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Coloring Brass

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by SyberShooter, Mar 3, 2009.

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  1. SyberShooter

    SyberShooter Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    I have a few rifles of the same caliber and in the past just full length sized my cases, Now I want to neck size for my 308 bolt guns and would like to keep their brass separate. In the past I have used markers or rim paint or other methods to mark various loads but that usually comes off in the cleaning process. I found a few 'recipies' on-line for chemically coloring brass in a wide range of colors. This seems like a cool way to mark brass dedicated to a particular rifle. However none of the recipies indicated the effect on brass strength the various chemicals might have. Also many of the chemicals would have to be ordered from a chemical supplier which is not that economical since they sell in bulk.

    Do you have any methods to change the color of brass with common home products or stuff you can buy at a local hardware store that wont weaken the brass? I don't care too much what color it turns it as long as I can tell 2 or 3 apart from normal brass and it is economical to do in small batches.
  2. depoloni

    depoloni Member

    May 24, 2008
    You might have to do some digging around for these, but diligence will pay.

    Ask around - sharpies. Different colors even.

    The thing about permanently discoloring (re-coloring) by a chemical process is that, well, it's molecular alteration going on. Even if it's just at the surface. Can't say whether some various chemical coloring process will or won't harden, weaken, or otherwise fatigue brass in general. But what I can tell you is that despite how cool it looks, how visibly convenient it is, when it comes to making a big "process" for identifying brass....

    ...you'll always come back around to the fact that sharpies in 3-4 colors are impossible to beat. Mark the case heads and be done with it. If you're absolutely dead-set on tumble-cleaning different lots of neck-sized rifle-specific ammo of the same caliber all together in one jumble, so be it. But that's about the only possible problem I could see with crossing things up if you just use sharpies otherwise.
  3. Chawbaccer

    Chawbaccer Member

    Feb 3, 2005
    I file a slight notch or notches in the rim for ID, there is also the nickel brass.
  4. SyberShooter

    SyberShooter Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    Thanks for your reply depoloni, like you, I've been using sharpies for years , so yes your right they are easy and convenient. I have a whole color code system to indicate type of load etc. I have even used paint pencils to color around the extractor groove and paint bullet tips, strippers etc. It all comes off in the tumble and just adds another step to the process later, but I accepted it as the method of flexibility.

    When I go to the range with a couple rifles to chrono loads out of each, it becomes a pain to sometimes keep em separate because I typically dump all fired and range pickups into a waist bag for later tumbling. I suppose having separate plastic boxes for each rifle would be the next step and not keep more than a couple hundred fired cases around for each rifle (which I probably wouldn't do anyway).

    I could also use nickle for one and go buy some Hornady black nickle for the other. Or maybe just use Norma brass in one, Fed in another and LC Match in another. There are a lot of possibilities but if I can do permanantly colored brass, I would like to try it just to be different.

    As you say, the chemical process may alter the crystalline structure, like amonia and other cleaners are well known to do. What info I found was more oriented toward artists and metal workers. If it were something commonly done by reloaders, you would see it at the range and there would be more info around about doing it, and since there isn't, it might not be a good thing to do, that is why i am asking here first.

    What set me off on this path was picking up some Hornady black nickle 223 at the range - at first I thought they were Wolf steel but when I glanced at the headstamp then inside at the single flash hole, I knew I would use them in my 700. Upon tumbling I noticed that the black started to lighten up as if whatever dark coating was used was rubbing thin. I thought about how I have a number of dark brass cases blackened from exposure to air or ones with dark MG link stains and they all shoot fine. I then stared wondering if I could color the brass for ID and here we are.

    In case anyone is familiar with these chemicals... Here are a couple of recipie sites:


    and a couple of same question asked on gun boards - that I seem to have missed in my initial searh efforts.


    Thought you might like to have a bit of fun with your brass, so heres something for you

    Re: Colored Brass

    The Coloring of Brass
    by Royce W. Beal
    written on 17 March 1995 specifically for the readers
    of the rec.guns newsgroup.
    questions should be directed to me at SLQZ4~CC.USU.EDU

    Read this entire essay before attempting any one
    treatment. If you choose to just "cut and paste" part
    of this, please make sure you get the safety instructions
    and warnings after the recipes. Under no circumstances
    do I consider myself liable for any accidents which occur
    while using any of these chemicals. Also, I do not consider
    myself an expert in this field and am still doing research
    for the FAQ. This will be a temporary article. Because I
    am still experimenting, I cannot vouch for all of these
    Concentrations and conditions Do matter. (Concentration
    is more important than actual volume, so if you want to
    use less, make sure that you use proportionately less of
    each ingredient) If you want good results follow the
    recipes closely. Above all it is important that the brass
    surfaces be clean. This means an extra hour or so in the
    tumbler for the cases and then touch them only sparingly.
    I have tried to collate recipes which will require the
    acquisition of the more common chemicals. I have also tried
    to steer clear of the really hazardous arsenic and cyanide
    salts (which you probably can't get anyway) If you feel
    that you've been cheated by this, please refer to the
    references section of this report and find the books for
    yourself in any well stocked library.
    It is my understanding that these are all surface
    coatings and should not damage or weaken the brass.
    obviously you will want to do this treatment with unprimed
    brass. Do NoT USE METAL UTENSILS (ok maybe stainless steel)
    Glass or Plastic containers are the preference. If you are
    really worried about what this is going to do to your brass,
    refer again to the reference section below.

    Copper Sulfate................. 8 ounces
    Ammonium Chloride......... .....4 ounces
    Sodium Chloride........... .....4 ounces
    Zinc Chloride............. .....l ounce
    Acetic Acid............... .....2 ounces
    Water..................... .....l gallon

    Copper Nitrate................. 16 ounces
    Ammonium Chloride.............. 4 ounces
    Acetic Acid.................... l quart
    Water.......................... l gallon

    Iron ( ferric) Nitrate......... 2 ounces ( Fe(III)(No3)3)
    Sodium Hyposulphite............ 8 ounces
    Water.......................... 1 gallon
    (use at boiling temperature, brass can be immersed
    or the solution may be "painted" on)

    Iron (ferric) Nitrate.......... l ounce (Fe(III)(No3)3)
    Sodium Thiosulfate............. 6 ounces
    Water.......................... l gallon
    (use at 160F)

    Iron (ferric) Nitrate.......... 6 ounces (Fe(III)(No3)3)
    Sodium hyposulphite............ 6 ounces
    (use at 170F will speed up this reaction)

    Sodium Hyposulphite............ 8 ounces
    Lead Acetate................... 4 ounces
    Water.......................... l gallon
    (use at boiling temperature)
    Lead Acetate................... 2 to 4 ounces
    Sodium Thiosulfate............. 8 ounces
    Acetic Acid.................... 4 ounces
    Water.......................... l gallon
    (use at 180F. This color will change if
    Take your chances with the color change.)

    Copper Carbonate............... 1 pound
    Ammonium Hydroxide............. l quart
    Water.......................... 3 quarts
    (Add the water after the carbonate and hydroxide
    have been mixed. There must be excess Copper
    Carbonate. Use at 175F. This color can be fixed
    (made more permanent) by quickly dipping in a 2.5%
    Sodium Hydroxide solution.)

    Ammonium Hydrosulfide........... 2.25 ounces
    Potassium sulfide............... 1 ounce
    Water........................... 1 gallon
    (use at room temperature or COOLER for best results)

    Potassium Chlorate.............. 5.5 ounces
    Nickel Sulfate.................. 2.75 ounces
    Copper Sulfate.................. 24 ounces
    Water........................... 1 gallon
    (use at boiling temperature)

    1. NEVER taste any of these chemicals.
    2. Keep very far out of the reach of children.
    3. Most Nitrates are good oxidizing agents and
    should not be stored with anything flammable.
    4. Acetic Acid has a VERY strong pungent odor.
    Use in well ventilated areas. This acid can
    be airborne in vapor form. If you feel that
    you have breathed enough of it to feel
    uncomfortable, leave the area and drink a
    carbonated soft drink. "Have a Coke" Do not
    underestimate this chemical.
    5. Many of these chemicals may stain your skin or
    clothing. Wear rubber gloves and protective
    clothing including glasses of some sort.
    6. Steam can cause serious burns. Solutions of salts
    can actually exceed the boiling point of water.
    The steam from these solutions can be very dangerous.
    7. Feel free to change concentrations for experimentation
    purposes but do not change the ingredients in any
    one recipe.
    8. Always be fully awake and alert around chemicals.

    Ounces are assumably troy ounces, even when dealing
    with liquids or solutions. Do not use fluid ounces.
    1 ounce = 31.103 grams = 480 grains
    1 quart = 0.25 gallon = 946.4 mL
    1 gallon = 3.78S L


    Meyer, Walter R. title: Plating and Finishing Guidebook
    ninth edition - 1940 pp.72-75 (cited)

    Metal Finishing Guidebook-twenty-eighth edition - 1960
    article by Hall, Nathaniel
    Title: Coloring of Metals pp. 477-479 (cited)

    Krause, Hugo title: Metal Coloring and Finishing

    Hiorns, A. H. title: Metal Coloring

    Field, S and Bonney, S.R.
    title: Chemical Coloring of Metals (not cited)
    Maybe just dipping the necks would be a start since they can be annealed again.
    If I can determine if any of this is really safe and the chemicals are easily found in small quantities for experimentations then I may try a few.
  5. moooose102

    moooose102 Member

    Oct 21, 2007
    West Michigan
    a good metalurgist who is familiar with brass should be able to answer your question. if there are any here or not is the next obvious quetion. i would make one more suggestion. but i honestly do not know how well it will hold up to the tumbler. have you ever heard of "dykem" layout fluid? machinists use it to lay out the work they will be doing, well, at least they used to. it might be worth a try.
  6. fguffey

    fguffey Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    Coloring brass is something I would consider-after I ran out of different head stamps.

    If you chose LC head stamps and and sorted brass by year, you could assign a two digit year stamp to each rifle.

    You could designate different head stamps to each rifle, designate one rifle to shoot Winchester brass, the other Remington Brass.

    First I would determine the difference in dimensions between the two chambers.

    F. Guffey
  7. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

    Nov 20, 2006
    Agreed. I would not try it myself.
  8. rfwobbly

    rfwobbly Member

    Nov 14, 2008
    Cornelia, GA
    You can order machinist's dye (like Dykem) from online houses like McMaster and Grainger. These use to only come in blue, but now they have several other colors. They are an external coating, so they will eventually rub off, but it's fairly durable. Being a brush-on product, it would probably be easier to apply to a whole plastic case worth of ammo than a single shell.
  9. lgbloader

    lgbloader Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    I have to agree as well. I would side step this process myself.

  10. TimRB

    TimRB Member

    Jan 27, 2004
    Fingernail polish in the ejector groove seems to withstand a lot of tumbling...

  11. SyberShooter

    SyberShooter Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    I may invest in some nickle and some other good quality cases and save the mil surp for the autoloaders, which has to be full length sized anyway.
    I'll see if I can find some of the colored dykum pens individually and see how it holds up- so far found online only by the case.
  12. bodab

    bodab Member

    Jan 13, 2009
  13. bullseye308

    bullseye308 Member

    Nov 24, 2007
    Smyrna Tennessee
    Different colors of nail polish in the lettering of the headstamp works well and holds up for a while. :rolleyes: Try it and see for yourself.
  14. WV_Vizsla

    WV_Vizsla Member

    Oct 1, 2008
    Brass marking

    Has anyone ever tried the dyed brass? How bright or deep colored is it?
    Look up the items at Fisher Scientific, check MDS sheets for risks

    I have used a sharpy to mark in the headstamp lettering to record # of times reloaded and trimmed. Removes the wondering of ??New or Old Brass?? Example: 3006S has been shot 5 times, RE would mean trimmed twice. Marking lasts several tumblings before needing trim markings refilled.
  15. Hey_Allen

    Hey_Allen Member

    Sep 3, 2008
    Tacoma, WA
    Just looking at the ingredient list of the dyes that were listed here makes me cautious.

    Common among them were Ammonium Chloride, Ammonium Hydroxide, and Ammonium Hydrosuplate.
    All of these are variations of ammonia, which I would assume would still have the potential to alter the brass structures.

    I'm not a chemist, and can't say about the other chemicals possible interactions, but I'd be very cautious.
  16. Canuc Shooter

    Canuc Shooter Member

    Dec 13, 2007
    North of the 49th
    Different Head Stamps and Sharpies have been working for me for years. Never had any problems with handgun brass/nickel.
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