Firearm finishes after engraving, etc.etc...


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Dec 9, 2006
Welfare, Texas
I wrote this as a response to a question on another forum but thought it might generate some valuable discussion and subsequent information on this forum too. While this applies more specifically to the firearms engravers among us others may find it informative as well. Knowing some of this stuff can certainly help keep you out of trouble! The question (which I thought was a very good one) was regarding when bluing was done in the process, either before or after gold inlay.


First I will give some definitions as they specifically apply to firearms:
Finish - A term generically applied to the many types of "finishes" available. I.e. bluing (rust, oxide, nitre, carbona); case coloring; plating in nickel, silver, gold, chrome, etc.etc..; anodizing; "coin finish" (which is hardened bright steel); french grey; the list goes on.....
Bluing - an oxidation that occurs in the surface of gun steel either chemically or through the application of heat or both. This reaction only (for our purposes here) occurs in the steel parts of a gun, not in the non-ferrous (brass, aluminum, etc...) parts.
Plating - a metal coating the is applied on or over the surface of the gun either electrically, (electro-plating) with heat (electrolessly) or by other means
Type of finish - This can be thought of as the "luster" of the final finish. This look can range (sort of from the bottom up so to speak) from a dull sandblasted surface; a velvety-smooth glass-beaded finish; a brushed finish up to a mirror bright polish and almost anything and everything in between. Keep in mind that most of these surface treatments will need to be done prior to engraving. Areas that you engrave shouldn't be messed with a great deal afterwards as you run the risk of damaging/removing much of the fine detail that you took hours putting there. Understanding the process will help you to successfully achieve your goal in finishing (not only firearms but knives, jewelry, etc.etc...

Firearm finishes such as bluing are applied after all work has been done. In my own experience it goes something like this: After the firearm has been disassembled & assuming there are no functional problems, all necessary metal preparation work is then performed. This includes filing/polishing, fitting, is necessary to prepare the firearm to be engraved. (I am aware that some engravers neglect this point and it is lamentable. As an engraver you will be be performing your very best work each time you engrave (it will continue to get better & better over time) so why put your efforts on a less than adequate palate? The equivalent would be to have a painting by a modern master on a piece of barn wood: It just wouldn't look nearly as nice as that done on a properly prepared canvas!)
Anyway, (sorry about all the blabbing!), after all the metal prep work is done and the piece is ready, the engraving is then performed After engraving and only if there is any need for it, a light final polish is given (usually by the engraver or if not, by someone who is very, very trusted by the engraver) to even out the finish. After this step the firearm goes through the bluing (finishing) process, is reassembled and the project is thereby, completed.
Gold or other inlay is done during the engraving process, not after the finish is applied. Engraving on a finished (blued, plated,etc) firearm is not impossible to do but it can & will get you way in over your head if you are not very, very careful. As a general rule it is not the recommended process. You will normally get requests for this kind of service from someone who wants a light amount of lettering done on a piece & doesn't want to spend the money to get whatever it is refinished. Though I realize there are differing opinions on this, personally, I discourage this kind of work as it can cost more than it is worth, especially if you happen to make a mistake (OOPS!)
Most precious metal will adequately stand up to the bluing or case coloring processes. Plating is another story. It's not that precious metals won't stand up to the process but that electroplating (and electroless plating as well) are coatings that are applied OVER the steel surface of a firearm. (Imagine paint covering the surface of a wall & you will get the picture.) This means that unless areas of the surface are "stopped off", masked or protected they will be covered by a micro-thin coating of the plated metal (most frequently nickel followed by silver, gold & chrome). Additionally, your time consuming precious metal inlays will also be covered over with plating as well, thereby ruining all your hard work. As I mentioned previously, the only way to avoid this is to mask off the area you don't want plated. After the plating process is complete (If desired) the firearm can then be sent (immediately after removing the masking agent) through the bluing process. Bluing will not cover non-ferrous metals but will color the steel. In this way one can have a plated firearm with areas of gold or other precious metal inlay (overlay, etc) nicely accented by a blue background. It is not the easiest process and will require a firearms refinisher that you trust as being able to perform at a level well above that of average (one with a high degree of sophistication).
As the old saying goes, "there is more than one way to skin a cat" . Lets hear from you!


John B.

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Los Angeles area, California.
I am sure you know this but I did not see it in your post.
Do not run electro plated nickle finish through the black oxide(hot blue) tanks.
You will have the dangest mess on your hands and have to strip the nickle plate.
To check to to see if all the nickle has been removed from a previously nickle plated gun before engraving I run it through the blue tanks. This will attach as a smeary area to any remaining nickle and make it easier to correct.
I have heard of some people who run chrome plate through the tanks for a selective chrome/blue finish.
As I use no chrome so I can not comment.
Best regards, hope you are on the mend. John B.


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 8, 2006
Ludington, MI
Good post. I might add that if you are doing any type of inlay that is to be blued, you use the "caustic" type of bluing instead of the "rust blue". Rust bluing usually requires carding with a wire brush and will mess up details in an inlay. Some engravers will do the inlay but add any shading after bluing. This can be a tricky thing to do.

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