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topic 3168

Aging brass and steel on reproduction firearms


I'm looking for a reliable method for aging steel and brass. I have a museum quality reproduction flintlock rifle, patterned after a Virginia rifle from the mid-1700s, that has been so aged but I don't know what method was used in aging the metals. The brass is darkened to black around screw holes and in the carving and engraving. The steel has been browned using a common browning solution, but the same blackening that is seen on the brass is seen around some of the hardware and on parts of the barrel, especially near the stock. The aging is the best I've seen on any reproduction firearm anywhere and I need to be able to reproduce this on similar weapons. If anyone has any ideas on this, I'd be most grateful to hear them. Thanks.

Patrick Watson
- Knoxville, Tennessee


Can't say for sure, but could the brass have been black nickel plated, then scoured with steel wool and Pumice [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] ?

Or is the brass more of a blue color? You can color brass with sodium thiosulfate, 124 grams per liter, and lead acetate, 38 grams per liter. The thio and acetate are prepared separately, each in a half liter of water, then combined before use. Blue at 60 °C for half a minute.

No one should prepare chemicals for metal working unless properly trained, using the proper safety equipment, and only in a commercial establishment designed and insured for the purpose. Home brewing is not recommended.

Best regards, Tom

tom pullizzi monitor
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township,


In regards to your gun finishing projects the old method of browning was to wrap the metal in wet rags and place in a dark spot to rust then taken out and steel wooled down and wrapped in wet rags again to rust some more until the depth of brown was full and rich just do not rush the process a little at a time and it won't pit on you finish up by rubbing in a high quality gun oil ( this method was used on the brown bess hence the name), 0000 steel wool [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] only. As for tarnishing brass, purchase Brass Darkening Solution [linked by editor to product info at Rockler]. Do not soak too long or it will eat up the brass but be sure there is no finish on it or it will not turn.

- Fall City, Washington

Plum Brown Barrel Finish


The best "aging" method that would be true to the period (18th century) AND easy to do, would be go to a Gun Shop which handles Black Powder/Muzzleloading firearms and purchase a small bottle of Birchwood Casey's "Old Time Browning." Then you remove the barrel and lock, get outside or in a well-ventilated area, and slowly heat the barrel with a propane torch, moving the flame evenly over the entire barrel until it is well heated. You apply the browning copiously, being sure to avoid the fumes. Be careful when you heat the lockplate face; you don't want to anneal (soften) the frizzen, internal springs or other parts. When the barrel and lock have cooled, carefully remove any excess caking of browning solution with 0000 steel wool. Remove as little as possible, just the caked-up stuff. If you're a "natural" you won't have any caking; but that would be unusual. Brass can be aged by using a fine emery cloth to produce some fine etching on the surface (use cloth in circles, not in one direction), then applying a salt water solution with a Q-tip® or fine paint brush. Wait a few days; wipe off the salty residue. If you don't have a good enough patina, try lemon juice. Be careful to wipe away any saline or lemon juice from the stock.

Thomas A. Parham
- Orange Park, Florida

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