Peacock blue on steel

Colouring processes for metal and other materials.

Peacock blue on steel

Postby Ford » Thu Sep 27, 2012 7:07 am

I'm looking into ways of recreating the fabled peacock blue on carbon steel. I'm familiar with the usual heat blueing, nitre salts and anodising of stainless steel but none of these methods or materials are applicable in terms of what I'm after. Does anodising produce a good blue on carbon steel?

Apparently the finest examples of peacock blued steel and gilt sword blades were only produced for a relatively short period of 40 to 60 years in the mid 18th cent. and no-one seems to really be able to recreate the depth and intensity of those particular examples. I have some images of a very fine and rare sword as reference but can't publish them here yet for security and copyright reasons :sneaky: but when I say peacock blue I mean exactly that and not some wishy washy ersatz finish :naughty:
Peacock2 _JasonSteel.jpg


So....does anyone have any ideas, heard of any secret recipes or know someone I might ask?
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Martin P » Thu Sep 27, 2012 9:05 am

In watch industry its a big issue to get steel hands, springs and screws blue.

And we discuss these issue almost daily. Our goal is to reach a light intensive blue but its even difficukt to get 3 hands for one watch the same color.
As Bucher stated in his book on metal coloring it does not matter what ally iron, cast iron or steel, has by temperature, the same color range shall appear.

I remeber once having discussed this issue with a chap I met by accident. He told me, that earlier Prune acid has been used to produce a beautiful and intensive light blue color but he didn't tell me more about the process.

Today in watch industry screws are blued by DLC coating

For a bright blue on steel Bucher describs another procedure of blueing small steel parts

Clean steel properly and rub with a linen cloth soaked in Hydrochloric acid.
After well dried put in a sand bath and wait until desired color has been reached.
I could not find any information if the sand need to be warm or hot.

That's all I know on this issue
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Ford » Thu Sep 27, 2012 9:23 am

Thanks Martin,

yes, this seems to be something of a Holy Grail quest :biggrin:

The Bucher recipe is in Hiron's book also. I've tried it, it produces a pale grey with maybe a hint of blue but not really that magical blue we're after.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Avishai » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:14 am

Ford,
Anodizing is applicable only on aluminum. If a blue similar to the patina on my repousse blessing is acceptable, you may consider dipping the steel in copper sulphate to get a thin copper layer on the steel, and than patinate it in vinegar and ammonia fumes. I have not tried this patina on steel, but if coppering the steel is an acceptable idea, I can try it for you because I have all the chemicals. Please let me know, the experiment will take few days.
Also in Oppi's book there are some formulas for blueing steel patinas. I have no experience with those formulas but I can post it. (I am sure that you have that book)
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Ford » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:59 am

Hi Avishai

I thought there was an anodising process that worked on stainless steel, I may be wrong, it's happened before :biggrin: ...once. :smartass:

I've tried the various recipes in Untracht's book but along time ago, not quite the deep intense colour I'm after really. The blue type patina as on copper is not the right sort of look I'm afraid :(

This is what I'm looking for.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Martin P » Thu Sep 27, 2012 11:11 am

Ford,
One of the brightest bues I have ever seen is executed on Colt guns, called the Colt Royal Blue.

As an alternative think about Zirconium instead of steel.
Zirconium is a little bit softer than steel and can be anodized like Titanium to a wide range of really bright colors.
If you are interested I can send you a test piece.

Martin

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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Jesus Hernandez » Thu Sep 27, 2012 12:56 pm

Ford, are you aware of any studies of these blades? Particularly, cross-section micrographs?
The reason I ask, is because it will be important to know if we are talking about a direct patination method of the steel surface or patination of a different metal coating the steel surface.
As far back as the Iberian falcata (500 B.C.) the smiths knew how to produce and uniform coating of bronze or magnetite or both on the iron surface. The blades were inlaid with silver and patinated black creating a beautiful silver on black contrast. I believe bronze can be patinated to a deep blue.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Lorenzo » Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:00 pm

Though maybe not completely related to the subject, I've seen few machines in the place where I work producing consistent blue chips when cutting high carbon steel.

Not my pictures.

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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Glen G » Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:12 pm

Ford,
This is one of those techniques where the process is very simple but the control can be very tricky. With temper colors, "interference colors" the degree of polish is certainly a factor. The higher the polish the more difficult to control evenness. Parts need to be absolutely cleaned and dry before heating. But I think the main issue is going to be finding the exact temperature for the blue shade you require and then getting the whole part slowly and evenly heated to that temp point. "Peacock" will be on the higher side of the color range, somewhere between 300c and 320c. Even a few degrees +/- will effect the color you are after. Time at temp is also a factor but the color creep is negligible unless left at set point for many hours.
I have heard of using a sand box to do this but never tried it. Clean, absolutely dry, silica sand in a steel box placed in oven or over a forge. Keep in mind that granular substances like sand are hydroscopic and you will need to condition the material and keep it warm (above 100c) to insure absolutely dry before adding parts for the run-up to color range. It's all about evenly heating the mass to a precise temp and this is often easier said than done.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Martin P » Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:31 pm

To control heat in watch industry we used a mix of lead and tin. For bright blue the recommended mix was 48 parts lead to 4 parts tin with a melting point of exactly 284°C. But doing this on sea level might be different to doing it on 600 m above see level.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Glen G » Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:40 pm

Yah Martin,
Doesn't get much cleaner, dryer and evenly heated than with a molten bath :clap:

And welcome to the forum Martin, really enjoy the work you do and your working perspectives.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Ford » Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:45 pm

Martin,

thanks for the kind offer of some zirconium. I've never used it and know very little about it but initially I need to try and make this work on steel :) Those blues are very appealing, I may need to explore this material at some point.

Jesus, I don't know of any such studies off the top of my head and analysing the swords I'm talking about is never going to happen :shock: They are fairly simple carbon steel though with mercury gilded (on a copper plating) areas.

Lorenzo, I was discussing this yesterday with someone and mentioned exactly those sorts of swathes that come off a lathe and how the colour is so constant. :cloud9: but how to achieve that same constancy on a sword gilded blade. :?

Glen,

You may have a point about using sand or some such material. Sand 'baths' were also used in tempering so it would fit. Whether a slow soak up to the required temp. will result in that depth of colour remains to be seen. From my experience flame blued steel at it's darkest is not quite the same shade so I'm wondering about some other additional ingredient. I find that highly polished steel does show a clearer and deeper colour though.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Phil White » Thu Sep 27, 2012 8:53 pm

Ford,

This type of blue on swords and various parts on firearms from this period was produced by even and careful heating, such as in a lead bath, or in a steel box. There was a deeper, but similar blue that was produced by a process called charcoal bluing, in which the piece to be blued was polished and set into an iron box on a bed of charcoal for a period of time until the desired blue was achieved. This method was practiced extensively by English gunsmiths during this period.

I played around with this many years ago, and a fair bit of experience is required to get an even finish, the key being a reducing atmosphere.

There is an article that was published a few years ago in the Journal of Historical Armsmaking Technology, and I have a copy.

I believe there is some information on the bluing of swords in some of the period armourer's manuels, such as "Instructions for Armourers" or "Handbook for Military Artificers". It was common to have the bluing removed "for war" and reapplied later. I have a number of these books, from my previous life, and will have a look.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Patrick Hastings » Thu Sep 27, 2012 11:33 pm

Ditto to what Phil said.
I did a lot of heat and nitre blueing long ago. Absolutely precise temperature control will get you that color IMO. Fluid bath is generally the way to get the evenness. There needs to be quite the volume of medium relative to the object. As putting the object in will change the temperature and you have to wait for recovery. If you pull it out before recovery is fully achieved the Thinner areas or areas with more surface area like corners will have picked up the bath temperature right away. If the object cools the bath a couple degrees you end up with a gradient or halo effect from edges in. To help avoid this and to tune the bath you can drop the part in under target temp and creep it up a bit at a time pulling the part to check for color each time you up the temp. you will need a way to control it very precisely so you can ramp up the temp 1 degree at a time. A PID controller and an electric element is handy for this.
Another less involved medium along the lines of the sand box is Glass beads for bead blasting. They are not as scratchy as sand, but still conduct the heat very well. I have used these in tempering process to distribute heat evenly. It works very well, but I have not tried it for color.
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Re: Peacock blue on steel

Postby Sefa » Fri Sep 28, 2012 10:30 pm

Ford I hope this works. Ferric potassium cyanide (2.5 g / L K3 (Fe (CN4)) 3, and ferric chloride (5gr / L FeCl) are mixed and this mixture is dipped be colored steel. expected to obtain the desired blue color. sample images.
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