black oxide info pageBlack oxide or blackening is a conversion coating for ferrous materials, stainless steel, copper and copper based alloys, zinc, powdered metals, and silver solder. It is used to add mild corrosion resistance, for appearance and to minimize light reflection.

Traditionally, black oxide coating was used in the process of “bluing.” Bluing is a passivation process in which steel is partially protected against rust, and is named after the blue-black appearance of the resulting protective finish. True gun bluing is an electrochemical conversion coating resulting from an oxidizing chemical reaction with iron on the surface selectively forming magnetite (Fe3O4), the black oxide of iron. Black oxide provides minimal protection against corrosion, unless also treated with a water-displacing oil to reduce wetting and galvanic action. A distinction can be made between traditional bluing and some other more modern black oxide coatings, although bluing is a subset of black oxide coatings.

In comparison, rust, the red oxide of iron (Fe2O3), undergoes an extremely large volume change upon hydration; as a result, the oxide easily flakes off causing the typical reddish rusting away of iron. “Cold”, “Hot”, “Rust Blue” and “Fume Blue” are oxidizing processes simply referred to as bluing.

“Cold” bluing is generally a selenium dioxide based compound that colours steel black, or more often a very dark grey. It is a difficult product to apply evenly, offers minimal protection and is generally best used for small fast repair jobs and touch-ups.

The “Hot” process is an alkali salt solution, referred to as “Traditional Caustic Black”, that is typically done at an elevated temperature, 135 to 155 °C (275 to 311 °F). This method was adopted by larger firearm companies for large scale, more economical bluing. It does provide good rust resistance which is improved with the use of oil.

“Rust Bluing” and “Fume Bluing” provide the best rust and corrosion resistance as the process continually converts any metal that is capable of rusting into magnetite (Fe3O4). Treating with an oiled coating enhances the protection offered by the bluing. This process is also the only process safely used to re-blue vintage shotguns. Many double barrelled shotguns are silver brazed together and many of the parts are attached by that method also. The higher temperatures of the other processes as well as their caustic nature can weaken the brazed joints and make the gun hazardous to use.

Bluing can also be done in a furnace, for example for a sword or other item traditionally made by a blacksmith or specialist such as a weaponsmith. Blacksmith products to this day may occasionally be found made from blued steel by traditional craftsmen in cultures and segments of society who use that technology either by necessity or choice.