Part 4 - Cleaning the Different Mediums of Maille
by Lord Thomas the Black
CLEANING THE DIFFERENT MEDIUMS OF MAILLE
Welcome back to another month of Blackmaille! Last month, we talked about many of the different kinds of wire that mail can be made from. But what do you do when your mail gets all grungy? This month, we're going to look at the five most popular metal families for mail, and how to clean each one.
By the way, all of this information and more can be found at www.mailleartisans.org !
ALUMINUM - One option is to take it to a car wash, and use the wheel-cleaning mode on the handheld brush. "Simple Green" is another popular choice for many armorers. It can be used straight from the bottle, or diluted with water up to a 10 to 1 solution and still be very effective. In the automotive section of many department stores, you can find wheel cleaners. Pick up a tire brush while you're there. Get a bucket of water and mix up your solution, lay the mail down on a flat surface, and scrub it with the tire brush. Rinse the soap off with a garden hose. "Simple Green" is biodegradable, non-toxic, non-abrasive, and pretty darned cheap to use, once you see just how far it will go. It's sold by the gallon, or in the little "windex" bottle size. If you can't find it, ask for it. it really is that good.
BRASS, BRONZE, COPPER, PHOSPHOROUS BRONZE, AND SILICON BRONZE - All are copper alloys, and can be returned to their original luster by putting them in a plastic strainer (not metal, as this will scratch the rings) inside a large bowl, then coating the mail well with a mixture of water-soluble copper cleanser. "Tarnex" is good. Swish the strainer around like you're panning for gold to coat the mail well, and also to lightly rub the rings together. Larger items, like the brass edging on hauberks and coifs, can be cleaned the same way by hanging the mail and dipping the edges into the bowl. Use and old toothbrush, a fingernail brush, or other non-scratching brush to spread the cleaner around. Rinse clean with water, rub thoroughly with a towel to get the majority of the water out, then remove any remaining moisture with a hair dryer to avoid dark blotching.
GALVANIZED STEEL - Short of sealing it in a vacuum, there's really nothing you can do to stop it turning gray. Galvy is the most popular and forgiving of all mail-making mediums. Almost everyone starts on the "fence wire". Some swear by it, and others about it. Many people tumble a small amount of rings in a pillowcase tossed into a dryer with no heat. This will shine them up, but be forewarned: the zinc coating on the steel is a sacrificial coating. It oxidizes, thus saving the wire underneath from rusting. I don't recommend "cleaning" per se, because you can't clean away the zinc oxide without removing a thin layer of the zinc. This lessens the life of the protection, and the new shine will only last a short time before it oxidizes again. Do this often enough, and you're left with bare steel and a whole new problem: rust! If you want shiny mail, I would suggest stainless wire.
STAINLESS STEEL - Small pieces can be thrown into the dishwasher. Your eating utensils are stainless, and it does a great job on them, doesn't it? Fact is, it was designed to do so. In my experience, "Cascade" liquid gel works best. If it's too big for the dishwasher, get a bucket of warm water, soak the mail for a while, and use the tire brush you got for the aluminum stuff.
MILD STEEL - Mild steel isn't pretty to begin with, but it's the most period type of mail medium available today. As such, for the best method of cleaning, you can't beat the way it was done in the Middle Ages. Get yourself a bucket (preferably one with a lid) big enough to hold the item you're cleaning and then some. Fill the bucket about half full with fine sand, put in the item to be cleaned, and pour in about half a cup of vinegar, then snap on the lid. Then, simply roll the bucket around for a while to let the sand and vinegar work in around the mail and scrub it clean.
Fun Fact - Did you know that the modern "medicine ball" found in gyms evolved from this method of cleaning mail? The mail, sand, and vinegar would be put into a large leather sack, tied tightly shut, and the knight's squires would toss the sack back and forth to clean the mail, building upper body strength in the process.
Well, that's about it for another edition of Blackmaille! As always, please send any mail-related questions to:
c/o Tom Beckett
6522 E 125th St, Apt 2
Grandview, MO 64030
Next month: Tools of the Trade!
See you next month!
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