Refinishing a Peacemaker Parts 4 & 5
The pursuit of imperfection
By Dennis Adler
The hard part, polishing off the factory finish, is done and that is the most labor intensive part. Now we shift to the cleaning of internal areas such as the cylinder chambers, and as much of the operating mechanisms as can be accessed without disassembly of the gun. This is to remove any debris that got past the taped parts of the gun in the various steps thus far. The fine grit created by polishing off the original finish is going to get into places no matter how much you try to prevent it. It is like dust, it goes everywhere.
I began with using cotton patches to go through each chamber of the cylinder, cleaning from the breech end forward. I was not surprised that the first run of patches (all six chambers two times each) came out dirty. You also need to run a clean .177 caliber patch, like those that come in the Umarex Airgun Cleaning Kit, down the barrel with the kit’s cleaning rod. After a couple of patches, another clean patch with a drop of RWS chamber lube should get just about every surface clean. Then you are ready to proceed with a final wipe down of the gun’s exterior. This can be done with a clean microfiber cloth.
Polishing and more polishing
It was necessary to polish out the entire gun, even parts that are not supposed to be polished, because they will have the wrong finish if left in the weathered black, or just simply blued, because some parts are to be color casehardened. I did say color casehardened. Well, not really. If you actually had the equipment to do it, it wouldn’t work; just like Parkerizing, it’s not applicable to aluminum alloy. (The temperatures necessary for bone charcoal color case hardening also exceeds the melting point for the cast aluminum alloy used in airguns). But one of the many little tricks I learned antiquing black powder guns was how to create a faux color casehardened look on steel, that also just happens to also work on aluminum alloy! It doesn’t require anything other than cold blue and gun oil mixed in the correct proportions and at the right time.
The parts on a Colt SAA that should be color casehardened include the entire frame, loading gate and hammer. I am going to begin with the hammer, which is a simple surface to work on. The mix of cold blue to oil is an approximation because different alloy guns take or reject the bluing differently. For example, what worked on the Gletcher TT33 did not work on the Swiss Arms 1911A1 and that gun was far more complicated to blue. And there were no case colors involved. I generally use bluing and oil 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 case color effect you need to use the bluing and oil at the same time, dipping a Q Tip in the bluing and then putting a drop of gun oil the tip. Begin dabbing and rolling the Q Tip on the part and watch as the colors develop.
Here’s a challenging little thing; the left side of the frame needs to be case colored, but there are two screws which need to be blued. This will require bluing the heads of the screws first with the tip of the Q-Tip in cold blue, and letting it set before going to the case color phase. That’s the next step we are going to do.
This is all experimentation as I go, since no two guns are apt to turn out the same. Even the hammer colored differently on the left than the right. I did the entire frame in four sections and each came out a little different, as it would in actual color casehardening. It is not perfect, actually noticeably flawed in some areas that will require some minor touchup work, but at this point I have a frame that is ready to be contrasted by the aged blue barrel, cylinder, backstrap and triggerguard.
One note to remember is that each application of bluing and oil requires a new Q-Tip to prevent contaminating the bluing solution with oil. Overall, on this gun, Perma Blue works a little better than Super Blue.
At this point I decided to do the entire backstrap in one application using a small piece of the microfiber cloth. It took a couple of applications and rubbing out to get the tones I wanted, but in the end it looks very much like the bottom and faded blue. Also, on the shoulders of the grip frame I went darker on the sides and back half to differentiate between the frame and backstrap. These are small details but worth the effort. I taped off the frame at that point in line with the separation on the grip strap to prevent any of the new bluing from getting into the faux case colors. Now, it is on to the triggerguard.
For this part you need to run a tape line to keep the triggerguard where it meets the frame and prevent any bleeding of color onto the color cased frame. After applications of Perma Blue to the triggerguard and a little light distressing with the 0000 steel wool, I had a pretty nicely aged finish for the frame, trigger, triggerguard, and backstrap. Another half day for these colors to set with a light coat of oil (always away from any openings that lead to internal mechanisms where gun oil can ruin O-rings). Now it is time to decide on whether the cylinder or barrel comes next.
Before starting the cylinder, you should tape off the color cased parts of the frame to prevent any bleed through. It is alright to come up to an edge but you do not want new bluing to overlay the case colors, as it may cause an unwanted color change. For the cylinder I am using the 3M Blue Tape and some paper to mask off any exposed surfaces that might inadvertently get bluing on them. The paper is to keep the tape from getting on the finished parts of the frame. It shouldn’t hurt the finish but better to play safe until colors have set for at least 24 hours. To apply the bluing to the cylinder I am using Perma Blue and only working from the right side, rotating the cylinder by cocking and releasing the hammer (with my thumb, not firing the gun). Wear a latex glove for this work as you will be in close contact with the bluing solution. Apply it quickly to get coverage all around the cylinder. It will take more than one application. To do the cylinder I am using a small piece of microfiber cloth. Spreading it quickly along the surfaces it begins to turn blue black. More applications of the cold blue will begin to make the colors a little darker. Don’t try Super Blue on the cylinder or over the Perma Blue as it will flatten the colors. Stay with the Perma Blue for the cylinder and keep applying with the microfiber patch until you have an even look (some case color like finish may appear in places, just keep going over it and it will tone down).
After a few minutes, switch to a lightly oiled patch and begin going over the cylinder, blending out the color, which will begin to turn a dark grey with a little shine to it. Use the oiled patch all the way around and especially in the flutes. Then let it sit for awhile to dry. Keep the gun upright, (rested against something), so that no surface of the cylinder is against anything. If you lay it flat, that side of the cylinder will pick up the texture of whatever it is laying on. After it has set for at least an hour, take a clean cotton patch and vigorously rub down the cylinder making sure to rub into the flutes. Your patch should come away with some stain on it and that means you have pretty well removed any bluing residue left.
The last step is aging the finish with the 0000 steel wool. You do not want to be too consistent from chamber to chamber so take a little more finish off in some places, always at the front of the chambers and around the edges of the flutes, and inside some of the flutes, but leave them darker toward the back, which would be a more protected area of the finish. The gun is supposed to look well worn.
This leaves the barrel, another complicated piece because of the ejector housing. For this I am going to start with a fresh microfiber patch with Perma Blue and begin wiping from the frame forward. Again avoid over running the front of the color cased frame with the Perma Blue. The barrel will also require several applications. To my surprise, I did not get the anticipated result. The barrel pulled up a pretty crazy color that was leaning towards case colors. I went over it with Super Blue, which matted it down but did not change colors and after a few minutes I gave it an oil rubdown, but it didn’t darken up much. There are two options. Polish off the bluing and try again, or go right to working down the finish to faded greay. I went with the latter. This is a harder point to begin aging the finish and it is going to be very important with the barrel.
I have photos of original Colts that were well worn, so I am using those as a guide for the overall finish of the gun. With the 0000 steel wool, I worked down the finish on the barrel to a light faded blue grey with added wear to high points, top of the front sight, edges around the muzzle, the side of the ejector housing, but also making sure to leave some areas darker. This is all part of an authentic worn finish.
Getting an aged set of grips
I started by using the 0000 steel wool to rub off the writing on the bottom of the grips that reads “Licensed trademark of Colts Manufacturing Co. LLC” which we don’t need on the grips for this aged gun. Then I gave the grips a rub with the steel wool to make the finish more porous and used a wood rasp to make some scratches and nicks in places on the sides and around the base of the grips. My hope is that staining the grips by soaking them in tea will darken them more. The hardware in the left panel is not going to rust so don’t worry about it getting wet, and the grips will also be thoroughly dried after the tea party.
About two hours in the tea, the grips were just a little more yellowish in appearance. Not what I was after. I decided to try something on the marks and scratches using liquid shoe polish, and that took to the grain and gave the grips a little more character. Not exactly what I was after but as for looking worn, they qualify.
Some final thoughts
This has been a weeklong project that totals about 24 hands-on hours from start to finish. It is labor intensive and concentration intensive in almost equal proportions. This turned into the most difficult aging process I have ever attempted on a CO2 pistol, and all of the skills I learned aging reproductions of centerfire guns worked here, with a few exceptions in how colors developed on different parts of the gun with cold blue products. The formulas are well proven but the results may vary. That makes the use of 0000 steel wool the most important step, one that has to be done with the greatest care because it is hard, very hard, to go back and touch up if you remove the bluing back to bare metal. Of course, there are places where this is what you want, so look at what I have done, and try to follow along and achieve the same results. This is a labor of love because it makes no sense otherwise. You are making a one-of-a-kind revolver for yourself.
And the finished product…
After all the work, the basic black weathered Peacemaker looks like a Single Action that has seen action and survived from the 1870s to the present day. It’s not a pretty gun, but it is an interesting gun that looks like it has a story. And if you follow all the steps I took to get here, you, too, will have a gun that has a story!
Right now with so many of us working from home, or having unexpected time off, a little diversion is a good thing. I have read that in times of great stress, when we are least at ease with life, people tend to turn to their hobbies, or find hobbies to pursue, that lend themselves to taking our minds off problems. I doubt this works for everyone, but it works for some. If you are reading Airgun Experience you obviously already have the hobby, and I hope this weeklong exercise helps to make the days go by. The process I have shown will work on just about any CO2 pistol, revolver or semi-auto, so if you have an airgun you have been wishing looked more realistic, if you don’t mind very old looking realistic, this is one to try over the next week. The Airgun Experience will be back on April 7th. Stay safe.