by: Robert Blokker [ ]
Originally published on:
This is one of those items I stumbled upon while searching for something different some years ago. While browsing the web in search for chemicals with which I could blacken friul tracks I came across an article on a shipbuilders forum of which the name I can’t remember anymore. It was an article about blackening brass canons for galleons and it got my attention right away because some sort of chemical was used. While reading the article I found out that the product in question was called “Brass Black” from the company Birchwood Casey, who produce all sorts of agents that are used to alter the appearance of metal. The chemicals are often used by gunsmiths to give metals an antique looking appearance and Brass Black is exactly one of those goodies.
After a little search online I found a shop in Holland who sold the stuff for around 16 euro’s for a 3fl oz bottle which seems like a lot of money for not a lot of product, but I expect that as long as you don’t tip it over will last you quite a long time. (for the US based people, I have found a site that gives you the same bottle for just under 10 dollars and on Birchwood Casey's site it goes for just over.. $10.30 to be precise).
The instructions tell you to wear gloves while working with this product which is definitely advisable as it is basically a sort of acid and an aggressive one at that since it corrodes the brass in 30 seconds. So you can guess it is not the most friendliest of fluids. But the results this blue potion creates is very well worth it.
A problem with PE is that you always have to prime it before painting. But if you want to show something that is bare metal you will find out after looking at reference that there are few things on the battlefield vehicles that are made of brass. So… you have to prime it and then paint it looking like metal or even going over it with pencil graphite. Which I always have done that way even though I thought it was a bit laborious. Because nothing looks like metal...as metal. And since it is impossible to convince all the PE and turned metal goodies manufacturers to step away from brass colored metals the easiest route was go chemical and alter the metals appearance. And this is where Brass Black from Birchwood Casey comes into play.
What do you need to get started:
- Brass Black from Birchwood Casey (you’d never have guessed that)
- Container with clear water
- Copper wire
- Side cutters
- Toilet paper
- A lighter
- The brass/copper/PE you want to blacken.
And off we go...
First I'll start off with one of the nice buckets from RB model (Item# 35D09) in which you will find the bucket neatly milled from brass, a ring that goes on the bottom and a small PE fret for the handle and the attachment points for said handle.
I first made a sort of rig with copper wire in which the parts are held and dipped into the fluid. As you can see from the pictures I attached every part of the bucket separately. The reason I did not glue together the bucket before sinking it into the Brass Black is that if you have excess glue those parts are 'sealed' and do not corrode anymore. That way you end up with a bucket that is mostly black with some patches of brass color shining through. Which looks ugly. This brings me to the next point:
Metal parts sometimes are coated in some greasy substances or even the oils from your fingers and this prevents Brass Black from blackening those parts. A quick solution I found here is that you hold the metal parts in a lighter flame. This burns pretty much all the greases and other agents off the metal and all the parts will blacken evenly.
Once you have everything attached in the rig in such a way it can’t fall out you bend it at the top so it forms a hook and you lower it into the bottle of “Brass Black” leaving it to hang with the metal parts submerged in the fluid. Leave it there for about 30 to 40 seconds. This is a bit of a generic time frame since it will not dissolve your parts when you leave it just a bit longer in it than that. So no need for any stopwatches or timers.
When the 30/40 seconds are passed take out the rig (in a well-ventilated room while wearing gloves… remember it’s a corrosive chemical) and you’ll see that the brass is completely blackened with a nice overall covering, (some metals can give you a brownish color). Now hang the whole rig in your container with clear water and move it about a bit. You will see that this washes the Brass Black fluid from your object in a manner that looks a bit like ink in water. When nothing comes off anymore take it out of the water and dry it on the toilet paper. The result: matt black bucket parts.
If you still see brass colors here and there then hang it back in the fluid and repeat all steps.
Getting out the shine:
Matt black is not the most impressive of metal colors so the process contains another step. The fluid corrodes not only quickly, but also deep in the material which means that you can polish it up. Simply roll it between a piece of dry toilet paper and the part will reveal a nice gray shiny color which will still remain black in the recesses where the toilet paper does not reach.
Time spent so far... a minute.
Working on the shells:
The second part of this review article deals with creating late war German shells. While for the majority of the vehicles you can use the brass shells untreated since the brass colors pretty much mimic the real thing. At one point in late war Germany there came the problem that the brass was running out, and that Europe was slowly running out of Church bells and valuable pieces of art to melt down. So they started to use more common metals for their shells which were a nice shiny grayish color. Normally to simulate this on our models would (again…) mean priming it, painting it in metallic colors and then working it with graphite etc.
With Brass Black not anymore. Make a rig out of copper wire, submerse in the fluid, rinse, polish and voila. There are your shells in the shiny grayish color...time spent... a minute (again).
I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best purchases I have made through the years. I use it a lot for pretty much everything brass or copper colored. I have blackened my own barbed wire that I made from copper wire, I have blackened copper colored parts from barrel sets, the above mentioned buckets, copper chain, shells, grenades, bits of photoetch (partial frets really) and I like the fact that you get a really good effect in a really short amount of time, with a minimum amount of work. Certainly you cannot paint them so quickly and this convincing.
Yes it is a chemical and you need to work with gloves. With a price for under 10 dollars I think it is not too bad and the small bottle will last you a very long time. I’d recommend it to everybody.