Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 3

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

Antique or battlefield worn finish

By Dennis Adler

When we ended Part 2 the frame, slide and small parts had all been polished out. It is not a perfectly polished finish like a nickel gun; it is a gun in the white, a canvas upon which you can paint a picture of a much older and battle worn 1911A1.

Everyone says that you cannot use cold blue on aluminum alloy. And you can’t if you want a like-new blued finish. But if you want a worn, almost grey finish with blue tones, and some high edge wear, or a faded look, then you can use cold blue and a little gun oil to create a weathered finish. It works on steel, and it will work on a polished out zinc alloy air pistol.

Birchwood Casey Perma Blue worked perfectly on the polished alloy parts of the frame. I tested it on the grip safety first, and this is after one application and a light coating of gun oil to set the color.

The mix and the application

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I used Birchwood Casey Perma Blue cold blue and gun oil on the polished grip safety as my test area to see what the finish would look like. If this finish remains consistent for the entire grip frame, then this combination will work as expected. Using cloth patches I applied the cold blue to the grip safety and watched it turn dark blue black and then haze to a dark grey, at which point I applied another patch with gun oil that set a rather well aged grey tone to the piece. It also left a little gloss. After rubbing it out with a clean patch I had a variegated blue grey part that looked old and faded. At this point I was satisfied with the look and completely disassembled the gun again to work on the individual parts.

To do the bluing it is easier if the gun is disassembled so you can work on specific parts. 

There is no exact mix of cold blue and gun oil. I generally use them separately as I go, and the alloy finish comes up in varying shades. It might take several applications to get the look you are after, but a final patch with gun oil will stop the cold blue and that’s the color and finish you are going to have until you distress it.

For the frame I started with the front edge and used a piece of microfiber cloth lightly saturated with Perma Blue.

To do the grip frame I switched from a patch to a small piece of microfiber cloth for the first application, using a small amount of Perma Blue. Spreading it quickly along the surfaces it begins to turn blue black with some red and lighter blue hues that resemble color casehardening. More applications of the cold blue with a cotton patch begins to matte these down and the colors get darker and flat looking. Once you have the surfaces well covered, go over them again with an oiled cotton patch. You should see the colors begin to even out to blue grey with various shading. And this is where you want to let it set for a few minutes, then go over everything once again with a dry cotton patch. It doesn’t take long for colors to begin setting.

I got the same deep blue tonal range on the front of the frame and bottom of the triggerguard. At this point I quickly continued to cover all the major surfaces.
With the first full application you can see the dark colors but also lighter hues that almost look like color casehardening. A second and third application of the cold blue with cotton patches began to darken and even out the colors.

Then comes the crafty part. Using a fresh piece of 0000 steel wool, lightly, and I mean so light you are barely touching the steel wool to the surface of the frame, begin to rub the high edges, the front of the triggerguard, any high surfaces, checking as you go to see how much of the cold blue you have started to wear down. You can always take more off but you can’t put it back, at least not easily. You want to create the kind of wear from years of service in the field where edges lose their finish and blue begins to look grey. This is a much slower and more deliberate process in the work.

After the bluing set with a coat of gun oil over it, I began using the 0000 steel wool to even out the finish and add wear on the high edges. Here you can see the finished work with wear around the grip frame, underside of the frame (dustcover) front of the triggerguard and all of the high edges. I used the same steps on the thumb safety, and sides of the trigger.

Remember the checkering on the magazine release and front of the trigger? Don’t blue them, if you accidentally do, use the steel wool to lightly remove the color so the checkering looks rubbed and the background remains dark. Once you have the look that seems right (use the gun in the article for a guide), quit while you’re ahead! Set the frame aside and let everything dry for awhile.

While the frame was setting, I took the 0000 steel wool and lightly rubbed (distressed) the finish on the barrel, more so around the muzzle and on top of the barrel lug where it is exposed in the slide’s ejection port. A new looking barrel would seem out of place. I ran steel wool over the toe of the magazine as well, so it looks equally worn.

With the grips reattached, the frame is done and ready to set aside awaiting the slide. The frame looks like an old 1911A1 with a lot of history behind it. This history, however, took about two days. It was time for the next step, and then I made an interesting metallurgical discovery about the Swiss Arms 1911A1 slide!

After about half an hour, I put a little gun oil on a clean cotton patch and gently wiped down the entire surface of the blued and aged areas of the frame. One more wipe with a dry patch and the frame is done. Reattach the grips and you are ready for the slide.

In Part 4 we begin the slide. Here’s a hint, the frame is actually easier.

4 thoughts on “Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 3”

  1. It seems that is a worthy project. If only I could make my Swiss Arms 1911 a reliable performer. It turned out that if I keep the magazine supported by my palm there is no problem. If it is not supported it jams. Any suggestions?

    • Bill

      It is an interesting project and I think you will like the finished pistol. As for your magazine issue, I have not encountered that problem with the Swiss Air 1911, of course, I shoot so many different guns I really don’t put that much continual use on any one pistol. However, it is hopefully a magazine issue and not the gun. How many magazines do you have? If only this one, try a new Tanfoglio 1911 magazine. They are interchangeable with the Swiss Air and Umarex 1911 magazines. Let me know.


  2. This looks so good it should plow the road for some more vehicles. Matte finish Schofield and Nagant are a couple to consider , maybe a conversion of the bb Webley MarkVI as well

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