The care of your fine wooden weapons

Grenadier

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Just thought I'd start a thread, regarding the care of your favorite wooden weapons.

In general, many folks here have a collection of various wooden weapons, whether they're bo, jo, hanbo, tonfa, nunchaku, etc. After all, weapons training can be a vital part of any martial arts system.

For some folks, they're going to buy whatever's cheapest, and readily available, from the Century or Asian World of Martial Arts catalog. While I personally abhor the awful quality, North American red oak weapons, they are certainly good enough for people just looking to swing around such an item.

For those individuals, they can simply use, until the weapon develops a warping, cracking, or simply too many scuffs, in which case, they can throw it away, and buy another one.


For others, though, we take a bit more pride in the weaponry, and select woods that are going to be far more suitable for weaponry. Instead of throwing away the prized possession, there are ways of taking care of your weapons, so that they can last you for many years.


Let's start by treating your weapons when you first get them.

Often times, whoever made your high quality weapon, might put on a finish that you don't find too pleasing. Maybe it's a good finish for some, but certainly not for you. Or, maybe the wood might need a bit more smoothing (hickory weapons are notorious for needing some final tender love and care).

Before you begin your TLC treatment, though, make sure you have disposable gloves, a filtering mask, and wear safety goggles. I'm not kidding here, since sawdust from these finer woods and the varnishes can be VERY irritating, much more so than cheaper ones.

I would start by taking the finest grit of sandpaper, and gently sanding down the weapon. This way, you can help remove the old varnish, while also removing any shagginess left from the wood surface. Remember, you're not trying to remove any significant quantity of wood here, which is why I recommend light sanding.

I generally don't recommend using chemical strippers, unless you have a really, really stubborn varnish on it.

Clean off the weapon with a cloth that has been dampened with 70% isopropyl alcohol. This will remove the sawdust from the surface, and at the same time, evaporate relatively quickly.

Then take some 00 or 000 steel wool (very fine steel wool), and do another gentle rubbing of the surface. This will smooth down the surface even more, and give you a pleasing surface that will still give you good traction when you grip, yet slide through your hands when you want to do so, without developing blisters.

Repeat the cleaning process with another cloth, dampened with 70% isopropyl alcohol, removing the powdered wood from the surface.

Now that you have a nicely surfaced weapon, it's time to apply a finishing oil on it. There are two choices that seem to be quite popular: boiled linseed oil, and polymerized tung oil. Keep in mind, that if you're going to use either oil, that you remember to get either the *boiled* linseed oil or the *polymerized* tung oil. This is to prevent you from dying of old age before the finish cures.

Use a soft, lint-free cloth to apply the oil, evenly rubbing the surface of the weapon. If you're using boiled linseed oil, put the cloth in a sealed plastic Ziploc bag, and throw it away, since the oil gives off a good bit of heat as it cures, and yes, boiled linseed oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust.

If you can, let the weapon cure in sunlight for about an hour. Turn it over so you get an equal distribution of sunlight.

Let the weapon's oil cure overnight indoors. Keep it in a well-ventillated area.

Upon the next morning, the surface should feel "dry," since the oil has cured. Give it another gentle buffing with the 00 or 000 steel wool, and this time, clean off the weapon with a lint-free cloth that has been dampened with water, to remove the powdered dried oil from the surface.

You can repeat the oil treatment and buffing as many times as you want, depending on how thick you want your hardened coating. In general, I use at least two coats, but for one particular weapon, I put several coats on it, until the last layer simply wouldn't cure completely, even after 4 days.

In the end, you now have a weapon that's going to have a nice, smooth feel to it, while giving you a good gripping surface. At the same time, you're also going to seal it off from the elements, and the cured hardened oil surfaces are going to protect the weapon from scuffing.

Best of all, if you do manage to scuff the weapon excessively, you can always re-apply another coating of the oil, and let it cure. Presto! Scratches will mostly disappear!


The two oils I recommended, polymerized tung oil and boiled linseed oil, each have their own properties that people like or dislike. I personally prefer polymerized tung oil for the surfaces of weapons that I grip (bo, jo, eiku, etc), and boiled linseed oil for the surfaces that I don't grip (such as the blade part of the bokken).

Remember, the polymerized tung oil and boiled linseed oil have catalysts in them that allow the oil to cure much more quickly, than their non-catalyzed counterparts (else you're going to wait for a half year for the oil to cure...).

The tung oil treatment tends to give a smoother feel, and doesn't feel sticky at all, whereas the boiled linseed oil tends to feel a wee bit stickier (although a bit more buffing with steel wool can help). The boiled linseed oil is also a wee bit harder, and has a shinier finish.

Either oil works great for the surfaces, though. It's just a matter of using what you want to use, and what surface you prefer.

Overall, though, I prefer the polymerized tung oil, since in addition to the smoother feel, it has that pleasant, nutty scent to it.

You can easily find the boiled linseed oil in any reputable paint store, or even in the paint section of Walmart, Home Depot, etc. Polymerized tung oil, though, is harder to find, and most folks go through Sutherland-Wells or Twisp Environmental.
 
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Grenadier

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On another note, someone just asked me if I knew anything about using polymerized walnut oil instead. Unfortunately, I've never even heard of it, and as much as today's internet search engines can inform us, nothing beats real experience with it.

So, does anyone have any experience with polymerized walnut oil?
 

Xue Sheng

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Generally buy rather cheap wooden sword because it is inevitable that they will get damaged. They are for training not show so I am not all that concerned about them and I have had lots of them.

But if I were to buy wooden swords of higher quality I would likely start here
http://www.little-raven.com/RS/MA/index.html

And if I did but one of these I would certainly take better care of it.
 

tellner

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The wooden weapons I used are for training. They will all be making hard contact with other wooden weapons. A lot of the really good advice on finishing and caring for fine wood isn't relevant; cheap and easy to replace or very durable are what's important.

If you have wooden weapons for presentation or decoration or ones that are mostly used for solo practice then Grenadier's advice is excellent.
 

Flying Crane

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Another benefit of giving the wood a finish in linseed oil, tung oil, or Danish/Dutch oil is that the oil will harden as it cures. This can help it stand up to contact training and avoid splintering for longer.

I like to finish my spears and staffs with this. Once the oil cures, I can feel the shaft of the spear is tighter, and snappier in how it flexes. for Chinese spear and Staff in waxwood, this can be very beneficial.

I like to rub in 3-5 coats over several days. I try to wait overnite before adding the next coat, but if the wood is dry it can soak up the oil and feel dry again after 10 minutes or so. In that case, I will sometimes add another coat a couple hours later.

Also, Linseed oil will darken mildly but noticeably over time. If you have a wood that has an attractive grain, this can really enhance the piece and add to its beauty.

On the last Jian scabbard I made out of Curly Maple, I finished it with 3 coats of linseed oil, followed by 1 or 2 coats of dutch oil. It turned out to be a beautiful finish.

I believe Danish oil cures harder than Linseed oil, but I don't know where Tung oil fits in the spectrum.

I also have not been in the habit of sanding between coats. I feel like I am going to sand out the finish, so I don't do it, and I have not noticed any problems from it. I simply rub it down with a dry cloth afterwards, and then let it sit for at least a few days to make sure the curing is complete.

As far as disposing Linseed oil rags, I seal the rag in a ziplock bag, but I also fill it with water. Haven't had any problems that way.
 

harleyt26

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Pam and Joe at Crane mountain Weapons recommend UV protectant Tung Oil it is made by Baer and can be ordered from Home Depot.Tung oil makes the surface of the weapon more resilient it will actually recover somewhat from contact dings,at least it helps more than nothing or cheap varnish.Tung oil will also help the wood from drying out as quickly.I would recommend steel wooling(oo-ooo grade)at least twice a year.That will help protect the wood from the salt that comes from sweat in your hands,the salt will pull the natural moistures from the wood and cause premature dry rotting.Tung oilling after steel wooling will also keep your wood weapons looking good,it brings out the pretty grains in the wood. Tom Hodges
 

arnisador

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I have several nice wooden training swords--not rattan but nice stuff for solo work--so this discussion is appreciated!
 

harleyt26

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Be very careful with the cheap and easy to replace weapons.The mass produced cheapies are usually dryrotting before the cheap varnish finish is applied then the finish prevents the necessary moistures from penetrating the wood.Even if sanded and refinished the varnish soaks deep into the wood sealing out any hope of refinishing with an oil finish,it just won't penetrate to the depths necessary to rejuvenate the woods natural fexible charactaristics.These cheap weapons can break of very sharp and send sharp flying pieces around very dangerously.Go with the more durable woods like hickory,purple heart or asian red oak.There are other good woods check with a reputable weapons maker they deal with mant different styles of kobudo and can recommend a wood suitable for your style and they way you want to use your weapon.Your weapons are an investment in your training and you get what you pay for.For instance I can do a tonfa kata with a cheap set of mass produced tonfa from China,but I can do that same kata much better with a set of tonfa with the handles made to fit my hand and the blades made to the length my arm.If I want to do bo against tonfa kumite I would most certainly want those tonfa to fit me properly but I might also want to use a hickory set instead of a little lighter set that I would use to be able to do many repetitions of a kata I was trying to learn or correct. Tom Hodges
 

tellner

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My "cheap and easy to replace" wooden weapons are cut down and shaped axe handles, tamper handles and pick handles. Really cheap. Very easy to replace. And actually pretty tough. After all, they have to stand up to repeated hard impact in the real world.
 

harleyt26

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Tellner,very good idea.Those should be very durable.You must be pretty talented with wood.How do you shape your weapons from those handles?Do you use a draw knife or some type of sander or band saw?Those handles are generaly made from hickory and sometimes from some very dense oaks.I still think if you prepped the surface with an oil finish immediately after shaping they may survive even longer with a little less surface damage and splintering. Tom Hodges
 
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Grenadier

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Be very careful with the cheap and easy to replace weapons.The mass produced cheapies are usually dryrotting before the cheap varnish finish is applied then the finish prevents the necessary moistures from penetrating the wood.

You're dead on about that. Just apply some chemical strippers to the cheap weapons to remove the varnish, and a lot of times, you can even see where the companies used wood fillers to plug up the pores.
 

chinto

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i have a few less expensive wooden weapons that are good and the rest are shureido ones. .they are sanded when needed and kept oiled with boiled linseed oil. they will last for years this way and will not brake if ever needed for real, though in that case I will reach for the shureido ones.
 

chinto

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You're dead on about that. Just apply some chemical strippers to the cheap weapons to remove the varnish, and a lot of times, you can even see where the companies used wood fillers to plug up the pores.

any of the less expensive wooden weapons, bo, or boken or what have you that come with a lacquer finish .. sand them and rub them down or soak them in BOILED linseed oil... Make sure its BOILED LINSEED oil as unboiled linseed oil literally takes century's to dry and you will end up with a sticky nasty mess!!!
 

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