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For example, I'm carrying an axe with 20% damage bonus. Does that only apply to the axe when it is active, or also to the flame thrower, my primary weapon?

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Normally weapon stats only apply when the weapon is active, however there are a few exceptions to this, the pain train being just one example. The wearer gets both of the weapons benefits regardless of whether or not the weapon is active:

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Weapons effects which take place without the weapon being active will be followed with "on wearer", like in the above example. These effects will also appear under the "Current on-wearer attributes" header on the character load out page:

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Also, in the loadout screen, on-wearer effects will be listed below the image of your character. (Feel free to edit this in, or not) –  Kevin Reid Jul 14 '12 at 15:34
    
@KevinReid Good idea. I've added that in, thanks. –  Wipqozn Jul 14 '12 at 16:06
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Damage increases/decreases are usually weapon-specific, meaning the buff/debuff only applies while that particular weapon is active. Other attributes, such as fire or explosive vulnerability, apply to the character as a whole no matter what the active weapon is.

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