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Applying white to a musket sling

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There is something unfinished about any long firearm such as a musket or modern rifle that is without its sling.   To me it is not properly “dressedâ€.  Many of the muskets and even rifles and their accompanying kit of the British Empire were white.  Many times these were coated with what was known as Blanco and therefore the finished kit and even including the Wolseley-style helmets were said to have been Blancoed.



A search of my small area of the world revealed that the product know as “Blanco†was unavailable; so what to use.  Further reading suggested that I try what is called “Gesso†an acrylic compound that artists use when preparing their canvas to accept the paint they will be using.  So it was off the art store in a neighbouring city with the faint hope of finding Gesso.  I say “faint hope†as I have found that trying to locate some much needed materials here in my part of Ontario quite often ends in disappointment.  The young lady at the art store was very helpful and if I were fifty years younger...  Who am I trying to kid, I would have left with the Gesso after having been too scared to strike up a conversation with the young lady.  Even at sixteen I was constantly engaged in such projects, which as my wife likes to point out, is why I have no friends from my youth. 

Original nerd!




Quite a while ago I had several leather slings custom made in England for my muskets and black powder carbines.  I say “custom made†only in the sense that I had contacted a gentleman who produces these slings and asked that he make mine “inside outâ€.  That is to say with the rough unfinished leather on the outside and the smooth side inside.  I could have simply used smooth sided slings and turned them around but the fastening rivets would have also been the wrong way around.  There is a section of an old possibly original sling shown with the newly made slings so you might get an idea of how older slings look after several decades.


Gesso is a thick liquid not unlike acrylic paints used in art work, so in a sense I suppose this is actually an acrylic white paint used as a base coat on canvas.  At first I thought to use a small tin can to hold the Gesso but soon found out that applying a “gob†onto a piece of cardboard, much in the manner of a artist using a paint pallet worked best.  I use a lot of disposable brushes in the shop and decided to try one of these in my first attempt; first big mistake.  The Gesso is thick and while disposable brushes work well when applying pre-stain and then stain to a piece of furniture I found the black bristles tended to pull out of the brush at an alarming rate.  Since I also found that the water cleanup worked very well on the brush the second sling was painted using a good quality brush.  The second big mistake was not taking the sling apart.  I thought to coat all of the areas I could get at and any areas under the leather loops could be done at a later time after the first coat had dried.  Not only did the Gesso tend to stick all of the moving parts together the areas where the Gesso had not been applied presented a problem that in hindsight I should have anticipated.  The second coat left the formally untreated areas quite visible, so a third coat was necessary to blend everything together. 


The second sling was disassembled and even the first coat was a vast improvement over the first experiment.  A second coat may not have been absolutely necessary but a second coat was applied anyway.  I should mention that Gesso is non-chalking and by that I mean it will not rub off onto the musket or your clothing once it is dry.  I purchased a couple of Martini Henrys a number of years ago (since sold) that had slings that were coated with liquid white shoe polish.  This did “chalk†and where the sling touched the stock a white mark had been left.  If you rubbed your hand over the sling the white chalk-like residue came off.  I would never recommend the use of liquid white shoe polish on any piece of military kit, unless you know of one that will not leave a chalky residue.


I am fortunate to have a shop where I can do just about any project that my humble talents will allow.  In the shop I have a drying pole (see photos) where smaller projects that would not dry well on a bench are suspended.  The pole, especially with the gargoyle at its top, probably looks like something that would be better suited to a medieval torture chamber but take my word for it this is indispensable when working with smaller projects.


                                      http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_02_2015/post-1801-0-44926800-1424544362.jpg                              http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_02_2015/post-1801-0-07514600-1424544385.jpg                                           


If you want to attempt this but lack areas in which to work you can put down some news papers on the kitchen table, coat the sling and suspend it, using some coat hanger wire, from your shower curtain rod.  Gesso is thick and it dries very quickly therefore there is no problems with it dripping onto the floor or bathtub.  Being water clean-up any accidents you might have can be cleaned up quickly and easily (before your wife returns from shopping).  I would suggest wearing latex gloves when working with Gesso or any liquid finish even though they may be water soluble.  Any colouring tends to get under your fingernails or in the creases of your hands so gloves are a good idea.


You will find that the Gesso has made the sling slides harder to “slide†and the installation is somewhat of an ordeal.  Be patient and keep working the sling strap through the slide loops, it will eventually go where you want it.  If you find that the musket or rifle sling loops were not as clean as you thought them to be and this has left some dirt or grease on the sling I would not get too concerned.  I don’t like additions like a sling looking like it just came from the factory as it doesn’t match the weapon, most of the time.  A little grime simply ages the sling and makes it look more authentic.  There are aging tricks you can do to make your sling look absolutely “period†but that is something that would be better left for another post at a later date.  Just keep in mind that a little dirt and grime is your friend, if you are looking for an authentic look to the sling.



This may be a little work compared with purchasing a ready-made and pre-coloured sling but I am sure anyone can pull it off.  The reason I have posted this project is, as always, in an attempt to encourage you to try this yourself.





As a postscript; if you want to have an authentic look to your musket sling then try my method.  If this is not all that important to you simply purchase a pre-coloured white sling; it is a lot easier, though a lot less satisfying in the end.

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Two comments on the saga of the slings: absolute accuracy would involve using something which did transfer to red coats, blue trousers and black packs.  It was a well known problem with pipe clay in the early 19th century and continues with both white blanco and various other compounds with which belting was treated.  One 1800s ear letter from a church vicar to a regimental colonel demanded a remedy for the fact that all his pews had been stained wit5h piep clay after a church parade.The culprit there was the insistance by various senior NCOs that the coatings be put on very thickly so that the might be buffed to a shine.  In the Second War, "blanco" in white, khaki, dark blue and black was, ideally, applied in such a fashion as to completly fill the surface irregularities in a woven web belt so that, ultimately, it looked completely smmoth, not unlike the plastic version which replaced the white ones in the '60s and '70s!


As a re-enactor of 1800s era British soldiery, friends and I have in the past laboured mightily to get 'buff leather' - with a surface finsh smoother than the rough side of most leather but not 'finished' in the modern fashion.  There followed many experiments with various coatings.  Sadly, for the fans of authenticity, white Rustoleo paint proved to give the best combination of authentic look - its the fish oil in it - and durability!

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Thank you Peter for providing the information regarding the authentic product.

Of course I wanted to avoid getting any white residue all over the place and knowing me it would even end up on the walls. :blush:


Thanks again.



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  • 1 month later...

As an army recuiit I had to blanco waist belts a light khaki. although for the first 6 weeks they had to be scrubbed clean of the blanco and kept scrubbed clean. There's an art to blancoing. getting the correct, even layer on without caking it.

A word of advice - if you think  you can achieve a good clean scrubbed looking effect by scrubbing webbing with euthymol tooth powder, I can tell you from bitter experience that you can't - your belt ends up day-glo white with a little hint of pink. Really makes you stand out, not in a good way.

I blanco'd white knitted gloves with white blanco once, as the gloves were a mismatched pair, slightly different shades, and I thought I'd better sort them out rather than march up and down outside Buckingham Palace with different coloured hands. Unfortunately my Sarn't Major wasn't impressed by my black metal and plastic SLR turning white in the clouds of dust that arose every time I presented arms, shouldered arms, butt saluted etcetc.

I seem to remember trainer whitener being used instead of white blanco on webbing.

I think a lot of people don't know tthe different coloured shades of blanco that were used by different army units, so perhaps a re-enactor nowadays would wear khaki blanco'd webbing rather than the green or grey that the unit hehe portrays actually wore.

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When you mention 'trainer whitener' I assume that you are referring to what we colonials would call 'liquid shoe polish [white]' or 'shoe whitener'.  I have chums who've used that too and it has a nasty tendency to flake and float in little clouds, much to the disgust of senior NCOs.  To paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, 'The squaddy's life is not a happy one!' :D

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