The Art of Cold Bluing as Applied to a Marlin

  1. Editor
    I have been doing a lot of research on the pros/cons of Cold Bluing vs Hot Salt Bluing as well as the different procedures people use to Cold Blue barrels and parts. There are a lot ideas and products out there to choose from and everyone has their favorites or what works for them to the level they are happy with. My level is as close to perfection as I can get.

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    The reasons for all my research are I am what most would call a little A/R. The comments on how clean I keep my workstation are evidence of that. So I have been looking for a good yet reasonably costing solution to bluing all gun parts that is both durable and has a great look. Hot salt bluing is the ultimate-- hands down, but it's not for everyone.

    The problem with this procedure for me is, it's expensive to set up, and then the chemicals are extremely caustic. There are master bluers out there that do a phenomenal job and have the process down after years of doing it. The other thing is that it is a bit costly to have someone hot salt blue a gun and parts. For a lot of us it is not worth spending the money to do a hot salt blue on a gun that costs less than the process, unless you have the extra cash or the gun means that much to you to have it done. Maybe in the near future, I will set up to do it, but not right now.

    Therefore, my options come down to cold bluing and slow salt bluing. Slow salt bluing is just that, slow But it does look good when it is done right. It is probably the most durable of blued metal finishes after hot salt bluing. It takes three to five days to do a good job and can cost almost as much to do as Hot Salt Bluing due to the length of time and work. However, for the Home DIY Gunsmith or the small one-man gunsmith shop it is a definite option. I use this process on some guns, but this is about Cold Bluing, so...

    That brings us to Cold Bluing and Hot Bluing.

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    These processes are pretty much the same but one is done warm/hot and the other is done cold or at room temperature. Many people say that cold bluing is only good for touch up spots, that the finish does not last, not durable, does not go on smooth, leaves streak/spots, etc. One guy actually blames his balding head, hair growing on his back and ears and lack of hot women wanting to hang out with him on cold bluing. Maybe he is just doing it wrong. I have use a few products with what I feel is excellent results. Yes, cold bluing is not as thick or black as hot salt but like any other blued surface, it needs to be taken care of and especially oiled or it will start to rust. I don't care if you had slow salt, hot salt bluing; it all needs to be oiled.

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    The products I use are Brownell's Oxpho Blue, Oxpho Blue Cream and Midway USA's Arts Belgian Blue. I have tried Casey's and didn't really like it too much. Other say 44/40 from Brownell's and Blue Wonder work well but I have yet to play with them as I have found what I feel is a great process and great products that give me a good dark finish. You can use the Oxpho product cold with good results but I have found if you heat the metal, you will get better results and what I feel is a durable finish. This doesn't mean you can treat it like a combat rifle and beat on it, it is just bluing, not Parkerizing or Duracoating. Now that you have read my dribble, I can finally get to the process I use to blue barrels and small, assorted parts.

    The real trick to a good blue job has been said so many time because it is true. Ready for it:

    Prep work.

    If you do excellent prep and spend a bit more time doing it right you will get excellent results. Most of the people that complain that they followed a process and still got poor results probably didn't spend the time to do excellent prep work. If you are, just doing some spot/touch up work the prep is important but not as intensive as doing a complete gun.

    If you are doing touch up then all you need to do is clean the spot well. Rub some degreaser on the general area, clean it off with a clean wet towel, wipe clean again with some lacquer thinner, warm the metal then with a cotton swab apply the product of your choice to the area, wait for a minute or so then wipe off and buff with 000 or 0000 steel wool. Using a heat gun or hair dryer to warm the area will help the application take better.

    Repeat until you get the color you want or it just isn't getting any darker. If you are trying to work out a pitted spot, sand the area with fine/super fine/ultra-fine sand paper to reduce the pitted area, clean and follow the above steps. Most of the time the spot will not be the same as the original bluing but you can get it close a lot of time. I really don't like doing spots because it doesn't always come out perfect. Don't forget I am A/R and strive for perfection.

    Want to do the entire barrel and part? OK. Here we go.

    When I do a whole gun, I disassemble the entire gun, take the barrel off the receiver when possible, and start my prep work. The small parts are examined for rust and finish. If they need it, I will bead blast, buff, or polish to remove corrosion and clean them up. If they don't need all that I will reblue over the existing blue. The barrel is put on my lathe and sanded down to bare metal. Depending on the final finish I am going for depends on how far I go with sanding and polishing. Remember, the final finish after bluing is dependent on how you want it to look, coarse sanded, fine sanded, polished, etc.

    If you don't have a lathe you can do it by hand. I find using 3M pad work well, very well. You can find them at Lowes, Home depot, cabinet supply shops or online. Fine, Super fine and Ultra-fine.

    Once the barrel is stripped, all the parts are soaked in degreaser solution overnight. To tell the truth, any degreaser concentrate mixed with water at 10 or 20 percent will do fine. Heating the solution will help some too. I usually heat the solution, place the parts in, and let it sit and cool overnight. I don't always plug the ends of the barrel as the degreaser will not hurt the barrel, actually, it will help clean it, and it will be getting oil/CLP after the process is done.

    An inexpensive way to make soaking tub is the old rain gutter. Cut a piece to about 36-inches, apply the end caps and use copious amounts of gutter glue/sealer on the ends. I use two inexpensive single burners; place the gutter tank on them and warm the water to around 120/140 deg. The sealer will hold up fine. Alternatively, you can fill a big pot with water, heat it up, and pour it in the tank.

    The next steps are done wearing Nitrile exam gloves.

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    From this point on you do not want to touch the metal with bare hands!

    After the parts have soaked, I take them out, rinse them well with water and dry with a clean towel. Wipe the parts with Lacquer thinner and let dry. The parts are then set aside in a clean grease free area.

    I usually start with the small parts. I use a heat gun but in most cases, a good hair dryer will do the trick. Heat the parts until they are almost too hot to touch. Using a clean pair of small long nose pliers, I drop the pieces in a tub of product, Oxpho or Arts Belgian and take them right out and let them dry or blow them off with an air chuck. I take the steel wool and start rubbing until they start to shine. You can expect the parts to dry with a light rust effect the first few times they come out of the tub. After the second or third time you won't see that as much.

    Repeat the process until the parts are the color you desire or they just are not getting any darker. I then take the parts and soak them in hot water for about an hour, take them out and dry them, do a quick rebuffing with steel wool then drop them in a tub of oil over night. Light gun oil, motor oil, it doesn't really matter. The next day the parts are taken out of the oil and wiped with a clean towel (I like baby diapers, as they leave no lint). The part will have darkened a bit more after the oil bath.

    Now for the barrel

    The barrel gets the same treatment after the degreaser bath. I use the heat gun to warm the barrel until it is almost too hot to touch. You can also soak it in a hot bath, aka rain gutter with heated water to warm the barrel. I then use cotton balls and either Oxpho Cream or Arts Belgian.

    (Note Arts Belgian will work slower, take more coats to get a deep blue/black look. Oxpho Cream works faster but I feel the Arts give a better deeper color. I also use Arts to brown a barrel, but that is another topic for another day.)

    Dab the cotton ball in the solution and apply liberally starting at the top/bottom and work around the barrel and all the way up/down until it is completely covered. Then with a damp/wet cotton swab run it completely up and down smoothing out the application. Use one cotton ball for every application, do not re use. Yes, you will get the same rusting after the barrel is dried. Sometimes I use the heat gut to speed up the drying.

    Let the solution sit on the barrel for about a minute or two then wipe off with a clean towel then lightly buff with steel wool. Repeat the process until you get the color you want.

    Oxpho Cream takes about four to 10 applications and the Arts will take anywhere from six to 20 coats. After you have achieved the color, you want, place the barrel in hot water for about an hour, dry it off rebuff with steel wool and either place the barrel in a tank of oil, or wipe the barrel down with a generous amount of oil with a clean rag. Either hang/suspend or place it where there is little contact with anything that will take the oil off the barrel. Setting it on a couple of pencils does the job. Let it sit overnight and the next day wipe the oil leaving a fine sheen on the barrel.

    Now reassemble the gun, test fire and it is good to go...

    We took this:

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    1972 Glenfield Model 60

    And make it look like this:

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    Same rifle, stock stripped, re-stained, and refinished, Duracoat to receiver, sights, and trigger guard, trigger pull 3.5 lbs., bolt polished and jeweled, barrel blued bronze/brown.

    Good luck with your efforts. I hope this helps some of you out and you get the same result as I do. (Note when I am working on a barrel and I am getting a spot that is not taking the bluing, I stop the process and start over taking the barrel back to the lathe but do a modified degreasing. This usually does the trick as I spend most of the prep on the area not taking the bluing. If you have any questions feel free to send me a PM.)

    - Lenny Marraffino, (forum member Spud9) runs Spud9 Gunworks Inc. in Deerfield Beach Fl.
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