How to care for your sword like a Victorian trooper

Yesterday, I explored a few French sources telling us how to clean and care for swords. Now let’s look at the other side of the Channel.

Steel: Unslaked lime is a capital thing to clean steel articles with. 

To clean swords, &c., rub them with powdered brick-dust and oil, rub dry with brick-dust, polish with crocus and leather.

Crocus is a form “of iron sesquioxide. They are made by heating ferric chloride, sulphate, or oxalate, and they are used mainly for polishing glass, jewellery, and small metallic components.”(Chemical technology, by Jacob Frederik Oss)

Source: Workshop receipts. By Ernest Spon, London, 1873, p.33.


Cleaning old swords: Clean with oil and bath-brick, and if very rusty indeed use a file to the worst places. Burnish and then afterwards keep bright with powdered bath-brick or whiting. This is the way we do in the army – Field gunner.

Bath-brick you say? According to Wikipedia, ” The bath brick (also known as Patent Scouring or Flanders bricks), patented in 1823 by William Champion and John Browne, was a predecessor of the scouring pad used for cleaning and polishing.”




“Bath bricks were made by a number of companies in the town of Bridgwater, England, from fine clay dredged from the River Parrett near Dunball. The silt, which was collected from the river on either side of the Town Bridge, contained fine particles of alumina and silica. It was collected from beds of brick ruble left in the rain for the salt to be washed out and then put into a “pugging mill” which was powered by a horse to be mixed, before being shaped into moulds and dired (Sic).”

“The brick, similar in size to an ordinary house brick, could be used in a number of ways. A mild abrasive powder could be scraped from the brick and used as a scouring powder on floors and other surfaces. Powder could also be moistened with water for use on a cloth for polishing or as a kind of sand paper. Items such as knives might be polished directly on a wetted brick.”

Source: English Mechanic and World of Science Vol. 32. London, 1881, p. 119


When the iron parts are much rusted, pulverized emery and olive oil must be used to clean them : rub them with scrapers of soft wood. Instead of emery, pulverized freestone may be employed, sifted and moistened with oil: for slight-spots, bath-brick pulverized and made in paste with oil.

When cleaning the barrel or the sword blade, place them flat on a bench or table, to prevent them bending.

Source: The United Service Magazine, Volume 70. By Arthur William Alsager Pollock, London, 1852, p.16.


Note: While French sources mention olive oil, English sources never quite tell what kind of oil is to be used (okay, except the one above!). Gun manuals are a bit more descriptive, and as most military manuals seem to suggest the same treatment for steel be it on swords or guns, it is possible that these recipes were also used on blades. Some mention using linseed oil,  mercurial ointment mixed with salad oil, or a type of bore-butter made with equal parts boiled down mutton suet, beeswax  and neats-foot oil. Also twenty ounces of olive oil mixed with 1 and a half ounce of turpentine. Later sources start mentioning petroleum oils such as kerosene oil (also called Rangoon oil).

Source: Facts and Useful Hints Relating to Fishing and Shooting. By Irwin Edwin Bainbridge Cox, 1874, London, p. 205.


As with French manuals, olive oil is rarely used on its own, and always seems to receive some kind of treatment to delay its rancidification. If you wish to use olive oil on your swords, be aware of this fact. I would also exercise extreme caution if you were to use some of the heavy metals mentioned such as lead or mercury.

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