Firearms Finishes

About Gun Finishes:

Picking out a new gun is a complicated chore.  You have caliber, style, size, features, etc.   I’ve talked about these subjects before.  However, I’ve never really talked about an important aspect of the selection process… The finish.  It’s actually an important factor in the gun’s functionality.  There are a number of finish options to choose from.  Each one has it’s advantages and disadvantages beyond appearance.  Stainless, Blued, Nickel, Parkerized, Chrome, Coated… There are more options coming out every time you turn around.  Really the question lays with you and how, when and where you are going to be using the firearm.  Also, your hygiene.  How and how often clean the weapon… Not personal.  If you are a slob and really don’t want care about the gun all that much, then blued is not the finish for you and you might want a Stainless or Coated gun.   Lets not make any choices just yet.  Instead, let’s look at each finish and see what they have to offer.

Blued: This is probably the oldest finish to be found on a gun.  Some even say it’s the most attractive finish.  What this finish really is, is a carefully controlled oxidation of the surface of the metal.  Salts and other chemicals are used to “blue” the gun.   Mostly the results are a blackened finish and not actually the color blue by any means… There are two ways of doing this, hot and cold.  Professional grade bluing uses the hot methods as it’s a more effective method and cold Bluing is something you can actually do a home to touch up  a warn blued finish.  The biggest downside to blued is that it offers very little in terms of corrosion protection.  The blued finishes that are highly polished are better for that as there is less surface imperfection for moisture to adhere to and take root.  This is why you must always wipe a blued gun down with an oil to displace moisture and O2 and provide a barrier against the same.  I’ve seen neglected blued guns rust completely on a humid Virginian summer night.  It also offers little abrasion protection.  Old duty guns with blued finishes often look like hell.  With scratches and areas where the finish is worn down to the bare metal.. But then again there is a certain nobility in the worn looking gun that I cannot explain.  If the gun is free of corrosion and operates smoothly… The wear can be a sign that the owner has been there and done that with this dependable sidearm.  You can always tell the new GI’s from a distance… The are the ones wearing the BDU’s that look like they just came out of the packet.  Same thing with a blued gun, really.  This is why a blued gun can still be considered in good condition with only 60% of it’s finish left.  But that’s another article for another day.

Stainless isn’t really a finish… It’s the material.  Stainless Steel.  Similar to what you might have in your knife drawer in your kitchen.  To understand Stainless, you need to understand Steel.  I’m going to over simplify this, so if your a closet metallurgist , please don’t be offended.  Steel is a mixture of iron and carbon.  The carbon hardens the iron and makes it stronger.  There are other elements in there but like I said, I’m wanting simplicity here.  The Vikings may have first discovered steel.  They had swords that were often called snake blades because of the waves of the lines in the blades… These came about when they hammered the iron blade over coals during the swords forging.  This introduced carbon into the metal, transforming some of the iron into steel.  Well, today’s steels are a lot more complicated.  Stainless is actually an alloy of steel that is given a higher concentration of chromium.  Stainless steel is good looking and will easily stay that way longer than blued.  Couple downsides to stainless.  One is that it’s boring… it’s vanilla.  The other is galling but this is minimal thanks to newer more advanced alloys.  I prefer to run a grease for lube in a stainless gun… Better protection from galling.  The big advantage for stainless would be that corrosion has a much harder time getting into it.  It is an almost perfect option for concealed carry guns.  Scratches happen but can buffed out.  Stainless guns can look virtually new much longer than most other guns.   If you pick stainless, you also have the choices of “mat”, “brushed”, “bead blasted”, or “polished”.  Now days you can also get your Stainless “Blackened” so dodge that vanilla bullet.  The blackening of stainless is just like bluing regular steel… a chemical process that creates a controlled oxidation of the surface.  Personal taste here, but you cant just polish a scratch out of a bead blasted or blackened surface.  No thanks.  In stainless, my personal preferences are for the brushed or polished finished.

Nickel plating has been around for a long time… An early version of chrome plating.  There were many guns back in the wild west days sporting a nickel finish.  They looked great, lasted a long time and all… But when they went, they really went. The nickel could come off in flakes and leave a gun with a bad case of mange.  This finish has come a very long way since the 1800′s.  Improvements have been made in the process and in the chemicals used.  This isn’t you grampappy’s nickel plate.  Nickel give you great protection from corrosion.  Since it’s also a very hard surface, it’s a lot harder to abrade the surface… This means fewer scratches.  The nickel finish is very pimp… Very shiny, like chrome mostly.  However there is now a “mat nickel” out that minimizes the pimp-shine.  This plating finish is also to be had in chrome, or gold, or even titanium… even gold titanium.  Whatever you want really.

Powder Coat finishes are simple but very effective.  It covers the metal in a thin layer of plastic.  The finish is better than it sounds, and is more durable than you might imagine.  The process for powder coating is a bit more complicated than you might think too.  The process starts with a couple chemical baths to clean and prep the metal.  Then it uses an electrical charge to attract sprayed particles to the metal to insure a uniform distribution of the finish.  Then heat is used to cure this coating and bond it.  This heat is usually done via a very large toaster oven.  Again, I have over simplified, but this is the basic process.  Different outfits will do things differently, but this is the basic nutshell program.  The result is a very tough surface treatment that resists corrosion and abrasion.  It even looks pretty good.  You have probably seen these kinds of finishes before and didn’t even know it.  One of my last handguns had this finish, and a very popular SMG uses it as well.
There are other Spray and Bake finishes that are more sophisticated… they don’t use a plastic, but instead use other synthetics such as Nylon or Teflon or uses PTFE particles.  These finishes have differing degrees of self lubrication.  One popular finish of this type is NP3.  It sports a high level of lubricating particles in the finish that make the surface slick.  Such finishes are good, but don’t be fooled by the slickness, it still needs to be lubricated like any other gun.  Maybe not as much, but they should still be lubricated.  NP3 and Black-T are a good examples of this type of finish.  The factory says no lube is needed.  I say it does.  To answer this question I consulted an expert in the field of lubrication, someone known to many experienced shooters at least by reputation, George C. Fennell.  I said to him in an email that it was my theory that while these finishes are slick, lubrication is still needed due to heat and pressure during firing… and I asked him if my theory was correct.  Here is his answer:

With PTFE dry film coatings, you are absolutely right. They do need an extra level of protection, even though they’ve come a long way since the old “frying pan” days, when all you needed to do was scratch a Teflon coated surface and the peeling was then a guaranteed and catastrophic event.  Today’s coatings such as Dura Coat, Black T, and others, amalgamate the PTFE into the base substrate, making it MUCH more resilient and long lasting, but the oxidation and corrosion properties of the elements will still penetrate the porosity of the coating without an added protection like FP-10 and others.  Even Walter Birdsong, the inventor of the Black-T coating, preaches the use of FP-10 on all his weapons and touts it as the best “brush-less” cleaner available today*.” *Note, that was at the time, I believe MPRO-7 Cleaner is better now.

George C Fennell of course sells FP-10, but his expertise in the field of Lubrication is not diminished.  I’m testing a number of lubes, FP-10 included… but more on that at another time.  Back to the finishes.   NP3 has a unique color that is very attractive.  These finishes can also look very good. This is one advantage these finishes have… you can get them in any color you want.  You can even get them in patterns.   They don’t just look great, but offer excellent protection from corrosion and abrasion.  These high-tech finishes are becoming the wave of the future.  They are certainly a huge improvement over the finishes of the past… like Parkerized.

Parkerized finishes have been around since I don’t know when, near the turn of the century?  1900’s?   Parkerizing is often seen on US GI WWII guns and many guns since then.  It’s a tough finish that is resistant to abrasion, but unfortunately not that resistant to corrosion.  A Parkerized surface is porous, like wood.  The problem with that is moisture can sink it’s teeth into your gun and rusting will ensue.  This is why “Park” isn’t my personal favorite finish, but that’s just me.  The color of a Parkerized finish varies from black to green to grey all depending on the agents used in the process.  The only real advantage to a parked finish is that it’s cheap and fast and does offer more corrosion protection than blued, but only if you keep a nice layer of oil over it.

There are other finishes out there… the proprietary ones.  SIG has it’s own.  Glock has it’s famous “Tennifer” finish.  HK has it’s “Hostile” finish.  Every maker has it’s own.  Generally they are all very good, with pros and cons… Glock’s is probably one of the toughest, but you can only get it in black.  Tennifer finish is actually not a finish at all, but a metallurgical process performed on the metal parts of the Glock pistols and knives.  The metal is treated with a cyanide mixture bath to increase hardness and corrosion resistance.  This is not a finish but is actually impregnated into the first few microns of the metal.  The Tennifer treatment is colorless. Glock simply powder coats the slides black after the Tennifer process is complete.  You can take a piece of sandpaper to your slide and remove all of the powder coat, leaving your slide a dull stainless color (which looks pretty cool) and the Tennifer properties will be left intact.

DLC. In the last couple years we’ve seen a lot of new guns coming out with a new sort of finish and it’s gone from boutique to common. Diamond Like Coatings. Guns such as the S&W M&P series, SIG, FN, and some others are all using these as their finishes. There a couple different types of DLC and a few different ways to apply it, but each one has the same result…. a super hard, corrosion resistant and low friction coating that is very thin, and looks good. The technical aspects of the coatings vary and I don’t feel like typing it all up, so let me link you over to a page that does.

Do it yourself at home Finishes have become very popular.  While there are many out there, I’ll touch on the three most popular.

First is Duracoat by Lauer Custom Weaponry.  Duracoat is a Two Part compound that is Epoxy based.  This has it’s pros and cons.  The downside that we have found to Duracoat takes a lot time to fully air cure.  In some cases, it’s taken two months to reach full hardness.  During that time the finish is delicate and can easily be marred.  The upshots to Duracoat though, is that it is less expensive, has a very wide range of colors you can select from to accomplish pretty much any custom finish you could ever want, and once the finish is fully cured it is very tough.

Ceracoat.  Admittedly one of my favorites.  Not as many colors as Duracoat, but it’s easier to use, cures faster, with a finish result that is stronger.  This is a Ceramic particulant in a polymer matrix that once applied and cures, leaves your firearm coated in Ceramic.  This gives you a very strong finish that is becoming very popular with Gun Makers who are offering this as an upgrade finish option or are making this their default finish.  Crusader Weaponry, Barrett and others.  And remember, this is one that you can do at home, in your garage, after a few beers.

Lastly here, is the favorite of the US Military.  I think about half of all the weapons in the US Army and Marines out in the field are wearing this finish.  Krylon.  Cheap and Easy.  Downside is that Krylon is delicate and easily marred.  Offers no abrasion resistance.  And it surrenders to a lot of common solvents.  But you can always just hit it with some more Krylon later.  You can change the colors and patterns to match your area of operation or season as well.  And removal is as easy as soaking it in solvent and hitting it with a pressure washer.  Do not use Krylon if you are looking for a permanent firearm finish.  Of course, a gun that was done in Krylon and all the wear spots are worn… I think looks very cool.  But I’m a guy that will wear a sports coat with jeans and sneakers, so don’t take my opinion too seriously.

So, you can ask me what finish is best for your gun, but I’ll just ask you what your going to do with it.

22 thoughts on “Firearms Finishes”

  1. Where can I find the different definitions of BLACK-T coating?
    I am looking for only the type name of the coating and not the technical details of the coating.
    For example, one of descriptions is
    Black-T coating V.S. 1-3-1-169 Class 2 Type 6.
    I’d love if you can help me with this.
    Thanks
    Yossi

    1. It’s essentially the same thing as hot blueing, with more colors resulting. It wears a bit better, but when it does wear, it looks like Hell fast.

      1. No. Nitride finished are the same as tennifer. I have a superior barrel on my AR that is nitrided, super tough, take a file to it and not scratch it.

  2. How does Failzero’s coating fair without lube? Or Smooth Kote. I’d like more information on their performances please.

  3. i am having some furniture made that will have stainless steel legs. i do not like the shiny quality of the stainless steel and I would like to consider having them blued. I am a hunter in Texas and think the blue gun metal grey color is awesome. i thought this would be an easy task – asking a gun blueing firm to blue the parts of the furniture, but your comments lead me to believe that you have to oil the bluing or it will look bad. i do not want to oil furniture because it would get on the chair leather and/or on a guests clothing. is there a solution that will give me that cool blue color but not require oil?
    thank you!

  4. I have just purchased a Wilson Combat Matt stainless, so a wee bi boring
    I would like to black the slide and compensator …

    The reason I bought this I live in Canada so it is limited what can be found in 38 super apart from race guns.

    I am thinking of Graphite black
    Item: H-146Q
    They detail finishes
    High Temp Firearm Coatings, Gen II Firearm Coatings and Ceramic FIrearm Coatings
    What would you recommend. And would this be suitable on a compensator exposed to heat, pressures.

    Thanks
    Jonathan

    1. It should hold up just fine, if whoever is doing the refinishing does the prep work right. I’d suggest a preparatory media blast to give the coating more to grip and hold on to.

  5. I’ve got a Browning Special Trap that I’m working on. Using Birchwood Casey Perma Blue cold bluing solution to touch up some worn areas. However, There’s factory gold lettering on the sides and bottom of the receiver. Will the Gold lettering be affected by the Perma Blue? I won’t even attempt to apply the bluing and rust remover on it for fear of removing the gold lettering completely.

    How can I protect the lettering prior to applying any bluing solution?
    Thanks
    Steve

  6. Have you heard of the Fail Zero process? I’ve had it done on my Glock G19 & G23, Springfield XDm 4.5 & Compact 3.8, and just sent my FNX-40 out to have it done. Results are impressive.

  7. I just purchased a EAA Witness with the Wonder Finish Steel. Have you heard any thing about it?

    1. I bought one from EAA after testing and reviewing it for Concealed Carry Magazine. I never could tell just what sort of finish it actually was. But it was a good tough finish that held up to a lot of shooting. EAA wouldn’t tell me. I suspect it’s similar to NP3. And if that’s the case… it’s certainly good stuff.

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