AN EASY WAY TO BLACKEN SILVER-COLORED SIGHTS AT HOME
By Mark E. Freburg
Silver sights on a handgun are a poor idea because they are hard to see and reflect too much light. Other colored sights can be a distraction as well, even those colored dots. If you have a pistol with silver sights, sights with an insert color you aren't fond of, or just black sights that have a worn finish, you can blacken them easily, and it is quick and inexpensive as well. By the way, it will become obvious that you can't use this on the plastic sights found on Glocks. Fortunately Glock sights are easy to change. Other gun sights are not so easy, require special tools, or require milling cuts on the slide to mount new ones, and this is beyond what most home tinkersmiths can undertake. Otherwise any steel slide with steel sights and which is capable of being stripped clean of parts is a candidate.This procedure can be done on a revolver I suppose, although to date I've not had occasion to do so. The problem is that revolvers tend to be more difficult to strip completely. Small springs power frame mounted firing pins, cylinder locking mechanisms, and so forth. Unless you can remove these springs from the gun, don't use this process on a revolver because the springs will be ruined in the process. (The revolver shown in the photo at the end of this article was painted entirely, not just the sights. I show it here because it is representative of the color results.)
You'll need a degreaser like trichlor 1,1,1, acetone, or lacquer thinner, a can of Brownell's Baking Lacquer in the color you choose (I recommend matte black for this project for the best sight picture), masking tape, a piece of cardboard larger than the gun, and a home oven. If you are blackening white or red dots, you'll also need some epoxy. Epoxy can be purchased anywhere. I recommend any of the two part types that are mixed just prior to using. Devcon and others work well, or you can use Brownell's Acra-Glas. This epoxy as well as the baking lacquer is available from Brownell's.
While dovetail style sights can be removed and refinished by themselves, we're assuming here that you have integral sights or those which can't readily be removed from the slide by the home hobbyist. Actually, even if your sights are dovetailed in and technically removable, there is no need to remove them to redo them, just follow the directions in the next paragraph.
(If you are only blackening a silver sight or re-blackening a worn sight, you can skip this paragraph.) For removing colored dots, take some acetone or trichlor 1,1,1, on a cotton swab and degrease the concave surface of the dot. This may and probably will remove the white or orange color, which is normally paint; if so all the better. Dry the surface, then mix a tiny amount of epoxy and fill in the surface so that it is flush with the rest of the sight, then smooth flat. If you don't take this step you may as well quit now, because even once blackened the concave surface will reflect light and cause an unclear and annoying sight picture. Allow the epoxy to cure completely according to directions. Once dry and cured, lightly sand if necessary to create a flush and smooth surface.
Remove the slide from the gun and strip it completely of all small parts. It is especially important that you remove ALL springs from the slide, if any, because you can RUIN them by baking them, the final step in using the baking lacquer. Start by cleaning and degreasing the sights and surrounding area, then dry the slide completely. I recommend drying with an air hose, canned air, or putting the part in a warm oven for a few minutes if the sights are actually a separate piece, because otherwise solvent may be trapped in the hairline openings between sight and slide. Otherwise, air dry until they are completely dry. Degreasing and drying is very important here, so that the lacquer will properly adhere. Next, tape off the area around the sights carefully, taping right up to the bottom edges of the sights at the slide. Then cut a small hole in the center of the cardboard a little larger than the sights to allow them to fit through, then tape the cardboard down around the sights.Because you've already taped precisely around the sights you only have to make sure no steel shows through the hole in the cardboard (other than the sight itself, of course). The cardboard, by the way, is to keep paint off the slide, otherwise you'd have to cover the whole thing with tape, newspaper, etc.
Follow the directions on the Brownell's Baking lacquer. It recommends three coats; make them THIN coats. Make sure the cardboard protects the rest of the slide and keeps paint off of it. Remove the cardboard and all the tape, and bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes maximum. You will not harm your slide baking it at 350, but as mentioned, it can ruin springs, and other small moving parts should not be baked either. If you aren't confident in your oven's thermostat, set it at 325 degrees, which will work fine.
Once cool, reassemble the pistol. You will now have nice matte black sights.
Article originally appeared in the Compuserve Firearms Forum in 2000. Photos and updates were added. Photos and text copyright 2000, 2004 by the author. All rights reserved.