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Old 9th February 2022, 08:58 PM   #1
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Lightbulb Conservation and Restoration of antique arms

The idea for this thread came while speaking about cleaning, patina etc. on another thread.
Every collector is faced with the task of maintaining a certain degree of quality-managment regarding his or her collection. I want to make a start here on this topic briefly and from my perspective. Parts of these are subject to individual preferences and own philosophy regarding antiques. The methods listed here are not my personal agenda but a brief overview what is possible and known to me. I sorted it like I thought it makes sense, it´s not "the one and only way". This is meant to be a little spark which may ignite an interesting discussion.


The areas of interest are summarized:

1. Assessment of the current state
2. Comparison with its supposed original state
3. Evaluating further procedures to achieve a state of originality without destroying the integrity of the object
4. Choice of instruments to realize the foregoing step
5. Execution of procedures


1. Assessment of the current state

- Are parts missing?
- Are parts damaged?
- Is there corrosion? Which quality is it?
- Is there dirt?
- Any leftovers from previous conservation/cleaning?

2. Comparison with its supposed original state

- Specific for each object. Example: Strong corrosion with unclear etching, gilding or blueing beneath could be such a question.

3. Evaluating further procedures to achieve a state of originality without destroying the integrity of the object


- This depends strongly on personal preference.
- Soft cleaning (f.e.: mild abrasives like Pre-Lim, water+soap, fine steel wool)
---> "The history remains on the object, object eventually hiding details like marks or engravings"

- Medium cleaning (f.e.: Brasso, medium steel wool, acid, polishing wheel)
---> "Original state can be guessed/seen while respecting the age and patina"

-Strong cleaning (f.e: acid+steel brush, sandpaper)
---> "Original material colours showing, bright shine, details may be lost in the process. The whole object or part of it cleaned in that way never existed as the original surface layer has been probably removed, if not done before."


- Minor repairs: Gripwire, small organic material defects, minor painting etc.
- Medium repairs: Minor brazing, medium material defects, re-gilding etc.
- Major repairs: Everything involving opening the hilt (destroying the original peening on the pommel), Blade brazing, exchanging whole parts

(P.S.: I already see the faces of some of you reading this. Some things are not what I personally do or would do! Feel free to discuss what restorations should be punished.)

4. Choice of instruments to realize the foregoing step

This is my personal gear. I mark the chemical products which I know to be used for antique arms by museums with an "(M)".

- PreLim: Mild abrasive, (M)
- Brasso: Medium abrasive with chemical cleaning component
- Rennaisance Wax: Sealing all surfaces (M), instead of weapon oil like Ballistol
- Cotton
- Steel-wire brush
- Toothbrush, for detailed or hidden ares
- Toothpicks, --//--
- Citric acid for stains of brasso
- 30 % Phosphoric acid for strong corrosion (M)
- Gloves
- Safety googles
- Maroquin, for dry leather (M)
- Ethanol

- Surgical/Ophtalmologic instruments, leather sewing set, saw, rasp, spare wood, black leather, bismuth, Bunsen burner, magnifying glass with stand and two static forceps, different brushes

5. Execution of procedures

Here I just want to point to good books on antique arms restoration. Mine f.e. is "Konserwacja broni bialej" by Dr. Janusz Sekowski (in Polish). These books tend to be expensive but it´s worth it. There is also a reason why there are professional restorers for arms around, prices are very high though.
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Old 10th February 2022, 12:19 PM   #2
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An example for discussion:
Austrian Infantry Privates saber pattern 1851

Below you see the saber in the condition I have received it and after restoration. It has been found in an attic.


Arguments for restoration:
- It has been mass produced and enough of them are still around.
- One has to start somewhere, so exercising on something common is the best way. If something goes wrong, its not that dramatical.
- I got it fairly cheap.
- The restoration would not affect its value on the market, possibly increase it a bit.

Arguments against restoration:
- The object looses a certain kind of "artifact charm".
- The study of corrion, how a weapon looks like after 100 years in an attic, cannot be done afterwards for others.
- Time and costs probably exceeds the possible financial and historic "gain".

State before:
The leather was completely gone on the visible side, yet the suture which has been hidden behind the backstrap was intact and I of course kept it.
No makers marks were visible. The grip-ring was loose. Wood was cracked and dry. Massive corrosion layer on all steel parts.

State after:
I opened the hilt carefully while keeping a the remains of the original peen in the form of a ring for later re-use. The cracks in the wood have been filled with clear epoxy and the wooden surface was given a fine layer of that epoxy too. I restored the leather and sewed it according to the original. Repeated phosphoric acid treatment of the steel parts with steel brush use after each treatment. Thanks to the wood shrinking the complete hilt sits tight on the tang. The ring left from the original peen was used as a cast form for a "bismuth dummy". Comparing the specimen with other originals has showed that there was no wire used in the grids (grip-wire), so this wasnt applied here. Makers marks were visible afterwards.

Restoring the leather on grips

- Cut leather in such a form that it covers the wood. Keep in mind to avoid folds. The edges which meet at the back should have ca. 1-2 mm space to each other because leather can stretch and fits nicely then.
- Remove half of the dermis. The "outer layer" of the leather, which can be seen on grips is the epidermis. The dermis is the rough layer to the inside. Making the whole thing thinner makes it more formable and gives a finer feel afterwards.
- Treat the leather with ethanol, apply it to the wood when still wet.
- Apply the suture tighly.
- Cut away folds with a scalpell or precise scissors.
- Wrap the leather on grids (carvings in the wood) very tightly with cord. Depending on design this will result in doing so for each grid individually, not in spirals. Some grips are plain and were given cord bindings on which the then the leather was put to give it the same structure. The picture below shows a spiral method which was then altered to single cord binding which resulted in a much better effect.
-If a hilt has a ring over the guard, there will be probably a carved space for that in the wood. Be sure to press the leather as much as you can in this area, this can be done with wrapping it with cord too.
- Leave the grip in a warm and dry space for 2-3 days.
- Remove the cords on the leather.


Removing strong corrosion

- Prepare containers big enough for bathing the steel parts. This can be done with aluminium foil or tubes f.e. for the blade because you might have trouble finding some container long enough.
- Prepare a chemical waist container, safety googles and rubber gloves.
- If the phosphoric acid solution has more than 30 %, dilute it in water. ALWAYS acid into the water, not the reverse, because the latter may cause the acid to spay into your face.
- Let the object sit in the acid for 15-30 minutes.
- Wash the object with a lot of clean water.
- Remove the converted corrosion products (black corrosion will turn red) with a steel brush, electric is ok too since its basically the same and the heat resulting from mechanical abrasion is not sufficient to damage the blades original heat treatement.
- Check the results and repeat if unhappy.


- Rennaisance Wax


Personal conclusion:

While working on this object I gathered some basic experience which was important to me. Would I do the same to a rarer object like f.e. a 17th century saber in the same condition? I think I would contact few experts working for museums which have similar specimen in their collections and consider their opinion. De-peening a sword is something I want to avoid under all circumstances, while removing active rust is a necessity. Something like restored leather on grips may be destructive (with a high chance will be) to the historic value of certain swords because its hard to imitate the teeth of time on materials and a sword with signs of strong corrosion but fresh leather will simply look unpleasant and ugly.
Attached Images

Last edited by awdaniec666; 10th February 2022 at 12:26 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 11th February 2022, 12:49 PM   #3
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I am a fan of electrolysis for removing rust. It brings to the surface engravings and etchings that can pass unseen in rust and be destroyed in its removal.

An important point is leather. As I have quite a number of old books in leather bindings I use the same protocols and mixtures. Prevent acid formation is an usually forgotten point.

About your restoration, I do not see the point of replacing a leather grip on a dillapidated blade. I think the object shall keep an homogeneous state through its parts. A very good condition blade maybe (only maybe) deserves a similar hilt and grip. But this is not the case.
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Old 11th February 2022, 07:50 PM   #4
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Well, I did it for the exercise. If somebody in the future would like to display the original (destroyed) state of the hilt its without problems possible to remove the new leather. The crack in the wood has been filled with epoxy but it is still a crack and epoxy can be removed easily I know what you mean and I stated this issue in the "contra-arguments" for restoring this.
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