NEXT STEP ON THE HERTER’S PROJECT GUN: A DIY “RUST BROWN” FINISH FOR A HANDGUN FRAME

Although the blueing on the cylinder frame of my Herter’s project revolver was not in really bad shape, I wanted a “different” look to make it really distinctive. After considering a new blue with either a commercial product or even using Drano Crystals meant for unclogging sinks and Ceracoating, I read of the “rust brown” technique in a post on the Ruger Forum. This was interesting to me because it would not require a complete dis-assembly of the gun, excessive heat, nor completely submerging it in a hazardous chemical bath. Although there are “recipes” around for making your own rust brown solution, Laurel Mountain Forge – www.LaurelMountainForge.com – sells a ready made mix, with instructions.

While I originally removed the blueing from my Herter's project gun with oven cleaner and a Scotch Brite pad, Naval Jelly does the job easier and faster.

While I originally removed the blueing from my Herter’s project gun with oven cleaner and a Scotch Brite pad, Naval Jelly does the job easier and faster.

The first step for me would be to remove the old blueing from the cylinder frame, as all the rest had been removed previously. Instead of using oven cleaner, a Scotch Brite Pad, and a lot of “elbow grease”, Laurel Mountain recommended Naval Jelly to remove the old finish. I had never used this product – which I think was originally a breakfast “treat” for sailors in the old British Navy – but it is billed as a rust remover. It will take blueing off with ease and a minimum of rubbing!

At this point, another possibility for an interesting finish is basically no finish at all! A handgun left “in-the-white” but kept waxed and oiled will really not have many rust problems, and looks very much like stainless steel!

Although the Laurel Mountain instructions recommend painting areas where the brown finish is not wanted, taping with painters tape works well.

Although the Laurel Mountain instructions recommend painting areas where the brown finish is not wanted, taping with painters tape works well.

Another advantage to the Laurel Mountain solution (which is an acid, by the way), is that is removes most grease and is rather forgiving of fingerprints and other handling. The instructions suggest painting areas where the rust brown is not wanted, but I masked everything but the cylinder frame off with blue painters tape, and this has worked pretty well.

After the first application of the solution has been washed off, it is apparent that rusting has begun.

After the first application of the solution has been washed off, it is apparent that rusting has begun.

This is not a one-step process. After applying an initial coat of solution, it should be left alone for 3 hours. After that time, another coat should be applied OVER the first. When this coat has also set for 3 hours, the “rust” should be scaled or washed off with warm tap water. These steps are repeated until the desired color is obtained. The instructions suggest these steps should be repeated 4-5 times. When a stopping point is reached, the rusting process is halted by washing with a baking soda/water solution. If the color is not yet what is desired, the process can be started again.

Each successive coating with solution, letting it sit for 3 hours, washing, and repeating darkens the metal finish a bit more.

Each successive coating with solution, letting it sit for 3 hours, washing, and repeating darkens the metal finish a bit more.

If a “rust blue” finish is what you really want, after each step of “scaling” the finish, submerging the part in boiling distilled water for 15 minutes will cause the red to convert to black.

Because this process uses acid to “rust” the surface of the metal, as do several other types of finish, Laurel Mountain considers humidity to be an asset – so much so they suggest building a “humidity box” to do the process in. The Texas coast is a PERMANENT humidity box all on it’s own, so this step was not necessary for me!

When I began the first step, I was too impatient to wait until I had a minimum of 6 hours to work, yet too sleepy to stay up late at night until the time had passed! I actually only let the process go a little over 2 hours before the warm water wash – but did not neutralize with baking soda. The next morning I was surprised how much more “red” had appeared after the wash.

After several rounds of rusting and washing, the color might be getting close to what I want?

After several rounds of rusting and washing, the color might be getting close to what I want?

I am on my 3rd day of going through these steps at least twice a day, and maybe close to neutralizing to see where I am at on the color. The rust brown finish is perhaps most used on antique firearms – like old or old style muzzle loaders – and Laurel Mountain suggests a little different technique to get a “rougher” antique look. I would prefer a smooth finish, and for that they suggest after the color wanted is reached and the acid neutralized the surface treated should be oiled or waxed.

One of the reasons for this post, not to speak ill of Laurel Mountain, was that I was unable to find pictures of a completed “rust brown” finish, either on their website or elsewhere on the inna net. I hope the photos with this post will solve that problem for others.

As this is still an on going project, I will update as new stages are completed. One suggestion I can offer now, if you DON’T want to remove the blued finish on any gun, keep it away from naval jelly! Another is do not rely solely on the instructions that come with the bottle of browning solution! I misplaced mine, so I began reading from the longer set of instructions I downloaded from the Laurel Mountain web site, and found it to be significantly different in the final steps.

In this version, after the final neutralizing step, the instructions say to heat the gun or gun part with a torch (I used a hair dryer for this step, as I do not like flames on my firearms) to 120 – 130 degrees (F), to dry the water left from the final wash, then coat the part with motor oil while still warm and let it sit overnight. After this bonding step, the excess oil is wiped off and the surface is either oiled again with gun oil, or waxed or polished to finish. As the overnight oil soak begins, my cylinder frame is a nice, almost chocolate color, which set off my varnished wooden grips quite nicely. In retrospect, I could have stopped the browning process a step or so sooner and possibly gotten a lighter finish, but I think I still like it darker. It will definitely be a “one-of-a-kind”.

The cylinder frame has had the rust browning process neutralized, is coated with motor oil, and awaits final polishing.

The cylinder frame has had the rust browning process neutralized, is coated with motor oil, and awaits final polishing.

I now have added a Rust Brown Herters to my Ceracoated Ruger Super Blackhawk, a stainless model, a blued Blackhawk with a polished in-the-white cylinder, and a Target grey Super Redhawk. If nothing else, they are color-coded to make it easier to select the one I really want on any given day!

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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