View Full Version : Finishing a Colt Navy 1851

Fred S
July 15, 1999, 07:16 PM
I recieved my Navy Arms Colt 1851 Navy "kit" today. The pistol came fully assembled which suprised me. The only work I have to do is take it apart and finish the frame, grips, trigger guard and backstrap.

OK Now what?

1. The frame. Its steel. I guess it needs to be finished in that brownish blue cloring the looks like it was heated or something (The loading lever and hammer are already done this way) How do I do this?

2. The grips are wood of course. They look to be cut out in basic form and are very round. File and sand to shape I guess, then give them a walnut stain etc. This I think I can handle.

3. The trigger guard and backstrap are brass. They look like they are just out of the casting mouls. They are rough and have a mold seam through the middel. These look like they need to be ground down and polished. OH. How do I do this. I do have a Dremel tool but probably not the right gizzies to do the work as I use the Dremel for plastic model building.

I can't find a book that will tell me what to do. Anyone know of one?

The nice thing is that the barrel and cylander came already blued.

Thanks in advance.


4V50 Gary
July 15, 1999, 08:45 PM
With metal finishing, the key is the polish. You can have the best bluing or browning solutions and equipment in the world but if your metal is poorly polished, it will reflect in the bluing/browning.

Polishing entails removal of all the rough marks without removing any stampings (like the make, origin, manufacturer's emblem and what not) from the metal. The easiest way we did it was to replace the wheels on the grinder with one of sisel. A polishing compound (rough) is applied to the wheel and the object held against the lower half of the wheel. Always polish in the same direction so as to avoid any crossing patterns. When it's shiny, then apply a finer polishing compound the other sisel wheel and polish again. When you're finished, set it aside for bluing/browning. Don't touch with your hands since the oils will mar the finish.

If you don't have access to hot blue tanks, you could use the cold rust blue (read instructions on the bottle). I would prefer to do it the old fashion browning technique which takes about three days. Using this technique, you first degrease the polished object (you can dip the frame in a pot of boiling water (tie a wire to the front and back of it so you can suspend it into the pot). After about 10 minutes, pull it out. You want the frame good and hot since it makes any moisture evaporate rapidly. With a clean cotton ball (use rubber gloves since you don't want oil on the metal), dab it with the browning solution and apply an even coat on the metal. When the ball becomes dryish, wet a fresh one and apply. Apply the coat evenly. Now, take the frame and suspend it in a humidifier box (simple wooden box with a 25 watt bulb. Above the bulb in a rack should be a pan of water with a towel). This allows for a high humidity environment which will promote rusting. The frame should be suspended by the same two wires which were used in the dipping process. Let it sit overnight.

The next day, remove the frame from your humidifier box. Using (soapless) steel wool (which must be greasefree), rub off the excess rust. Now, dump it in the boiling water again for 10 minutes and afterwards, repeat the application of the bluing formula. Place back in the humdifier cabinet.

Repeat the above on the third day.

On the forth day, you may want to card off the excess rust. It should be a very dark blue or brown now. Apply a solution of baking soda and water to it to neutralize any further rusting. When it's dry, treat the metal with a paste wax or oil to protect it. Allow it to cure overnight.

You can use store bought Browning agents like Tru-Brown for the above procedure.

A faster way of bluing is to use a rapid browner (like the one Birchwood Casey sells as Plum Brown). You heat the metal to 200 degrees, and with a clean cotton swab, apply the solution. You may have to apply about three coats to get the desired finish and when you're happy, use that baking soda & water mixture to neutralize the browning process. Paste wax/oil follows. Oh, you still have to do that same polishing process beforehand.

Now, if you're lazy, you take it to a gunsmith and pay, pay, pay.

A method which was told to me but which I've never tried was to oven bake it. Yep, just dump it in the over for a few hours (200 degrees) and let the heat color it. Can't testify to the Betty Crocker method or to its durability.

Stelle and Harrison also mention a technique for color case hardening (which I never tried). Take your polished object and pack it into a iron pipe wfilled with fine bone dust. Cap the ends and place it on a fire, allowing it to heat to a red color for fifteen minutes (the thicker the object, the longer the time). Remove the pipe, and dump the object into a pail of cold water (I would use distilled water). For color, Stelle and Harrison recommends using the charcoal of ground up burnt leather in lieu of bone dust.

Next Topic: Brass.

I dislike the dremel. Use files to remove the casting lines and to smoothen the brass. When you're close to finish, use emery paper. Start with a rough grade (120 and progressive work towards a finer grade. You may even take it to the buffer wheel as described above).

Books: Sam Fadala's, "Black Powder Hobby Gunsmithing" is OK for beginners. Walther J. Howe's, "Professional Gunsmithing" has been my favourite for years. Stelle and Harrison's, "The Gunsmith Manual" is very good for old (pre-1900) gunsmithing.

If you have any other questions, please post. By the way, CHEAT. I went to the NRA Gunsmithing College and took their week long course on bluing and parkerizing. You get to use all the machines, bluing tanks, salts, etc. for only $33.

Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt

George Stringer
July 16, 1999, 06:06 AM
Fred, Gary gave you a pretty thorough answer. About the only thing I would add to it is a "poor man's solution" to coloring like case hardening. In an oven, heat the part you wish to color until it is just a little too hot to handle. Use cotton swabs and liberally apply Perma Blue all over the part. Colors very nicely but will be more blue than brown. George

James K
July 16, 1999, 12:20 PM
H, Fred,

Gee, I hate being a wet blanket (no, I don't, but I have to pretend). I'll make a small wager that by the time you are half done with that kit you will be ready to throw it in the nearest lake.

I once, in a moment of foolishness, agreed to finish a kit for a customer. Now note that I am a fairly experienced gunsmith and very familiar with SA and percussion revolvers. I also had all the tools and facilities of a fairly good sized shop.

I nearly went nuts. File and fit. Grind a little and try again. Polish and try. Assemble and disassemble. Over and over. There is no way anyone could pay enough for me to do that again. And the kit cost only a little less than the complete gun.

Needless to say, we wanted to keep the customer, so I did not charge anywhere near normal rate, which would have been ten times the price of the kit. And I never accepted another kit job.


George Stringer
July 16, 1999, 10:40 PM
Jim, you old sourpuss! These guns are intended for the hobbyist. Half the price is for giving you something to do. Would you go as far as to say that they give folks their money's worth?:-) I've never assembled one of the revolvers but I used to get the percussion and flint-lock pistol kits, Kentucky, Mountain, etc. for relaxation. But, then I discovered that a stick and a pocketknife gave me the same for a lot less money so now I whittle. Nothing fancy, just make little sticks out of bigger sticks. George

James K
July 18, 1999, 05:56 PM

I agree on the stick. Less frustrating than a kit and lots cheaper. And you don't have to worry about spoiling something. Maybe we could sell whittling kits.


4V50 Gary
August 21, 1999, 07:55 AM
Intrigued, I bought a kit myself ($79.95) from Navy Arms and started working on it this week.

I filed the brass grip frame with a rough file first, then a fine one. A rattail file was used for the curved surface of the grip and for the trigger guard. The same for the trigger guard. The receiver had some huge burrs which cleaned up nicely with a fine file. The same fine file was then used to lightly smoothen the milling marks around the recoil shield. Sandpaper (130) was used to smoothen out the remaining milling marks on the receiver.

The trigger guard was then fitted to the receiver (it was slightly wider) by carefully filing it. I used the Mark I finger to test how the edges of the two surfaces mated. Also the back end of the receiver and the trigger guard must be flush if the grips are to fit properly. After fitting the trigger guard, the grip was fitted to the receiver and trigger guard. Areas to fit include the curved surface where the two attaching screws are inserted and finally, the frontstrap area where the trigger guard and the grip meet. All the brass parts and the receiver were then sanded with 130 grain sandpaper.

Tape was then applied along the entire brass grip frame (and sculpted to fit with a knife or razor blade) and filing commenced to fit the grips. The key part to fit is the where the wood meets the receiver. I think the disc sander comes in very handy here.

So far, the project has taken about 7 hours of work. It'll probably take me another hour to finish fitting the grips and an hour or so of polishing them.

Since I'm not at the College, I'll use George's technique of simulating a color case hardening finish. Now, the trick is to find somebody else's toaster oven to do it in. "Hey kid! Is your mom home? Wanna make $5?"

If you have the time, assembling the kit is both fun and easy (and if you're goofy like me, theraputic). When you're done, you'll have a shooter which you'll be proud of.

Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt

Fred S
August 23, 1999, 07:02 AM

I finished my Navy Colt in about a weekend. it turned out to be easier than I thought. I pretty much did he same things you did. I used emory paper then a polishing wheel on a grinder to do the final metal polishing after filing.

I used Burchwood and Casey Plumb Brown to finish the frame. it is easy to use. I heated the frame in my wife's oven to get it to the right temp.

I fired the gun this last friday, it shoots well and is a lot of fun.


August 27, 1999, 09:19 AM
I've tried every cold blue known to man and Brownells Oxpho Blue is the only one that won't cause after rust eventually. They put phosphoric acid in it, which prevents rust. the blues that have a lot of copper, like permablue, actually cause rust. Plum brown, I've got a bottle but haven't tried it yet. I did try the slow rust blueing once. Total disaster. There was something in the supposedly distilled water I used that turned the gun bright orange instead of black! Not a conventional rust but a real hard orange finish. Anyone have any experience with this process I'd appreciate some pointers.