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  1. #1
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    Bluing a bare steel frame

    i'm working on a winter project - stripping an older steel frame, giving it a fine "brushed" look, and clear coating it with glisten pc. through my research, i've discovered some talk of people bluing bare metal, much like that done with guns/firearms (yes, "gunmetal") - and i'm interested.

    does anyone have any experience with this? i'd appreciate some pointers along with any recommendations regarding bluing products. i'm predicting the final product will look pretty rad.

    thanks.

  2. #2
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    I'm pretty sure, having worked in a *** shop, that bluing is not an effective rust preventative. For bike use, maybe a clear coat over the blueing.

    Otherwise, it's pretty easy to apply. Pay a gunsmithy if you want it uniform and looking professional, I think a self done blueing job would probably look as bad as a spray painted frame, but have no actual bike/blueing experience. Touching blueing up is just like painting touchups.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  3. #3
    cs1
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    Quote Originally Posted by metrox
    i'm working on a winter project - stripping an older steel frame, giving it a fine "brushed" look, and clear coating it with glisten pc. through my research, i've discovered some talk of people bluing bare metal, much like that done with guns/firearms (yes, "gunmetal") - and i'm interested.

    does anyone have any experience with this? i'd appreciate some pointers along with any recommendations regarding bluing products. i'm predicting the final product will look pretty rad.

    thanks.
    Bluing is actually controlled rust. It is a very poor rust preventitive, but looks cool. If the bike has brazed lug steel then the bluing will not adhere to the exposed brazed areas around the lugs. A gunsmith won't be able to handle it because their tanks are about 3' X 6". A better bet is black oxide. It is very similar to bluing and is available in any industrialized city. Check your Yellow Pages for " Metal Finishers" and there should be a few in there.

    Personally, I would go with clear powder coat. Whatever the case good luck.

    Tim
    1999 Waterford RSE-11, 1995 Waterford 1200, 1989 Specialized Rockhopper Comp
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    1984 Specialized Stumpjumper, 1986 Specialized Stumpjumper and just way too many projects to list.

  4. #4
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    i was actually thinking of giving this kit a try:

    http://www.shootersolutions.com/gunbluingkit.html

    ...it having the black-oxide and all.

    since i'm putting a clear coat over/after the bluing, i'm not concerned about rust (or should i be still?). seems like the clear coat (glisten pc) would prevent any oxidation from taking place. i'm no pro when it comes to metallurgical science, but this makes sense.

    would this be worth trying on an aluminum frame (maybe with a tinted clear coat)? a ***-metal finish isn't too common on al frames - perhaps there's a reason why.

  5. #5
    fmw
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    I wouldn't do it. It will come out splotchy (is that a word?) A professional blue job can't be done this way. Gunsmiths have the equipment to do it right.

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    well, it's a pretty crap frame, and i since i'm using a wire brush wheel on a dremel, i guess i'm not too worried about the extra work of trial and error... this is completely experimental.

    i'm curious though, aside from dunking it (in a tank that's likely way too small for a bike), what will the pro gunsmith be able to pull off that i won't? technique? i guess it would seem that the splotchiness you're suggesting would be unavoidable then if done by hand...

  7. #7
    I couldn't car less. jeff williams's Avatar
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    Also search steel patina formula maybe.
    I've come across some where? on the net.
    http://www.sculptnouveau.com/patinas1.html This might be the site...no time to look right now.

  8. #8
    ppc
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    Quote Originally Posted by metrox
    i've discovered some talk of people bluing bare metal, much like that done with guns/firearms (yes, "gunmetal") - and i'm interested. does anyone have any experience with this?
    The traditional way of blueing parts like triggers for high-end hunting *****s here in Europe is by heat. I don't think you want to do that on a bike frame. Beside, for a part as large as a bike frame, you'd need a large oven for metal heat treatment, you couldn't do a uniform blue with a torch like we do on small parts. There are also blueing fluids to do "fake blues" that yeld very good results, but they cost an arm and a leg, not to mention that I don't think the result would be very beautiful on such a large part.

    Oh and to answer another poster: a heat-blued part can be quite rust-proof: there's a difficult technique to do it by hand, but when you get it just right, the blue is deep and beautiful and lasts for years, even with normal *** usage. If someone's interested to blue small steel bike parts like screws, I can post the method. It takes time to master, and it very often involves luck, but the results can be stunningly beautiful.

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    thanks for the heads up on the patina - the dye oxide may be worth a shot (from the posted link):

    "Dye Oxide Patinas: The Water Based Dye-Oxide Patinas are very versatile. They are a cross between the Solvent Base Dyes and a patina. All of the colors are transparent and may be blended or layered together to achieve the color you want. They do not contain acids. They are a UV safe, indoor, or outdoor patina.
    The Dye Oxides may be applied directly onto any metal including Iron, Steel, or Aluminum. They may be used in a hot or cold technique. The Dye Oxides may be applied over any other patina solution while it is wet or dry to alter the color. They are so compatible with patinas that the Dye Oxides could be added into another patina formula. For example: if your green acid patina was not green enough for you the green Dye Oxide could be added into your formula thus changing the color. These, as with all our patinas and colors, work very well over the metal coatings also."

    choices, choices...

  10. #10
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    "If someone's interested to blue small steel bike parts like screws, I can post the method. It takes time to master, and it very often involves luck, but the results can be stunningly beautiful."

    i'd certainly be interested if you're willing to share

  11. #11
    ppc
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    Quote Originally Posted by metrox
    "If someone's interested to blue small steel bike parts like screws, I can post the method. It takes time to master, and it very often involves luck, but the results can be stunningly beautiful."

    i'd certainly be interested if you're willing to share
    Sure. First of all, a note on color: any color you see on steel after heating is iron oxyde. It's a combination of 3 or 4 types of oxydes: rust (red), magnetite (black) and a couple of others I forgot. Only rust lets more rust in, magnetite is actually airtight and stops rust, which is why *** barrels are blackened. The colors you see on steel come from how light is scattered on the different layers of oxyde on the surface of the steel. The thickness of the layers vary with the temperature, hence the changing color. Color is a good indication of the temperature reached by the part.

    The main colors (for carbon steels) are:

    "hay yellow" around 220C
    brown around 250C
    dark red around 260C
    purple around 280C
    dark blue around 300C
    pale blue around 380C
    dirty grey above

    So the idea is to get the surface to blue to a uniform temperature to get the desired color (you choose the color according to your preferences. Gunsmiths tend to like it deep, full blue). It's easy to get a uniform blue by sticking the part in an oven with the right temperature, wait for the part to heat uniformly, remove the part and wait for it to cool down... only the blue is rarely truly beautiful, and it requires an oven.

    So it's cheaper, and often better to use a flame for small parts. The difficulty of course is to get the surface uniformly heated by the flame, then stopping the heat without dropping the part in water or in oil (more on that later).

    The procedure requires:

    - a brazing torch
    - a biggish slab of iron, to cool the part
    - a small fire tong (you can make your own with two steel bands and an old screw)
    - Very fine emery paper (grain 800 or more)
    - light oil (bicycle oil works)

    You may also need a potato to control where the heat goes (read on).

    So, first of all, the rule is that the heat should propagate from the core to the surface to heat the surface well. It's helpful to know that the fire tong acts as a heat shunt, so the first thing is to locate a point where to hold the part. For example, if you want to blue the head of a long screw, you hold the part in the middle and heat the other end, so the heat moves up to the head, "sinks" into the core of the part because it's "deflected" by the tong, and resurfaces on the surface of the head where you want it. On smaller parts, hold the part where you can, but never where it's going to be blue of course. On very very small parts you can't hold, put the parts on a zinc plate and heat slowly from underneat.

    Start by sanding the part to a mirror finish. Adjust the torch to the size of the part: the bigger the flame, the faster the heat moves, and the harder it is to control the color on small parts. Heat from behind: you'll see the temperature move by the changing colors: where you heat will quickly go from yellow to blue to light blue to grey, and adjacent parts will change color more slowly, further and further. When the color is getting near the surface you want to blue, take the part out of the flame and watch the color rise. When it reaches very dark blue, put the part quickly but delicately on the cold iron slab, if possible without touching the blued surface, but with the most surface in contact, to stop the heat rising.

    That's the hard part: if you heat too fast, you'll overshoot the blue for sure, or you'll get an ugly rainbow of colors because the heat wasn't uniform. If you wait too long to stop the heat, you'll overshoot the blue too. If you don't heat enough, the part will stabilize at a dirty blue-yellow color before you even have to cool it down. You can always put the part back in the flame, or close to the flame, if you realize it fast enough, but if you let it cool down, it'll make a dirty blue anyway, so you missed the color.

    If you missed the color (and it's very VERY easy), simple: re-polish the part to mirror finish and try again

    You might think it's a pain to stop the heat by putting the part on a slab of iron: indeed it's a lot easier to throw it in a bucket of water, the heat will stop right there and the color will be almost exactly what it was when you dropped the part in the bucket. Trouble is, the blue layer won't be stable and will wash off very easily afterward.

    Anyway, assuming you finally got your color right (and the same on all the parts. Uh uh...), do NOT touch the parts with your fingers and let the parts sit in a dry room for 24 hours, so the blue layer loses any trace of humidity in it and bonds correctly with the underlying metal. It doesn't hurt to leave them dry even longer if you want. When the blue is nice and done, oil the parts and let the oil soak in for 24 hours more. Voila! beautiful blue parts with the blue that actually stays there and doesn't degrade.

    Now, about that potato I mentioned: if you want to protect a portion of a part from the heat for any reason (heat treatment that you don't want to anneal, tin brazing, paint...) and that portion isn't too close to the flame when you heat the part, you can slide a slice of potato between the portion you heat and the portion you want to protect: it'll act as a very effective heat shunt, sucking away all the heat rising from the point you're heating that might go into the point you want to protect.

    Note that blueing works on carbon steels, but not on stainless steel. Stainless only turns dirty yellow when it's heated. And of course, it doesn't work on non-ferrous metals (duh).

    I blued the bottle cage screws and the chainrings bolts on my last MTB. I'll see if I can find the photos. It was a real pain to do but I was mighty proud of myself

  12. #12
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    I touched up the blueing on a ****** a while back and the results were pretty good using Outers blueing. It was pretty easy to blend it in. I'd give it a shot.

  13. #13
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    wow ppc, thanks for the detailed explanation - much appreciated!

    cheers

  14. #14
    Death fork? Naaaah!! top506's Avatar
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    Brownell's (www.brownells.com/ ) sells a cold blue called Oxpho-Blue that might be the ticket. It's tougher than any other cold blue on the market and works quite well on surfaces that aren't perfectly prepared.
    Top
    (Who's day job is gunsmithing).

  15. #15
    8speed DinoSORAs Ed Holland's Avatar
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    I had a go at hot black oxide finishing a while ago (I work in a science laboratory, so had appropriate equipment & safety protection available) Basically the parts to be treated are added to a boiling and very caustic bath - very unpleasent as it can spit and cause severe irritation to skin, not to mention eyes!!!. Boiling point is actually around 130 C, because the solution is so concentrated.
    In about 10 min, a black, conformal layer of magnetite is formed. This should be sealed, after a thorough rinse/dry of the part by coating with linseed oil, which also seems to help keep a deep black finish. This only works with carbon steels, not with stainless parts which need another treatment that is even more unpleasent and illegal in many places.

    I restored some rusty cable adjusters from my wife's MTB brake levers, and one or two other bits and pieces just for fun. The results were pretty good, certainly better than the rusty originals. With a large enough tank, it would be cool to treat a whole lugged/brazed bike. The tubes would receive a deep black sheen, but any exposed brazing (neatly finished at the lug-tube interface of course) would retain its brass like colour & highlight the lugs. Clearcoat could protect the beauty. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near a tank that size when it is hot though

    Cheers,

    Ed
    Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by metrox
    i was actually thinking of giving this kit a try:

    http://www.shootersolutions.com/gunbluingkit.html

    ...it having the black-oxide and all.

    since i'm putting a clear coat over/after the bluing, i'm not concerned about rust (or should i be still?). seems like the clear coat (glisten pc) would prevent any oxidation from taking place. i'm no pro when it comes to metallurgical science, but this makes sense.

    would this be worth trying on an aluminum frame (maybe with a tinted clear coat)? a ***-metal finish isn't too common on al frames - perhaps there's a reason why.
    Linked on that page is a reference to the DIYNetwork.com TV show Freeform furniture Barstool page and linkback to Shooter Solutions for the *** blue that was approved (by the Amy Devers as to fast and easy and her customer as to results.)

    While there is an opinion another product is better than all else - hmmm. Though this is said Van's is the best in many forums, to a TV audience of (subscribed audience) of 30 million viewers, Amy Devers mentioned FAST and EASY. and the results as determined by practice and comparison was perfect: the equivelant of 8 *** barrels in the form of two bar stools - or enough metal for an equivelant bicycle? (Square tubular welded steel frame.)

    Brownell's was not the provider. If someone is using Brownell's as the best, there are online recommendations of Van's as the best. Amy wanted a zip-quick and done instantly and perfectly. No blending of a rainbow of colors including brown rust mixed into the initial results. Layer upon layer upon layer for a "layered look". Single application for fast and easy rather.

    In any case, Amy Devers also has no axe to grind in tubular steel finishing. The idea is *** blue is not ***-specific. If you have a bluing that is not a scab: all the best for non-*** items. In other words, if it is great with guns, than good for other things too. "Clear Coat" is a solid wax - if it seals correctly.

    In any case, a TV testimonial I thought would be interesting. I'm the one who counseled her by phone, and I thought she was going to call for more advice - but apparently she was very pleased with the first go-round was perfect and everyone was exclaiming as to how marvelous it was in application and in fact.

    My opinion,
    Jonathan

  17. #17
    I'm Carbon Curious 531phile's Avatar
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    everyone talks about clearcoat. Can you recommend a good brand?

    Quote Originally Posted by avner View Post
    I loled. Twice. Then I cried. Then I rubbed one out and cried again, but thanks for sharing.

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