How should I care for my martial arts weapons? Do they need a lot of upkeep?
Lets start with the upkeep first. Do they require upkeep? No... They don't. If you never oil them for the rest of your life, they will still look pretty and last forever.
The most common issue is that after the oil seeps into the wood, the grain may raise a bit over time. It will feel slightly rough in places instead of that silky smoothness it has initially. This is the state I send them out in. If they sit for a while, and were freshly oiled they can become dull, especially after handling. The way to bring it back to their original condition is extremely simple and quick. First you run it over with some fine sandpaper. 320 is what I use. Then then I dab a few drops of oil on with my finger up and down the staff and wipe it in with a cloth or your fingers. And voila! You will see that the entire staff is shiny again, and once again... silky smooth. :)
Although they do not REQUIRE any upkeep, it certainly can't hurt to oil them once in a while. It brings out their natural beauty, and it sure is good for the wood.
What oils are best to use? The oil I use is a very high grade boiled linseed oil. Also I have heard but have no experience with tung oil, which I have heard is quite good as well. Honestly I would not use any other oils besides these two. Tung oil is very clear. Linseed darkens the wood very slightly. Hickory goes becomes a warm yellow or orange color which I like very much and you can see in any pictures.
Do you varnish your staffs? I do not use any varnish. Varnish easily breaks upon contact and the feel and smoothness of natural oils on a martial arts staff is superior. Linseed oil once dry which happens quickly, gives a wonderful feel where your hands can slide effortlessly up and down the staff while still responding to you grip to stop the staff from sliding. Varnish is much more sticky and can squeak as you move your hands. With this said.. varnish for that reason may be better for hiking as it has more friction and more protection. I do not offer varnish applications. I can however send them out unoiled, if you want to finish them yourself, and if this is the case please contact me or leave a note once purchased.
Can I use them in the rain? Sure. Of course weather and wood do not mix, a short stint or once in a while exposing them to weather probably will not drastically damage your weapon. The oil will see to that and it naturally protects it. If you intend to use them for hiking where they will be exposed to constant changing weather conditions I would suggest applying some sort of weatherproofing upgrade, which seals the staff. See the previous paragraph. There are also other options instead of varnish for waterproofing applications. I recommend a gunstock finish such as Birchwood Casey. I have had wonderful success in the past with this and it is easy to apply. Again, I do not offer this service here. But I recommend looking into it. It also sits on top of the oil and hardens just fine. So this is how I have done and recommend to add a waterproofing treatment.
Can they be used for a walking staff? Sure. Of course with any wood on rocks or pavement the bottom will wear. Less for hickory, but it will wear slightly over time. This is why we offer ruber high quality crutches.
What if the wood warps? This can happen. Any wood can change overtime. We undergo tremendous efforts to make sure to keep the wood from warping and use straight wood, but this is a natural material and although I haven't found it to be a tremendous problem, it can happen. The method I use is to wedge the staff between something (padded) and GENTLY push it back into shape. This takes some experience... however my only advice is that if you think that if you push further it might break, trust your intuition, and stop. A slightly bent bo staff is not the end of the world. The bo I used for 20 years had a bend in it, that if I saw on ANY of my products I would not sell, and until I started making them for myself and looked, I never noticed it or felt it. So you must ask yourself is it worth trying to fix and risking the weapon, or letting it be. It is up to you.
What about contact? Hickory is made for contact. It is the wood with the best impact properties. And while any wooden weapon used in kobudo has a limited life, hickory is your best bet. Hickory ipe laminate bos are even better.