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Gun Cleaning and Hardness of Common Materials
April 27, 2018
9:43 pm
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JohnD
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I was cleaning the residue from the cylinder of my blued 15-2 using a bronze brush. This is the first blued gun I have owned. I noticed that the cylinder turned brown after vigorous brushing. I had a moment of panic but that subsided when I wiped it all away and the cylinder was as bright as ever. This got me to thinking about what bluing was and what was happening. I did some research and this is what I found. By the way this applies only to the hot methods you get from pros not the cold methods you buy at the gun store.

Bluing is actually common rust converted to hematite; the same mineral found as the black tourista rocks in souvenir shops. The traditional process is to intentionally rust a gun by immersing it in water with something like nitric acid to evenly rust the entire surface. Then the gun is placed in boiling water which converts the red rust to the black hematite. Trace minerals in the original steel can make the bluing blue, black, purple, or other variations. The deep even blue of a Colt Python is due to making sure all the parts of the revolver use exactly the same metallurgy. The Dan Wessons must sometimes have slightly different metallurgies for some of the frames and shrouds which results in the picky complaints that the bluing isn’t even.

Hematite is a fairly hard mineral and there is an established method for ranking hardness of materials used in geology and jewelry making. That is the Mohs hardness scale. The ends of the scale are from 1 being very soft and represented as talc (yes baby powder) to 10 represented as diamond. Higher numbers can scratch lower numbers so diamond scratches everything and talc scratches nothing. Hematite, or bluing, is in the upper middle at about 6.

Now this rating is casual scratching and not determined so beware when I list things below. What I mean is that if you try to scratch a 6 like hematite with a softer knife blade at 5.5 (not the super tough chrome blades) a light touch won’t scratch it but if you try hard you certainly will mark up the hematite because the bluing is quite thin you you will damage the underlying steel, about a Mohs hardness of 4. If you are far apart like brass or bronze at 3.5, like my brush, the bluing will win handily and bronze will come off the brush and leave particles on my cylinder that wipe off with a cloth. No harm at all and maybe a touch of polishing.

So now I will list some common materials and their hardness that we would be concerned with in the Dan Wesson revolver world including some really nasty ones.

Mohs Hardness for Common Materials

  • Lead                   1.5
  • Finger Nail            2.5
  • Zinc                    2.5
  • Aluminum             2.75   No oxidation. The oxidation changes everything.
  • Copper                3
  • Brass                  3.5
  • Bronze                3.5
  • Nickel                  4
  • Stainless Steel Frame 4
  • Steel Gun Barrel     4
  • Steel                    4.25
  • Nitrided Steel          4.4
  • SS Gun Barrel         4.4
  • Stainless Steel Slide  4.4
  • Iron                      4.5
  • Glass                     5.5   Not as hard as the sand it is made from because sand is the crystalline form
  • Hornblende             5.5   A kind of black sand grain
  • Knife Blade             5.5   Not the high chrome super knives
  • Hematite               6     Hot dip or traditional gun bluing
  • Feldspar                 6.25 Pink sand grains
  • Arkansas Whetstone 6.5 This is why you can’t sharpen a high chrome Japanese knife with a whetstone
  • Steel File                 6.5
  • Quartz                    7     Clear or translucent sand grains
  • Case Hardened Steel  7.5  The rainbow colored steel on some firearms
  • Ceramic                   8.5   Sharpening rods and stones
  • Tungsten Carbide      8.75  Machine tool cutting edges
  • Aluminum Oxide         9  Sandpaper and the outside of oxidized aluminum gun cleaning rods
  • Diamond                 10   A girls best friend unless she is being mugged for the diamonds

Now for some observations. Scrub away on you blued guns with brass and bronze brushes. No harm will come to your precious finish. Stainless steel brushes are theoretically OK on your bluing (I wouldn’t. It’s getting too close.) but could tear up your gun barrel and certainly keep them away from any stainless guns.

Watch out for brass punches because you could embed some of that brass in the hematite finish and leave a mark that would be hard to get rid of.The same with hitting the finish with the brass cleaning rods. You can get rid of the light brass marks with 0000 steel wool.

Sand is your enemy. It is everywhere. Most of the scratches you see on guns are probably from sand of some kind. Concrete is pebbles and sand cemented together so that is why dropping you gun on concrete is so disastrous. Scratches from handling? Well you hands were dirty and there were some find sand particles there. Holster wear? Leather won’t wear anything so your holster was dirty. Dust is find sand. Need I say more? Wash your hands! Clean you holster!

Notice that the stainless steel frame metal is softer that the barrel or slides? As a general rule the harder the metal the more brittle it is so you want something a little softer for the frame so it can take the beating.

Beware of aluminum cleaning rods. When they get old they can get some oxidation on them and that oxidation, at a Mohs hardness of 9, will easily scratch just about anything on your fine weapon. By the way, anodized aluminum is just oxidizing the outside to make it really tough so that will scratch your gun too. That means all those cute colored aluminum things, be they blue, red, orange, black (aluminum scope rings), or pink will scratch your gun easily.

Please use this only as a general guideline. The closer you get in hardness the more likely you are going to scratch the wrong thing.

April 28, 2018
9:23 am
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Zedbra
Squamish, British Columbia

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I like posts like this, I’m always learning cool things around here.  Thanks.

April 28, 2018
10:23 am
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SCORPIO
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Nice write up, thanks for taking the time to post!

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

My father

If a man designed it, and a man built it, then a man can fix it.

My grandfather

April 28, 2018
11:51 am
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Stinger
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Very interesting .. thanks for sharing.

April 28, 2018
2:31 pm
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snake-eye
Fort Myers, Florida

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Thanks for the info!

May 3, 2018
5:40 pm
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photohause
Sebastian, FL
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Thank you professor, I appreciate the education.

I was told, but not convinced, that one should not use steel wool on SS surfaces because bits of steel could get imbeded and cause rust. Any thoughts?

   What new gun my Dear, this old thing?

May 4, 2018
12:10 am
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JohnD
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Interesting question. The steel in the steel wool will have a slightly higher hardness that the usual SS frame, 4.25 vs. 4, so many times it would at least scratch. As for imbedding bits in the SS, it could happen. And it would rust. Even so, I wouldn’t rub something that close in hardness together because the wrong thing is likely to get scratched. 

Brass, bronze,or copper is the hardest material I would use on SS. I use the copper kitchen scrubber pads to get lead fouling out of my SS barrels all the time.

May 4, 2018
9:29 am
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photohause
Sebastian, FL
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Thanks John

   What new gun my Dear, this old thing?

May 11, 2018
10:41 pm
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SCORPIO
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Marine grade bronze wool works well on stainless and it won’t cause the embedding and future rust.  This is a big concern in the salt water marine environment and the bronze is the answer.  I use it all the time to polish stainless hardware on my boat as well as to restore a stainless Dan.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

My father

If a man designed it, and a man built it, then a man can fix it.

My grandfather

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