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Subject: Sword


From: David Harvey <top10dave>
Date: Friday, September 3, 1999
This is in reply to the query posted by Susan Fatemi in regards to
the cleaning of a japanese sword that is within her family. I
apologize to my knowledgeable colleagues on this list for
articulating the obvious but I find it always beneficial to respond
with sound advice for the many others out there who may have similar
questions on their minds.

The advice you received to apply oil to the surface is the usual
advice one sees offered about the preservation of Arms. You need to
be aware, however, of some potential problems with oils. Organic
oils contain fatty acids that can hydrolyze and sometimes
cross-link--creating corrosion in some instances, and an insoluble
coating in others. If you do choose to use an oil, use a synthetic
one that is non-ionic and fully reversible (no additives in the oil
whatsoever!). Oils can also saturate any other materials that come
into contact with it--so you would have to make sure that the oiled
sword did not have intimate contact with wood, leather, silk, ivory,
etc. Finally, oils trap dust particles which will soil the surface
and can also contribute to corrosion if not cleaned from the surface
on a regular basis.

You also need to beware of commercial polishes. They can be either
too abrasive, acidic, or alkaline which enables them to clean
surfaces rapidly but can eventually erode such details as the fine
watermarking on japanese swords. Polish residues, if left in place,
can also cause long-term damage.

Your best bet is to clean the surface with a solvent such as mineral
spirits in a well-ventilated area while wearing rubber gloves. If
there are some rust spots you can tend to them with 0000 steel wool
(The finest grade available) and then re-clean thoroughly with the
mineral spirits and a soft, clean rag. Take great care to only apply
the solvent to the steel and not up near the handle where other
materials may be present. (Be especially mindful & careful around
the nicks in the blade!)

Make sure to store the sword in as dry and dust-free environment
that you can find. If it has a scabbard keep it in there. Try not to
handle the blade with bare hands as the salts and acids on human
fingers can corrode and etch the metal. Keep flies away too! They
leave fly-specks that can cause tiny localized etched spots on

My best advice to you is to look at the surface of the sword (or any
other collectables) on a regular basis. Iron should be examined with
a bright direct light--a flashlight will do--because what may first
appear to be a dark patina can easily be seen as corrosion under the
proper lighting conditions.

If the steel develops more corrosion, or exhibits any other
noticeable change, call a conservator! We are always eager to help!

David Harvey
Metals & Arms Conservator
Williamsburg, Virginia  USA

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:20
               Distributed: Thursday, September 16, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-13-20-001
Received on Friday, 3 September, 1999

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