Armour cleaning 101: guest post by Tim Baker

Just one of those Facebook posts which might be useful one day.

Nb: before you start, this advice is geared towards a ‘practical’ clean with a focus on long-term protection and maintenance of the armour. If you want another specific finish you might take a different approach and I would tweak the advice.

Tim Baker, Facebook

It also assumes a ‘normal’ level of wear and tear, rather than armour which is starting in a truly dreadful state. For that I’d suggest sending an image so I can give specific advice.

Tools you might want:

To clean and oil the metal:

  • Scrappy clothes (For you to wear, as you will probably get mucky.)
  • Several soft cloths (Yellow jay cloths are nice, or fabric off cuts. Really flimsy material will tend to shred too fast and very coarse material will be harder to use)
  • Polish (I recommend Autosol cream. There are loads on the market, but we like this one because it is non-toxic. Shouldn’t hurt your skin to work with it and if anyone cuts themself on the armour it shouldn’t cause any harm in the wound)
  • Protective oil (I recommend Joker 440 spray oil if you want easy to use, Ballistol if you want to go up market, or vegetable oil if you want to be authentic and smell like a chip shop)
  • Kitchen roll (If you have it, or more cloths if you don’t)
  • Small brush (Optional, for example a cheap toothbrush)

To protect your leather straps:

  • Dubbin
  • A cloth

Stage 1: prep

Armour has various points of failure where it tends to go wrong.

The most common is the leather straps breaking. The next most common is rivets going wrong.

Before you start cleaning, I would check these out, as it is better to put those in order before you clean (because a repair after cleaning would mean having to clean it again).

First off, check the integrity of all your straps and see if any of them look like they are rotting or weakened. They may well also be quite dry after a season of use.

If any of them are on the verge of breaking it is often better to pre-emptively remove and replace them.

Second: Check over the rivets. See if any of them look like they are about to fail and consider whether a little tap with a hammer will put them right. Bear in mind that some rivets need to be a bit loose, others want to be tight. Do any repairs/replacements you need to.

Third: Run a cloth over all the edges on your steel. See if the cloth snags anywhere or feels like it is catching, which might suggest a rough edge or battle damage that could damage clothing or skin. It may be necessary to hammer or lightly file such damage if you find it.

Stage 2: Leatherwork

Ideally you do this before you polish the metal. If you can get some dubbin (or any other kind of nourishing leather oil), apply it to all your straps. Metal polish isn’t always very kind to leather, so if you have oiled it first then it’ll have a nice protective coating. I’d pay particular attention to where the leathers are attached to the steel, as those areas are most vulnerable and corrosion will often build up around those areas (and you will likely only be able to get to one exposed side, so it is important to protect as much as you can).

Dubbin comes in a little pot, like shoe polish, and is about the consistency of thick, not-quite-set custard. You dab a bit on a cloth and then work it into the leather all over. If the leather feels quite abused and dry, leave it to soak in and then do another coat a little while later – you might even do an application once a day for several days until the leather feels supple.

Stage 3: The actual cleaning

Nb: there is an element of art rather than science to this, and you’ll find yourself doing an amount of it by feel. And don’t expect plate to look like brand new from hand cleaning. Also, there are many ‘grades’ of rust, and you will find yourself treating them differently.

Tim Baker, Facebook

I like to break this down into sections, as otherwise it gets overwhelming. So find an easy/not too rusty piece to start with if you can. We can talk about heavy corrosion in a bit.

Quickly wipe the steel with a dry cloth to brush off any dirt or oils sitting on the surface. If you have oiled your leathers, you’ll probably have some oil built up around the base of each strap where it is attached to the metal.

Dab some autosol from the tube on to the steel. It is better to use too little than too much at this stage – adding more is easy, but if you use too much it is bizarrely less effective. Imagine you are putting an amount out similar to the toothpaste you put on your brush in the morning – that’s a good starting guide. Wipe that around the steel by moving it in circles, spiralling outward. Don’t press on with crazy intensity at this point – you want to evenly spread the autosol on the steel and allow it to chemically react. Hopefully the nice white autosol is rapidly turning into a grimy cream on the surface of the steel as it picks up the rust, and your constant motion with the cloth is taking it off the steel. You will find your cloth is rapidly becoming black and vile. This is a good thing.

There isn’t a hard and fast way of judging this stage – you basically polish each bit of steel until you feel like you have got the rust off (or as much as you reasonably can – sometimes tough stains will leave a black mark that won’t come off without literally stripping that layer of steel away). A good gauge for when you have finished is that if you run your cloth over the metal, it will feel smooth – running it over a rusty patch tends to feel rough.

You can do a basic polish by simply polishing off the autosol residue and leaving it at that. Pay particular attention to all the nooks and crannies – like folds in the steel or around straps and rivets – to ensure you don’t have any blobs of polish left behind in there – those will corrode quickly if you leave them. This is where that small brush might come in handy. However, I like to do two more quick stages that give you a better and longer lasting finish.

A good second stage, once the whole piece is polished, is to use the kitchen roll to buff the surface of every plate. As a cleaner friend of mine once told me, paper is better than cloth at taking off soap and polish residue. No matter how good the metal looked after you buffed it with a cloth, buffing it with paper will bring a much higher shine. This is probably the most attractive your gear will ever look and you might see your face in it.

You can stop at that second stage if you want a high ‘tournament’ shine. The big downside is that now your metal is entirely bare to the elements. Gorgeous though it looks, if you sweat on it, or it gets rained on, it will corrode much faster now.

Stage three is what protects the metal for the future – learning this was a game changer for me, and I went from needing to clean my armour every time I wore it to one really thorough clean a year, and only minimal touching up between times. At this point, you oil the armour. I like Joker 440 for a lazy option, because it comes in a spray can, which lets you get it into all the hard to reach places, like where plates overlap. Also, it is designed for the motorbike industry, so will not harm your leather like some chemicals do. You give everything a nice thorough spraying, then wipe gently over the surface to spread it about. Don’t buff it so hard that you take the oil off again. That layer of oil will tamp down the high polish you got earlier (and give a very nice ‘medieval’ look, a bit darker than the mirror shine) and protect each piece of metal from the elements/your sweat. You might then top up the oil after events with a quick spray and wipe, but that is a load faster than a full polish.

Addendum

I didn’t put this in the core instructions, but one thing which comes up all the time: please, for the love of Virtue, do _not_ use WD40 on your armour at all, ever. It is not meant for use as such and, critically, it tends to weaken or rot leatherwork. Thus you will find the life expectancy of your straps is slashed and you may well fine pieces falling off your body in battle when they are stressed.

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