Black Magic


An actual magician: Clarence Ansley owns “Gun Bluing Specialty Shop” and can, indeed, perform magic on guns.

We gun-guys are very fortunate these days to have many choices for metal finishing. We have bluing, which can be broken down into hot caustic blue, charcoal blue, slow rust blue and Nitre blue. There are lots of other excellent choices for metal coloring, such as the wonderful, durable polymer coatings, hard chrome, nickel, lacquer, color casing, Phosphate and water-transfer imaging. But for good looks on beautiful guns, nothing tops a gorgeous blue finish on highly polished metal, like we used to see on the old Colts, Smiths and other works of gun-art.

High quality finishing is probably the single most expensive item when building a high value firearm. Preparing the metal for bluing consumes hours of expert handwork just to get the metal to the point where it can be dropped into the caldron of caustic bluing salts for coloring. Modern polymer finishes don’t require excessive hand polishing, making them much more economical for typical, run of the mill guns used as tools for law enforcement, military and civilian carry.

Preparation for polymer finishes normally requires the surface be degreased and blasted with 120 grit media, so gunsmith labor is held to a minimum. Bluing, on the other hand, requires time and talent beyond the norm, and in many cases is the basis for “stand-alone” businesses such as the one I use in Aubrey, Texas, run by a talented man by the name of Clarence Ansley.

Clarence owns Gun Bluing Specialty Shop, and is one of the few remaining men who do nothing but perfect the art of polishing and bluing gun metal without rolling corners, wallowing out screw holes and obliterating lettering. I have searched a lifetime for men who can complement the work of talented custom gunsmiths, and my 42-year search has been mostly in vain. But Clarence can do the polishing, bluing and other coloring with dedication, precision and perfection. He can be contacted by phone at (214) 316-3503.

To get this sort of final result, you need talent, experience, the right tools, enough money, plenty of time —
and just maybe a touch of good luck!

Disappearing Cat

As for the process of bluing, it’s a complex mix of the labor of hand polishing, chemistry, extreme heat and human skill. Without going into great detail outlining the entire process, the basic procedure is fairly simple, but very dangerous since the metal finisher is dealing with extremely caustic Sodium Hydroxide salts heated to around 290 degrees F. This method of bluing is known as caustic-nitrate.nitrite, yielding a black finish, and is the industry standard.

Back in the 1970s, I employed famous pistolsmith Bob Day. Bob did all his bluing in a series of tanks outside his garage workshop. His wife’s cat jumped up on the uncovered bluing tank and was immediately dissolved. The bluing solution is that deadly!

Another bluing method is called Charcoal blue or may also be referred to as Carbonia blue. This time consuming, ancient process also takes great talent and experience, such as is had by Doug Turnbull of Turnbull Manufacturing Co., and a very few other high-end custom metal finishers. This method yielded the magnificent colors seen on the old S&W and Colt revolvers and required great talent using polishing wheels and hand-polishing blocks.

After polishing to a bright mirror finish the gun parts were submersed in a secret, deep-smoldering mixture of various high carbon products such as bone, leather and hardwood charcoal and secret oil, such as whale oil, all contained in a special oven heated to 750 degrees. After a time the gun parts were rotated in the hot fuming mixture and cooked again, and rotated and cooked again. This process was repeated as many as 10 times, until the proper color was achieved. The charcoal method of bluing, like hot caustic blue, is very dangerous to the gunsmith, with deadly, extreme heat and noxious vapors within just inches of the gunsmith’s body.

Mysterious Apparition

So, the next time you want your granddaddy’s rusted old revolver, pistol, rifle or shotgun made to look new, please understand the process is not something that happens overnight or something a gunsmith waves his hand over and a in a few hours, a beautifully restored firearm mysteriously appears. It takes extraordinary talent and exposure to considerable danger and expense before a gunsmith can deliver granddad’s old gun back to you. You must also consider the value of the firearm you want restored, because in many — or possibly most cases — the cost of refinishing by these two bluing methods is more than the value of the gun. And now you know why.

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