C19th Sabre Restoration

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C19th Sabre Restoration

Postby MattS » 01 Apr 2016 09:09

People seemed interested in my tulwar restoration thread, so here’s a similar one on cleaning up a sabre.

I purchased a very black patinated Royal Artillery officer’s sabre, made by Wilkinson and owned by Lt Col Sir William Frederick Travers O’Connor, from Mr Admin. Unlike the tulwar in my other thread this sword has etching on its blade, so it was a bit trickier to clean up. The etching also looks like it had been heavy polished originally and is now pretty shallow and in some places, like the edges of the fuller, it was virtually worn away completely. I chose to leave the hilt with its deep patina, because I quite like it looking like that, however had I wanted to polish that up the same process I used on the tulwar would have worked here too.

The sword was very dull overall with sections of pitted thick corrosion. This is a camera-phone shot of it when I first put it on my workbench:
ArrivalCondition.JPG (157.97 KiB) Viewed 1474 times

The process for this one was:
1) Very light sanding with a fine sanding sponge, used wet with some WD40 (Window cleaner would also have worked, but I had the WD40 to hand).
2) Some of the really corroded areas took some wet and dry paper to get rid of, for that I used 600 grit again wet with WD40. Try and keep that as localised as possible to the area you want to remove, and stop when you stop getting thick brown sludge. I didn’t use a sanding block and just wrapped my finger in the wet and dry paper, that makes it slightly less abrasive and you can control the area you’re sanding a bit easier.
3) I applied Autosol with an old toothbrush, making sure to really scrub it in and get into all the etching. If it’s doing something you should see it turn from white to dirty dark grey.
4) The Autosol was then removed with fine wire wool and buffed up with an old sock (I’m sure other cloths would work too :D).
5) I repeated steps 3 and 4 only using Brasso instead of Autosol. I’m not entirely sure this is necessary but it did seem to make a difference and the two polishes do work differently.
6) I repeated the same steps a 3rd time, but using oil (I used 3 in 1) instead of the polishing compounds this time.
7) There was so much corrosion and dirt built up in the proof plug hole that I took a little steel pick to it. After a lot of scraping and picking I uncovered the proof plug and found all the detail on it, I did also use a little Brasso and the polishing sock to shine that up (I like my proof plugs shiny).
8) After all that I covered the blade in window cleaner and wiped it down with a paper shop towel, that cleaned off all the remaining particulate, polishes and oils.
9) For the scabbard I used some Brasso on the white brass chape and some ‘neutral’ coloured leather polish on the leather. I buffed both the brass and leather with a jaycloth to give them a nice shine. This didn’t alter the patinated look of the leather and it still looks suitably old, but it did give it a nice sheen and of course protects the leather.

Through all of it, keep a very close eye on the etching, it’s really easy to polish it away completely. I erred on the side of having more patina but retaining the detail of the etching. That’s why I didn’t use a buffer for this project, it would have been too easy to buff away some of the details and by only doing the polishing manually you can keep a better eye on it and stop before you ruin the blade.

As people always ask; in total it took me about 5.5 hours to clean up the blade and a further half an hour to polish up the leather scabbard.

Here’s a couple of lightbox dSLR glamour photos after I was finished:
20160327-1821ArtillerySabre (Small).jpg
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20160327-1821ArtillerySabre-3 (Small).jpg
20160327-1821ArtillerySabre-3 (Small).jpg (62.55 KiB) Viewed 1474 times

I hope that’s inspired some of you to have a go at bringing an old sword back to life. You can pick up some bargains because the majority of collectors want the shiny ones and ignore the dirty blades. This sword for instance has a huge amount of history to it and its owner seems to have been quite significant. I’m still researching but so far I’ve found lots of information including a recollection of O’Connor fighting in a battle during the Younghusband 'expedition' to Tibet, getting seriously wounded by enemy fire and blowing up his hip flask in the process.
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Re: C19th Sabre Restoration

Postby admin » 18 Apr 2016 16:44

Great stuff :)

I like swords more than you.
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Re: C19th Sabre Restoration

Postby MattS » 25 Apr 2016 17:05

Thanks Matt! It's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than it was.

I'm still researching O'Connor (and substantiating various claims I found in obituaries etc), but I think I'm going to write some kind of article or maybe a wiki page about him. More on that probably in a different thread in the future....
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