Refinishing a Peacemaker Parts 4 & 5

Refinishing a Peacemaker Parts 4 & 5

The pursuit of imperfection

By Dennis Adler

What exactly are you looking at? An old Colt SAA in a copy of Matt Dillon’s holster from Gunsmoke? No, this is the former NRA commemorative in a new suit, well, let’s make that, old suit of clothes! (Holster by Chisholm’s Trail)

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.

Here we are back at the end of Part 3 with the polished out gun. After blowing as much grit from the gun as possible with Dust Off, it is time to do a full cleaning using an Umarex Airgun Cleaning Kit. The dirty patches at right are from the cylinder chambers. No matter how well you seal things off, some grit from polishing off the weathered finish is going to get into places. Clean it up.

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.

The flexible cleaning rod with a lightweight .177 caliber patch is used to clean out the barrel.

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 trick to getting faux case colors on alloy is to let the oil and Perma Blue swirl and then dab and roll the Q-Tip to spread the colors that appear. As soon as you have a mix of colors that are representative of case colors, blue, grey, straw or reddish, stop and let it set. After about 10 minutes take a clean cotton patch with the gun oil “only” and wipe down the surface. It will take some time to cure, but you can go on to other areas. Remember that color case parts do not get wiped over with the steel wool; that will ruin the colors. After it has set, they will remain strong almost indefinitely unless you deliberately remove them with steel wool.

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.

I had a little problem with the Perma Blue taking to the backstrap and tried Super Blue. It is darker but comes up very flat. It does polishing out nicely with the steel wool. ݀
In this shot I have done the backstrap, shoulders of the backstrap and the shovel behind the hammer. The base of the hammer is faux color cased, so keep the bluing away from it. Also note that I have a line where I stopped the bluing where it meets the case colors on the front half of the grip frame shoulders. That line (imaginary because the backstrap doesn’t actually come off on the air pistol), follow the molded in line on the sides aligning with the frame. This is also a good shot to show the case colors faded into the hammer spur checkering. This comes up mostly dark, as expected.

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.

The same mix of Perma Blue and Hoppe’s 9 gun oil gave me great faux case colors on the frame. I very carefully worked around the patent dates with the Q-Tip, and in this one instance used a tiny edge of steel wool to lightly remove any bleeding into the numbers and Rampant Colt. It’s easy to mess up, so work slowly. This shot is also after several hours of the colors curing with a little gun oil over the recoil shield and frame while it sets up. Next comes the triggerguard bluing.

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.

This, too, is tricky because you do not want the Perma Blue to bleed into the faux case colors. Gently lay a piece of blue tape on the line separating the frame from the triggerguard and then apply the Perma Blue. It may take several applications to get it dark enough. Then continue to the rest of the triggerguard and trigger.
After the bluing has set for awhile, go over it very lightly with the steel wool and age it back to faded grey tones. Again avoid getting the steel wool into the faux case colors on the frame. (I left the tape on while using the steel wool). Notice how I took more finish off on the edges of the triggerguard where it would rub most in a holster and wear over time.

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.

The cylinder is a big job and you want to make sure that none of the bluing gets into your faux case colors so I used Blue Tape and paper to make a shield. The paper keeps the sticky backing from the tape getting on the case colors. It usually does not leave any residue or harm the colors, but this is a lot of work so why take chances. Also note the loading gate is left open to keep the case colored side away from bluing the cylinder.

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.  

The cylinder is a big job and you want to make sure that none of the bluing gets into your faux case colors, so I used Blue Tape and paper to make a shield. The paper keeps the sticky backing from the tape getting on the case colors. It usually does not leave any residue or harm the colors, but this is a lot of work so why take chances. Also, note the loading gate is left open to keep the case colored side away from bluing the cylinder.

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).

It took multiple applications to get the finish this even and dark. Of course, too dark for the rest of the gun but a great starting point for aging the cylinder’s finish, which is done in two parts.

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.

I added more tape to block off the ratchet and exposed parts of the action while using the 0000 steel wool to polish out the cylinder to an aged finish. Work very lightly when removing the finish.

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.

The outer surface of the cylinder should be lighter in most areas and the cylinder flutes have darker parts in protected areas. It should be a little different for each cylinder flute. Wear is indiscriminate.

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.

This is where I got a surprise because the barrel did not take the Perma Blue well and it started to look like a color cased finish. I went back over it with Super Blue and that helped but the colors remained for the most part, which makes the polishing out with steel wool a bit more difficult. You need to remove a little more finish and work down the colors to grayish tones. Also there are parts where the finish should almost be gone on high edges, like the ejector housing side, around the muzzle, and top of the sight. It is a judgment call as you go, determining what looks right. I went for a well worn look and didn’t try to avoid darker sections or worry about hairline scratches. This was one of the hardest parts to do but I think you will like the final results.

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.

A week’s work paid off in a pretty realistic looking airgun. The faux case colors were the success story of this project while the well worn barrel and cylinder finish look, well, worn. I have seen plenty of original 1873 models that look this bad, and that’s good.

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.

Not overly thrilled with the grips which seem impervious to everything but inflicted damage and shoe polish to fill in the scratches. It’s pretty fixed, so it won’t wear off on your hands.

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.

This a weathered finish that looks real. The distressed grips with a little more yellow and scratches filled in look a little rough, but grips took a beating. (Matt Dillon holster by Chisholm’s Trail)

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.  

Part of realism is the fact that old guns don’t wear evenly and the rear of the barrel being left darker is exactly what a lot of older well worn Peacemakers look like. All I need are stag grips and I would have a gun that works nicely with the aged Matt Dillon holster from Chisholm’s Trail. On the wish list.

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!

Footnote

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.

9 thoughts on “Refinishing a Peacemaker Parts 4 & 5

  1. As it should be. Nice, a lot nicer than it started. Would be nice to see Umarex bring back the bright blue finish from the first series bb Peacemakers. It still seems to be offered in Europe. That finish coupled with your case colored frame , loading gate and hammer , would look like an early 1873 with the cyanide based case colors.


    • I’m happy with the results on the gun. OK with the grips. As for case colors, the oil and bluing combo really works. Colt, to the best of my knowledge, never used the cyanide procedure for case coloring, only bone and charcoal heated to the the factory spec temperature for a specific time and then dumped into ice cold water. The Italian gun-makers like Pieatta and Uberti use the cyanide method which gives colors but not the same degree of hardening as the Colt formula, or color that are are as bright. Both methods have good results, the Colt method, also used by Turnbull Restorations, renders the brightest colors. My method for alloy gives something closer to Italian guns in overall tones and depth of colors.


      • I thought Colt used them on early iron frame revolvers and I think they used a similar version on the last 22 New Frontiers . Still for an alloy frame revolver this is an improvement. I wonder if it would be possible to put a clear coat laquer over the finish line Turnbull does to protect the finish. Here is a picture of a Ruger 3 screw 357 I had Doug Turnbull caseharden a few years ago


        • That looks great like all Turnbull jobs! We used a clear coat some years back on a project for America Remembers. It is a good idea but harder to do on a gun that is not dis-assembled. I will look into it though.




    • Bill:

      No, I would not recommend a nickel gun for this project. The nickel guns are quite nice as is, but for defarbing, would be much more difficult. We learned this during the engraving process with the Umarex Nickel Peacemaker models. The nickel finish is applied over a copper base on top of the alloy, and if you break through the nickel, as we did early on when engraving, you expose the copper plate underneath. To remove the finish from a nickel gun you would have to break down the hard nickel outer finish and then you run into the copper underneath. You could work through that as well, but it would seem like more work than it is worth when you can easily remove a weathered finish.



  2. Dennis,

    Here’s a tip for aging creme colored plastic, but of course experiment on scraps before working on a piece. Lightly apply PVC cleaner and follow it with a very modest application of brown (or tan) shoe polish. You might also try the PVC cleaner followed by wet coffee grounds, or a coffee or black tea soak.

    These techniques work well on aging white and parchment colored plastic parts for electric guitars. It gives them a 1960s, celluloid nitrate look.

    Michael


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