In this “How To” I’ll be explaining how I go about browning a set of damascus barrels. There are plenty of other ways of doing this I am sure but this way I know, and it works, so I thought I’d get it down in a step by step for people to use, read or disagree with. As with just about every task one undertakes in gunsmithing and restoring old shotguns the quality of the job will be determined by a good start on a clear site (a phrase my first boss used to use in farming and true in anything you undertake). In this case it means getting the barrels as clean and shiny as you can;
Step 1 – Barrel Strike Up
Use a fairly course wet and dry or emery cloth of about 180 to start. Make sure you try and get as much of the corrosion out of any of the barrel areas. It’s good to use water and this takes time. Move up to about 240 or sometimes 320 grit no need to go any finer and make sure that you sand the barrel length not around the barrel (Thanks Chris forgot to make this clear). Once you are happy the barrels should look at least like ths;
Step 2 – Copper Sulphate Bath
I think an important step. Many people don’t but once you have seen the results of this you’ll never NOT do it. I use warm water in a window box (without holes obviously) and about 5-6 heaped tablespoons of copper sulphate. Make sure it’s all dissolved and when ready drop the bunged (don’t forget to make those ends water tight. I use corks wrapped with plumbers pipe lead tape) barrels into the bath and leave for 30 minutes. Once they’ve been in there for 30 minutes remove the barrels (use rubber gloves please!) and thoroughly rinse under a running tap. Hey presto superb pattern is back right? Sure is. Next dry the barrels and you are ready for the next step.
Step 3 – Applying the browning solution
Once the copper sulphate phase is completed and the barrels thoroughly washed and dried I sometimes just go over the barrels with ethyl acetate to remove any residue. Then it’s on with the browning. I’ve tried two; one from Peter Dyson which works well but is quite slow rusting and another from a gunsmith mate which seems to be quicker. I’m trying noth across these sets of barrels. The top barrel is from my new Wesley Richards muzzle loader and the other two are for muzzle loaders for a friend. I leave the browning solution on for 1-2 days and then onto the next step.
Step 4 – Repeat process
The process now repeats itself. The basic “carding down” (I use the lightest of wire wool or sometimes just a wet towel) of the barrels and then re-applying of the browning solution. This process usually goes on for two weeks, sometimes a little longer. Once you have reached the stage where you think enough of the twist is browned then it’s onto the final stage. No two barrels are the same. For instance if you look at the Joseph Lang barrels, recently finished, you’ll see they are qute brown and dark. If you now look at my Westley Richards percussion gun barrels you will see that they are brighter but just as beautiful. The barrels will tell you when they are ready.
Step 5 – Hot Wax and Finish
I use an old recipe of bees wax to finish the barrels and protect them. After the final carding I make sure that the rust stops by cleaning them off with acetone. Once this is done they are ready for the barrel waxing. I use a traditional method of warming the barrels and then applying the wax. This takes time and the whole barrels are waxed, heated (with a blow torch) VERY mildly and then waxed. The heat is applied to the wax just enough for it to melt and give a gloss (whilst it’s hot) to the barrels. I do this twice over the barrels. Then they are left to cool. Once cooled take a drying towel (one that your partner/wife/boss has of course allowed you to take) and polish away. I have differing grades of wax. A very hard wax that is used for the majority of the barrels and a softer bees wax which I use for the grooves and in the case of the percussion gun inside and around the rod guides. Here are some pictures of the finished barrels.