Rust bluing- A tutorial

Discussion in 'Edged Tools' started by Solphilos, Jul 25, 2010.

  1. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    By popular request, here is a tutorial on the process I use to 'rust brown' and 'blue' carbon steel. This method is still in it's infancy, and I am still working on the finer details, but I'll try to make this as comprehensive as possible.

    So, here we go...


    Materials needed
    ........................................................................................................

    For the rusting:
    ----------------
    3% Hydrogen Peroxide (the usual kind)

    Table salt


    For the bluing:
    --------------
    Distilled water


    Accessories:
    ------------
    Pot large enough to accommodate the object you are going to rust
    (do NOT use aluminum; stainless still is fine, but will rust heavily. Non-stick pans seem to be unaffected by the process, but your experience may vary)

    Toothbrush (for scrubbing and polishing)

    tongs (for moving and manipulating the item being rusted)

    Gloves (For keeping your greasy fingers off the steel- I use cotton)

    Oil for finishing-Boiled linseed works great (do NOT use WD-40 or any other anti-rust oil! :rolleyes:)





    The process
    .....................................................................................................

    Prep the steel:

    Before you begin to oxidize the steel, you must first remove all traces of paint, dirt, oil or coatings of any kind. Use acetone or alcohol to degrease the steel, and use your gloves when handling the object from this point on. The oils from your hands can cause an uneven corrosion, and fingerprints can even become permanently imprinted in the bluing process.

    *note* If you wish to preserve the edge on your blade and don't want it to rust, you can use fingernail polish to paint over the edge. Use a few coats, as a little of this may be removed in the boiling process.


    Method 1- Browning the steel
    ------------

    Step 1. In a pot that you don't mind destroying, pour in enough peroxide that will fully cover the object to be worked. If rusting an axe, keep in mind that you will have to maneuver the head into a variety of positions to ensure even oxidation.

    Next, heat the peroxide over the burner to just under boiling temperature. A little under or a little over is no big deal; you just want the liquid hot, this part is no exact science.


    Once the peroxide is hot, start mixing in the salt. This may take a lot salt, just keep mixing it in until no more will dissolve into the liquid. You will know when enough is enough, as the salt will begin accumulating at the bottom of the pan. When this happens, the solution is ready.

    While the liquid is still hot, remove it from the burner and gently place in the steel with a pair of tongs. The peroxide/salt mixture will immediately begin reacting with the metal, and it will begin rusting right before your eyes.
    The length of time you need to leave it in depends on the steel, and on the size of the object being worked. Leave it in for just a minute at first, and then remove with the tongs and check to see how the rusting is coming along. It should look something like this:

    [​IMG]

    Once the steel is almost completely covered in rust, rinse it off in water and then dry thoroughly with a towel or napkin.
    Using a toothbrush, very gently start brushing away the loose rust; it should come off fairly easily. What you are doing here is evening out the layer of corrosion and making the surface smooth. There should be rusty areas that don't rub off with the brush, this is good.

    At this stage, the finish may look like shit; It may appear splotchy and uneven, and some areas may still appear to be bare metal; this is to be expected and is not a problem.

    Step 2. Step 2 is a repeat of Step 1. Now, place the object back in the peroxide bath for a second dip. If the peroxide/salt mixture is still hot, it can be used again for the second bath; you can reheat it as necessary. Place in the object once again and let it begin to rust. This time it may react more slowly.

    Continue the repeat of Step 1: Remove object from solution, rinse under water, dry, use toothbrush until surface is smooth and even.

    Continue this entire process until you have a nice, smooth, even layer that doesn't rub off. This make take a few cycles; it all depends on your steel and the size of the object.

    Once you are satisfied with the finish, you have successfully 'browned' your blade and can choose to stop here if you wish. Just rub some oil into the finish and your done.
    If you wish to 'blue' the steel, then move on to the next step.


    Method 2--Bluing the steel
    .......................................................................................................

    For this next step, you are basically going to boil your object in distilled water until the rust is converted into another type of oxide, and becomes black.

    In a pot (this one will not get damaged by the process), pour in enough distilled water to cover the object to be blued. You will want to keep the object from touching the bottom of the pan, so you will have to rest it on something, or suspend it with wire or string. I like to simply put a few medium sized rocks or even a brick in the bottom of the pot, and place the object on top.

    Once your object is set up, bring the water to a rolling boil and boil the object for about 10 minutes. Don't worry, the steel will only get as hot as the boiling water, and this will not affect the heat-treat in any manner.

    After about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the object, all, or most of the red rust should have turned black. You may have to flip the object into different positions during the boiling process so that the finish comes out even.

    This is what the steel looks like as it begins to change:
    [​IMG]

    After this process is repeated a few times, you should end up with a finish like this:
    [​IMG]


    Once this method is complete, you can go back to the peroxide oxidation process once again and repeat the entire process. This will build up several layers of oxidation and will ensure an even, sturdy coating. You can of course stop here; it all depends on the finish your trying to obtain.


    Well, that's pretty much it. I welcome any questions or input on the methods described here. Hope this helps.
     
    Guillaume Longval and OldSoul like this.
  2. SpookyPistolero

    SpookyPistolero Scout

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    Many thanks! Awesome job. This is worthy of a sticky, or a link within a sticky at least.
     
  3. Guardian

    Guardian Scout

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    That's very interesting, thanks. Don't know if I'd ever use it, but good info all the same.
     
  4. Joel D

    Joel D Scout

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    Thanks for that, Solphilos. This is very useful. I agree it should become a sticky.

    One question: why does it have to be distilled water? Just wondered, it shouldn't be difficult finding some.
     
  5. ScotchDave

    ScotchDave Scout

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    Thanks for that, I'll remember that trick.

    Dave
     
  6. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Thanks guys, hopefully I made this as understandable as possible; I haven't done many tutorials. I've tried to find simple methods, in an easy to understand tutorial online and came up empty handed time and time again, so hopefully some find this useful.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2010
  7. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    I've heard that the heavy mineral content of other types of water affects the process, but I can't verify that as this is my first time doing this, and I've only used distilled. I'm only repeating what others have said as it seems to be a consensus among the rust 'blue-ers' out there.

    Distilled worked great, but you could always experiment with tap water on a small scrap piece of carbon steel. I'm guessing it would still work, but may result in a less than uniform finish.
     
  8. ScotchDave

    ScotchDave Scout

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    I think distilled water is used because of its greater osmotic pressure, i.e. it's ability to diffuse more easily.

    Since in bluing one is converting a layer of Fe2O3 (hematite) into Fe3O4 (magnetite) and the Fe2O3 is a relatively continuous layer, diffusion of the water through the rust will be a determining factor. A higher diffusion rate will be an advantage and get the conversion done quicker.

    Also whatever other elements and compounds are in your tap water may react with the rust and prevent it turning into magnetite.

    Hope that helps,

    Dave
     
  9. Diesel

    Diesel Tracker

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    Awsome thanks .
     
  10. Vot

    Vot Scout

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    Superb mate! Very useful and well explained. Thanks.
     
  11. Sgt. Mac

    Sgt. Mac Elder Staff Member Administrator Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II Bushclass Instructor

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    Excellent Tutorial!!
     
  12. leaf and lightning

    leaf and lightning Guide

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    defiantly gonna try this... awesome...
     
  13. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Nice, looking forward to seeing all of the blued blades;)
     
  14. hillst1

    hillst1 Scout

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    Excellent tutorial. Why do you use hydrogen peroxide instead of the usual nitric/ HCL acid mixtures?
     
  15. Mike M

    Mike M Scout

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    Thanks I'll have to try that out.

    Mike
     
  16. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Well, because I have hydrogen peroxide in my medicine cabinet already, I can find it at any store, and it's only a dollar for a large bottle ;)

    It's also completely safe to use; no risk of burns or harsh fumes to worry about.
     
  17. CAIN

    CAIN Tracker

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    I think this is an excellent tutorial. It is simple to follow and each step is clearly defined. I am going to try this on an old hatchet head as soon as I dig it out of my garage. Thanks for posting this. :cool: :D
     
  18. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Thanks man, I was hoping I made it easy to follow along. Don't forget to post your results, It will be helpful to see how consistent this method is for other steels.
     
  19. leaf and lightning

    leaf and lightning Guide

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    will a clipper's handle hold up to boiling??
     
  20. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    I would think that it would; I've boiled plastics before with no ill effect. Most plastics melt at a higher temperature than what water boils at, so it should be safe.

    If you choose to boil your clipper, you could set it up so that the handle sticks out of the water, just to be safe. Just remember not to let the blade or the plastic touch the bottom of the pan.
     
  21. leaf and lightning

    leaf and lightning Guide

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    thanks for the suggestion... I just know some plastics soften at 212F
     
  22. mainewoods

    mainewoods Maine Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Very Nice Post solphilos Thanks Very helpful!!
     
  23. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Hmm, I don't know what kind of plastics are used in the clipper, but I suppose that you could test it first by bringing some water to a boil, then dipping in just the last inch of the handle for about 10 minutes to see if it gets soft. If it does, then it will only deform that small portion of the handle, and wouldn't harm the structural integrity.
     
  24. CAIN

    CAIN Tracker

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    Your welcome, brother. I probably won't get around to doing it until this weekend, but I will post my results.
     
  25. karlsefni01

    karlsefni01 Guide

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    Thanks for posting this. May I ask for some advice? My son has a rossi combo rifle/shotgun. To make a long story short, one of the cats barfed on it, and it started rusting like crazy. I have oiled and oiled it, but it keeps rusting where the cat threw up. What should I do?
     
  26. trentu

    trentu Guide

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    Very well done!! Great results.
     
  27. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Hmm, is the part blued or is it bare metal?
    I'm not sure why the area would continue to rust, maybe someone else can chime in on that.
    If the metal is bare, I would just get some WD-40 on it and scrub with a wire brush. Sounds strange, maybe you should post a thread on it and see what everyone thinks, I'm sure someone else could help better than I.
     
  28. petrifiedwood

    petrifiedwood Guest

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    I know this is an older post, but I'm in the process of using these instructions right now on a Trail Hawk. I have a feeling it isn't going to come out as good, because my wife has put too many constraints on what I can do on the stove! :D
     
  29. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Might want to pick yourself up a couple of cans of Sterno my friend, or invest in a hot-plate :dblthumb:
    May want to find some cheap pots as well; if shes touchy about the stove, she might not be too happy about rusted pots ;)
     
  30. petrifiedwood

    petrifiedwood Guest

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    Well, I bought a pot just for the purpose today. It sucks to spend $14 bucks on something you're just going to ruin, but at least I'll have a pot for other non-food experiments in the future.

    The sterno is a great idea. I could do the bluing out in the shop.

    I also have a couple of questions.

    The pot I used was aluminum, but it had the non-stick coating, and seemed to work fine. What was it about bare aluminum pots that precludes their use for this process?

    And, what was the finish like on your hawk before the rust bluing? Was it fairly smooth? For some reason the smooth areas on mine where I filed it didn't take the rust as well. I'm guessing a weak muriatic acid etch before the rusting stage would help a lot.

    Also, here's a link to the pictured results...

    http://bushcraftusa.com/forum/showthread.php?t=22481

    Look down toward the bottom of the thread.
     
  31. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Concerning the aluminum pots, I also used the non-stick coated ones with good result. My reason for avoiding bare aluminum is because the peroxide/salt solution corrodes the aluminum at a very rapid rate, and could cause a big mess. If it were a thick pot that you don't mind destroying, then I suppose it wouldn't be a big deal.

    As for the surface finish of my hawk, it had that forged appearance with pits and also some grind marks all over, but also had a few areas that were somewhat smooth. The smooth areas took a little longer to 'blue', and after chopping with the 'hawk these were the first areas to start to wear. I'm certain a rough surface would take the bluing better than a smooth one.
     
  32. amcardon

    amcardon Scout

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    Gonna try this with a couple straight razors :) We'll see how it goes.

    Quick question - above the last picture you say, "After this process is repeated a few times..." Are you talking about boiling the head in distilled water multiple times or going back into the peroxide, building up another layer, then boiling it in distilled water again?

    Thanks for putting this together, much appreciated!
     
  33. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    I showed this process to my Uncle, and he did it to his straight razor; the black finish looks great on them!

    And concerning the last picture, I meant repeating the entire process a few times; from the peroxide/salt bath to the boiling. On a smaller item such as a straight razor, it may take just one time, but you'll know as you go along. This process should be much quicker and easier with such a small blade.

    Good luck, and be sure to post your results :dblthumb:
     
  34. wolfy

    wolfy Guest

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    Thanks Sophilos, that was indeed a great tutorial with useful followup. I'm gonna mark this one!
     
  35. Solphilos

    Solphilos Guide

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    Thanks mate, glad it's found useful.
     
  36. amcardon

    amcardon Scout

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    My wife got me a trail hawk for Christmas this year and it is currently sitting in a big ol' pot of salt and hydrogen peroxide :) I am very excited for this, never blued anything before. I also have a knife I made in there along with a junk straight razor just to see how the fine edge holds up.

    Thanks for putting this tutorial together, Solphilos!
     
  37. petrifiedwood

    petrifiedwood Guest

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    Awesome, I hope you'll post some pictures!

    I really found this tutorial to be useful too. The edge of my hawk required a bit of filing since I didn't bother to coat it with any kind of "resist". I imagine your razor will take a punishing in there.
     
  38. amcardon

    amcardon Scout

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    Well I've had the head cycling through part I now for more than an hour now and the head has a solid layer of rust that is not coming off - everywhere except for in front of the temper line where there is very little splotchy rust... Anybody else have this issue or is it something I should even worry about?
     
  39. petrifiedwood

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    On mine, I had filed the entire top of the hawk flat. Everywhere it was filed it was splotchy. The parts that were left rough rusted a lot better. However, I only ran it through the process twice. I imagine it would have gotten full coverage after a few more cycles.
     
  40. amcardon

    amcardon Scout

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    Head after 1 cycle:

    [​IMG]

    Head after 8 or so cycles:

    [​IMG]

    Solphilos - I don't want to hijack your thread so please let me know if you prefer I start my own for my head bluing or if you want me to keep it here in case something might answer questions for others later... Your call, you're the OP! :)
     
  41. matt.s

    matt.s Guide

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    Did you completely degrease the entire head? Also, was the whole lot at the same degree of polish/smoothness?
     
  42. amcardon

    amcardon Scout

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    Yes, the whole head was degreased with acetone. It was almost all the same smoothness but the area from the blade edge to the temper line did seem a little smoother than the rest, not sure why... I boiled the head in distilled water for just shy of 2 hours last night and then gave her a liberal coat of oil, I'll post pics today of what it looks like now, you can still definitely see the temper line but the finish is good enough for me. I polished the "hammer" end and the blade edge with a scotchbrite belt and I'll be doing the finish polishing on the blade edge today to get her shaving sharp like I keep all my hatchets, axes, knives, etc...
     
  43. J

    J Bushwhacker Bushclass I

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    Cool thread, great trick to get a nice finish.
     
  44. amcardon

    amcardon Scout

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    Here's a pic of the head, coated in oil. I'll try to get another pic today that's less saturated. You can clearly see the difference between the hardened area and the rest of the head...

    [​IMG]
     
  45. rwleonard

    rwleonard Tracker

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    Just tried rust bluing for the first time, as per your tutorial: Thanks! It worked great. Was easy to do as per your directions and looks great.

    Thanks again,

    Rick
     
  46. Drummertist

    Drummertist Tracker

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    Questions, questions...

    1. Are there other recipes you can use (vinegar, etc.)?
    2. How durable is this coating?
    3. How does it compare to a natural patina?
    4. Will it need to be redone over time?
    5. Does it still need oil or will something like ren-wax be enough?
     
  47. petrifiedwood

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    That came out looking very nice! I wish I'd had the patience to run it through more than two cycles. Though, I do have a second Trail Hawk that has yet to receive any file work or bluing...
     
  48. VinWild

    VinWild Scout

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    That is how it's done; perfect instructional. I have used both methods on several gun barrels (the trick with these it so correctly plug off the bore or you will ruin it).
    I also have done screws and other fasteners and butt-plates, stock hardware etc.
    Another popular method (not recommended for heat treated steels) is to use a simple propane torch to heat the object you want to blue to almost cherry red; then immediately drench it in tooling oil. Makes for a nice finish; but stinks up the shop (smokes like hell) so do it outdoors.
    Thanks for the thread.
    -From The North Fork
     
  49. VinWild

    VinWild Scout

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    For spot refinishing, steel wool the spot (lightly with 000), clean it with acetone, then heat it up with a hair dryer and apply Brownells Cold Bluing Oxpho-Blue liquid (on a cotton patch) to the area and blend it into the existing finish. Wipe it with a wet rag the immediately after and then use gun oil to wipe it down. You won't even be able to tell that there was ever a blemish.
    I have done countless spot touch ups on customers rifles, handguns, and shotguns. And this is the best and easiest process I have found, without having to completely strip the bluing and refinish the metal in a hot tank.
    -From The North Fork
     
  50. JPWeaver

    JPWeaver Tracker

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    I would advise against this, as it's quite easy for the knife to develop rust along the tang inside the plastic, where you'll never get oil onto it to stop the rusting process.
     

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