Introduction: Steampunk Pirate Gun Mod

Picture of Steampunk Pirate Gun Mod

Wanna Steam up a plastic gun? Or just make a more "Yar!-worthy" prop gun? Here is a couple common cheap plastic pirate-themed guns you can paint to look like wood and aged metal that could be the perfect piece-de-resistance for your costume.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

Picture of Gather Your Supplies
What you will need:

For Aged Metal:
  • matte black spray paint
  • black model paint and a brush
  • your choice of metal Rub n' Buff (Rub n' Buff is a brand name for a wax with metallic powders and pigments used to gild household items. Or Steampunk guns. ;) In this tutorial, you will see examples of antique gold and pewter)
  • paper towels or a rag
  • sandpaper (fine or medium grit)
  • matte finishing spray/sealant

For Wood Grain:
  • yellow or cream colored acrylic craft paint
  • paper towels
  • matte black spray paint
  • matte or semi-gloss red spray paint
  • matte or semi-gloss brown spray paint
  • sandpaper (fine or medium grit)
  • matte or semi-gloss finishing spray/sealant

Step 2: Prepping for Modifications

Take apart your gun, as is possible. Squirt guns, for instance, may not have many or any screwed together parts. Cap guns or other toy guns may come apart completely. Remove the "safety" orange end pieces, if any, and discard. If your barrel is enclosed (many squirt guns are), and you want an open barrel, you can use a small saw or Dremel to saw off the end.

Put your screws in a safe place, and if they vary in size, make a note of where they go on the gun.. I sometimes take photos of the stages of taking things apart to refer to later. Having a second, identical gun on hand can also be a big help.

Sand all surfaces with the sandpaper. The rougher the grit, the more worn your final result will appear. Some people use acetone for this step, but it's smelly and messy, and can be unpredictable if you don't know what kind of plastic you are dealing with (read: melt!) Ultimately, you are trying to make the piece look worn, and the sandpaper can only help with this!

Sorry, I have no pictures of this step.

Step 3: Aged Metal Technique

Picture of Aged Metal Technique
Using spray paint or model paint, cover entire gun with black paint.

Note: I personally prefer the model paint because to get the effect you want, you need to get the paint into every nook and cranny. Those darkened creases will be what makes the piece look aged. And in the process of painting it, you get to become familiar with the piece more, familiarizing yourself with all the relief areas on the gun.

Let the black basecoat dry for about 10 minutes. While you wait, wash your brush and put away your black paint. You shouldn't need it any more.*

Get out the Rub n' Buff in your color of choice. Gently daub your finger onto the end of the Rub n' Buff tube to get a very very little amount of the material on your fingertip. ***I want to emphasize this: very very little. If you squirt a dot onto your finger, you will get way too much onto your work, which will press into the creases and ruin the aged effect. So only the tiniest tiniest amount is needed.***

With very gentle strokes, start to brush your fingertips across the raised areas. Do it even lighter than you think, to avoid pressing any color into the creases. When you feel you have almost no metallic material left to distribute, rub the very last traces of it into any open areas between the raised areas. This will make it seem as it some of the metal is peeking through the aged grime (see closeup images).

When you finish an area, run your paper towel or rag vigorously over the metalic'd areas to buff off any excess.

If doing a large smooth area, like the barrel of the pewter gun, use an extra light touch and create long striations of metallic color, to emulate the texture of folded or cast metal. On a barrel, work from handle/stock to tip. Go back and spread in an even motion, lengthwise down the barrel. Add more Rub n' Buff as needed to get the amount of coverage you desire. Finish by buffing with a paper towel or rag to remove excess.

Let set for 10-15 minutes. Spray with two coats of matte or semi-matte acrylic to set.

  • if you find that you put too much metal on any area, or get it where you didn't want it, crack open that black paint again, re-paint the area, let set, and re-gild. So there is no "mistake" you can't fix!

Step 4: Faux Wood Finish

Picture of Faux Wood Finish

My technique achieved a worn mahogany look. I am certain with a little tweaking one could achieve different "stains" of their choice. This took about a half hour from beginning to end. It would take longer if you wanted the paint to dry completely before sanding each layer, which you will see I didn't in my tutorial):

Paint a basecoat of black all over. I used spray paint in this step since the surface is not as detailed, so covering was easy. Let dry 10 minutes.

Then apply a layer of the yellow acrylic using a crumpled piece of paper towel. Do this by dipping your paper towel into some of the paint, then dab it against a paper bag or newspaper, to take some of the paint off and get a more dry-brush application.

Apply the paint with the wadded towel, drawing it in long strokes in a uniform direction--namely the direction you imagine the grain of your wood would run. Make sure you are getting a little striping, and you are getting plenty of the black showing through.

This can be done with a rough paintbrush if you prefer, but the paper toweling works just fine for me.

Step 5: Layering Your Colors

Picture of Layering Your Colors

After acrylic has dried about 10 minutes, you can start the layers of the other two spray paints.

Start with the red paint. Holding the can at a good distance away from the work, make short bursts of spray while swinging it from side to side along the length of the surface you are painting. You want a VERY light layer. You should still be able to easily see the acrylic striations beneath.

Next, spray some black on the areas you want the darkest and most "worn" looking. Again, make sure the paint can is a good distance away, you are using short bursts and sweeping across the work. I sprayed diagonally across the very edges of the handle.

Finally, spray a very thin layer of the brown paint on top of it all.

If you go too heavy on any layer, you can wait until that layer has dried completely, then use the very fine grit sandpaper to take that layer thickness down a little bit. And if you take it down too far, you can respray as needed. This is very forgiving. Of course, it's best to simply put the thinnest layer you can manage and work up as needed, but know that nothing is too permanent to prevent a re-do if you need to.

As you can see, it looked like wood immediately! Like a well polished, slightly cherry or mahogany aged wood! If you like how it looks, and want a more refined polished finish, you can stop here and put on your acrylic sealant now. But I wanted mine to look more worn. So I continued.

Step 6: A Worn Finish

Picture of A Worn Finish

I wanted my wood finish to look more worn, so I got out my sandpaper.

Before my last step was completely dry--that is to say, when the thickest painted portions were only very lightly tacky and the rest of the work was pretty much dry--i sanded the areas I felt would take the roughest wear. These would include the highest points and edges. This not only took off the most layers of paint, but created a very rough edge. The result was that it looked like the wood had been re-stained and polished many times over the "decades", and was peeling and wearing back from use.

Step 7: Finishing

Picture of Finishing

Some of the areas came out too black,and in some areas too rough, for my taste. I wanted some more brown and to smooth out the edges a bit. So I did a final very very light spray of brown over the entire piece to draw it all together.

Finally, apply two coats of your chosen finish acrylic sealant.

Step 8: Admire Your Work!

Picture of Admire Your Work!

Put your gun back together, and admire your handiwork!


AdamS97 made it! (author)2015-09-25

Just finsihed one of the two pistols I need for a play I'm building a few of the props for. Rub n' buff is possibly the greatest and most long lasting stuff you will ever buy. I reckon you'll actually pass it on to your kids and them in turn to theirs. A little goes a ridiculously long way. Thank you for putting me on to it. I'm really happy how my pistol has turned out. This tutorial is fantastic.:)

TribalDancer (author)AdamS972015-09-25

Fantastic job! And you're most welcome.

pyratenyte (author)2012-10-07

Awesome instructable. Thanks for the effort!

I've been using this one for a while. Here are some pics. Enjoy!

TribalDancer (author)pyratenyte2013-10-23

Wow these look fantastic. Sorry I didn't see them until now! Great job!

Amara Deegan (author)2013-01-24

How do you remove the glued on orange safety cap from the pirate pistol? I have one of the ones you pictured on the first page actually. Not the short one with the ornate handle, but the longer one. I tried to get mine off only to find it is glued on. I actually used a dremel to half it so I could get both halves of the pistol apart before I realized it wasn't simply just stuck.

Sorry I never saw this comment. Yes, sometimes they are glued and I would just use a Dremel to hack it off. Hope your gun turned out well!

amynadler (author)2013-10-23

Awesome job, both pistols look great! I'm curious, what paint did you use differently that made the pistol with the gold/bronze accents so much red-er and lighter? I plan on steampunking a sawed off buzzbee for halloween and your tutorial is by far the best I've found - thanks!

TribalDancer (author)amynadler2013-10-23

Hi Amynadler! Glad the tutorial was helpful.
I simply used more red in with the paint layers described in Step 5. Hope that helps!

VonViolet (author)2013-06-12

This is EXACTLY what I was looking for! Thank you so much for making this! Now to figure out how to remove the spring loaded part without breaking it. X'D

IBreakHeavyStuff (author)2010-10-09

I'm pretty sure toy guns are required to have the red safety cap by law - at least they are here in Oz. I mean chances are it won't be mistaken for a real gun, but you could still get into trouble with the police.

Here in California if it's sold with a orange tip you can't remove while in state. If the tip was removed out of state and brought in then it is ok.

By law if it to be SOLD it must come with a blaze orange cap or making at tip of barrel. There is nothing stopping you from taking the tip off of YOUR toy. UNSAFE but nothing illegal. So as long as you don't go walking around town out of costume, I doubt someone is going to mistake it for a prop costume piece.

thehamman (author)2010-04-08

What do you mean by "Sand all surfaces with the sandpaper"? What surfaces are you tlking about exactly?

TribalDancer (author)thehamman2012-06-03

I can't believe I didn't reply to this! All surfaces means all exterior surfaces. The entire outside of the plastic toy.

brotherkantor (author)2012-06-03

I did something with the exact same toy- I'm using it in a short movie I'm making! I left the gold part alone because the paints I have don't work on metallic-coloured surfaces and made the barrel brown, like wood. Yours is definitely better though.

Ian32 (author)2010-10-07

When working with the Rub 'n Buff on a project like this, I found that one of the most useful tools to have on hand is a handful of q-tips. They're great for softening the edge of the metal finish in places where your fingertip can't quite reach.

MrSalvador (author)2010-03-28

OH my! I cant wait!! I have needed a good 'able for making a steampunk gun but most of them required welding :) I'm making a steampun costume for halloween, using 'ables like the steampunk shutter shades

koleypunch (author)2010-02-17

 Here is my first attempt using this technique. Not bad for my first try. Thanks for the instructions!

TribalDancer (author)koleypunch2010-02-17

Looks great! Glad it was helpful!

azshrial (author)2009-10-19

awesome gun!

i am starting my own project tonight! thanks! ..i like the india pale  in the supplies pic...i think its a critical part of the process as


Billy mahony (author)2009-05-02

What can i use outside of rub 'n buff, similar products. Could you give it a gold/brass undercoat with a black overcoat, and then sand through the black? Or wont it give the same effect?

I'd think you could paint it allover with metallic craft paint, then rub/daub dark paint into the cracks, let it set a minute, then wipe it with a soft cloth? I've done that before for antiquing wood with varying paints and stains, I'd bet it would work fine on plastic as well. Just make sure you put a clearcoat on over the acrylic craft paints, because those will wear pretty quickly if it's on something you handle a lot.

digitalmerc (author)Billy mahony2009-05-11

I was wondering the same thing. Would doing a drybrush with metallic paint have a similar effect? I'm kinda working on the super, super-cheap here.

TribalDancer (author)digitalmerc2009-05-16

I hear ya on saving da' cash. But you buy rub n buff once and you will be able to use it for tonnnnnns of projects. It goes a long way!

That is a really good question. I like the rub n' buff partly because of the texture of it, and control of it. But just like with miniatures painting, I do imagine that if you did a metallic undercoat you would be able to water down black paints and get the effect on raised areas. I am not so confident you would get the same effect as on the barrel, where it is more striated looking. But try it and report back!

MeZergy (author)2008-10-13

This is so gorgeous!! I'm modding my own gun right now (it's not as piratey, though... in fact, with the black coat of paint on it, it looks a bit more military... I hope it doesn't look to silly when I'm completely finished with it!!). This is surely a great inspiration to me. Thanks for the amazing idea. I'll be sure to post pictures of my own gun when I'm finished (maybe even my whole steampunk costume!!). ;)

MeZergy (author)MeZergy2008-10-14

Here it is!! I just finished it today. :D It isn't really "wooden" looking, but I think your tutorial helped my first mod to be a success! <3

elyador (author)MeZergy2009-07-08

wow. I would never have tried this on a gun like that. it came out amazing.

danceafterdark (author)MeZergy2008-11-02

Wow. I like the pirate gun, but that's fabulous too. You both inspire me.

splitwood (author)danceafterdark2009-07-04

That's a flint lock blackpowder pistol, most popularly used by pirates but flintlocks were used also in the American revolution both by Americans and the British. The pre-1840's mountain men also used them but the flintlock shared glory with the caplock during this era. The caplock is more like our modern guns using a "cap" instead of flint being thrown down harshly shaving of pieces of steel creating sparks to ignite the blackpowder cache in the barrel building up pressure propelling the projectile.

wow, a cyberpunked squirtgun

That's what the author used in this i'ble...

TribalDancer (author)MeZergy2008-10-14

Wow! Fantastic job! Congrats, and thanks so much for stopping by to share it!

Darter76 (author)2009-06-02

did u make the fancy design parts or did u have them laying around?

TribalDancer (author)Darter762009-06-02

There were no fancy design parts. The gun came just as is, and I only used paint techniques to fancy it up!

Darter76 (author)TribalDancer2009-06-04

i mean the metal parts on the sides

TribalDancer (author)Darter762009-06-04

There are no metal parts. It is all plastic with paint effects, and all came on the original plastic squirt gun. Are you talking about my Instructable? Or someone else who has posted here?

Darter76 (author)TribalDancer2009-06-04

oh they look metal and yes i am talking about your instructable basicaly saying how real it looks

TribalDancer (author)Darter762009-06-04

You can see the before and after pictures in the Instructable:

These show that nothing was changed except the paint finish.

Darter76 (author)TribalDancer2009-06-04

o i did not look at all the pictures. nice job painting

Kaelessin (author)2009-01-08

Just wanted to say two things:

First, AWESOME job on these . . .the wooden one is incredible! (in the truest sense of the word . . .it's actually hard to believe that that isn't wood!)

Second, THANKS! this ible lit a fire under my butt so to speak and inspired me to create something including the use of that rub n buff stuff!

I hope you don't mind . . .I included a link to this ible when I talked about the rub n buff. Here's mine . . .

TribalDancer (author)Kaelessin2009-05-16

WOW! Great work! And yeah, isn't Rub n Buff the best?! Keep rockin!

Coffeebot (author)2009-01-04

Great Instructable, Tribal! I'm using it as a basis for some other work I'm doing...but this is my first time really trying to achieve textures with spray paint. Do you have any additional tips on the faux wood? Layering the spray paint just ends up looking like dirty copper. Partly, I think it's the paint, in that it ends up spraying thick droplets, rather than a thin mist. This mostly occurs with the Krylon paint (I bought a 99 cent can of off-brand red, performs MUCH better, ironically). Are there any less than obvious tips that you might have? Things that wouldn't occur to someone who's never really worked with spray paint before?

TribalDancer (author)Coffeebot2009-05-16

You actually hit on hte biggest issue: the paint globbing. Make sure your nozzle is clear. You can pop it off and run just the nib under warm water and then pop it back on, and it may take care of your spotting issue. So, too, will making sure the can is shaken up a LOT, and that you are not working under too cold conditions. DO NOT warm your can, but, say, working on a winter day outdoors versus a sunny one can affect how your paint flows. Good luck!

Kaelessin (author)Coffeebot2009-01-08

is the nozzle clogged? if it's partially clogged then paint collects and when the spray goes past it sends droplets instead of mist. . . . also make sure you're a good distance from the project . . .too close and you'll get odd effects too.

Coffeebot (author)Kaelessin2009-01-08

It's a brand new can of paint...would it really clog that quickly? I did check it when I was spraying, and there was a good-sized bead of liquid on the nozzle, and wiping it off seemed to help for a second or's one of those Krylon nozzles that has an adjustable paint angle on it. Perhaps using a different head? Also, what qualifies as a "good distance"? I think I spray about 8" away when I want a full coat (i.e. the black base) and 10-12" when I'm layering the red and brown.

Kaelessin (author)Coffeebot2009-01-08

Well your distance seems pretty good though I tend to back off a bit and just use more coats . . .shouldn't be making runs though. Yeah I hate those nozzles . . .never could figure out why people had so much trouble getting great effects with normal ones . . .If I were you I'd switch it out for a normal nozzle. Just make sure it's really clean. Heh clogged was probably a poor choice of a word . . .It's that bead of paint that's causing the droplets I'm almost sure of it. Another thing to remember is to keep the can as close to upright as possible . . .if it's at a sharp angle then the nozzle's design might not do what it's supposed to and collect paint.

Coffeebot (author)Kaelessin2009-01-08

I may try to scrounge up a different nozzle, then. I figured that it was that bead at the tip causing the problem, too. As for keeping it may sound silly, but I don't have an elevated working surface, which means I'm mostly working on the ground. Getting edges painted usually means I have to turn the can on its side. Maybe I should just invest in a short piece of two-by-four to elevate my objects :D (AWESOME work on the Angocoellum rifle, btw...That's some amazing work! And functional, too!)

Kaelessin (author)Coffeebot2009-01-08

yeah i know how that goes . . .often I'm stuck painting things on the ground in the middle of my lawn . . .which of course throws in the whole swirling grass thing. One thing you could do is keep cardboard boxes and use them to elevate your stuff . . . (Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!)

Bobblob (author)2009-05-16

Great painting techniques and beautifully photographed too! ( not always the case here). Thanks!

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