remove as well, as a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a few minutes work will take it off. You can buy renaissance wax from amazon here.
It goes without saying that if you use your sword, it’s going to end up with scratches, there’s just no avoiding it.
For every day shallow scratches, I cannot recommend Metal Glo enough. It just works, and it’s perfect for polishing and buffing out small scratches. Having tried several other similar products, none have come close. Do not use this on any coloured blade that has been plated as it will ruin the plating.
- Don’t store your sword in a leather scabbard. Leather will trap moist air which will cause your sword to rapidly rust. Wooden scabbards can breath and should not cause any issues.
- If possible, avoid touching the metal blade directly. The acid in your fingers can stain the metal over time.
- Wooden handles need to be cared for with tung or lemon oil to prevent drying out and cracking.
- Leather scabbards or parts need to be treated with leather paste to keep them from cracking.
- Common oils that can be used include Machine Oil, also called Sewing Machine Oil or 3 in 1, Liquid Paraffin or Mineral Oil, and, if you can get it, Choji Oil.
- Avoid spilling oil on leather as it can cause the leather to rot.