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Get A Deep Even Black Patina On 1095 Carbon Steel

Discussion in 'Traditional Folders and Fixed Blades' started by Rick, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. Rick

    Rick Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 27, 1998
    I posted this pic on the "What 'Traditional Knife' are ya totin' today?" thread least week, and it received a lot of interest and questions, so I thought I'd post the very simple procedure I used to get this dark, even forced patina on my GEC Northfield (polished) #72 in 1095. If the Mods in their wisdom choose to move this to the Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment board, so be it, but I wanted my friends at the Traditional board to be aware of it.


    What you'll need:

    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Cotton balls and paper towels
    • A pair of tongs or large tweezers
    • Non-abrasive silver polish
    • Rubbing alcohol, naphtha (lighter fluid) or acetone, etc.

    Mask the handle material if it's stag, bone, or horn, etc. The vinegar can leach out the natural oils and dye, so try to keep it away from the handle scales. The ebony on my knife became slightly dry in spots, but it was good as new after a drop of lemon oil. If you do get any drying or discoloring, treat the scales with the appropriate moisturizer (mineral oil, lemon oil, etc.).

    Clean the blade and/or springs thoroughly with the alcohol. Wipe dry and keep your fingers off the steel.

    Pour enough cider vinegar into a small saucepan to cover the bottom, and carefully bring it to a boil. Good ventilation is a plus; it's smelly stuff.

    Hold the cotton ball with the tongs, dip it in the pan and wipe down the steel from end to end with the hot vinegar repeatedly until the steel turns black. Keep dipping the cotton in the hot vinegar and wiping (about three to five minutes) until the steel color won't darken any further.

    Use a folded paper towel to smoothly wipe away the vinegar on the steel in one smooth linear motion to avoid streaking or blotching. If the wipe doesn't result in a uniform color, apply more hot vinegar and try again. Wipe away any remaining vinegar from the handle and let dry.

    Edit: Instead of trying to wipe away the vinegar to avoid streaking, just rinse it away with cold running tap water to neutralize the oxidization process, as noted in post #22. Dry thoroughly and oil.

    At this point, your steel finish will probably still show some streaking or unevenness, so gently polish the surface out with a little of the silver polish until it's a uniform light-to-medium gray. Wipe off any residual polish, clean the steel thoroughly again with alcohol, dry and repeat the hot vinegar process, again being careful to wipe away the last vinegar treatment in a smooth, linear swipe.

    Repeat the whole process as needed until the steel is uniformly blackened, with no streaks, voids or blotches. It's easier to do the springs and blade(s) separately, rather than trying to do everything in one session. Wipe the steel down with a liberal dose of oil when you're finished to remove any remaining vinegar and seal the deal.

    Hope this was useful. Have fun, and take your time.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2012
  2. richstag


    Feb 22, 2007
    Looks great Rick, thanks for taking the time :)
  3. jawkDNA


    Sep 9, 2011
    That is amazing looking! Thanks for sharing, I have to give this a go.
  4. gmarthur

    gmarthur Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    Very Nice! Thanks for the write up :thumbup:

  5. chevy_racin

    chevy_racin Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 9, 2010
    It does look great. Thanks for breaking it down like that. :thumbup:
  6. That really does look good. Well done!

    I think this post is gonna get bookmarked. Excellent reference. :thumbup:
  7. Smaug


    Jun 30, 2003
    Does the patina give an extra protection to the steel, or is it purely cosmetic?
  8. seadweller

    seadweller Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 27, 2011
    Nice! Will new layers of patina form on the blade once the process has been applied or does it pretty much stays black?
  9. richstag


    Feb 22, 2007
    It protects the blade. Big time.
  10. Stelth


    Jul 15, 2007
    This is the first patina I have ever like the looks of. Excellent job and directions, Rick.
  11. Will Power

    Will Power

    Jan 18, 2007
    Rick, you're not wrong about this stinking...whole place smelled like a pickle-factory:eek::D

    I'm most impressed with your results and thanks for the detailed info. I tried it out before reading this thread so it's still a WIP. Probably I didn't coat the blade enough but I was quite pleased with my results. Couple of questions if I may? You say protect the handles but if you coat the backspring how is this possible? Surely it seeps inside the frame and can affect the scales? Although the stag on mine look OK. What do you mean by non abrasive polish? I've got some stuff we have here in Europe called 'Autosol', you can polish all metals with it except plate&alloy. Problem is it takes the black patina right off, must be too abrasive then? Maybe silver polish? I found the vinegar did get into the joint and made it very sticky & the knife hard to open, this is likely the grade of vinegar I was using.

    Must try this out again tomorrow now that I know more, your result looks wonderful. I do hope the mods can keep this here as it is of great interest to traditional knife fanciers. More boiling soon, reek!:thumbup:

    Thanks, Will
  12. Peter Parker

    Peter Parker

    Aug 18, 2008
    I've used apple cider vinegar the few times I've done a forced patina. Apple cider vinegar is a must! I usually soak the blade in it over night then the next day wipe the blade down with an oily rag. If you've ever seen my Para Military in CPM D2 that is how I did the FP on it. I was afraid that the TX heat making me sweat would be more then I would want to keep up with. All of my 1095 traditionals currently are all natural over time patina. The first knife I ever tried this on was a Old Timer Sharpfinger and it looked much like yours.

    I found the old image of my old Schrade SF...
    My CPM D2
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2012
  13. pertinux

    pertinux Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Very cool. Add my "thanks" to the others, for the picture and the detailed process.

    The next time (any of) you do this, please consider some in-process pictures.

    To the OP: had you blackened another knife's blade with this procedure before this, or did you jump in with your GEC?

    Also, do you have any pictures of its springs?

    ~ P.
  14. brandonc


    Mar 16, 2008
    I used bluing formula from the gun store to blue this 80t old timer. I do it to all my carbon steel blades.

  15. Rick

    Rick Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 27, 1998
    Thanks, Guys. I appreciate the comments.

    I used a Q-tip on the backspring, so the seepage was very minimal. The inside of the frame is still bright and unstained. Sorry, I should have mentioned that. :eek:

    I'm using a generic form of silver polish that's intended for jewelry and fine silver. It's a white liquid that looks just like Milk of Magnesia. The paste metal polishes like Flitz and Simichrome are too abrasive. You just want to polish out the patina until it's a lighter and more uniform shade of gray to serve as the foundation for your next vinegar treatment. Note that the more you use the silver polish, the more the glossy Northfield factory finish will start to turn to a dull matte finish, whereas it will retain its bright reflective polish (more like black chrome) if you're more sparing with the silver cleaner.

    It will work its way into the joint, but I've never experienced any sticking as a result. I just flush it out with oil and paper towels when I'm done, just like the oil flush you do on a new knife to clean out any residual polishing grunge.

    I've tried variations of this process on quite a few old knives (mostly beaters) over the years, using different techniques and types of vinegar, but this method has yeilded the best results so far. I'm not sure how I can improve on it, as the finish is almost as dark and uniform as a blued gun at this point.

    The sky is overcast today, but here's a pic of the backspring (the light areas on the lock release area are reflections):
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2012
  16. I'll say it again, Rick. That really looks good. The blade, spring & spacer, and in tandem with that ebony. It's beautiful. :thumbup:
  17. Rick

    Rick Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 27, 1998

    Another note: I was telling my wife about this post, and she asked me which apple cider vinegar I used. I said "What? We have more than one kind?" to which she replied "Yep. The Heinz is the good stuff. The generic stuff; not so good." And sure enough, I definitely got the best results with Heinz vinegar, whereas the generic stuff make it more difficult to capture a deep, uniform black color without streaking or smearing. She said the Heinz is clearer and more acidic.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2012
  18. richstag


    Feb 22, 2007

    I did this same thing to my 73 blood red when it became my experiment knife. I got mine black. Since then its been my toss around knife. The black patina will change, wear with use and lighten in spots. It all depends what you use it for too IMO.
  19. Will Power

    Will Power

    Jan 18, 2007
    Thanks Rick. I'll get some milder silver polish, that other stuff can shine anything! The backspring on your 72 looks a real treat.:thumbup:

    Time to get some more Cider Vinegar, some Cider wouldn't be bad either:D
  20. comoha


    Jan 12, 2006
    I've achieved a similar deep finish with gun metal blueing. Just dip it in and work it around with a q-tip. It works extremely fast. Once dry, I wash and dry the blade well. Then I highlight the edges and swedges by stropping.

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