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Antique Briarwood Walking Stick Sword Restoration (Very pic heavy)

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I haven't been posting much on here recently, mostly because I've been too busy... BUT, this commission was too good not to share:

A regular customer found this "Victorian Briarwood walking stick" in an antique shop. (for $40 USD)

[It's not actually bent, my phone just refused to accept that fact.]

01 Stick.jpg

He of course noticed this:

02 Stick handle.jpg

03-2 Stick gap check.jpg

The blade, if there was one, was absolutely frozen in the stick/scabbard and it wouldn't even wiggle. It rattled slightly, but the sound was just from the loose cap at the tip. When he asked about it, the antique dealer said "I bought it in an auction house on my most recent trip to England, as part of a lot of 'pre-1850 antique canes' and I don't know enough about weapons to risk my reputation by saying it is anything more than a walking stick." [I don't recall which auction house, but it was reputable in the business.]

Obviously, he bought it, and brought it to me with the instructions to figure out how to get it apart, preferably without breaking it, but considering the price he paid, using whatever means were necessary [within a rather broad definition of reasonable.]

I decided to go with the slow and steady approach to start and tied a paracord harness along the full length:

04 Stick Harness.jpg

05 Stick Harness.jpg

I put the handle in the pipe side of my 50 lb bench vise, with ample padding:

06 Stick traction.jpg

Then I hooked the loop at the end of my harness to the frame of my barn door with a ratchet strap:

07 Stick traction.jpg

And started to apply tension, very slowly and carefully:

08 Stick Traction.jpg

Absolutely nothing happened! So I cranked a little more, then a little more etc.

A couple hours later, the ratchet maxed out and refused to allow me to crank it another notch! [1,000 lb working load rating]

So I left it overnight, nothing. So I cranked it a bit tighter...

3 days later [no joke], i gave up on that strategy as it hadn't budged in the slightest.

That begged the question, "what was I actually working on?"

So it was time to take some fancy pictures:

09 Stick Cane X-Ray - Corrected skew.jpg

[Disclaimer: Nobody at my full time job would ever bend the rules regarding the use of highly sensitive and very expensive medical equipment... not even at 04:00 hrs. I took the pictures with my cell phone camera, maybe not directly as there was a computer console in the way, but that doesn't have any relevance...]

So now what? [After picking my jaw back up from the floor.]

Research and consultation, at least a metric ton of each.

[Continued in next post.]


Edited by James Spurgeon
typo correction; and those of you visiting from BB know me as Fährtenleser...
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After pondering the information gleaned; I forged a tiny, spade tipped, pry bar from 1/8" high carbon steel rod stock, pressed out the indentations holding the loose cap to the stick, and inspected the wood covered in an oily looking goop that was actually dry and hard to the touch. [Hide glue] 

I used a series of drill bits [without the drill, I held and turned them by hand!] to remove the hide glue plug:

10 Stick Tipping open.jpg

until I felt a 'tink' and saw the glint of steel:

10-2 Glint of steel.jpg

the tip was entirely encased in hide glue, so the next step had to be steam. However, I didn't want to make the wood swell so much that the finish would crack off, nor did I want to allow the handle to be exposed to the steam. [Seriously, I can't fathom how my "traction" setup hadn't already removed the handle considering the tang is only 2.5" long and has no cross pinning or barbs.]

I concluded my steam setup would have to use a short "soak" with very high temperature steam:

11 Stick steamer.jpeg

And would have to include a diaphragm to isolate the handle:

12 Stick Vader.jpeg

As a word of wisdom should anyone use this idea: build a stiff frame to support the pipe:

13 Stick steamer droop.jpg

I will admit to a moment of panic as I tried to remove the stick before it got jammed in a bent pipe, without knocking my wife's pressure canner off the stove.

But, it worked!

14 Sticks alive.jpg

15 Stick Closeup.jpg

16 Stick Closeup.jpg

17 Stick Closeup.jpg

18 Stick Closeupngup.jpg

straight out of the steam, no cleaning whatsoever and it was still sharp enough to shishka-Bob or anyone else:

19 Stick Poker.jpg

[Restoration work will start in the next post]

Edited by James Spurgeon
"the tang" is more illuminating than "it"
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When last we met: A sword had been reborn, but was a little crusty from the passage.

Now may be a good time to mention some dimensions: the full stick is just over 36 inches long. The blade is a triangular cross section and hollow ground on all 3 sides for the entire 30 inches of blade! What gets me, though isn't just the length; at the mouth of the scabbard, the stick's diameter is 3/4" and it tapers to just under 1/2" at the cap (and yes, I mean exterior dimensions).

Can you imagine drilling (or even burning) a hole 30 inches long through a stick that is only 2x the diameter of the hole? Then mounting a blade into it well enough to be carried for however many years, used in at least 1 sword fight* and eventually getting set aside for a couple hundred years... and still manage to survive a yahoo with a ratchet strap?

But back to the restoration:

Opening up the scabbard to get it functional, without making it so loose that it would fall off while walking with it:

I made a crayon of beeswax and coated the blade then slid it into the sheath until it started to bind. Pull it back out, inspect the wax and very conservatively scrape the scabbard where the wax had been rubbed off. Re-wax and repeat. As it got close, I put the blade in and dropped the whole stick from about a foot off the floor, point down. As soon as the blade would seat itself just by gravity and the momentum of the short drop, I stopped.

I made 2 chisels for that whole process. the first is 3/32" and the second is 3/16" and the tape on each rod was the maximum depth they should be used.

0-09375 chisel.jpg

0-1875 chisel.jpg

Full length chisels.jpg

In addition to the light rust, you can see that the corners of the wood joint have been chipping, but what isn't so obvious is the 1/2" of bark on the scabbard side that has separated from the core, but not yet broken off.

Chipped joint and Browned Ricasso.jpg

Mid blade oxides.jpgForte-mid blade oxides.jpgHide glue patina.jpgI call this section "Hide Glue Patina"...

Really, the blade was in much better condition than I had expected, so this turned out to be the easiest part:

ScotchBrite Super Fine.jpgJeweler's Rouge.jpg

Super Fine ScotchBrite Belt             &   Jeweler's Rouge (almost more of a lubricant than abrasive).

Most of my "after" pictures show both metal and wood, so I will save them for the end, but there is one thing I want to be perfectly clear from the first thrust:

When Done Right: Power tools are NOT going to ruin the steel! Towards that end, I use synthetic abrasives that are super fine, much softer than steel or even bonded oxides (patina) and that are designed to 'clean' rather than shape. Then I follow Bob Lovelace's advice "Grind or polish hardened steel with bare hands. If the metal is too hot to hold; It's Too Hot! Cool it off!"

23 Extreme Closeup.jpg

All of the age and patina are preserved, but the active rust is fully removed and you don't have to worry (as much) about 'spontaneous' corrosion kicking off from a missed pocket of active rust.

Now for the wood:

It doesn't show up in the pictures as well as I would have liked, but you can see a relatively long crack following the grain on the side of the scabbard. If you look even closer, you may notice that some areas of the crack are stained brown, the same look as the tip after the steam bath melted off the hide glue.

26 Stick crack.jpeg

I firmly believe that the start of this crack is original and the maker back filled it with a putty of hide glue and sanding dust. So that is exactly what I did for this repair:

27 stick spackle.jpg

I grabbed a piece of walnut, stuck it in a clean bucket and went at it with a sanding drum on my Dremel. Then I poured the contents of the bucket into a little glass jar. I blended the walnut dust into the hide glue and checked/adjusted the mix until I was satisfied with the match-up before actually applying the putty to the crack:

28 Stick Spackled.jpg

I waited for the glue to start hardening, then I went back and removed the excess and blended it into the grain with a cotton cloth which I dipped frequently into hot water.

29 Stick spackle clean and textured.jpg

I did the same, even more carefully to rebond the bark at the mouth, without causing it to crack off as I worked the glue into the paper thin gap.

And again... to fill in a couple cracks in the pommel:

Pommel cracks.jpg


Chipped Pommel.jpg

All of that done, it was time to start working the finish. My extensive reading lead me to deduce that the finish was shellac, which I confirmed by rubbing it down with an alcohol saturated cotton cloth. The shellac "reamalgamates" and flows just enough to help fill in cracks and gaps where it had been knocked off.

I then needed to add a little shellac to build it back to an appropriate coverage, but straight shellac is very shiny, and the stick was almost flat (not shiny).

29-1 Research material.jpgPublished in 1906

Research wins again: It turns out that shellac becomes 'flat', without compromising it's strength, with the addition of small amounts of Amorphous silica (in the form of diatomaceous earth).  I also wanted to thin the shellac I was using to minimize the quantity I was adding and ensure that it fully bonded with the original shellac. So, with some experimentation, I ended up with the recipe as 2 fl oz of Zinsser shellac; 2 fl oz of 91% alcohol** and 2 teaspoons of diatomaceous earth.

30 Flattening Shellac.jpg

Which changed the shellac from this --------------------------------------------- to this 

31 Shiny vs flat.jpg

Next stage was to fit a natural cork plug in the end to hold the blade steady/quiet, without gluing it back in, and glue the tip back on and re-crimp the dimples.

Final stage was to put an "English Polish" on it and seal the tip with shellac to prevent the glue from getting wet if the owner ever decides to take it for a stroll...in wet grass.

"French Polishing" is a fancy method of blending fine pumice with the shellac and buffing it onto a surface with a cloth pouch filled with an absorbent material dipped in a drying oil. The simultaneous buffing and application leaves a glass like appearance, but is notably less durable than just using shellac.

The English, being (in general) more practical and less flashy took the French Polish and split the steps. Shellac is applied in thin coats, dried and then buffed with an abrasive lubricated in a drying oil.  The oil is cleaned off and another thin layer of shellac is applied etc. This method has less flashy results, but is far stronger and more resistant to water than a French Polish.

English polishing.jpg


English polish.JPG

The camera brings out the shiny more than real life, but it's close enough.

TTFN: I will post a couple teaser pictures in the next section, but it is way too late/early to finish the WIP until after work tomorrow/today. 

(*based on the presence of a dozen or so very subtle strike marks at various points along the blade, a friend that happens to be the "1st Sergeant" in charge of all state troopers in my region, was really tempted to take it to a forensic lab, but preserving history won the debate)

(**the book said 92% or better but I already had the 91% on hand, so I gave it a shot)

Edited by James Spurgeon
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The Restoration process part of this thread concluded with the "English Polish" section above. If anyone wants clarification on any part of it, pop in and ask!

This section is for 2 things:

before/after images, heavily weighted to the "after".  And, to start a discussion regarding the date this would have been made.

Chipped joint and Browned Ricasso.jpgMid blade oxides.jpgForte-mid blade oxides.jpgHide glue patina.jpg


20 Ricasso - brighter.JPG22 Mid Blade Hollow grind.JPG

24 Best tip.JPG

Pommel cracks.jpg Became Finished Handle pommel Back.JPG

Chipped Pommel.jpg Became 34 Finished Handle L Side.JPG

OK, no more comparisons...just the finished Walking stick:

32 Finished Handle pommel.JPG33 Finished Handle pommel.JPG34 Finished Handle L Side.JPG35 Finished Handle underside.JPG36 Finished handle joint.JPG37-1 Split open.JPG

37 Forte.JPG38 Forte rotated.JPG


36-1 Best wood tip.JPG

21 Angle on Ricasso.jpg


Best starting point I have towards figuring out the age, would be the fact that style of small sword blade didn't really exist until after 1660 and they don't seem to be common until 1680. So I have an "Oldest" mark of 1660, but it becomes increasingly more probable as we move forward in that range.

On the "newest" mark; several aspects of this overall package fell out of favor by 1750. Individually, those aspects aren't solid time markers since many persisted in use for a number of years or even decades. However, collectively I think they make a strong case for that year as the "Newest".

First, the blade is a full length small sword mounted in an impossibly narrow stick, so it wasn't cheap.

Second, it was clearly designed for the joint between handle and scabbard to be nearly invisible, despite the obvious alignment triangles.

Happy face.jpgThese 2 dots are the original witness marks. The notches are less precise and had no finish (shellac) in them before I started.

Third, when sheathed and unidentified, this is incredibly plain for a "swagger stick", which takes me on to trains of thought. High quality sword canes from the late 1700s and well into the 1800s were rather exclusive items built into some of the most ornate canes I've ever seen. from the other side of this plain observation, why would you be commissioning this level of weapon under that much concealment... I don't have a definitive answer for that one, there were too many possibilities and my train ran out of steam while I was deciding....

The converse of 3 is that relatively plain sword canes I have seen have all had a crude feel to them, while this was obviously a master work, in an apprentice exterior.

Fourth, or fifth, as you can see in the last image of the ricasso, this is a laminated blade, likely for homogenization of a Blister Steel. Crucible homogenization of blister steel was commercialized in 1751. Although it was expensive stuff, the folding process to get blister steel as clean as this blade would easily eclipse the cost.  Again, not definitive on its own since some smith's continued to us blister steel and the folding process into the early 1800s, but again, I doubt they were refining it to the level of this blade.

To recap: Blister steel; too plain to be a fashion statement and too well made to have been commissioned by someone who couldn't afford a more decoratively worked cane. So, that seems to indicate that it was made in the era where open carry of rapiers and small swords had been banned or severely limited but while a full length sword was still advantageous over the pistol or dagger length "sword" canes.

Well having been up all night, that may not be as coherent as I wanted, but it's a start. What do you guys think? (and gals, but I'm aiming for Alan Longmire)




Edited by James Spurgeon
Finished ?
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Now I know why they want to x-ray my cane at the airport! :o I will be watching this one!! 

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I have heard people say they have pulled chips of glass from a glass table top by jerking on a stick with dried hide glue.

I've used a lot of the stuff and am not surprised that it wouldn't budge.

But I am very impressed with your solution.

Thanks for sharing that.




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I added the 3rd section and the first half dozen images for the fourth....The rest of the 4th section will come tomorrow.

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Oops, forgot to post down here so people get the notifications regarding new content.  

I also just noticed that I skipped an entire topic in the restoration. Adjusting the scabbard so the blade could seat without getting stuck once again! I will add that as soon as I can get a pictures of the 2 looooonnnnnnng chisels I made for the purpose. 


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I suspect third quarter 18th century myself, in the 1745-1770 period, so I think you have it.  As for shear steel, yes, it was the most common blade steel well into the 1800s.  Crucible steel was too expensive until the patent ran out.  

Good job!  

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Thank you all for the compliments!

This is something I "refused" to make a mistake with, so it felt like a very slow process with more time spent researching than actually doing the physical restoration.


I have added the final piece of content to the 3rd section above (the chisels I made and the process I followed to stop the blade from binding).


2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

I suspect third quarter 18th century myself, in the 1745-1770 period, so I think you have it.  As for shear steel, yes, it was the most common blade steel well into the 1800s.  Crucible steel was too expensive until the patent ran out.  

Good job!  

Well then, thanks Alan!  It's good to know I was at least in the right ballpark.

I must say, this is absolutely the cleanest shear steel I have ever seen, if the ricasso had been ground rather than forged to shape, I wouldn't have had a clue.


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Really good shear steel is almost impossible to tell from crucible steel until it has some age and corrosion on it.  They started with much cleaner wrought than we typically find today.  That means the grain pattern from the slag inclusions we're used to seeing on wrought is almost absent.  The faint pattern you see is the weld lines from all the layers of steel.  Pack carburizing, the way they did it, was with strips no more than 1/8" thick.  That was roasted in bone and leather charcoal for days to get good carbon penetration, which produces blister steel, so called because of the blistered appearance a bar fresh out of the furnace has.  A stack of that was then welded up, sheared into short lengths, and welded again, thus shear steel.  The finest grade was called triple shear from the number of times it got cut and stacked.  And of course it started with triple-refined wrought (whose grades were muck bar, straight out of the forge, merchant bar which was refined muck bar and most of what we see today, then double- and triple-refined bar).  And they were using the indirect process of refining pig iron into wrought in a finery forge rather than the direct process of bloomery iron, so it tended to be a lot cleaner to start with.

The above is a long-winded way of saying good shear steel has no slag inclusions.  If polished like a Japanese togishi would have done it would show mokume hada, the wood grain pattern.  Western polishing blurs the lines for a clean shine.

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9 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

The above is a long-winded way of saying good shear steel has no slag inclusions.  If polished like a Japanese togishi would have done it would show mokume hada, the wood grain pattern.  Western polishing blurs the lines for a clean shine.

This is what I love about this place! I like long winded answers, it's where I learn the stuff I didn't realize I should ask about...

Besides, you think like me:


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Awesome restoration! With interesting history. 

I would catigorize my thinking to be more like a frantic squirrel scurrying across a tree constantly taking a different branch.

I might start out thinking about blueberries, but I prefer rasberries; I remember when my mom got bitten by a bug while picking rasberries; what was that bug called? Queen something.... Queen! I love Freddy Mercury! Mooommaaaaaa ooooowwoooooo didn't meaaan to make ya cryyy! What was I thinking about 5 seconds ago? Shoot! I know it was important... 

It's a good thing I only think out loud when I'm alone or else people might try and have me re-evaluated. :ph34r:

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2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

You mean there are people who don't think that way? :blink:

That's what I've been told at least. :unsure:

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