Direct Coloration of Iron and Steel by Cupric Selenite

Iron precipitates copper and selenium from their salts. Immersed in a solution of cupric selenite, acidulated with a few drops of nitric acid, it precipitates these two metals on its surface in the form of a dull black deposit, but slightly adherent. But, if the object is washed with water, then with alcohol, and rapidly dried over a gas burner, the deposit becomes adherent. If rubbed with a cloth, this deposit turns a blue black or a brilliant black, according to the composition of the bath.

The selenite of copper is a greenish salt insoluble in water, and but slightly soluble in water acidulated with nitric or sulphuric acid. It is preferable to mix a solution of cupric sulphate with a solution of selenious acid, and to acidulate with nitric acid, in order to prevent the precipitation of the selenite of copper.

This process, originated by Paul Malherbe, is quite convenient for blackening or bluing small objects of iron or steel, such as metallic pens or other small pieces. It does not succeed so well for objects of cast iron; and the selenious acid is costly, which is an obstacle to its employment on large metallic surfaces.

The baths are quickly impoverished, for insoluble yellow selenite of iron is deposited.

Brilliant Black Coloration

Selenious acid, 6 parts; cupric sulphate, 10 parts; water, 1,000 parts; nitric acid, 4 to 6 parts.

Blue-Black Coloration

Selenious acid, 10 parts; cupric sulphate, 10 parts; water, 1,000 parts; nitric acid, 4 to 6 parts.

By immersing the object for a short time the surface of the metal can be colored in succession yellow, rose, purple, violet and blue.

Coloration of Copper and Brass with Cupric Selenite

When an object of copper or brass is immersed in a solution of selenite of copper acidulated with nitric acid, the following colors are obtained, according to the time of the immersion: Yellow, orange, rose, purple, violet, and blue, which is the last color which can be obtained. In general, the solution should be slightly acid; otherwise the color is fugacious and punctate.

                a.               b.

Selenious acid 6.5            2.9 parts

Sulphate of copper..... 12.5           20.0 parts

Nitric acid... . 2.0             2.5 parts

Water........1,000.0      1,000.0 parts