Refinishing a Peacemaker Part 1

Refinishing a Peacemaker Part 1

The pursuit of imperfection

By Dennis Adler

While I have seen alloy guns with brilliant finishes and even something approximating color casehardened receivers, I have not seen this with CO2 air pistols or air rifles. Most finishes, except for nickel or Cerakote-like (such as the Sig Sauer M17 and Umarex Glock 19X FDE) are flat black, and that is rarely authentic to the handgun except for some black Cerakote and Parkerized military finishes. As for Umarex Colt Peacemakers, which now are offered in nickel or weathered finishes, weathered is nice, but not what an actual weathered Colt would look like.

Presently the only 7-1/2 inch rifled barrel pellet cartridge model Peace maker is the NRA edition. This is a fairly plentiful and reasonably-priced model, so it is the ideal candidate for this refinishing project. Being a weathered finish gun is also an advantage, which I will explain as we go.

The closest example I can offer is the Colt Model 1911 (a Swiss Arms 1911A1 model) that I defarbed and refinished in 2018. This approximates what a well worn, but still blued, 1911A1 from the WWII era might look like. This is what I mean by the pursuit of imperfection. We want to transform a production gun with a modern finish into one that looks realistically like an actual gun that has aged over decades, if not a century or more. Certainly, there are well preserved original guns that look as though they have been kept in a time capsule, but the vast majority of vintage firearms look their age.

My goal was to copy the look of an original WWII era 1911A1 in good condition with about 60 percent total original finish remaining, more in some areas, less in others like the frontstrap of the grip frame. Aside from the obvious absence of Colt markings, the gun turned out quite authentic and remains one of my personal favorites.

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At this point in time

Right now, at this point in time, when we are being asked to help prevent the spread of Covid19 (Coronavirus) by social distancing and staying at home, it seems like a good time for an indoor project, especially for those of us who are airgun enthusiasts. My goal in this series of articles is to perform the same process used on the 1911 with a 7-1/2 inch, weathered finish Peacemaker. Why a weathered finish gun? This was a tough choice, since the only weathered Peacemakers are special models, and currently the only 7-1/2 inch pellet model available is a weathered finish gun (and if you are going to spend the time on this it should be time spent on a 7-1/2 inch rifled barrel model), so this is the choice of gun by default. This model is still readily available, so if you have it and are worried about ruining a possible collectible, don’t. You can get another and they are on sale for $149.99.

Some finishes are really hard to remove like the flat black finish that was used on the first Schofield CO2 models. A few years ago, I spent the better part of a week polishing off the finish to get to where I am with the lower gun in the picture. Like the Schofield, for the Peacemaker, this will be a “non-disassembly” project. Take a close look at the latch on top of the gun, this was my first attempt at creating a color cased look. (The polished gun you see became the prototype for the hand engraved Texas Jack model that was a limited edition from Pyramyd Air)

More to the job

There is a dual challenge in doing this gun, first, removing the weathered black finish, which will require careful attention to surfaces and sealing off opening where debris can get into the firing system. Secondly, in addition to applying various bluing mixes to create a worn, polished blued finish to the barrel, backstrap, and cylinder, I will also attempt to create an authentic looking faux color cased finish for the frame and hammer. I have only done small areas of faux color cased finish on one gun, the Schofield I did back in 2016, and that was just the top latch (photo above). The frame of the Peacemaker will be a much more demanding task. I have no certainty how this will work out, so just follow along and if I have a successful outcome, you will know how it can be done. I also know a number of readers have made various attempts at this and have achieved an interesting variety of results. My methods have been successful on a few air pistols now, and I am not deviating from what I know works. So, let’s begin.

The gun and finish

The weathered black finish on this Peacemaker is the same basic finish you find on all weathered finish models sold by Umarex. It is not the same finish you find on the Webley branded and manufactured (for Webley) MK VI. That is a distinctive finish that looks much closer to that of military finish Webley models, as opposed to the high polish blue finish seen on early military and civilian models. The Webley has the look and feel of old time Parkerizing, which was a phosphate process used on steel to resist rusting and corrosion. While the process did exist in the 1870s (actually as early as the 1850s), it was not used on handguns, so you won’t find any original Peacemakers with that look. (And even modern Parkerizing would not work on the vast majority of air pistols, since nearly all of their parts are cast aluminum alloy; the phosphate process only works on steel. On the Colt, the weathered finish is more grey than black with some exposed white metal underneath; pleasing to the eye, but still wrong. The good new is that very early on into this refinishing project I discovered that the weathered finish used by Umarex is not hard to polish off down to the bare metal. This means less time polishing out the gun.

Before I got into the project I took the 3M pad and 0000 steel wool and worked on a small section of the barrel to see how much work was required to remove the weathered finish. As it turns out, it is a far less resilient finish than the standard black matte finish on most air pistols. It takes less pressure with the 3M pad and polished easier with the steel wool. Once I saw this result, I was ready to tackle the entire barrel.

Things you will need

I can tell you from experience, having antiqued many reproduction black powder western handguns for articles in Guns of the Old West that this is not an easy job. It is labor intensive, and you need strong hands to do the work, and your fingers and hands will be a little sore when you’re done. This is not to discourage anyone, but to encourage the effort and the time and patience necessary to do a good job. Is it harder to do than ordering a nickel plated gun and being happy with that? Absolutely, but what you will have when you are done, is a one-off, antiqued pistol you can call your own. It’s hard to put a price on that. I still look at the Model 1911A1 I did a couple of years ago every few days as I walk into my office and think how much it looks like a real vintage WWII model.

Almost everything you need you probably have at home, especially if you are a gun collector. You will need a package of Grade #0000 steel wool. This usually has nine of the final finish super fine pads in the package. You’ll need at least half of them to do one gun. You need a package of the green 3M scrubbing pads. This will help quickly break down the outer finish. Next, some quality gun oil like Hoppe’s No. 9 lubricating oil, a Gesswein jewelry polishing cloth for the final polish of the gun’s finish as you rub it our to white, and a can of compressed air like Dust Off to blow off debris as you work. Last, a supply of nitrile rubber gloves. You should double glove when working with the steel wool. This is dirty job, so have a dedicated workspace that is easy to clean up. I used a table covered with brown wrapping paper and did my work over a few sheets of paper towels, which do a good job of catching and holding finish debris as it falls from the gun.

This took about an hour to carefully polish off the weathered grey-black finish on the barrel down to bare metal (with a few short breaks along the way to rest my fingers). I then went over it with the 0000 steel wool to smooth out any heavy scratches in the metal. Wearing the latex gloves helps prevent steel wool fibers from getting into your skin. It is a dirty job as the paper towel shows with debris from the weathered finish, 3M pad and steel wool.

The first steps

This is a “non-disassembly” project; we’re not taking the gun apart because the Umarex Colts do not disassemble like a real SAA, where the cylinder is easily removed. You would need to do some major disassembly of the left sideplate on the Umarex to be able to remove the cylinder and there are small parts that can fall out in the process. So, like the Schofield I did in 2016, this is all done on the assembled gun.

I will do the barrel and triggerguard today. I did a finish removing test on the left side of the barrel using the 3M pad and steel wool before I started. The green scrubber quickly breaks down the outer surface revealing the metal beneath. Always use straight back and forth movements, never polish in a circle, only back and forth. After using the 3M pad to expose the metal, I switch to the 0000 steel wool to polish off any remaining finish to bare metal, as shown in photo 2 (above).  From this point you can begin taking off the finish on the entire barrel, and remember, the ejector is part of the barrel, not a separate or removable piece like it is on centerfire Colt SAA.  

You can see in this tight shot that there are some areas that do not polish off as easily as others and where the barrel meets the frame it retains more of the old finish. These edges and grooves, like the channel between the ejector and barrel, and the space above the cylinder latch pin on the frame are regarded as protected areas that are less prone to wear, and when you see original guns that have lost much of their bluing over time, these areas tend to be darker and retain more of the original factory finish.

Care should be taken when working around the open areas of the ejector rod and spring to avoid grit getting into the opening. After you have the initial finish polished off, use the compressed air to blow out the ejector channel, and don’t forget to do the curved, indented-style rod head.

This shows up again at the front of the ejector housing and lower edges of the front sight. Don’t put too much effort into polishing these out, as the antiqued blue finish the gun will end up having will work well with dark areas, which will also absorb some of the Birchwood Casey bluing solutions I will be using. You may be able to see that part of the Warning is still visible. It will be completely polished out by the end.

As you progress the white lettering on the right side of the barrel will begin to polish off, as will the markings on the left side of the barrel. This will give the gun a totally unmarked finish (manufacturer’s marks, warnings, etc.) as you progress. When we get to the frame, I will look at ways to preserve some of the markings that are beneficial to the gun. This was not possible on the 1911, but I am looking at alternatives for the Peacemaker. You will also see some grit on the surface of the guns in the early photos because I have not done the first cleaning. What the first pictures show is the rough polishing out with the 3M pad and light cleaning and polishing with the steel wool. This process needs to be repeated until the finish is as smooth and bright as you can get it. As for areas that are hard to reach, on real worn Colts where some of the original bluing remains, this is called a protected area, where the least amount of wear occurs. Don’t spend too much time on this as the bluing will work into these areas, which will be darker as they would be on an actual old Colt with a worn finish.

Polishing out the barrel and left side of the ejector is a little more demanding. You want to work with the gun as upright as possible to prevent debris from getting into the ejector housing spring. You can also tilt the ejector head down as far as it will go to polish behind it (which I have not yet done in this photo)

After a second polishing I used Dust Off to blow as much debris as possible off the gun and into the trash can, and then wipe the gun down with a clean rag. Also use the air in the cylinder chambers to blow out any small debris that might have ended up inside. I went over the polished areas with a clean dry patch to get any other surface residue removed.

Protected areas like the back of the ejector housing and parts of the cylinder arbor head do not have to be as fastidiously polished out, a faded grey will do fine. I am not polishing out the frame until after the cylinder is done in Part 2.

This is a good time to examine up close any imperfections in areas or remnants of the white markings. I also threw out my old paper towels that were covered in grit and polished off finish. Now I am going to use the Gesswein jewelry polishing cloth to get the barrel finish as smooth and bright as possible. This will remove many of the fine scratches left by the 3M pad, but remember, an old Colt is going to have scratches, so don’t worry about leaving a few behind. This has been the easy part.

Here is the day’s work after about three hours. The cleaning patch at top right was used after blowing off the gun with compressed air and wiping it down with a paper towel. The cotton patch still pulled off more grit and debris from the old finish that was sticking in grooves and along edges. It was now time to reach for the Gesswein jewelry polishing cloth for a final polish and wipe down.
The resin side of the cloth deep polishes and helps remove any light surface scratches and bring the alloy finish to its brightest. The yellow side is for the final polishing of the surface. The line in the side of the barrel is actually a reflection in the studio and the barrel is completely bright to the muzzle.

To finish today’s work I am going to polish the triggerguard and backstrap, as these areas are least likely to deposit any grit into working areas of the gun. I am leaving the grips on the gun as I will not be using them for the final project, but rather a pair of white grips ordered separately. I will also be experimenting on changing the white finish on those grips as we get to the end of the series.

The next phase was polishing out the triggerguard, triggerguard housing and frontstrap of the grips. Since I will not be reusing the grips that came with the gun I left them on to better protect the internal CO2 housing. They actually didn’t get that ruffed up.
The easiest way to work in this area is to take the 3M pad and lay it over your hand and use your hand to roll into the surfaces of the frontstrap. This works with the triggerguard as well, and a finger pressing an edge into the triggerguard for the inside and trigger surface. Again leaving a little old finish in the edges is fine.

The triggerguard has protected areas that show less wear, so don’t fuss over getting every little bit of the original weathered finish off. Most of this work is accomplished by rolling the surfaces over the pad wrapped over your hand or fingers and working the pad in smooth rocking motions and checking the finish removal ever few seconds. It is the same method as polishing with the steel wool, a slow but methodical process, and always be sure to hold the gun upright so no debris can fall into the trigger area as you are working around it. At this same time I am also rolling the pad into the frontstrap to remove the finish there as well. When completed, only the backstrap will be left to polish out.

Doing the second polishing with the 0000 steel wool I used a finger to push the steel wool into the triggerguard and slowly smooth out the surfaces. Notice that I have avoided getting into the frame areas a much as possible while working on the triggerguard.

Be sure to get the edges of the triggerguard where it meets the frame, but try not to get into the frame area just yet. After this is done, wipe down the area, use the canned air and then polish with the Gesswein cloth to the brightest finish you can get.

Here is the frontstrap and bottom of the grip strap after final polishing out. There are some reflections in the frontstrap of the background and 3M pad, the finish is actually completely bright.

In Part 2, the backstrap, hammer, and cylinder get their finishes removed and polished out. This is where we begin taking protective measures to keep debris out of the gun’s action. It is a slower process than what has been done in Part 1.

So, here we are after day one of the project with the barrel, ejector housing, triggerguard, trigger, frontstrap and bottom of the grip strap all polished bright. Lot’s more to do!

3 thoughts on “Refinishing a Peacemaker Part 1”

  1. Here’s one of those reader variations you were talking about. This started out as a John Wayne “Shootist” model. I didn’t get quite as techinical in my methods, but followed a similar path. Your hands do take a beating with this kind of work, and the can of dust off is a must! For the above pictured gun I worked from photos of the Duke’s gun as well as the Cimarron Firearms “Rooster Shooter”.

    On a side note, I figured out how to have a weathered 1911A1 with the Colt slide markings. I took the Colt marked slide off a airsoft 1911, removed the orange safety marker, then stripped the slide and dropped the barrel and internals from my John Wayne 1911 in that slide and installed the modified slide on the JW frame. It’s an interesting gun now that is a half and half blend of finishes. I also replaced the grips on the frame with the darker plastic grips from the airsoft pistol.

  2. It would be nice if there was a way to replace the barrel markings after the refinish. I could see changing the look of the revolver by using different grips , say a 7 th Cavalry set or US Marshal. Maybe Umarex could be persuaded to offer guns in the white with engraved markings , for customization? This should be an interesting and labor intensive project.

  3. Definitely a workout. I used your case hardening technique on the frame and loading gate of a weathered finish revolver. Looks a lot nicer than the factory version. This project should look good and ease cabin fever

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