Stage weapons, like the real weapons after which they are modeled, are made primarily of steel, an incredibly strong, but by no means indestructible, substance. They can bend, chip, or break if abused or not properly cared for. Steel’s worst enemy is moisture (and the oxygen it contains), which causes rust that can weaken the metal, making it more likely to break. Rust is also unsightly and can stain costumes, so keep it at bay. Fortunately, avoiding rust is quite simple. Steel’s greatest ally is oil, which helps to clean and protect exposed portions from moisture as well as other corrosive substances such as the oils found in our skin. Handling a steel weapon bare handed can leave rusty fingerprints on steel within a few hours of handling. When selecting oil for your weapons, please choose a wipe on oil, as many spray-on oils (such as WD-40) will evaporate quickly, offering no lasting protection. Look for a light viscosity oil such as gun oil or, our favorite, Marvel Mystery Oil™, which is inexpensive, pleasantly scented, and available in the automotive section of many stores. The best “preventative medicine” is to wipe down all parts of the weapon with an oiled rag at the end of every rehearsal and performance or anytime the weapon is handled. Regular maintenance will help ensure that your weapon remains at its best and that you rarely ever have to actually scour away rust. As excessive dust may accumulate on your weapons and allow oxygen to penetrate the oil to the steel and thereby corrode your weapon, a periodic dusting and re-oiling is a good idea.
If, despite your best preventative efforts, surface rusting does occur, it can be removed with any one of a number of abrasives, such as sandpaper, erasing blocks, sanding sponges, or very fine grade steel wool. The most important thing is to use as fine grit as is possible; most abrasives can be found in “extra-fine” or “very-fine” grit and these will not only remove rust but can be used to polish the metal. Sanding sponges are the best as they allow a firm grip and will conform to fullers, ridges, and other irregular portions of the weapon. Begin with the finest grade possible. If the rust does not come off, apply a little more elbow grease… that usually does the trick. If there is a substantial bit of rust, you can use a medium or coarse grit to start and then do successive cleanings with finer grits to fade out the scratching that the coarse abrasives will cause. Be sure to oil the weapon thoroughly after cleaning.
If the weapon is to be stored untouched for long periods of time, we would recommend a paste wax finish be applied to the steel components. Renaissance Wax™ is a great product, if a little expensive, and most paste wax for cars will work as well if you are up for the work. A thorough coating with oil should also do the trick. The key is to allow no oxygen to get to the weapon to start corrosion.
Nicks and Dings
Another common maintenance issue that may arise is the development of small nicks in the blade of the weapon called burrs. These burrs are the result of the blades striking together with excessive force. Note that proper stage combat techniques as taught by trained professional Fight Directors (such as those endorsed by the SAFD), and performed correctly by the actors, should lessen if not eradicate the need for this sort of maintenance. If your blades continually develop deep nicks then it is likely that the actors are hitting too hard. For recommendations of qualified personnel in your area please contact us at any time.
That being said, a flat metal file (do not machine grind!) is all that is needed to smooth away these burrs, which can become as sharp and dangerous as a saw blade. These burrs present an obvious danger to both skin and costumes but there is another potential issue: Subsequent strikes in the same spot can deeply notch the steel and create a weak spot that could cause the blade to break. A daily check will keep the burrs to a minimum and also alert the Fight Director or fight captain to actors that might need a little help in controlling their weapons. When de-burring, make sure to file as little as possible to avoid excess wear on the blade and be careful that you are not sharpening the blade as you do so. Again, it cannot be overstated, that there is nothing better than having a knowledgeable Fight Director’s guidance.
Many of our swords and daggers are assembled with a threaded tang (the part of the blade that passes through the grip), which screws into the pommel (the round or cylindrical piece that holds the hilt together and counterbalances the blade). This allows the weapon to be disassembled if necessary to replace the blade or other parts of the hilt. Before using the weapon, check to make sure that the pommel is on securely. Note that the pommel should only be on “hand tight” and should never be tightened with a wrench, vise, pliers, or any other tool.
Leather scabbards, hangers, and frogs may be treated with any good quality leather cleaner/preservative such as mink oil or neatsfoot oil. Leather grips on weapons should be allowed to age naturally. Wire wrapped grips should stay clean with a minimum of care and may be oiled lightly when the rest of the weapon is wiped down at the end of the day. If the grips do get oil on them, be sure to wipe them with a dry cloth before rehearsal or performance as this could make the weapon slippery!
See below for special information regarding the care and maintenance of steel shields.
Swords, daggers, and other weapons are tools that were designed by humans for use against other humans who tend to be rather soft and yielding. Even the heavily armored knights of the 15th century presented a target with a hard outer layer but that ultimately “gave” a little when struck. What they were NOT designed for is striking concrete walls, chopping down trees, smashing unwanted furniture or automobiles, or swinging full force into an opposing weapon. These activities will eventually destroy any sword no matter when or how it was made. Even weapons designed for stage combat cannot hold up to this type of abuse.
Finally, there is no substitute for having a trained and qualified Fight Director to instruct your actors in the care and use of these or any weapons. The Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD), Fight Directors Canada (FDC) and the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat (BASSC) are excellent resources. Another great resource in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area is Combat Incorporated located in Manhattan, NY. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.