Glossary of Sword Terms
Cloudy line found closely following the edge of Japanese Swords. Created using the clay tempering method. Denotes the line between the hard front edge of the blade and the softer spine. Can be a variety of shapes and widths depending on the style of swordsmith and school of smithing studied. Can even copy the look of a distant mountain range near a smith forge.
Japanese name of wood grain like structure found on sword blades. Traditional made by layering different carbon quantities of steel. Can be a variety of designs and shapes depending on the school of swordsmithing and the style of the smith. Sometimes called Damascus Steel.
Contact with skin should be avoided whenever possible for your sword/knife/axe blades. The reason for this is that our skin contains natural acids and moisture, and this can cause rust, discolouration and serious damage. This also applies to "stainless steel" blades. Dust is also an enemy of swords as it naturally attracts moisture which helps in the oxidisation process.
Most decorative knives/swords and other weapons are generally made from stainless steel and are designed to be on display with the least amount of maintenance. All that is needed to maintain the freshness is a wipe with a soft dry cloth/paper towel occasionally to remove fingerprints, dust and grime. If it is particularly dirty, it may require a small amount of windex on a cloth. If you are not sure if your blade is stainless steel or not, you can follow the techniques outlined in the carbon steel section as this will have no adverse effects. Better your blade be safe than rusty!
Practical and "live" blade swords/knives/weapons require more maintenance than their stainless steel counterparts. These are generally made from a high carbon steel that oxidises (rusts) when it comes into contact with the atmosphere (oxygen) and needs to be protected with a thin coating of light mineral oil. Singer sewing machine oil or gun oil are what I prefer. If your blade comes into contact with skin, (including the back of your hand), water, spills or any other contaminants, this needs to be seen to immediately.
Take a soft cloth/paper towel, (I like to use unscented tissues) and apply a small amount of oil and slide it along the blade from hilt to tip to ensure a thin, even coat over the entire blade. The aim is to use the right amount of oil as too much will eventually line the scabbard and attract dust, dirt and other nasties which is detrimental to the longevity of your blade.
Closeup of a Nihonto (Traditionally Made Japanese Sword) showing NIE (Large Steel Crystals). Incorrect blade care can render these "Activities" invisable.
Leather scabbards can sometimes cause blades to rust due to the tannic acids used in the tanning process and its ability to hold moisture. It may be best to leave the blade out of its leather scabbard and only sheath it when necessary. Older swords and antique sword scabbards can be heavily polluted with dirt, dust and grease and can also cause rust so you may need to be extra careful when you inspect your blade for any pollutants that could harm your sword. If you do locate any contaminants, leave your sword out of its scabbard.
Some people have found themselves the hereditary recipient of an antique sword, particularly from the occupation of Japan and Islands in WWII. If you may have purchased one, usually you will find that they are in poor condition after 60 years or more. It is extremely important that antique swords be left in their original state but they may need just a little cleaning to maintain their intrinsic value.
Polishing of blades can remove or destroy beautiful etching work especially prevalent on Australian and British military swords. It can destroy temper lines ("hamon" as seen on japanese swords) and also reduce the monetary value of your piece. Traditional japanese swords can be damaged beyond repair through "restoration" in the hands of anyone other than traditional artisans.
If you have a blade that you feel may be considered an antique, it is important to follow the procedures outlined above with a few additions. It may be necessary to clean your blade with a solvent (methylated spirits or pure alcohol on a soft dry cloth). The best method is to clean a small, inconspicuous area which is located on the spine or the side of the blade and pay careful attention for any damage that this may cause. If there are no ill effects, continue cleaning starting from the hilt and gently moving towards the tip. Once you are satisfied the blade is clean of all debris, oil the blade as outlined above and remember to inspect the scabbard for cleanliness. If you think cleaning may damage your sword, leave the blade as it is and contact a professional. Remember to re-oil periodically to keep your blade preserved for future generations.
Close up photo of a 1827 Pattern British Naval Officers Sword showing rust pitting from a lack of maintenance.