The Ultimate Guide to Gun Finishes
A firearm is an investment. It’s an investment in both personal and financial security, as nothing else on earth can protect you in a moment of danger and yet hold its value well into the future. Unlike a vehicle, a gun that’s protected with the right finish retains resale value no matter how many “miles” you’ve got on it. However, much like a car or truck, corrosion is the primary concern with a firearm. Rust, from the elements encountered in use or from storage in a humid environment, is like a disease that eats away at your investment. Every firearm in your arsenal is vulnerable, as even sitting idle in a gun safe can take its toll on your cold hard steel. No matter what conditions you put your firearm through, there is a finish out there that is ideal for your applications. The trick is finding the coating that fits your lifestyle and personal tastes.
The bluing of steel is a popular and traditional way to protect firearms from corrosion while at the same time reducing glare. It is achieved by an electrochemical reaction that changes the iron in steel to black oxide. This transformation gives the treated steel some corrosion protection but will require frequent oiling to keep rust at bay. On the plus side, this type of treatment does not change the thickness of the piece, so there’s no need for gun parts to accommodate that increase. It’s also one of the least expensive finishes on the market, so if you’re on a budget, and don’t mind keeping oiling rags handy, this might be the ideal choice. Also, there are several types of bluing methods used for different applications. Cold bluing changes the color of steel to an attractive dark gray and is best used for small touch-ups or worn areas on the gun. Hot bluing is the protocol used most often in the manufacturers setting, and the result is a stunning blue-gray finish. It is done at high temperatures that speed up the chemical reaction, hence why the gun companies rely on it. Rust or fume bluing is the Taj Mahal of this genre of gun finishes as it offers unparalleled corrosion resistance.
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but a gun owner’s friend is most definitely a firearm with an anodized finish. This finish is second only to diamonds in hardness. An anodized finish is created by an electrochemical process similar to bluing, but the results differ in one specific way. Dimensional increase. Treated parts will increase in size, so adjustments must be made to accommodate that result. A wonderful positive of anodized metal is its porosity lends to better paint and glue adhesion, so much so that some guns are anodized before a spray-on color coat is applied.
An alternative to bluing, this chemical phosphate conversion coating results in an anti-reflective gray to black finish that causes very little change in dimensions. It is slightly more effective at corrosion resistance than bluing but requires frequent oiling to retain this attribute.
Cerakote, DuraCoat, and KG Gunkote
Spray-on Cerakote, DuraCoat, and KG Gunkote are a few of the brand names on the spray-on gun coating list, but each differs in composition, and all cause a slight increase in dimensional thickness. DuraCoat is a two-step chemical coating made explicitly for firearms and is user-friendly for the do-it-yourself crowd. It withstands impact and heavy use effectively and passes 300-hour spray-on salt exposure tests, which exceed military standards. KG Gunkote was developed for the rigors of aerospace and military use and is similar to the other spray-on finishes in its capacity to protect against chemicals and solvents. Its corrosion resistance was proven by passing 500-hour salt exposure tests, so it’s a finish that can handle just about anything. Cerakote is a Polymer-Ceramic composite that can be customized in a myriad of colors and offers excellent corrosion protection. In salt solution testing, it exceeded the 550-hour mark, which is well over minimal military standards. It can be applied to many different surfaces and is one of the toughest, most durable finishes on the market. Many firearm dealers are so confident in the longevity of this finish that they offer lifetime workmanship warranties against peeling or cracking. Omaha Outdoors is one such company, and as a bonus, they also provide custom in-house cerakote colors that you can’t get anywhere else.
This chemical coating requires no need for electrochemical reactions, and this leads to a more uniform finish. It is low-friction and diffuses heat well, so it is perfect for the intricate parts found in internal firearm components such as bolt carrier groups.
Ferritic Nitrocarburizing and the more effective version of it called Quench Polish Quench (Melonite, Tufftride or Tenifer,) are surface transformation treatments that result in no dimensional changes, so they are well suited for internal components. Treated surfaces are hard and very wear-resistant with a decent amount of lubricity, which is also suitable for the firearm exterior.
PVD or CVD Coating
As a result of the vapor deposition process, these coatings offer a tough and micro-thin surface with great lubricity. Colors can be customized to a certain extent as well, so it is a good choice for those who want a thin, durable finish paired with a touch of color.
As you can see, there are quite a few options in gun finishes, but what you ultimately choose will boil down to the conditions you store and use your firearm, the level of maintenance you can tolerate, and the color you prefer. Gun bluing will give you the classic blue-black look of a raven’s wing when oiled but keeps you chained to the oil can for the life of the weapon. An iron-clad Cerakote finish might be your choice if you have a multitude of wet and dirty conditions to deal with or want to add personality to your gun with a customized color combination. Whichever you choose, each will provide an insurance policy on your investment to keep that firearm as usable and valuable as it was the day you bought it.
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