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Old 1st November 2016, 05:46 AM   #1
Join Date: Aug 2012
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Default The 'other' shillelagh finish?

Hello all.
I recently stumbled upon something, and I was wondering if anyone had any input/experience.
I am well aware of butter smeared, chimney hung, pickled stix, but I have never heard of the following, which certainly 'describes' the finish on an antique shillelagh that I recently acquired!

The text is;

"Hugh had for many years been watching over the growth of a young blackthorn sapling, as if it had been an only child. It had arrived at maturity about the time the diabolical article appeared in the Quarterly, The supreme moment of his life had arrived, and the weapon on which he depended was ready.

Hugh Bronte returned home from the manse with his whole heart and soul set on avenging his niece. His first act was to dig up the blackthorn carefully, so that he might have enough of the thick root to form a lethal club. Having pruned it roughly, he placed the butt end in warm ashes night after night to season. Then when it had become sapless and hard he reduced it to its final dimensions. Afterwards he steeped it in brine, or ” put it in pickle/’ as the saying goes ; and when it had been a sufficient time in the salt water, he took it out and rubbed It with shamois and train oil for hours. Then came the final process. He shot a magpie, drained its blood into a cup, and with the lappered blood polished the blackthorn till it became glossy black with a mahogany tint.

The shillelagh was then a beautiful, tough, formidable weapon, and when tipped with an iron ferrule was quite ready for action. It became Hugh’s trusty companion, esteemed and loved for its use as well as for its beauty. No Sir Galahad ever valued his shield, or trusted his spear, as Hugh Bronte cherished and loved his shillelagh. [17]

The method described here shows a very advanced method of producing a fighting stick, one which was very much ahead of its time. The use of brine might sound strange to most people who have seen what salt water can do to wood, but we are talking here about a controlled submersion which acts the same way as a modern chemical treatment by flushing any remaining sap and replacing it with salt crystals which close down the wood’s pores. The same method was said to be applied to many fencing-sticks used to train sailors. The train oil (another term for whale oil) acts as a second barrier. Putting the knob in hot ashes also slowly transforms the wood fibers into carbon fibers. The stick is then dual hardened; the shaft stay more flexible to absorb parries and shocks while the top is harder resulting in more damaging blows."

So many shillelaghs, so few magpies...

I do love the drama of it all, but anyone ever heard of such a thing?
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Old 29th September 2019, 08:12 PM   #2
Bob A
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Well, "oxblood" shoes were once colored with, yes, ox blood.

I see no reason why any sort of blood couldn't be used to impart a sort of brownish-red tint to wood.

Appologies for necro thread. Somehow it popped up at the head of the queue and I thought it was recent.
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Old 30th September 2019, 10:54 PM   #3
Ren Ren
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Magpie blood stain? Especially at the very end of the work, after impregnation with oil. I think this is a magical act, not a practical action.
I do not know what magpie means in Irish mythology. In Slavic, this is the image of a witch that brings all sorts of misfortunes.
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Old 4th October 2019, 10:47 PM   #4
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I would have thought that if blood of any type was used on wood after oil had been applied , the blood would not penetrate or colour the wood at all .
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Old 5th October 2019, 02:52 AM   #5
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Default Magpie's Blood

I understood it to mean that the blackthorn stick itself had the magpie's blood applied to it; not the fire hardened pickled knob at its end.
It seems to me more like an anointment than a treatment .

Last edited by Rick : 5th October 2019 at 03:16 AM. Reason: clarity?
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Old 5th March 2020, 12:22 AM   #6
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This thread somehow popped up to the top of my feed this morning. I have heard of putting deer's blood on a floor of a log cabin and polishing it with a stone to darken the wood.
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Old 5th March 2020, 09:13 AM   #7
Tim Simmons
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Most enjoyable start to this thread. I have always been interest in the simple stick and the club and all in between. The Antrim stick is similar to many fighting sticks world wide. It is obviously light enough to be used one handed. I am adding one of my favourite clubs far to heavy to be a stick but follows the form. This is a heavy two handed club however in the AMNH American museum of natural history online data base there are example of this club that are clearly lighter in weight which could used with one hand.
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Old 5th March 2020, 09:22 AM   #8
Tim Simmons
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Just another thought after playing with some sticks. If I were to be brave enough to fight with the Antrim stick I would have my guard hand holding the end of the stick at the elbow to enable a full length heavy strike, though it is possible that the chap in the photo could very quickly grab the end of the stick. {spilt seconds help}
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