Historical Maintenance Oil
Hello all. I'm new to weapon collecting and I've been searching around trying to find the best oil/wax to keep my steel pieces in shape. I've seen plenty of collectors suggest different machine oils, specially formulated petroleum waxes, etc, but here's my problem: I'm on a limited budget, which makes buying a can of $20 wax really painful. I'm also aiming to find something historical, and I know for a fact that my Anglo Saxon ancestors didn't use petroleum jelly to oil their blades. Anyways, if anyone knows of an affordable, easy to find, historically accurate blade/armor oil, I would be very grateful to you for sharing this knowledge.
I don't know what evidence exists for what oils were used, but I strongly suspect the answer is "just about everything". Every warrior would have his favorite that he swore by, telling everyone else what a fool they were to trust their own secret formulas. Today, same thing: some worship nut oils and maintain that olive or vegetable oils will go rancid and sticky. Others have used vegetable oils all their lives with nary a problem, nor a speck of rust.

Me? I use 3-in-One. It's been my experience that it doesn't matter what you use, as long as you USE it. Having the best oil in the world but leaving a finger-printed blade in the scabbard until it rusts there does no good. Wipe everything after each use (at least!), with whatever you prefer.

Find an cheap auto wax you like. Should work very neatly.
Personally, I've always just used pure light mineral oil. Dirt cheap. You can find it sold as sewing machine oil, baby oil and for various other purposes everywhere from hardware stores to pharmacies. Just pick a brand with no additives, because some of those can be harmful to the non-metallic components of a sword or its scabbard.

After careful cleaning, drizzle a couple of drops of whatever oil you're using on the blade, then spread it everywhere - absolutely everywhere! that's far more critical than the choice of oil - with a piece of soft cloth or chamois. Don't clean the rag, don't use it for anything else, store it in a ziplock bag or similar; over time it will get saturated with the oil until most of the time you won't even need to pour out any more oil, just wipe down the blade with the already oily rag. (Or you can make one of these, too, if you'd like to have something more substantial between your fingers and the blade.)

How often to do it depends. Clean and oil the sword after every use, naturally, but otherwise it's all up to your local climate, housing conditions and the product you're using. Me, living in an old wooden house up here in central Finland, I only need to touch up my shinies a couple of times a year unless I'm actively using them.
Lanolin is an option. It's mainly sold as a skincare product now a days but it's a natural oil from domesticated sheep

I usually use gun cleaning supplies myself. Usually a quick spray of remoil or something similar for hema gear.

If your main goal is display, reenactment, or long term storage then breaking down and buying some renwax is probably your best bet. It can be used on almost anything so it's a good investment and the longest lasting option.
Best? Hands down, Fluid Film is the best. Lanolin based product.

Historical? I would assume that depends on what was available locally. Italy? Olive oil. Iceland? Blubber or shark liver oil.

What sort of salt or acid contents in blubber are there, compared to most animal fats? I would personally be leery of using most terrestrial animal fats for ferrous care, unless they had been rendered (and even then...). For leather, or hempen rope, or whatnot, sure--but for metals, I dunno.
Any unrendered marine fats will putrefy fairly quickly unless frozen. Rubbing down sails or cordage with that is a likely as using the contents of the slop bucket.

Most European medieval cultures kept substantial flocks of sheep, not only for the wool but for food. The second stage of cleaning a fleece (after combing out dung and dirt) is to boil fleece several hours, skimming off lanolin. Its a useful wax lubricant that won't go rank. Some of it is necessary to spin yarn. The rest goes to lubricating moving parts, waterproofing linen window panes and many other uses.

Tallow derived from animal fat has many uses as well. Common candles were sheep tallow. Waterproof dressings are still substantially fancy beef tallow. Every society with some forms of machinery require lubrication. I don't recall what form of lubrication rope makers used to twist up their product but it is applied liberally according to the practice of the ropers at Guedelon Castle in France. Whatever they were using was thoroughly researched as everything else they do there.

Another thing to consider is the frequency with which weapons were exposed to moisture. Like modern soldiers, the first thing a man at arms would do, is see that his horse was cared for, get out of his kit and wet clothes and then set the servants to rubbing down all the metal to displace water. That is simple common sense to preserve your equipment and readiness.
I had been wondering in particular about mail. You can't just rub solid fat into it and leave caked in grease. Does it make sense to do that and then hold it over a fire until most of the excess runs off? There would probably still be quite a bit of accumulation between the rings. Liquid oil would be preferable, and I would think it'd have to be one that stays liquid, not a drying oil like linseed.
Dan D'Silva wrote:
I had been wondering in particular about mail. You can't just rub solid fat into it and leave caked in grease. Does it make sense to do that and then hold it over a fire until most of the excess runs off? There would probably still be quite a bit of accumulation between the rings. Liquid oil would be preferable, and I would think it'd have to be one that stays liquid, not a drying oil like linseed.

They had two of the three common oils available; vegetable oils from seeds or olives and tallow rendered from animal fat.

Linseed oil (and others probably) can be cured onto a metal surface with heat. This tends to blacken or at least brown the surface. Tumbling rusted mail with vinegar and bran cleaned it bright, then the mail would be tumbled again with greasy rags to displace any moisture and lightly coat the metal with lubricant.

Modern concepts of lubricants in a fluid state are based more on mineral oils than whatever cludgy stuff was available in the medieval economy.
Everyone posts on these threads... I have posted on several myself.

Everyone also has their own takes on what, why and how (well, here I go)...

...My experience tells me not to attempt any "historical" chemicals unless you know what you're doing. Specialist chemicals are also for people who know what they're doing.

Mikko pointed out something similar to what I do: I use food-grade mineral oil; this is basically what baby oil is. It's cheap, commonly available, non-reactive, and generally safe (but it's still a petroleum product). This is a no-brainer solution, a bottle will probably cost you around $4 USD, and it will last a very long time. I strongly recommend starting here, because your other options are generally more labor-intensive or otherwise require additional procedures.

I also use WD-40 to clean arms, though I'm certain many forum members would frown on that practice. WD-40 is also not as "safe" in comparison. WD-40 also has some solvent properties (hence why I use it for cleaning), so be aware that some unwanted results may be in store from using it. Hence the admonition against "specialist chemicals."

In contrast to some videos you may have found on YouTube, I would NOT recommend using Ballistol for preserving cutlery, UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING. For one, Ballistol, though very similar to run-of-the-mill mineral oil, is also a solvent, and it will eat into soft metals like copper if left to set. This is by design, as Ballistol is an all-purpose firearms solvent, and copper or brass residue is often left behind from firing the weapon. Ballistol might be useful if you want to coat the weapon with a more viscous coating, as it will do that... such a coating will be more durable, but also a bit sticky. Ballistol can also be used to revitalize leather products, but it will also darken the leather in the process.

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