Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Bob A 7th June 2019 11:10 PM

Repair/resto question
I have an old Sudanese dagger from the Mahdist era, with the typical etched inscriptions and a bone hilt, nicely wrapped in fine copper wire.

However, the resin or goop that was used to secure the blade is missing on one side. Even though the blade is fastened to the hilt, there has begun some slight movement over the years.

My question is, what ought I to use to fill the gap, to keep the whole construct from loosening further? The dagger is fairly commonplace, of course, but even so it deserves some respect toward originality and perhaps even reversability.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions and insights.

Battara 7th June 2019 11:28 PM

It's probably black pitch. Not unusual. I would restore it with new black pitch.

BTW - please post pictures of the piece. Can tell more with pictures.

ariel 8th June 2019 01:02 AM

BTW, where can one get black pitch?

I fixed a couple of Tulwars with very old mastique and wobbly blades with a molten old sealing wax mixed with powdered brick. Exactly the same recipe that was used originally: shellack + a little wax + ceramic powder.

Battara 8th June 2019 02:39 AM

Thanks Ariel for that. One place to acquire black pine pitch is Germany. However, you can also color red jeweler's pitch (which I have done in the past).

kahnjar1 8th June 2019 05:04 AM

There is a product on the market here marketed by Selleys called KNEADIT. It's polymer compound which sets HARD. Available from hardware shops.
Very easy to mix and to position. Can be filed, drilled and generally reworked as one would a piece of any metal.

Bob A 8th June 2019 07:09 AM

A quick look for black pitch came up empty. Pine tar can be had, but it's viscous liquid at room temperature.

Jeweler's red pitch is available, in pound quantities, but it seems to have a 110 degree F melting point, which might be a little low for the intended purpose.

Information on raising melting points would be of interest.

Sealing wax is readily available.

Bob A 8th June 2019 04:22 PM

5 Attachment(s)
Pictures as requested.

A. G. Maisey 8th June 2019 09:04 PM

I'd de-mount/re-mount using damar +bees wax + powdered terracotta.

Bob A 9th June 2019 03:37 PM

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Dismounting might be a bit problematic. The tang extends through a horn end cap and is peened over. (See picture)

Ebay has a lot of damar, in a wide variety of colors. India seems to supply "black" damar; I suspect it's just in a less refined state than the rest. I am led to believe it is synonymous with Benzoin, an incense of which I have a few ounces left over from the 1960s.

I also assume the melting point would be high enough to prevent problems; stuff seems pretty solid.

A. G. Maisey 10th June 2019 12:33 PM

Yes Bob, that peened tang would present a problem.

So patch. This jabung mix can be handled with bare hands, you make up the mix, heat it to fluid, then let it cool down until you can pick up a piece that is just warm enough to handle like putty. Roll a little bit, more than sufficient to fill the hole, between your fingers, push it into the hole, then heat up a little piece of steel, something like a nail, grip it with vice grips, and apply the hot steel to the jabung to melt it and let it penetrate the hole. When it is set, but not yet hard, use a bit of sharp wood to cut off the excess, clean up around the fill with mineral turpentine and a hard toothbrush.

Bob A 10th June 2019 03:15 PM

Thanks, Alan.

I'm assuming you're referring to the damar/wax/brick dust mixture as jabung? I'm ordering some damar, and I'll experiment with proportions once it gets here.

Sounds rather like fun, actually, and I certainly appreciate the details in your post. Life becomes much smoother when following the tracks of those gone before.

mross 10th June 2019 03:57 PM

I have used this to good effect;

A. G. Maisey 10th June 2019 09:13 PM

I like the sound of that Birch stuff.

Yes, Bob, in Jawa we call this mix jabung, it is pretty much the standard adhesive for all handles that are intended to stay put, The damar we use is called "damar selo" = "rock damar" and it needs to be melted in a pot over fire, it is very highly inflammable and the gas it gives off takes your breath away. It will stick to your skin if still liquid, and you can burnt severely by it, so when using it you stir the liquid jabung with a stick until it doesn't drip off, then you can handle it like putty with your bare hands. You need to work very quickly.

Of course, these days most people in Jawa use a modern adhesive like one of the super glues or one of the two part epoxy resins, and they colour these with iron filings as required.

In fact, it has been standard practice in Jawa to use two part epoxy resin between the blade and the gonjo of old keris, where this gap has opened up, since this adhesive appeared on the market there, more than 50 years ago. The reason for its use is to assist preservation:- if the gap between blade & gonjo is sealed it helps to prevent further deterioration.

Bob A 10th June 2019 09:48 PM

Yeah, the birch stuff is interesting. Apparently currently unavailable.

Thanks for the clarification, Alan. I'm sort of shocked that epoxy would be used; it seems to me that reversibility is compromised, but I am far from certain on that score.

Seems to be lots of variation regarding damar. The benzoin incense melts and enters a gaseous state pretty rapidly if I recall correctly; smells nice, but then we used a few crumbs on a charcoal cake, with the vapor being the objective of the exercise. I'm planning to get some black damar from India, we'll see how that works. I also ordered a couple sticks of black sealing wax. I'll probably make little batches of each suggested compound before trying a repair, just to see how each one turns out.

A. G. Maisey 10th June 2019 10:10 PM

Yeah Bob, most people are shocked to learn that people in places once considered the "Ends of the Earth" moved into the same practices as people in other places, a long time ago.

Thing is this:- for concerned Javanese, the important thing is to conserve their heritage, and modern methods and materials do that far better than the old ways. The climate there is terrible, the humidity during the wet season seeps into cameras and causes corrosion. Its not really hot, usually only low to mid thirties Celsius, but the humidity is sufficient to cause you to sweat if you even think about work.

Epoxy resins do a pretty much permanent job on wood, once you use epoxy on wood its there forever, you want to remove it, you need to remove a thin layer of the original material along with the epoxy, but on metal, especially ferric material, its easy to get off, Araldite softens and peels at +/-200C, it dissolves with acetone.

ariel 10th June 2019 11:02 PM

Birch tar as chewing gum is a sure prescription for mouth cancer.
Vishnevsky’s ointment was widely used by Russian docs during WWII, because they had nothing else, but it is no longer in use even in Russia after ~ 80s-90s: bad irritation of the granular tissue with exaggerated scar formation and potential development of skin cancer after long term use. It had no antibacterial effect: to get it, Dr. V. recommended adding streptocid , a sulfa antibacterial. Scientifically, it did not differ much from the old Cossack recipe: a mix of gunpowder, earth and spider webs, chewed up and applied to the wound. My guess that more Cossacks died from tetanus than from their wounds since soil is chock full of Clostridium tetani. Add to it oral flora from saliva, and gangrene is highly likely.

ariel 10th June 2019 11:24 PM

Several times I had to fix wobbly Tulwar handles. Went into great lengths to acquire old sealing wax ( new ones are made not on the base of shellac, but are purely synthetic), melt it, crush a piece of old brick, put the mixture into the opening.... Did not dare using epoxy: too modern.

And here Alan nonchalantly mentions the cursed substance as a godsent answer to my prayers and just tells me that all my museum-grade efforts were for naught!

Seriously, folks, do you think that using epoxy for restoring old weapons is ethical? Please say yes, take a weight off my shoulders?

Bob A 11th June 2019 12:43 AM

Seriously, as long as the epoxy process is reversible without damage, it seems reasonable to so utilise the stuff.

Personally, I have no idea whether the original compounds are deleterious to the blades and supporting structures; it may be that epoxy is superior in that regard.

There remains a part of me that feels that original, traditional materials provide a sort of integrity in repair and restoration. While that may just be the romantic in me, I'm certain that in many areas of endeavor this would be the touchstone. I've seen folks use magnets to determine whether body repairs to vintage automobiles were accomplished with Bondo or lead (Pb) rather than by properly re-forming the underlying metal.

I remain of two minds whether I will go forward with tradition or take the road of Better Living Through Chemistry, having already ordered black damar.

A. G. Maisey 11th June 2019 12:47 AM

Depends on how we look at things Ariel.

If I wear my Born & Bred in Oz Hat, and I take note of all the books & papers & conversations with Dedicated Collectors of Just About Everything, as well as the conversations with Museum Based Restorators whom I have trained, well then, the only way to restore or repair anything is by using the same methods & materials that were in use at the time and place where the object to be restored was made.

That's one way of looking at the question, and it is my way for looking at some of the things that I have needed to repair or restore during my lifetime.

In fact, in respect of two part epoxy resins like Araldite, I have long held the opinion that it should not be permitted to be sold to anybody who has not completed a certificate course in its use.

A very dear friend of mine, who was widely regarded as the doyen of Australian edged weapon collectors went a little further. His opinion was that anybody who used Araldite on any antique object should be taken outside, stood against a convenient wall, and shot. He was a hard man.

But then, I've had very close involvement with Javanese culture particularly, and Indonesian culture more generally, over a very long period, and when I wear my Javanese Hat, I do understand the reason why people living in those cultures want to use the very best methods available for preservation of not only items of tosan aji (keris, spears, swords & etc.), but for everything.

One of the reasons is the climate, but especially with items of tosan aji, the main reason is that modern materials simply do the job better.

These people do not regard these items of tosan aji as things to be frozen in time and stored behind glass in climate controlled rooms. To these people these items are not museum pieces, these items of tosan aji are living objects that in many cases are inextricably tied to their culture, their society, and their ancestors.

The attitude is different. The owners of the culture regard these cultural objects as having a life, people outside the culture regard these objects as dead and needing to be frozen in time.

So for the owners of the culture, a keris, or whatever, is something that is alive and that has a useful and continuing function in their society. For collectors of these cultural objects the item is dead and needs to be preserved.

That word "preserved" triggers a thought. At agricultural shows they have a section for preserved fruits. The ladies who prepare these bottles of preserved fruit create works of art, which are greatly appreciated by the viewers, and the bottles that are purchased after the show is over are taken home by the buyer and put on a shelf in the kitchen for display. It would be sacrilege to eat such a beautiful work of art.

However, in the homes of the ladies who exhibited their skills at the agricultural show, they have preserved fruit with custard most nights for dessert.

Its all a matter of perspective, and neither attitude is right nor wrong.

A. G. Maisey 11th June 2019 12:55 AM

Bob, I was shocked recently to learn from a panel beater that the art of automobile panel beating is now one of those skills that will very probably disappear within a few years.

Apparently, in the district where I live there are only one or two gentlemen of advanced years who possess good quality panel beating skills. The younger "panel beaters" have skills that relate to removing and replacing complete panels, not reshaping deformed metal to its original shape.

To a degree this loss of skills relates to economic benefit. It is considerably more cost effective to replace a damaged panel with a new one, than it is to reshape a damaged panel.

So now we have apparently vintage automobiles with the entire body made from fibreglass. My vintage automobile is still 100% original, rust & all.

Bob A 11th June 2019 12:56 AM

I know nothing of Birch Tar.

I know that the sort of tar used in roofing and roadway construction was utilised by the youth of yore. My late Uncle informed me, some 60 years ago, that snatching a shiny black chunk of the stuff from a construction site and using it as chewing gum was not at all uncommon. He eventually died, but not from that.

Spider webs are still in regular use today in our more rural areas as a sort of quick-clot material to staunch bleeding in otherwise intractable wounds. Horse barns are full of spiderwebs, and C. tetani. Perhaps early vaccination against tetanus has prevented secondary mortality in the yeomanry.

ariel 11th June 2019 02:34 AM

I really enjoyed your dualistic approach: as usually very informative and subtle.
It reminds me of the late President of Israel, Mr. Levi Eshkol, who was known for his "sophisticated way of approaching a problem" ( his admirerers) or as "awfully indecisive" ( his opponents).
It was told of his answer to a question whether he wanted tea or coffee: "Half and half".
I guess I am still in a league with your "shoot the bastards" friend:-)

ariel 11th June 2019 02:44 AM

Re: body work.
My car was rear-ended on the parking lot with a big indentation of the plastic bumper.
We did not want to approach our insurance agent, because we would have to pay large deductible and our premium would sky-rocket. Replacing the bumper would cost ~$800.

A young ( ~30 yo) guy at the shop told us not to worry and just leave a car with him for a couple of hours. He heated the plastic, re-formed the big ding and charged us ... $75.
There are still smart and professional youngsters. Not all is lost.

A. G. Maisey 11th June 2019 03:29 AM

That bumper story is good to hear, Ariel.

Never heard of that here but it is certain there is an opening for it.

the spider web for wounds was pretty much general rural treatment when I was a kid, women avoided cleaning spider webs that formed over the wood burning stoves that were used back then, and if any of the men suffered a severe cut a handful of spider web was slathered over the wound to stop the bleeding. I think it has just about disappeared as a treatment now.

mross 11th June 2019 01:46 PM

Originally Posted by Bob A
Yeah, the birch stuff is interesting. Apparently currently unavailable.

Thanks for the clarification, Alan. I'm sort of shocked that epoxy would be used; it seems to me that reversibility is compromised, but I am far from certain on that score.

Seems to be lots of variation regarding damar. The benzoin incense melts and enters a gaseous state pretty rapidly if I recall correctly; smells nice, but then we used a few crumbs on a charcoal cake, with the vapor being the objective of the exercise. I'm planning to get some black damar from India, we'll see how that works. I also ordered a couple sticks of black sealing wax. I'll probably make little batches of each suggested compound before trying a repair, just to see how each one turns out.

Contact the seller if your interested. He makes the tar himself from sustainable locally sourced bark. I used it to stabilize a loose blade in a kora.

To answer one of the other question, no I would not use epoxy. It is not easily removed and can breakdown/ loosen up. The tar just need to have a heat gun applied and replaced.

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