This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
A black or oxidized surface on brass is produced by a solution of carbonate of copper in ammonia. The work is immersed and allowed to remain until the required tint is observed. The carbonate of copper is best used in a plastic condition, as it is then much more easily dissolved. Plastic carbonate of copper may be mixed as follows: Make a solution of blue vitriol (sulphate of copper) in hot water, and add a strong solution of common washing soda to it as long as any precipitate forms. The precipitate is allowed to settle, and the clear liquid is poured off. Hot water is added, and the mass stirred and again allowed to settle. This operation is repeated six or eight times to remove the impurities. After the water has been removed during the last pouring, and nothing is left but an emulsion of the thick plastic carbonate in a small quantity of water, liquid ammonia is added until everything is dissolved and a clear, deep-blue liquid is produced. If too strong, water may be added, but a strong solution is better than a weak one. If it is desired to make the solution from commercial plastic carbonate of copper the following directions may be followed: Dissolve 1 pound of the plastic carbonate of copper in 2 gallons of strong ammonia. This gives the required strength of solution.
The brass which it is desired to blacken is first boiled in a strong potash solution to remove grease and oil, then well rinsed and dipped in the copper solution, which has previously been heated to from 150° to 175° F. This solution, if heated too hot, gives off all the ammonia.
The brass is left in the solution until the required tint is produced. The color produced is uniform, black, and tenacious. The brass is rinsed and dried in sawdust. A great variety of effects may be produced by first finishing the brass before blackening, as the oxidizing process does not injure the texture of the metal. A satisfactory finish is produced by first rendering the surface of the brass matt, either by scratch-brush or similar methods, as the black finish thus produced by the copper solution is dead —one of the most pleasing effects of an oxidized surface. Various effects may also be produced by coloring the entire article and then buffing the exposed portions.
The best results in the use of this solution are obtained by the use of the so-called red metals—i. e., those in which the copper predominates. The reason for this is obvious. Ordinary sheet brass consists of about 2 parts of copper and 1 part of zinc, so that the large quantity of the latter somewhat hinders the production of a deep-black surface. Yellow brass is colored black by the solution, but it is well to use some metal having a reddish tint, indicating the presence of a large amount of copper. The varieties of sheet brass known as gilding or bronze work well. Copper also gives excellent results. Where the best results are desired on yellow brass a very light electroplate of copper before the oxidizing works well and gives an excellent black. With the usual articles made of yellow brass this is rarely done, but the oxidation carried out directly.