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Old October 5, 2002, 10:45 PM   #1
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Home bluing experiments, some success, some problems

I have now tried several bluing methods and have had some success and have actually reblued two barrels.

I've tried Pilkington's Rust blue, Brownell's Oxpho blue, and Birchwood Casey Plumb Brown finish.

1. Pilkington's:

This was the very first one I tried and have used to do two entire barrels and some small parts. I had some troubles with it and it was a lot of work and time, but worked pretty good and appears to be very durable.

One of the main problems I had was getting the solution applied to the metal without it beading up. It was thoroughly washed with detergent, then cleaned with acetone, and handled with clean rubber gloves, but still had problems with the solution "sticking". It seemed the multiple applications evened most of it out, but the finish does appear to be streaky in a few places. I carded the rust with 0000 steel wool after boiling. It seems the steel wool had oil or something in it and I found going through the degreasing procedure between each step was necessary.

I had some real problems with small parts and the corners and crevices of large parts. It was very difficult to get solution evenly applied to such areas and carding was even more difficult. I used a bronze wire "toothbrush" on such spots, but wasn't 100% satisfied with how they turned out. Would anyone have any suggestions for this?

It took MANY applications and cardings to get satisfactory results of everything.

The instructions that came with the Pilikington's include information on a process they call "fume bluing". It seems this process might rust the metal more evenly than applying liquid solution. Has anyone tried this method? I am very interested in doing so, but really would like to know if anyone had good results with it or found it difficult. It seems this might fix the streaking problem I encountered. I'm having a lot of trouble finding small quantities of nitric acid locally, otherwise I probably would have tired it already.

I've noticed Brownell's sells other rust bluing solutions that sound quite similar to Pilikington's by they product descriptions in their catalog. I believe they are Belgian Blue and Dicropian Blue. Is there any true difference between the three? If so, which one is best, easiest, etc.? Beligian Blue seems it would be more economical if the the same volume is required as the Pilkington's.

Pilkington's is currently the only one I trust to wear well out of the three I have tried.

2. Oxpho Blue:

I was skeptical about this product at first, but am actually quite impressed by it. I have done small parts and some spots on larger parts, but not an entire barrel yet. The main problem I'm having with this is similar to the the Pilkinton's problem, Getting the solution applied evenly without it beading up. I thoroughly cleaned the metal with detergent and acetone as before (even though the instructions said it wasn't necessary), but still had problems, especially on subsequent applications. I found rubbing the solution on heavy until it pools up an letting it set helped quite a bit. I also found contiously rubbing it as it is pooled and letting it sit for several minutes, keeping it wet, also helped achieve a dark color. I'd be interested any any tips anyone can give concerning this.

This finish appears to be quite durable. Does it offer any rust resistance? How well does it really wear? It almost looks like factory bluing on the small parts I have done. I hope it is as "permanent". How is it affected by solvents?

3. Birchwood Casey Plumb Brown:

I was either unsuccessful with this product or it isn's supposed to do what I suspected. I followed the instructions (heating metal to approx. 275 degrees) and applied the solution. It instanly turned dark brown. It was very dry and crusty looking, uneven, and messy. It looked quite "rusty" and the texture of metal became uneven. I didn't expect it to look shiney, but this looked pretty bad compared to what I expected. I found the coating left was pretty tough, but seemed kind of thick and was pretty messy when trying to smooth with steel wool. It also seemed to rust easily after sitting a few days. Perhaps this is what it is supposed to do.

I simply cannot find very much information on this product. Who here has experience with it? Am I doing something wrong or expecting the wrong results. This stuff almost looked like parkerizing at first, but uneven in color in texture.

I'd be interested in a nice "brown" finish, but have found that on some metal, Pilkington's produces more of a brown finish than a blue.
RHarris is offline  
Old October 6, 2002, 10:43 AM   #2
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You may want to try this stuff from Brownells. I have used that as a metal cleaner prior to "parkerizing"/phosphating guns and it works great.

Just cut and paste into the search box or type in Dicro-Clean at the above url for a description.
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Old October 7, 2002, 02:27 PM   #3
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A friend brought me his 'family heirloom' Mossberg .22 target rifle in deplorable condition this summer- the metal had rusted with minor pitting and then someone heavily shellaced the whole gun sights and all... Apparrently, the rifle was never cleaned either- mold or mildew was growing inside the inletting... He asked me to 'clean it up and sight it in'...

I used Plinktons Rust Blue to refinish the metal and the results were spectactular, if I say so myself, I can't stop admiring the rifle... The rifle took a translucent satin blue black sheen... The stock was also restained and refinished according to my taste (slightly reddish).

It took 5 iterations of card and boil on the relatively soft .22 barrelled action and 3 on the small parts. The acid etches the metal on a microscopic level. I let the first coat bite a little deeper ('larger' rust grains). This gives a very fine beadblast like surface on the steel... Must be closely monitored and is highly dependent on atmospheric conditions in your area. More heat/humidity = faster rust formation and larger grains- Too far and you have pits instead... You have to develop a feel for it- takes practice in your area- more of an art AND a skill...

IMHO, If you are a serious hobby gunsmith type without a caustic blue tank system, forget all other blues and concentrate on becoming a skilled rust bluer.

Some tips:

Boil the metal in distilled water. Nothing else will do as well (except clean rainwater?) Glass tube distilling prefered over copper...

Degrease everything that touches the metal. Wheel, tank, steelwool, your gloves. You can degrease again after carding. I use Simple Green in very hot water for the initial degrease and plenty of Acetone after. DicroClean is excellent- sometimes the metal begins to rust in the air after you use this- that is how grease free the parts are... What you use is less important than having the parts free of grease and fingerprints.

Get the 4 row .0025 Stainless Steel Wire Wheel from Brownells made by Grobet (if you have access to Grobet items somewhere else). You can mount it on an arbor and chuck it into an old drill held by your benchvise if you lack a dedicated buffer.

Hand polish all metal 320 grit. I find a wire wheel brush after polishing this helps the solution 'stick' and blends the scratches. The solution will bead in the presence of grease. Follow the instructions and apply the second coat...

The prep work is more important than the solution you use.

Even if you boil the Plum Brown finish, it will turn blue black. If you are getting browns and purples, you need to boil longer to convert the oxides to black. Since you have the Plinktons, stay with that.

Don't card too hard. A light touch is needed. More of a light polish action- if you card through the rust, you have to start over... I only use the .0025 wire wheel and small Dremel wire wheels- throw the steel wool away- it's greasy- and IMHO is not suitable for either stock or metal work after the introduction of 3Ms ScotchBrite products...

I don't plug the bore. I shellac the inside of the chamber and the first inch or so of the bore. I run a dry patch through the bore after each iteration. Naturally, you keep the solution out of the barrel at all costs. I don't blue the inside of the action either. You remove the shellac before you shoot it- you know this.

Don't leave the bottle open on the bench. It is acid and will absorb water and dilute the solution. I use the best cotton patches I have to apply the solution- a new one each time- because the acid eats the cotton and causes fuzz on the barrel which may cause spots or worse pits.

You won't get an even finish going until the 3rd or 4th iteration depending on the hardness of the steel. You have to continue to apply the solution evenly though. You might, after experimentation and close monitoring, have to apply a second coat of solution over an existing coat to induce the desired rust action. IMHO, even a lousy rust blue looks better on a gun than a shiny new caustic blue... Uneven rust blue gives the rifle character- looks like it's been to Africa and has done the job...

When the metal won't rust anymore you're basically done and hopefully you have an even finish- some steels resist rust blueing. Rub in plenty of your favorite hi tech oil after the final card and let it sit for a day or two (see previous posts on lube)- buff with a hard paper towel and oil again.

You might not get it on the first few trys. Don't give up- once you get it right, you won't go back and a factory blue job will make you wretch. Rust blue everything in sight- I've done hammer heads, wrenches, pliers, lathe parts, screws, scope mounts etc... This process takes practice but the results are superior.
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Old October 7, 2002, 02:39 PM   #4
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Whoa! That was a dissertation...
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Old October 7, 2002, 04:58 PM   #5
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Whoa that was good! Thanks DeBee! I have stuck to phosphate finishes because they are easy and don't require as much patience and skill as what you are doing. Once I have the piece clean with the Dicro it goes in the solutions - no time for rust. I have been using the Amer-lene phosphate chems from Brownells along with the pre-dip blackener for a good black finish. Expensive stuff but it works great.
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