Gun ownership is a long-term investment which requires proper maintenance and cleaning in order to keep your guns working at their peak performance. A primary concern with long term storage of any gun — especially those stored in humid climates — is corrosion. Preventing corrosion is a multi-step process, starting with proper care of your firearm in the field, and followed with proper storage. However, even if you take all the necessary precautions and care possible with your firearm, and even in the best of situations, if you use it corrosion or wearing will probably happen. How you deal with the results of such wear is the purpose of this article.
Most people when they imagine a gun will of course picture one that is “black” to most people. But of course my fashion-sense (my wife) would be quick to point out that it is actually a dark navy blue color when closely inspected. This color comes from a controlled corrosion called “blueing” in order to treat the metal so that bad corrosion doesn’t happen. Alternative treatments such as parkerizing or Tenifer exist, but are more expensive. Also many people will opt for other metals and alloys such as stainless steel for increased protection.
This works due to the difference between normal corrosion (Rust) and this controlled corrosion. Normal oxidization (as seen here) comes from the chemical recipe of Fe2O3, which produces the familiar flaky, red remains of iron. Alternatively people discovered that you can create a very thin black oxide of iron that turns out to a similar, but different enough Fe3O4. The purpose to this is to create a layer of something between the oxygen and water that can bond with iron to create rust. This alternative oxide does just that.
Obviously the process works sufficiently in that it is the most common way to get a firearm, but it is definitely not perfect. Several methods of blueing exist nowadays, and can be performed inexpensively. But it is not perfect, no matter what method of application.
The thin layer of oxidization will over time wear off leaving bare metal open to attack. Beyond just allowing rust to happen, do you really want something you’ve invested so much money in looking worn? Thankfully the process is easy enough that it is something you can, and should attempt at home.
For my purposes, I currently had two firearms that I needed to take care of. One is from World War II, an old Russian Mosin. It saw use long before even my dad was born and thusly need to be cleaned up a lot. In order to practice though, I decided to start with another gun, a Hawken Rifle built from a kit (oh yeah, I need to post about that adventure). This was a
clean(ugh, it already had some rust spots), new barrel that had never been treated. Of course, if your firearm bears any resemblance to the pistol pictured above, do not attempt to reblue and shoot. If you have that deep of damage your metal is probably brittle, and unsafe. Reblueing is for restoring surface damage and wear, it is not a magic fix-all.
Now, before continuing I will say that if I wanted to be truly historically correct I would attempt to “brown” the Hawken rifle. Browning (not the brand) is a process of heat oxidizing that was more commonly used in the mountain man era the gun is from. However this kit rifle isn’t going to be perfectly accurate, and blueing is a slightly better, and much easier process.
To begin with, I needed a way to treat. The first blueing on your firearm was probably done by some nice machine, and if a bit nicer might even have used a heat, or acid bath treatment to create a deeper, more even coat on your gun. This would be a bit difficult process to do at home of course, especially if you were simply trying to maintain a firearm in a less than optimal situation. Alternatively you can get very simple kits that include the basic chemicals you will need, and they can be applied with cotton swabs. This of course is the solution I was looking for.
After taking the time to read a few howto’s online, and then actually going over the simple instructions, I set out to blue my first gun. I did this knowing full well that my first attempt might not turn out very nicely, and I might be setting myself up for a lot of work undoing what I’d done, so I can retry. The steps though, are really quite easy. Before you begin remember that you will be working with caustic chemicals, so wear old clothes that you don’t care about, use gloves, and eye protection.
- Take your gun all the way apart. If you dont’ know how, take the time to learn. You should know that already if you have any interest in blueing a gun.
- Clean! Get the metal as clean as possible with normal cleaning materials.
- Strip it clean – You need a blue/rust remover. Wear gloves, and scrub deeply
- If the gun is already blued, get rid of what’s already there. Anything left will cause spots or uneven colors
- If you are doing spot treatment make sure the area around the scuffs or rust are also stripped.
- Remove the rust. You are just wasting time if you leave any rust on the metal. If some is under your blueing, it’ll just grow like cancer. Or more aptly like the rust in any old car after dealing with Utah winters.
- Don’t do too much at once. You have to rinse with soapy water, and you don’t want it on too long so just do a small chunk at a time.
- Try to have clean cutoffs between sections. You are striving for even colors so make it easy to not double cover areas
- Coat evenly, try to keep it smooth. The gel doesn’t always like to go smoothly, so use the swab so spread it.
Following those steps gives you one “protected” piece of metal. Depending on how closely you look at my picture there you might note that I do have some uneven bits in the color. After a few minutes it actually became hard to tell unless you were looking closely. It’s a job I’m satisfied with for my first time, but I know I can do better later. I’m glad I played around a little, and I know that it’s much easier than I had originally thought. I’m looking forward to cleaning up the mosin now. I’m thoroughly convinced that blueing is an easy skill to learn, and a necessary part of any prepper’s skillset if they wants to keep their firearms in the best condition possible.