Stuff I’ve done

Stuff I’ve done

Looking back at a few years of messing around

By Dennis Adler

This isn’t a brag column, not even an instructional one, it is just a look back at some crazy ideas I have had that went through my mind and that I acted on. We are talking about air pistols here. I’ll be the first to admit I am tool challenged and don’t like taking things apart, well not taking them apart just putting them back together. In a long succession of projects I have broken more than I have fixed. But I discovered that I did have a knack for refinishing guns (and better if I knew how to disassemble and reassemble them). I have also ignored the rules that say you can’t blue an alloy gun. It has been done commercially with varying success by everyone from Colt to Umarex. And, of course, there are some wonderful anodized finishes on aluminum and alloy parts used for PCP air pistols, and components manufactured to upgrade a handful of CO2 models like the ASG CZ-75 SP-01 Shadow, a personal favorite. But mostly when I get into messing with an airgun’s finish it is because I just hate the way it looks “as is” and that is especially so when the gun has so much more potential than it exhibits with a, and I’m trying to be nice, cheap, crappy finish of convenience.

At a glance, even a second glance, if you look at this picture you really don’t know for certain that these are not real guns from different eras, especially the 1911, the Tokarev and the Peacemaker at the top. There is very little to give away their CO2 builds beneath the aged finishes.
My first attempt at defarbing an air pistol with a modern matte finish was the Gletcher Tokarev TT33, which was polished almost to the white and then blued with Birchwood Casey cold blue, rubbed out over and over with 0000 steel wool until I got a worn down aged look. The 1911 obviously lacks the proper Colt markings but the aging process for this gun was about the same with a lot more polishing and mixing of cold blue and super blue. You can go back into the Airgun Experience archives and find the articles where the aging process was done step by step.

At an impasse

I had plans for mid to late September articles but with the exception of the twice rescheduled debut of the Colt Peacemaker Airgun Builder (an impressive Pyramyd Air exclusive), this has not been the year I had anticipated, nor has it been a year anyone could have anticipated. We are at an impasse when it comes to new models for 2020 and for that matter even keeping up with orders for existing models. Will the fourth quarter finally reveal some new models? It is a high probability that by December we might actually have enough new airguns to pull off a 2020 Replica Air Pistol of the Year competition. Although I would feel safe in saying that if you consider all the possible combinations of Colt Peacemakers that can be produced right now, the Replica Air Pistol of 2020 would have to be the Airgun Builder as a self-perpetuating entity and not an individual gun! There will be more about that concept later in the year. Suffice to say with so few models to add to the list of new guns why not take an existing gun and make it new yourself?

The two greatest extremes and the most work were the Bear River Schofield which had to have the entire matte black finish polished off to the metal, then polished bright before it could be sent to Adams & Adams to become the prototype for the limited edition hand engraved Texas Jack Schofield. The next hardest and most daring job was the weathered finish Peacemaker, which also had to be polished down to the bare metal and then refinished with combinations of bluing. The big step, and one which surprised me as I was doing it, was creating the faux color casehardened finish for the frame and hammer, which looks as good as many reproduction guns made in Italy. Most are case colored using the cyanide process, a “do not try this at home” means of achieving case colors without using the traditional method of packing the parts in a steel bin with a mixture of charcoal and bone (and other ingredients; the secret formula), and then heating them to a specific temperature for a specific time (the rest of the formula), before dumping the parts into ice water. It is a spectacular show. I have watched it being done at Colt’s and it is impressive to witness first hand.

Over the last couple of years I have written a few tutorials on how to refinish an alloy pistol, but I honestly jumped off the cliff without looking when I said I would do a faux color casehardened frame on a new Peacemaker. To my great satisfaction the water was deep enough and the severely aged 7-1/2 inch model came out almost exactly as I had envisioned.

My very first attempt at mixing cold blue and gun oil get faux case colors was the latch on the Schofield. It was a minor success completely overshadowed by the fine hand engraving and punch dot background done by John Adams, Jr. On this sole example the white lettering was removed. The rest of the guns produced had the engraving around the faint white letter warning on the right side of the frame, which Barra has now shortened and placed on the underside of the barrel.

I encourage anyone with a desire to have such a gun to jump and give it a try. So here are the guns I have done and how they have turned out. You have seen them individually over time (if you have been reading the column long enough), and while I have waved the Peacemaker around a lot in recent months, I still can’t resist showing it off in Airgun Experience because it is such a wonderfully awful looking gun that manages to achieve the aesthetic look of old but serviceable firearms that look like they have a story to tell. That is the all encompassing reason to pick up steel wool and start breaking down an otherwise good (albeit often disappointingly ugly) finish on an air pistol.

The big mix of cold blue and gun oil applied with Q-tips, and allowed to swirl and mix to form what look like case colors, turned out beyond expectations with the Umarex Peacemaker. It would be nice if the factory could do this but the labor costs and time would be prohibitive.

There are two ways to look at the results I have achieved, (except for the engraved Schofield), one is that a proper air pistol finish has been ruined, or you can see it as a CO2 pistol that looks more realistic than an actual gun! (And there are some goofy-looking centerfire models out there today.)

The short cut fading method I just used for the new Barra aged finish Schofield gave a satisfying result without a lot of time and excessive effort. Old guns should just look old.

Show me what you’ve done

This is my own show and tell today and I hope (because I know a lot of you have done it) that your hits and misses are worth taking a photo of and posting in the comments section. Same for those of you who have received your custom built Airgun Builder Peacemakers. Let’s see what you have come up with for all to share. Right now at a time when not that much is new, is a great time to make your own new.

10 thoughts on “Stuff I’ve done”

  1. I haven’t gone as in depth, but I used your techniques on the WTP 1911 and the John Wayne Shootist model. I hate the white legalese and if I can get that off I’m happy. I buffed the grips on the 1911 to match the .45 Auto, and worked from a Cimarrron “Rooster Shooter” for the Peacemaker. Mixed up paint and sealed it with clear coat for the grips. It’s held up well. The rest of my collection I just buffed and cold blued the stuff that shouldn’t be there. I have a Luger and Webley that look much better with that crap off!

  2. I also have a few airguns that I have aged, some in depth and some just lightly – but every one of those projects was an intense learning process.
    One of the first pistols that I weathered was an NRA Peacemaker. It was discounted because most of the white printing was smudged. The seller said nothing in the description but the photo showed it well and the gun was way cheaper than other similar guns.
    I took the NRA gun down to white and then cold blued it rather heavy several times. You would think that much cold blue would be too much but on this gun it gave a heavy almost black bordering on black plum. It looked rough, as if it had been oiled and then heavily rubbed out many times. I then levelled the finish off with my standard wax crayon procedure. It’s a nice looking gun now with none of the crud factory finish and white lettering!
    The NRA Gun also came with a couple of problems, one being the barrel wobbled a bit at first and a lot later on but was easily fixed with a shim cut from a pellet tin!
    The other was the trigger box leaked when the gun was in the sun on my shooting bench. Cheap grease – looked like used axle grease from an old russian tank which I cleaned out and repacked with Lucas Red n’ Tacky – Canadian Tune in a Tube. It’s never leaked since and is one of the first mods to several of my Peacemakers.
    Another gun I weathered, but not as heavy as the NRA Gun, was my Ace in the Hole. It turned out really nice with all the stark white factory weathering toned down a lot. The freshly lubed trigger box was really smooth compared to the dried up almost solid pocrud that I dug out. The gun is not old yet the grease looked like it had been in there 50 years! – no exageration!
    Of note is that after sanding these guns out with the plastic wet n’ dry auto body sand paper all the white lettering was gone but if the gun was held a certain way up to the light the serial number was still visible!
    This gun is one of my favorites but I didn’t faux case harden the reciever so that may be a job for this winter.

      • I repacked the trigger box the first time I had the gun apart to shim the wobble out of the barrel. It’s easy enough to do – remove all the screws and split the receiver in half (take lots of photos and do it in a clear plastic bag so as to not loose parts). Dig as much of grease out as you can with a small screw driver and then flush with solvent, I use ‘low odour’ paint thinner and a small paint brush to do the final flush. Refill the trigger box with the red grease. I like the red Lucas grease because it sticks like crazy to everything and doesn’t go liquid in the sun.

  3. This Sig WTP gun was so grossly factory weathered out of the box that I actually cringed when I first saw it. Sig does seem to get carried away with its weathering but it is not a look that I appreciate one bit. Give me the weathered finish on the WTP Fire Arm any day over the CO2 version.
    An hour later I had stripped it down to white. All the engraving stood out really nice so I decided to finish the gun and leave it mostly in its “birthday suit” so to speak!
    I had stripped the gun with wet n’ dry auto body plastic paper (must be soaked continually in water to work properly).
    The final polish was 1200 grit and was the next best thing to a mirror finish which was a bit too much of the bright and shiney!
    I tried everything to dull it down and eventually figured out how to do it with the cold blue process. The trick is to dilute the cold blue liquid, in my case, for Outers Cold Blue, about 10 or 15 to 1 using an eydropper and plastic lids to hold the solution. Apply as a wash with an artists brush and leave for a little while till you can see the colour starting to develope then stop the process with a water wash, dry and do it again as many times as needed to get the look you want.
    Doing your finish this way would allow a silver grey patina or blue grey patina similar to the W. W. Stirling gun to be achieved. To accentuate wear marks use completely wetted out Mr Clean Magic Eraser Sheets to rub them in or out.
    I also used a selection of small tools to very lightly distress the gun before applying the patina which then builds up in the dings and dents giving them a darker cast.
    Now my WTP Gun with its worn and banged around look is probably the nicest of my weathered guns. Makes me think of the Sly Stallone’s and Estelle Getty’s movie “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” when she washes his gun and goes after it with a Brillo Pad!

    • Red,

      Nicely done, that is a very interesting process. I’ll have to give that a try. I always like working on 1911s because you can take them apart and work on the individual pieces. Can you get a deeper blue with your process as well?



      • Denis
        You can increase the amount of blueing by simply increasing the strength of the wash solution or the number of washes. It’s all additive.
        I also dilute with my drinking water which comes from an RO system that has mineral content in at 450 ppm and mineral content out at 24 ppm. Due to this you might want to dilute your cold blue solution with distilled water.

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