Color Case-Hardened GLOCK 43: Merging the Old West With the New

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Earlier this year the Cody Firearms Museum was home to an exhibition called GLOCK Makes History: The Birth of the Polymer Handgun Market. The exhibit chronicled the history of polymer handguns, starting with the earliest “plastic” pistols manufactured by Heckler & Koch. The exhibit then focused on GLOCKs – the first commercially successful polymer handgun.

As curator, I handled over 40 GLOCKs — and didn’t get to fire a single one. That’s cruel punishment for a gun girl. So I went out and purchased a single-stack 9mm GLOCK 43 for my personal collection. For someone who towers over mice at 5 ft tall, it’s a perfectly sized everyday carry gun, ideal for concealment.

Working at a premier western museum, living in the cowboy town of Cody, Wyoming, I felt the need to add some western panache to my minimalist meisterwerk. Wyoming Armory, a local shop that specializes in high-end custom work on historic western firearms, had been throwing around the idea of case hardening a GLOCK. I joked that they could use my 43 to test it out. And so they did. 

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I’m fascinated by the case-hardening process, especially its evolution. Below is an excerpt from Oscar L. Gaddy at doublegunshop.com that addresses this lengthy history.

The process of case-hardening itself has been known for over a thousand years. It is speculated that it was known and used in China as early as the eighth century A.D.. A written description of the process of case-hardening hand files was provided by a Benedictine monk, Theophilus Presbyter, in the latter half of the ninth century indicating that the art was fairly advanced at that time.

Relatively crude case-hardening was also utilized in the manufacture of some weapons and armor during the middle ages. With the industrial revolution, case-hardening became crucially important in the manufacture of tools and machinery.

In the early part of this century, case-hardening of steel parts was still an extremely important and widespread process used in industry including the manufacture of bicycle and automobile parts. With the availability of modern alloy steels, case-hardening of steel is not so important today.

Companies like Wyoming Armory and Turnbull Restoration & Manufacturing Co. have maintained the skills needed to create case-hardened firearms, elevating the process to an art form. An art for that, once lost, is devilishly difficult to reproduce. This process is often taught through a master – apprentice relationship. If the master has no one to whom they can impart their wisdom their style may be lost.

Color case-hardened Colt Single Action revolver (courtesy gunsauction.com)

According to Gaddy, in the 1950s, Colt found this out the hard way, when the gunmaker decided to manufacture their single-action revolvers “after a 15-year hiatus.” Colt quickly discovered that the handful of older employees who’d mastered color case-hardening were no longer around. Colt had to spend considerable time and money to recover those skills, to teach new dogs old tricks.

I admit it: a color case-hardened GLOCK is quite the Frankensteinian creation. It may seem a sacrilege to some, purists who see a case-hardened Winchester as an example of form following function. And a case-hardened GLOCK 43 as an example of anachronistic affectation. 

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when Wyoming Armory offered to case-harden my GLOCK I thought, WTH. A case-hardened slide would go a long way towards prettying-up a basic black gun. While it may not be a trend that catches on, or one that gun collectors want to catch on, I think my color case-hardened GLOCK 43’s a cool fusion of the Old West and the new. A future classic? Hardly. A bit of fun? Absolutely.

Ashley Hlebinsky is the Robert W. Woodruff Curator at the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

comments

  1. avatar ActionPhysicalMan says:

    I am not seeing much old west in that Glock picture.

    1. avatar anonymoose says:

      Looks more like someone just took a heatgun to it and screwed up the factory finish.

  2. Just made an ugly gun uglier. That’s what my G19 looks like after sweating all over it all day.

    1. avatar NineShooter says:

      This ^.

      Well said.

  3. avatar Jake@statefarm says:

    Excellent write up, but needs more photos of the GLOCK.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes. But why would we want to merge the two?

  5. avatar Ralph says:

    That’s the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen, but I like it.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      Isn’t that what your first wife said to you the first time she saw ya?

      (running away…)

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        No, not my first wife.

      2. avatar Pantera Vazquez says:

        With all due respect to Ralph,
        that comment-Geoff, caused me to nostril spit my
        after work beer. Damn that was funny…….

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          PV, if I live 100 years, I’l never be 25 percent as hilarious as Ralph, TTAG’s true ‘Master of Wise-cracks’.

          I can aspire, however.

          Ralph – OK, it wasn’t your first wife.

          It was you mom then?

          (Hopping on an airliner to get far-far-FAR away… 🙂 )

  6. avatar Wade says:

    To me case hardening adds lots of pretty colors when performed on the correct metal or metal alloy. What I see here on the Glock is not my personal preference. Glock actually treats their metal before putting the finish on it. So I don’t see me doing anything to bastardize the integrity of the weapon’s finish.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      I recall reading somewhere it’s the combination of various chunks of bone and leather that gives some of those gorgeous hues in the metal…

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        The charcoal pack around the steel needs to be a mix of wood & bone charcoal, and some people put in little strips of leather into the carbon pack.

        The other big factor in the intensity of colors is to get the piece being color cased out of the crucible and into the quench tank without being exposed to air. If the steel gets exposed to the air on the way into the quench tank, the colors tend to wash out.

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Good thing welding supply places carry nobles like helium and argon, perhaps a hose after the regulator to flood the work during its short trip to the tank…

        2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          No, you have the part in a sealed crucible. The lid will be sealed on with furnace cement, and you want the lid to come off and the pack, part, lid, the works to take the bath when you slam it onto the rim of the 55 gallon barrel you’re using as the aerated quench.

  7. avatar waffensammler98 says:

    Oh look, a silk hat on a pig *Cue fanboy rage.* Not a Glock guy, but this actually does look pretty cool. But the finish just doesn’t stand out as much as some case-hardened 1911’s I’ve had the pleasure of handling. What happened? Where’s the richness and shine?

    1. avatar JT says:

      “What happened? Where’s the richness and shine?”

      The slide wasn’t polished to a mirror finish first.

  8. avatar Stinkeye says:

    I think color case-hardening works much better when it’s polished to a shine. It doesn’t quite work with the dull finish on the Glock. It kinda just looks like the slide is corroded, at least in those photos. But CCH is notoriously hard to photograph, too.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Like most other metal finishing techniques, the polish is the important thing. The single biggest reason for the matte finishes you see on guns today, along with the painting of guns, etc is that the manufactures don’t want to polish the gun’s metal.

  9. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I love color case hardening. The metal needs to be polished to a mirror finish first.
    I’m going to try my hand at a knife in 416 stainless. Can’t wait to see the results.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      If you do, Tom, I hope you snap some pics and maybe consider a write-up for The Truth About Knifes…

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Good idea. I’ve got some killer mammoth tusk ivory scales that should go really nice with it.

  10. avatar The Next Gray Man says:

    Geez Louise. Don’t carry that thing illegally in California, or semi-legally in Illinois. Even being a retired prison guard won’t get you out of that one.

    1. avatar Ing says:

      Your monomania is increasingly monotonous.

  11. avatar MLee says:

    You can mount a Craig Power Play stereo and Jensen speakers to it along with some Crager SS wheels and it’s still a GLOCK.

    It’s the same thing as fat ugly girls that stick piercings in their eyebrows, nose, ears- all over. It’s doesn’t make them cute! Now they are fat ugly girls with sh– all over their face.

  12. avatar DrewR55 says:

    Neat concept. I wonder how the case hardening would look on a Beretta 92 series pistol with wood grips.

  13. avatar FormerWaterWalker says:

    To ME it just looks blemished(a factory reject). Not a big fan of color case hardening except on lever guns though…

  14. avatar Katy says:

    One our closest friends is from Cody. We’ve got a standing invitation to stay with his parents if we’re ever on that side of the park. I admit I may drop off my 19 for the same treatment while there.

  15. avatar PeterW says:

    Ditch the polymer frame for stag-horn and you’ve got a winner.

  16. avatar JoshFormerlyinGA says:

    Are Glock slides made of stainless steel? If so, the effect could have been more aesthetically pleasing had the black nitride finish been removed and the slide polished up before case hardening. Nonetheless an interesting undertaking on a plastic fantastic.

  17. avatar achmed says:

    Case hardening looks great on old west guns.
    That Glock looks like the slide was in a house fire.
    And I like Glocks, that just looks kind of fugly.

  18. avatar Phydeaux says:

    I think its cool, and gives it a steampunk or post-apocolyptic kind of look.

    How much does it cost (getting the finish done, not the Glock), and is there a DIY method?

  19. avatar Nynemillameetuh says:

    There isn’t much contrast between the slide and black frame. This might be cool on an FDE colored frame.

  20. avatar jwm says:

    It’s your gun. Your money. But a Glock is the ultimate disposable handgun. It works. It works well. But you don’t customize it. If you want a bbq gun you buy a classic wheel gun or 1911 or SAA.

    Only my opinion.

    1. avatar pieslapper says:

      No, I think the ultimate disposable hand gun niche is taken up by Jennings or Hi Point. Just sayin’.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Jennings and Hi points assume that the user is disposable too. Glocks intend for the user to survive the encounter, but the gun is still cheap enough to be disposable to a police evidence locker.

  21. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    We don’t raise pigs because they’re pretty. We raise them because, well, bacon. And cured ham. And juicy pork chops. Lard for your pie crust. You can dress up a pig in a floral print dress, with high heels and earrings, and it’s still a pig.

    We don’t own Glocks because they’re pretty, either. If you want to color case harden something, start with something that’s not butt-ugly to begin with.

  22. avatar junkman says:

    Different strokes for different folks–do not care for Glocks to begin with–waste of time & money in my book, but it is whatever trips your trigger

  23. avatar Hannibal says:

    Blech. Looks like someone dropped it in the fireplace for awhile.

  24. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    What would worry me about color-casing a Glock slide is that the metal used in the Glock slide is probably high enough in carbon content to harden all the way through when case hardening. This means the slide can be brittle. This is why Turnbull won’t color case war surplus K98 Mauser receivers – they become brittle.

    Most steel used for firearms that will be color-cased are using a carbon content lower than about 0.25% – eg, 8620 steel is a popular allow for receivers to be color cased. Above 0.25% carbon can harden when heated hot enough for color casing when the steel is dumped into the water tank for the quench.

    Case hardening in firearms should result in a hard outer layer and a softer inner core of the part or receiver. eg, the M14/M1A specs call for case (but not color case) hardening, where the outside layer of steel is about .030″ thick, and hardened to Rockwell C 52 or therabouts, while the inner core is about Rc 40 to 42. That’s possible because the steel spec’ed for the case hardened parts on the M14 is about what AISI 8620 steel is today – low in carbon, alloy steel, so you will get a hardened layer on the outer case.

    An example of why case hardening was required on some early firearms was the early Colt SAA revolvers – they weren’t made from steel, but a high grade malleable iron. Now, on a purely carbon content basis, you’d think that you could harden malleable iron to be like glass, but that’s not the case. The surface of malleable iron is quite ductile, and easily dented and scratched. Case hardening will give a hard outer layer while allowing the ductile inner layers to remain tough, avoiding fracture.

    Now, here’s another little bit of trivia on Glocks and case hardening: Glock slides are already case hardened. That’s what the “Tenifer” finish is – a nitrided layer of very hard steel, ie, it’s been case hardened by putting it into an salt bath of alkali cyanide salts. Cyanide gas or salts are used extensively for case hardening of various steels.

  25. avatar Jim says:

    Ashley, I honestly want to know, from a professional stand point, did they remove the original surface finish and polish your gun before case hardening it? Because it doesn’t look like they did. The surface layer of Tenifer appears to have been burned onto the metal around the edges, and the colored portion in the middle appears very shallow. Although I have no interest in recreating that look, I am very interested in how this was done, from a technical perspective.

  26. avatar J says:

    Looks like you sprayed PowderBlast on your Glock and didn’t finish cleaning it. Get a can of clear spray paint to finish it and you would have saved yourself a lot of money.

  27. avatar Joseph Quixote says:

    You can’t polish a turd.

  28. avatar PeterK says:

    I like it.

  29. avatar Your Real Name says:

    Not a single word about the process of color case hardening. Epic fail.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Well, truth is, many gunsmiths or shops that do CCH well don’t talk much about how they get their results.

  30. avatar Docduracoat says:

    The Glock may or may not be ugly
    But Ashley is gorgeous!

  31. avatar Accur81 says:

    Man, folks are harsh!

    If CCHing a Glock does it for you, I say go for it. My EDC Glock 23 is modified, and has strategically placed dings in the grip from where I banged it against various metal door frames while walking in a severely sleep-deprived manner. Come to think of it, my duty gun, and the one before it, has the same dings.

    I enjoyed the article. It’s not easy to admire a CCH gun in photos – unless you’re the Recoil photographers, maybe, because they make a lot of crazy guns look cool.

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