Period Cleaning Kits

October 1998
Let’s all try to revamp our kits a bit over this winter for next year. The first step is to let go some of the 20th Century we’ve been lugging around. We won’t miss it for a few weekends a year, and it will make our experience that much more enjoyable It involves something very simple: Put together a “cleaning kit” and a “toiletries kit” to replace our 20th Century stuff. Each contains just 7 items, but they include everything you need for keeping your weapon, leathers, clothing, and body clean and in good repair for a weekend. Both together can be contained in a common bag (although they should be kept separate for health reasons.

You don’t need a huge orange modern gun cleaning kit. Your rammer, musket tool, and a worm, (all things that would have been issued with your musket for its care and maintenance), plus a cotton rag that can be cut into patches and a little period bottle with a cork for oil is all you need. The rammer is stored in your musket, the musket tool and worm go in the front pocket of your cartridge box (in a small bag to keep them from falling out and getting lost), and the bottle can be wrapped in the cotton cloth to put in your cleaning kit A small patch of emery cloth can also be put in your cartridge box for the immediate care of the occasional rust spot that appears out of nowhere.

A tin of shoe polish can be slowly melted (be careful not to let it boil) and poured into a candy or cap tin (about the same size) and a reproduction period label can be glued to it. One of the most difficult things to find today is a real-bristle brush with a wooden handle. If any of you discovers a cache of them anywhere, scarf them up – almost everyone in Sykes needs one You will recover your investment (and maybe a little profit) at the very next event. The tin and one or two shoe brushes go in your cleaning kit. This is all you need to care for all your leathers.

You don’t need a can of Brasso or a tube of some sort of WonderShine. Another candy or cap tin will contain a considerable lump of NeverDull. It is not a liquid that is heavy and can be spilled, not a paste that can melt in heat and leach out of whatever it is in, and is not in a tube that may explode if crushed It can’t ruin anything else you have no matter how much you abuse it. A piece of soft cloth (either heavy cotton or flannel) for a cleaning rag, and you have everything you need for taking care of all your brass and even the metal of your musket. A button stick is handy to prevent the polish from getting on the clothing or leather on which the brass is mounted. These two items go in your cleaning kit.

A clothing brush (an extra shoe brush) will clean your wool. Dip the tips of the bristles in water and it will remove dust and even dried, caked-on mud from your uniform. Again, this is a difficult item to find, but it is the way wool was cleaned before dry-cleaning was invented

A housewife can be included in this cleaning kit also to take care of minor tears, unraveled stitches, and popped buttons. It should include just a bit more than those ready-made ones at the sutlers. At the very least, you need one extra button for your 4-button, one for your vest (and kepi), and one for your suspenders (or your shelter half) An extra pair of shoelaces will come in handy one day. Beyond that, a patch of dark blue wool and a patch of light blue kersey will let you repair holes that suddenly appear in your uniform at odd moments.

These seven items (bottle of oil, tin of bootblack, shoe brush, tin of metal polish, button stick, clothing brush, and housewife), plus an oil rag and a polish rag, replace all sorts of modern things you’ve been lugging around for years. And they all fit in a drawstring bag half the size of a common sandwich bag that will fit in one corner of your knapsack.

A “toiletries kit” composed of a toothbrush, a tiny bottle of tooth powder, a comb, and a cake of soap wrapped in a huckaback cloth about the size of a washcloth or a small hand towel will take care of your body for a weekend. Those of you who are clean-shaven or sport any sort of trim to the natural growth of facial hair also need at least a straight razor and possibly a shaving brush for the tourists to see. Those who give free reign to facial hair don’t really need these items but should have them in the event of lice All this fits into a bag half the size of your cleaning kit. For those who need contact lens implements, disguise them by putting the modern containers inside period containers. They won’t get contaminated, they won’t be left out to be seen, and you don’t have to “go to your car” just as a formation or some work detail looms its ugly head over the company.

That’s it. Now you don’t have to hide in your tent or get caught with something modern laying about while doing common things that soldiers would be doing all the time. Everything you have can be cleaned and maintained with these few items They are not just extraneous “period” decorations to display in your tent; they can be used to replace the 20th Century and lighten the load of stuff you need to lug around for every event. Between events, they are stored in your knapsack, are out of the way, and won’t be forgotten for the next event. The only maintenance required is to be sure you refill anything you use.

First Sgt. Stephen Hanson 
2nd US Infantry 
Sykes Regulars