View Full Version : Need High Polish Blue

September 4, 2007, 04:58 PM
I'm having another custom pistol built. My Smith only does the newer high tech type finishes. I want a high polish carbona blue on the pistol Turnbull and others quote about $250 but that does not include polishing. I understand that a very high polish cost several hundreds of dollars. Can someone refer me toanyone that does the polish and carbona blueing at an affordable price. The frame/slide is new caspian and is blank so it's pretty straight forward. I'm told that I need about a #1200 grit finish. Colt custom shop does what I need very reasonable, about $300. But they only do Colts. Any help appreciated.

The Tourist
September 4, 2007, 05:02 PM
Is Robar still in business?

September 5, 2007, 05:46 AM
Robar still exist but they only do modern finishes which I do not like. Few companies can do carbona blue.

September 5, 2007, 11:20 AM
45044 - Master Re-blue Entire Pistol (Must be free of pits and heavy scratches. This is hand polished. No machine polishing.)

Custom Work - Price Includes Installation by Cylinder and Slide. You must ship your fire arm to Cylinder & Slide to have this work done.

Price: $401.00

Good Luck...


James K
September 5, 2007, 11:37 AM
True Carbona blue involves use of a furnace. The factories did it as part of the heat treatment process, so it could not be repeated or really duplicated. I would be interested in knowing if anyone is actually doing Carbona blue today.

The closest you can probably come is a high polish and hot tank blue, but be warned. You say you want high polish blue, but that will actually be closer to black, the type of finish seen on Weatherby rifles and some other top line guns. The color you get depends mostly on the polish, and if you want blue, a very high polish is not the way to get it. The color is due to light refraction; the higher the polish, the lesser the light is being refracted, the darker the finish.


September 5, 2007, 01:00 PM
Jim, yes carbona blueing does require using a furnace and temps several hundreds of degrees with the item packed in bone dust that has been carbonized in a sealed vessel at extremely high tempertures. I have contacted two that do true carbonna ie Turnbull and Rons Gun Restoration. Both charge approx $250 or so. However this does not include the polish work, which is an additional several hundred for the high polish needed. Absolutely nothing I've ever seen on a pistol (and of the thousands I've seen and owned - I've only seen one) is as beautiful as a blue-black carbona finish. I'll pay the price for Turnbull if I can get someone else to do the polish up to #1200 grit and knows what they are doing. Colt has Rons doing the carbona finish on the WWI replica 1911 however it is not high polish as it is a true reproduction of the original finish. Still looks pretty good though. Carbona is pretty durable too.

Bill DeShivs
September 5, 2007, 01:40 PM
Color case hardening is done at high temperatures, with carbonizing agents in a sealed container. It has mottled colors.
Carbona bluing is done with heat, at lower temperatures. It essentially uses the decarburization of steel to color it. These colors are commonly known as "heat treatment colors." The surface color is very thin and fragile, but can be beautiful.

September 5, 2007, 02:17 PM
Bill, I'm no expert I'm just repeating what I've read from memory. I think I read there is an oil quench after the heating. I "think" I remember that the heat portion was shockingly high. So high I wondered if the "temper" of the gun parts would be changed and had to be re-tempered. Also, the pistol I had was carried quite a lot but not too long - just several months. Looked like new. No wear at all. With the beauty of the pistol and the endurance I saw, I loved the finish. However my custom pistol project becomes very hard to swallow if I must pay $750 for the blue. Also I was just told over the phone there is a 9 month wait for a true carbona blue at some of the shops doing them.

September 5, 2007, 04:16 PM
Bill Adair does restoration work but I'm almost positive he doesn't work on new production pistols.


Here's a pic of a restored M1911 with high polish carbona blue and fire blued accents.


Under his section of guns he doesn't work on.

"Clones or ‘modern’ variations such as 1911 military reproductions."

September 5, 2007, 04:20 PM
Should you have Turnbull do your pistol it would be beautiful. He does the carbona blue and color case hardening for US Firearms.

My two USFA Pre War revolvers with high polish carbona blue.



I remembered reading a topic on the smith-wessonforum.com a while ago about carbona blue and a name that came up was Gene Williams. Apparently he uses a modern blueing method that produces an appearance similar to carbona blue. Here is the thread and a few intersting tidbits.


"Gene Williams does some awesome work, but he only does the modern hot salts bluing. Now, having said that, Roy Jinks at a gunshow was fooled by the correct color he gets it to match the carbonia bluing. Jinks was amazed when I told him several years ago. Gene's guns come out looking correct inspite of the fact he uses the modern bluing. I had a Colt 1917 done this way and it looks like it rolled out of the factory in 1917."

Roy Jinks is the S&W Historian. So if he was fooled by Gene Williams "carbona" blue imitation thats a pretty good endorsement.

Another post..

"I think he re-blued my Triple Lock (possibly the first S&W he restored) about 10 times before he got it the way he wanted it... It has fooled experts several times and it was in very bad shape when I got it."

His contact phone number is in that thread. I don't know if he works on new stuff or only restorations but it might be worth calling him and seeing what you can find out.

James K
September 5, 2007, 09:43 PM
There may be other methods, but the way S&W did it was to hang the guns in racks in a revolving drum that was heated and had the Carbona chemicals put in. The guns were not buried in bone dust; that would be for case hardening. Carbona bluing is extremely durable and long lasting, not at all like heat bluing which is only a thin color on the surface.


James K
September 5, 2007, 10:17 PM
There may be other methods, but the way S&W did Carbonia bluing (note the "i") was to hang the guns in racks in a revolving drum that was heated to over 600 degrees and had the Carbonia chemicals put in. The process was part of the heat treatment, which is why it could not be repeated. Guns sent to S&W for refinish were hot tank blued. If true Carbonia bluing is used by restorers, I would be somewhat concerned about refinishing guns using such a high temperature process, but I guess those guns will be for show, not use.

The guns were not buried in bone dust and there was no oil quench, just normal cooling; there was no mottling and no color other than the old S&W blue. Carbonia bluing is extremely durable and long lasting, not at all like heat bluing which is only a thin color on the surface. Like other finishes, the polishing has a lot to do with the final appearance, and can be anything from a shiny black to a "brush blue". (S&W's trademark hammer and trigger case coloring was done in a cyanide bath with air bubbling, not by any charcoal or bone process.)

Contrary to what has been written, Carbonia blue was not developed by S&W and was not proprietary. The process was developed by the American Gas Furnace Company, which rather gives an indication as to how it was used. Since it is a trademark for a specific process, not just a generic term for case hardening or bluing, I have capitalized it here.


September 5, 2007, 11:09 PM
Some notes on gun bluing:

1. The polish, or gleam on a nicely blued firearm has nothing to do with the bluing solution or mix--and EVERYTHING to do with the preparation.

To achieve a high polish blue, you must first disassemble and clean the firearm thoroughly. Now, degrease it.

Look over the surface carefully. Note any flaws--dings, dents, etc--and remove or blend them.

Now, start with bluing stripper. All old blue or rust must be removed. After this is done, start your polish. I start with 240 grit with tight muslin wheels, and felt bobs for the small spaces. Next, 320; finishing with 400 grit. In all polishes, you must turn the work 45 degrees after polishing in one direction. Make sure that your wheels are mounted well, and trued prior to use.

After the 400 grit polish, I graduate to Brownell's 555 polishes. First, the black to get the primary finish, on a tight muslin wheel. 555 black does an excellent job of polishing aluminum, too!

Next the 555 Gray, also on a tight muslin wheel. I load the wheel for each step, and go slow with light pressure--let the wheel and the polish do the work. Too much pressure will build up heat, which leads to rounding of corners, and dishing out holes. Not good.

Finally, the 555 White--first on the tight muslin, then on a felt wheel.

I have polished guns for friends before, but only when I could get them to a bluing bath immediately. When you can do this--a mirror finished polish, no ripples or waves, all corners square and sharp, screws well appointed and no screw holes dished out--you can be assured of a premier job.

For a matte finish, you can stop after the Polish-O-Ray 320, and have the parts bead blasted with a fine mesh size. Or, use a soft wire wheel for a brushed finish. Polish-O-Ray 240 will leave a nice, matte brushed finish.

Someone mentioned oil--that is for browning. Some methods call for dunking in fish oil, some in motor oil. Both leave different shades of brown.

There is also nitre bluing, where the salts are heated, neat, to specific temperatures, and the part immersed. This is how you would achieve the "straw" coloring for Luger triggers and the like.

Bill DeShivs
September 6, 2007, 12:44 AM
Again, I stand corrected. I thought it was the same as heat bluing.

James K
September 6, 2007, 12:46 PM
Not the same as heat bluing or the so-called charcoal blue (which I have never been able to duplicate).

Just a general comment that the mistake most gunsmiths make when trying to "restore" a factory finish is to follow the advice in the books and try to do a "mirror finish" with very fine grit. The problem is that the result is a black color that looks like black chrome or a high gloss auto paint. The truth is that very few factories ever even attempt a "mirror polish" even on their top line guns, for the simple reasons that 1) it takes too much time and 2) blurs the sharpness of the markings and corners that customers want.

Another thing factories do that is hard to copy is the use of hard wheels. S&W had/has dozens of wheels, each specially shaped to the contour of a part of a specific frame size. For example, one wheel was shaped to the countour of the bottom of the frame - the trigger guard and the parts ahead and behind it. So one pass did the job a gunsmith on a regular wheel will take several minutes to do and it might not look as good.

For information of those who want to "duplicate" a factory blue, I suggest that the bluing be removed from a section with a blue remover, washing the area quickly to prevent etching, then look at the bare metal. The chances are it will NOT have a mirror finish, but it is the finish you want to get for a "factory look." Now if you want that super shiny black ("Weatherby look" we used to call it) then do the polishing necessary. But to "restore" a gun like a Model 1917 Colt with a high polish black will just look weird, not original.


Jim Watson
September 6, 2007, 01:39 PM
I think the OP is unreasonable.

Carbonia blue is slow and tedious. I don't know about the modern practicioners, but according to Haven and Belden, in 1940 Colt parts spent five hours in the drum. A good, level, high polish is labor intensive by somebody who knows his stuff.

I don't think it is possible to get it cheap. If Colt gives the desired appearance for $300, it is probably a good polish and hot blue. Colt Royal Blue is pretty bright but not like the mirror polish showed on a refinish in one of mes228's many threads. I have never heard that they do Carbonia any more, indeed, they send the fancy stuff to Turnbull and Ron's.

Anecdote: We had a repair gunsmith here who wanted to expand into rebluing. He did some decent work but complained to the local 1911 specialist who sent him his finish work, that he could not make any money at it with all the repeated coat, rust, boil, card steps. Seems the only thing he had ever seen detailed procedures on how to blue was strictly for rust blue. When told there were other methods, he bought a set of tanks and went hot blue. Still does pretty good work.

September 11, 2007, 06:37 PM
This is the real deal...Carbonia Blueing at its very finest. He does Colt's WWI & II Repro's BTW.


James K
September 11, 2007, 09:22 PM
Powderman wrote, "The polish, or gleam on a nicely blued firearm has nothing to do with the bluing solution or mix--and EVERYTHING to do with the preparation."

Nothing to do with the bluing solution? I think I know what he means, but even the best preparation won't make a cheap cold blue job look right or last long.

Preparation is very important, but skill is required. We once had a guy doing polishing who produced a super mirror polish. But the results were disastrous. Dished screw holes, rounded corners, markings obliterated, everything you shouldn't do. Incredibly, some customers liked the result. Others went berserk and the super polisher finally went to another job, driving a truck, where finesse was probably not too important.

BTW, my bad on the spelling of "Carbonia" in the earlier posts; I left out the "i" and meant to apologize in the post where I noted the correct spelling.


Harry Bonar
September 15, 2007, 07:00 PM
Yes, case hardening type finishes and the one you want are beautiful but if it was I I'd have it bead blasted with fine glass beads and hot blued - they can be very beautiful.
Harry B.

September 16, 2007, 07:24 PM
Bill Adair on finishes at www.restoration-gunsmith.com/artblue.html

Be sure to read the sections on Carbonia and DuLite.


"'Carbonia' Blue was a S&W proprietary method used in the period from before WWI thru the 1960's. It was also known as 'Smith & Wesson blue'. It was ONLY done by Smith. Never by Colt or any other manufacturer."

On DuLite:

"These (sic) 'machines' were gas-fired ovens into which parts were placed after being steam-cleaned, and the parts were covered with a variety of 'chemicals' and substances. These would include charcoalized bone chips, pine-tar oil and/or whale oil.

The parts were rotated via a lever-driven gizmo once in a while as the oven heat (prox 550-700+ degrees F.) baked the parts in the bone/oil concoction. Sometimes the heated parts were rubbed down with rags soaked in the plant's oil waste, and sometimes just blown with an air hose."

September 16, 2007, 07:31 PM
Very interesting thread. I have seen Doug Turnbull's work. If I ever plan on something similar he will probably get the nod. Another poster here is using him to case color a Ruger #1. It should be a dandy. Nitre blued screws would be a nice accent.