Hot Versus Cold Bluing
Bluing may be applied, for example, by immersing the steel parts of the gun to be blued in a solution of potassium nitrate, sodium hydroxide, and water heated to the boiling point. Similarly, stainless steel parts of the gun to be blued are immersed in a mixture of nitrates and chromates, similarly heated. Either of these two methods is called hot bluing.
There are many other methods of hot bluing. Hot bluing is among the most effective forms of bluing, providing the most permanent degree of rust-resistance and cosmetic protection of exposed gun metal.
Rust bluing was developed between hot and cold bluing processes. It was originally used by gunsmiths in the 19th century to blue firearms prior to the development of hot bluing processes. The process was to coat the gun parts in an acid solution, let the parts rust uniformly, then the rust was karded (scrubbed) off, leaving a deep blue finish. The process was later abandoned by major firearm manufacturers as it often took parts days to finish completely, and was very labor intensive. It is still sometimes sued by gunsmiths to obtain an authentic finish for a period gun of the time that rust bluing was in vogue, analogous to the use of browning on earlier representative firearm replicas. Rust bluing is also used on shotgun barrels that are soldered to the rib between the barrels, as hot bluing solutions would dissolve the solder during the bluing process.
There are also methods of cold bluing, which do not require heated solutions. Commercial products are widely sold in small bottles for cold bluing firearms, and these products are primarily used by individual gun owners for implementing small touch-ups to a gun’s finish, to prevent a small scratch from becoming a major source of rust on a gun over time. At least one of the cold bluing solutions contains selenium dioxide, to accomplish the bluing. Cold bluing is not particularly resistant to holster wear, nor does it provide a large degree of rust resistance. It does, however, often provide a very good cosmetic touch-up of a gun’s finish when applied and additionally oiled on a regular basis.
Large scale industrial hot bluing is often performed using a bluing furnace. This is an alternative method for creating the black oxide coating. In place of using a hot bath (although at a lower temperature) chemically-induced method, it is possible through controlling the temperature to heat steel precisely such as to cause the formation of black oxide selectively over the red oxide. It, too, must be oiled to provide any significant rust resistance.