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Coatings & Finishes

By David Lake

When you pick up one of your firearms, or peer at a new one though a glass pane… likely that all you’ll ever feel and see is the outer surface. This outermost finish must be visually pleasing to the eye and supremely protective to wear, age and abuse. The science and engineering of the materials and internal mechanisms of a firearm could be considered remedial when compared to the high science behind surface coatings and treatments.

To simplify, one could divide this discussion into three classes. Coating will embody any layer or film that may be directly applied–like paint. Plating will encompass the deposition of material by electrical, chemical, or other passive means. And conversion–where the substrate material is altered or manipulated on a molecular level to produce desired properties. All of these treatments and finishes serve the same purpose; to protect and enhance a firearm’s performance and appeal. But there is no clear winner among these categories as to durability, economy, or performance.


The current crop of high-performance paint (essentially, that’s indeed what they are) comes by many names, though not all created equal. This class of paint includes the likes of CeraKote, DuraCoat and Gun-Kote (to name a few). These are usually 2-part epoxies that must be baked on. There are “air-cure” options available as well, although these are demonstrably less durable. These coatings may be applied to steel, aluminum, plastic, and wood. They require no more special equipment than a paint gun and an oven for baking if that is required. They do however ask for fastidious and nuanced preparation and execution. Should the finish fail or become unsatisfactory due to use, abuse, or wear, these coatings are quite easy to repair– just prep and re-apply. One distinct negative side-effect of all coatings of this type– they are quite thick– that is, they “build” the surface considerably when compared to metal plating and surface conversion. This can be good– take for instance, a poor-fitting war-era 1911 pistol. It may rattle and present with disappointing accuracy. CeraKote can be counted on to fill in some lost...


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