Ceallach mac Donal - His Musings

Rust, Your equipment, and You.

(Because real Aristocrats have valets.)

By Lady Marie de Girau

"Water and oxygen combine with iron and form rust, replacing the metal and causing pits. The more metal that turns into rust, the weaker the blade gets. The resulting irregular surface is more vulnerable to rusting and the rusting accelerates. Keeping blades smooth and oiled helps slow down rust.
Nicks are also good places for rust to form. Having a sharp indentation on the edge of a blade greatly increases the stress in the steel at that point. If rust then starts eating away at the point of the nick, the nick gets pointier and the stress increases further. This can lead to broken blades."
-- Doņa Gwenneth Bowen Glamorgan

Rust is Bad

Rust weakens your practice blades and puts you and your opponent in danger. Rust can weaken your armor and put you in danger. Rust can also rub off on your gloves and clothes, putting your costumer in a very bad mood.

Rust makes you look shabby. "Everyone is presumed to be minor nobility when they join the SCA . . .” says the SCA.org FAQ. Being a member of the upper class comes with a certain requirement to look wealthy and well-cared for. Aristocrats of our time period would never be seen with rusty swords and helmets. They would have armies of servants to keep them looking sparkly. Others understood the importance of maintaining their equipment and worked to maintain it themselves. Even common soldiers understood that badly maintained equipment could well shorten their careers and lives.

Most of us do not have servants to maintain our equipment. We are busy people who rush directly from our day jobs to the evening fighter-practice. Afterward, we cram our sweaty armor into our sword cases, lock the case in our cars, and go out for burgers with our friends. Sometime the next day we might remember to unlock the trunk of our car and take the rapiers into the house. Weeks later, as we get dressed up for Queen's, we wonder how our swords got so . . . orange? And because we have no servants whose job it is to spend hours polishing the rust away, we just leave it there.

Cleaning up rusty equipment does not have to be labor-intensive. You don't need a full-time valet to maintain shiny armor -- you just need some preventive care and a few tricks.

Rust Removal for the Busy Aristocrat

Listed in order from least to most likely to leave scratches in your equipment:

1. Acid

Household acids such as lemon juice, onion juice, or vinegar, may remove light surface rusts. For tougher rust soak the steel in a solution of phosphoric acid that goes by the name "Diet Coke." I have found that one to three days of soaking will get most of the rust off. After a good long soak in Diet Coke, the rust is gone.

The downside of this method is that it requires soaking. You will not have good results if you decide, one hour before a tournament, to use Diet Coke to remove rust.

2. CLR

CLR is available in most hardware stores, some grocery stores, and under my kitchen sink. It's a relatively gentle solvent which will not harm the steel but helps break up the rust. Soak your equipment in CLR for a few hours or just scrub it in really well with a cloth. The rust will rub off gradually without leaving scratches in your blades or armor.

This method can be used in more of a hurry than the Diet Coke method. CLR will remove rust immediately, with no need to soak.

3. Steel Wool (use 0000), oil, and hard work

Very fine steel wool (grade 0000) is available in the paint section of most hardware stores or in hobby stores. I have read various recommendations of what sorts of oil to use --everything from gun oil to specialty oils with names like Rust Killer. I use olive oil from my kitchen.

Put oil on the rusty parts. Scrub with steel wool. Wipe off the oil and loose rust particles. If there is still rust, add more oil, and continue scrubbing. Scour until the sword is clean and shiny. After all of this work you will find yourself dedicated to preventing future rust infestations.

4. Sandpaper and hard work.

I generally avoid using sandpaper because of how deeply it can scratch the surface of the equipment. However, there are times when the gentler methods of cleaning just aren't aggressive enough. Of course, equipment in this condition could only come to your possession from someone else since your own equipment, naturally, is spotless.

You will need a variety of sandpaper grits starting with 150 and going to 400 or higher. Begin with the coarsest paper, 150, and sand sideways across the grain of the metal until you've removed as much rust as you can. Move on to the 200 grit and go lengthwise with the grain to remove more of the rust and also smooth out the scratches which were left by the 150 grit. Then move to 250 and go sideways again, smoothing out the scratches and removing leftover rust. Continue like this, moving up in grit number and changing the direction in which you sand, until you can barely see any scratches at all. You may choose to switch to steel wool and oil when you get to the end of the process.

Rust Prevention for the Busy Aristocrat.

Once you have removed the rust from your equipment, it's important to keep it rust-free.

1. First we need to clean off the results of your chosen cleaning method, whether it is sand-paper dust or leftover bits of CLR.

-- Denatured Alcohol cleans off the rust dust and the cleaning oil.
-- Paint-thinners (mineral spirits, turpentine, etc.) will clean off the chemical methods. Work in a well- ventilated area.

2. Dry the equipment by wiping it down with a clean cloth.

3. Coat the metal with sword wax, sword oil, gun oil, or Flitz Metal Polish.

This last step is crucial, because it repels moisture and prevents new rust from forming. I have found a nice thick coat of Flitz, buffed and polished, will protect my rapier for up to two years. I have no opinions on sword oil or gun oil, because I have never used them.

4. Keep water away from your equipment.

-- Only store a dry sword. When you get home from a rained-out fighter practice, open your case and wipe down all the equipment with a dry towel. If you really want to be fanatical, also wipe down your equipment each time you use it, whether it has rained or not (sweat also causes rust).
-- Do not cram your sweat soaked hood and doublet into the same rapier case where you carry your blades. Seriously -- stop doing that.