The applications for black oxide are seemingly boundless, says Dave Tatham, president of Cleveland Black Oxide.
The applications for black oxide are seemingly boundless, says Dave Tatham, president of Cleveland Black Oxide.
Black oxide coatings allow high-temperature, post-process forming without peeling or cracking.
Black oxide coatings allow high-temperature, post-process forming without peeling or cracking.
Automotive parts, such as the spark plugs shown here, represent an important end-use market for Cleveland Black Oxide.
Automotive parts, such as the spark plugs shown here, represent an important end-use market for Cleveland Black Oxide.
Black oxide...Slinkys?
Black oxide...Slinkys?

No full-time sales force to speak of and precious little in the way of conventional advertising mechanisms. And yet, Cleveland Black Oxide miraculously manages to draw the attention of a host of clients seeking out its services and expertise.

In actuality, according to Dave Tatham, president, there’s nothing really magical about the company’s method of soliciting and fulfilling orders. While much of its business is based on repeat customers or referrals from other finishers hesitant to take on the notoriously precarious and comparatively grungy black oxide application process, many clients pretty much “stumble” upon Cleveland Black Oxide’s doorstep via a more familiar route: the Internet. (Perform a quick Google search of “black oxide” and you’ll find that Tatham’s company ranks among the top 10 out of more than 3.8 million search results.)

With that kind of exposure, who needs a proactive sales force? “Even if we had a full-time reps, with the tremendous variety of applications for black oxide they wouldn’t know where to look first!” Tatham explained. For instance, he asks, how does one actively “seek out” potential clients in need of black oxide-coated products when the range of applications is so broad and diverse? One day Cleveland Black Oxide might coat scores of intricate mechanical parts used in specialty hand tools, and then the next day it might switch gears to take on a job as massive as sprawling steel rolls of animal-containment netting typically used in zoo aviaries.

Other applications may include functional components found in lawn and garden equipment to the tubular supports that lie underneath automotive bucket/bench seats, to copper sheets used to adhere magnets in MRI machines.Cleveland Black Oxide has also coated bullet casings, printed circuits, spark plugs, and, interestingly, large architectural panels for hotel lobbies and retail fixtures. Here’s an odd one: remember The Slinky™, that decades-old, accordion-like coiled toy that could literally “walk” down the stairs if properly compelled? Well, Cleveland Black Oxide has probably finished hundreds of thousands of those gadgets, too, throughout its long, 60-plus-year history.

“You just never know where the orders are going to come from,” Tatham quips. But when those RFQs do come pouring in, no matter how obscure or pedestrian, Cleveland Black Oxide makes sure it’s ready to tackle the job. The company is especially popular among chain mail and netting manufacturers because of its ability to black oxide stainless steel consistently. (Thanks to “some of the largest black oxide tanks in the industry,” Tatham states.)

But don’t just take Cleveland Black Oxide’s word on it. Customers such as North Attleboro, Mass.–based Azon Corporation attest to the finisher’s capabilities. Finish consistency—one of Cleveland’s strong points—was a must for Azon, which manufactures Ring Mesh™ protective, decorative and re-enactment clothing and costumes for clients such as Disney and 20th Century Fox. According to Mike Ziegler, Azon’s vice president, “Cleveland Black Oxide is able to produce a consistent, uniform black oxide finish on its stainless steel chain mail and can handle our larger work.”

Another satisfied customer is Cave Creek, Ariz.–based NetsUnlimited, which produces netting for animal enclosures. These products are typically made from stainless steel aircraft cable and are available in sizes ranging from 3⁄64'' to 1⁄8''diameter, with mesh sizes spanning 1'' to 4'' depending on the type of animal enclosure needed. In keeping with NetsUnlimited’s high-grade 316 stainless steel netting, the company required a finish that offered a visually non-intrusive, more natural appearance to enhance the animal exhibit.
“Cleveland Black Oxide’s process gives our nets a deep black finish and even coverage at a competitive cost with quick turnaround,” said Kelly Bair, NetsUnlimited’s president & CEO.

This capability is particularly critical in large jobs. A perfect case in point is the netting for the Miami Zoo Aviary, which covered more than 90,000 square feet; the screen itself came in 17-ft. long rolls 24'' wide and weighed 200-lbs each. Covering 2.6 acres, the complex is one of the largest free-flight aviaries in the world.

Cleveland Black Oxide
836 Broadway Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115-2813
Tel: (216) 861-4431
Fax: (216) 861-0711
Primary businesses: automotive, industrial, hardware, medical and consumer products, firearms, military, electronics, architectural
Plant size: 21,000 square feet
Number of employees: 25
Certifications: ISO 9001: 2000



Beyond its core strengths in the application of finishes on complex surfaces, Cleveland Black Oxide also prides itself on another important attribute: the ability to adjust operations to accommodate custom orders. For instance, the finisher has developed special reels and handling equipment specifically for netting manufacturers as well as for stainless steel wire rope and wire manufacturers. Cleveland Black Oxide also employs engineers who can fabricate barrels, hoists, and the like when alterations to existing lines are required.

In Tatham’s business—not always knowing precisely what’s going to land on your doorstep—it pays to be flexible enough to prepare for anything. That was the primary driver behind Cleveland Black Oxide’s decision to install large tanks that can accommodate steel parts up to 17 ft. in length and weighing up to 3,500 lbs. According to Tatham, the benefit is twofold. “The larger tanks not only allow us to handle larger parts, but also smaller parts in larger quantities,” he explained. “Our large tanks allow us to do a lot of off-the-wall parts.”

In addition to the “super-sized” tanks for steel parts, Cleveland Black Oxide boasts 8 ft. tanks for stainless steel and 4 ft. tanks for copper, brass, bronze, and die cast zinc. In recent years, the company installed new state-of-the-art processing tanks featuring a unique energy efficient burner system for added processing capacity.

On the process side, Cleveland Black Oxide is similarly efficient. The company creates “menus” for each order to ensure strict adherence to times and temperatures, as well as solution concentration and other critical parameters. What’s more, records of all solution concentrations are maintained for periodic reporting and analysis, and tracking procedures are in place for lot segregation—when required.

Not one to skimp on service, Cleveland Black Oxide provides such value-adds as packaging, pick-up and delivery, and prototyping and testing. In fact, the company encourages customers to submit samples, and Tatham will recommend a black oxide coating system that meets the client’s aesthetic and functional requirements. What’s more, most jobs are completed within 48 hours, with urgent requests often turned around in 24 hours.

But perhaps the most notable attribute Cleveland Black Oxide possesses is its sheer capacity for volume. As Tatham confidently states, “We are the largest commercial black oxide company in the country!”? By his count, annual production capacity out of the plant tops 8 million lbs., including carbon, alloy and stainless steels, as well as brass, bronze, copper, cast zinc and cast iron. That’s pretty big—by any standard.

(For more on this story, look for the July/August dual edition of Metal Finishing.)