From a Carbon Steel Sword

I am asked how to remove rust from a sword more often than any other question. Swords made of carbon steel rust easily.

Causes of rust on a sword:

  1. Skin contact. There are acids and salts in human skin.
  2. Moisture. In a humid area, check your swords often. They might rust in the scabbard.
  3. Not cleaning after cutting. If you cut anything with moisture content your sword will rust, if it isn't immediately cleaned. Fruit juices and sap from vegetation are particularly dangerous.

To remove rust from a sword you will need:

  1. Sandpaper/glasspaper in varying grades from 150 grit to 600 grit.
  2. Oil such as choji, camellia or sewing machine oil (any fine mineral oil).
  3. Soft, clean cloths.

How to Remove Rust

  1. Wipe the sword over first with an oiled cloth. Throw that cloth away. This may be enough for mild fresh red rust. If not, continue to the next steps.

  2. Stroke down the sword with the coarsest sandpaper until most of the visible rust is removed (down only, not across and not in circles). Then wipe down the blade with an oiled cloth and throw the cloth away.
  3. Stroke across the blade only, with the next grade of sandpaper. This is how to to remove rust still remaining on the blade and remove the deep scratches from the coarsest sandpaper.
  4. Continue sanding the blade alternately with horizontal and vertical strokes, using progressively finer sandpaper up to 600 grit. Wipe with an oiled cloth between each grade. Make sure there is very little oil on it so you don't clog your papers.

If you have a collector sword rather than one you use for cutting, polish up to 2000 grit (but see Sifu Rodell's note below). User swords get scratched easily so there is no point polishing them to perfection.

Finally, wipe the sword down with oil - just a fine coating that doesn't bead, so it won't soak into the scabbard.

Additional Notes from Teacher Scott Rodell

"Some details that should be noted are that you only stroke one direction, not back forth when there is actual rust on a blade. Otherwise you are rubbing the rust particles that break off, back & forth, scratching a blade even more.

  The blade should be regularly wiped down with liberal amounts of oil and a clean cloth or paper towel, during the cleaning process to remove any bits of iron oxide that would scratch the blade. During the cleaning process, you don't have to use the best oil, WD40 is good enough. You generally need to wipe down the blade more than just between grades, better to wipe more often than necessary, than not enough.

I would also suggest that any first timer or rank beginner start with something more like 320 grit, not 150, remember you can't put back on the steel you are grinding off. Also I strongly suggest that no novice consider working on an antique blade without expert supervision. Way too many nice old swords have been irreparably damaged by first timers having a go at "fixing" them.

Those who want to develop their skills should first practice on junk swords or knives to first develop the sense of touch needed to clean a blade properly, adhering to the existing blade surface, preserving the original geometry & not grinding in a new one."

Now you know how to remove rust from a sword. The best thing is to clean it after every use and check it weekly to make sure it doesn't rust in the first place.

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