Sam Hoober writes [via ammoland.com]:

Today’s gun buyer can opt for stainless steel and similar alloy finishes, as well as Cerakote and other durable coatings. When it comes to gun finishes, do you pay a premium for a protective coating? Or do you skip the extra spending on finishes, like Cerakote, and throw precaution to the wind?

Keeping The Rust At Bay With Stainless And Other Gun Finishes

Old school wheelgun or revolver with classic nickel finish

One of the biggest reasons a person would opt for a stainless steel or durable coating gun finish is to guard against rust. Guns are machines, after all, and rust is a direct threat to the long-term viability of any machine.

Rust is an oxide – an iron oxide, to be specific – which forms on the surface of metal as the molecular bonds of the metal are weakened by the presence of moisture. Oxygen molecules permeate the surface molecules of the metal and bond with molecules of iron, forming red iron oxide. As further molecules of steel are thus weakened, the layer of iron oxide deepens, weakening the metal.

Stainless steels are steel alloys with a relatively high concentration of chromium, usually 10.5% chromium content by mass though this varies by the exact steel used by the manufacturer.

The distinct advantage it holds over mere finishes on carbon steel is that a sufficient concentration of chromium allows for passivation – where a substance becomes less reactive to the elements – by means of a layer of chromium oxide on the surface of the material.

That layer of chromium oxide prevents moisture from permeating the steel, thereby prohibiting oxidation and the formation of rust.

Likewise, durable coatings such as Cerakote Coatings can form a passivized or otherwise near-impermeable layer on the surface. This keeps rust at bay and can even act as a semi-permanent lubricant.

Alternately a person can always op to get stainless or coated guns for appearances sake. They sure do look purdy…

A lot of pistols come with a specific coating as standard, but some gun models are offered with a durable coating or stainless steel as an optional upgrade. The cost varies by manufacturer or gunsmith, make and model – sometimes the premium is a week or two of beer money and sometimes it’s a month’s utilities payment.

Are Additional Gun Finishes Worth It?

Modern 1911 handgun with a matt cerakote stainless Gun Finishes.

If you desire a Cerakote finish or stainless steel for appearances sake, go for it. That’s an aesthetic preference.

What about the person who isn’t concerned about how the gun looks? It the coating worth it?

That depends on how you look at a gun. Some people have sentimental attachments to certain firearms. Others view them merely as a tool carried for a purpose. Since these tools can be obtained relatively cheaply – depending on the make and model of course – a person could be forgiven for not necessarily getting too attached.

So long as it’s cleaned, oiled and lubricated every few weeks, almost any EDC (everyday carry) gun will last for years with minimal rusting to speak of. Salt water is far more likely to rust a pistol than the typical rainstorm; that’s why marine shotguns and so on are a thing.

Kept in a concealed carry holster and regularly cleaned, the typical gun is going to be fine, with no real need for a premium finish.

Also, consider this: if you ever have to USE your carry gun, there’s a good chance you’ll lose it to the legal system. Do you want to spend much money on one or get too attached to it? That’s up to you.

What’s your take?

——

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.

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66 Responses to CapArms Question of the Day: Gun Finishes: Stainless, Cerakote or Not Bothered?

  1. Even stainless can oxidize in the right situation and I don’t like any shiny or reflective guns, they are weapons not decorations. I would only cerakote a high use or specialty weapon usually for protective purposes with patterns or colors just being a bonus. Cerakoting a polymer pistol frame is a particular instance I would do to give it a better grip texture that’s more durable than grip tape and looks great too.

    • The standard brushed stainless finish used by many gunmakers is far less shiny/reflective than the average high-polish finish on most blued-steel firearms. My preference in revolvers or non-Glock autos is for stainless steel, and a bead- or grit-blasted finish to keep reflection to a minimum.

      A close second place goes to Glock’s older parkerized-looking finish. Even the newer Glocks with less durable finishes rarely rust, but it seems like those older models could be stored in a bucket of salt water with little or no corrosion problems. The surface finish may show holster wear, but the subsurface treatment never allows rust to get a foothold, in my experience.

    • As a knife-nut pal of mine is fond of saying, “stainless just means it stains LESS, not NEVER.”
      Stainless, If neglected or just done wrong by it’s owner will absolutely rust – but slowly. Hopefully slowly enough for the numnutz to do something about it before the damage gets out of hand.
      If a gun is offered in a stainless variant, I’ll convince myself to pay extra for it because:
      1. I’m a numnutz who occasionally neglects his toys.
      2. I sweat on my toys ( this is Texas).
      3. It’s pretty.

      • As I recall, the more stainless stainless steel is the softer it is, so objects like knives use the less stainless alloys so they’ll keep their edge. Carbon steel is harder, but stainless has a higher tinsel strength. Not sure how significant the difference is in ri fle bar rels, but I’d think stainless would shoot out a little quicker.

        • It’s hard to make sweeping statements about mechanical properties of carbon vs stainless steels. There are many different alloys of each. Beyond that heat treating has a dramatic effect on hardness. Metals such as 416 stainless and 4130 cromo are commonly used in firearms. You may be right that 4130 is harder in their un-heat treated states.

          The problem with stainless is that you can get galling on surfaces that rub together. As I understand it, one surface will rip particles away from the other. This isn’t an issue with high carbon steels. I have read that manufacturers have mitigated the effects in stainless by varying the heat treatment between the two rubbing surfaces.

        • This is why you need to use an anti-seize compound when using stainless steel bolts. Otherwise they can seize before you’ve even got the nut spun down. And the only cure for that is to cut them off or use a nut splitter, which won’t work very well since the nuts are so damn soft.

          Not sure of the specific alloy but the stainless has a significantly higher tinsel strength than carbon steel. Hardness could be achieved by proper heat treating though. But I’d guess there’s nothing you can do to stainless that you can’t do to carbon.

      • Moreover, there are several different grades/alloys of stainless.

        Most firearms barrels, etc are made from a 400-series stainless. Barrels are usually 416 or 420 stainless.

        Some receivers are 17-4 PH stainless, where higher strength is desired.

        None of these are the most corrosion resistant alloys – they’re all easier to machine than the more corrosion-resistant alloys of stainless. 3XX series stainless (eg, 303 or 308) are more corrosion resistant, but they’re crap to machine. They weld up very nicely tho, which is why commercial kitchens use them. You can TIG weld the 3xx alloys to perfection, where there is no pit in the weld to allow bacteria to grow.

        It is possible to blue 4xx stainless. It takes longer, it takes different blueing chemicals and it often takes “cycles” of increasing and decreasing the temperature of the salt bath to accomplish this, but it can be done and the result looks very nice.

        Alternatively, you can do what Winchester did on the later Model 94’s: Plate the outside of the stainless with a thin layer of iron, and blue that.

  2. Nitride (Melonite, Tennifer, etc.) finishes are the best thing ever invented for firearms! More corrosion resistant than even stainless steel. Living on the Gulf Coast makes one appreciate this.

    • The problem I have with nitride is that it DOES wear off. After six months, there is some noticeable holster wear on my Glock. I think it is a fairly good option as a general purpose coating, but if you need real long-term corrosion resistance, nothing beats stainless.

      • I get rust in the rear sight dovetail where the finish was rubbed off when mounting new rear sights on my Glock 19. I brush it out and drop some oil in that spot. Guess I should put some rust proof paint in that area.

        • Are you sure that rust isn’t from the sight, vs the pistol?
          Even the factory polymer rear sight has a metal insert that can rust.

        • Next time you have them swapped-out for new ones, ask if you can get the old sights returned, and check them for pitting in the dovetail-covered areas.

          I have one Glock with Meps sights that gets carried a lot in the summer. For the next 2-3 months, that pistol is going to see more sweat than a Bunny Ranch mattress. I always get a “line” of rust that traces the outline of the slide notch, but when I remove the sights for replacement, it’s the sight with the pitting, not the slide.

  3. Blueing, done correctly, also passivates the surface.

    Blueing is rust, after all. It’s just more complete rust than red rust. Red (wild) rust is Fe2O3, and blue/black rust is Fe3O4. That’s all.

    Color casing of metal also has an anti-corrosive property. There’s electroless, nickel plating, nitriding, chroming. Heck, if you like the Turd World Dictator Bling look, you can get your heater gold plated. Put on some endangered species ivory grips and you’re good to go.

    There’s all sorts of things you can do to a gun that are higher class than putting on a spray-on/bake-on finish like Cerakote.

  4. I like most of my guns to be art/jewelry as well as guns. Blued is my favorite, nitrocarburized and whatever is on my Mongoose second, stainless third. I don’t have any blued guns now and only one stainless.

  5. I like a good matte stainless finish. Not a fan of mirror bright polished stainless, looks gaudy to me in pretty much any style gun.

  6. Stainless is good – bronze brush and kerosene once in awhile to remove a bit of rust under the grips, slide stop and safety, but it’s “stainless” enough to wear continuously next to skin in the hottest weather.

    I Parkerized the carbon steel Officers’ Model I just built. It worked well enough on the 50-year-old 1911A1s we were issued that I figured if it’s permeated with oil or grease, the finish will outlast me.

    Coatings? I won’t pay extra for them, but if they’re on guns I want, I won’t blast them off either.

  7. I prefer matte stainless but function is vastly more important than looks to me. All of my meager collection of guns are basic black/blued. I have had SS but whatever…

  8. Wow! Just this past weekend I was hiking in the Mountains of NH. My Smith & Wesson Shield in my Crossbreed mini tuck holster and when I pulled the gun to clean it the day I got back home I found that there was pitting all over the left side of the slide, closest to my body. I am horrified that a gun that is cared for and cleaned probably once per month, and got a wipe down after every day of hiking suffered so much damage so quickly!

  9. I like NP3, and Cerakote. My Benelli Nova is NP3 inside and out. I had them build a thunder ranch package on my Springfield 1911. The most accurate pistol I own. The slide, and all internals are NP3, and the lower is Rogard. I had my BCG on my AR done in NP3. This stuff can be run without lube in a pinch due to the Teflon components of it, and the carbon just wipes off. It is one of the best finishes I have come Accross, and a lifetime warranty. I just had my stock on my M1A scout squad done in cerakote in a nice tiger stripe cammo. My glock’s I usually leave as is, but I couldn’t resist getting some cool finish on one in cerakote. Still waiting to get it back. It just depends for me. It’s not a priority. Just if I feel like doing something new.

    • I have NP3+ on my precision rifle. Best finish I have ever seen (I have not used much). I can’t afford to baby my rifles, so I opt for the best.

      Barrel is stainless, action is carbon. You can’t tell the difference by looking at it.

  10. I used to duracoat as a hobby, now I’ve switched to cerakote
    Doc cerakote just doesn’t sound as good
    I do it to make my guns into a work of art
    Each one, whether camo pattern or 2 tone is unique
    Go see my work at docduracoat.com
    I will tell you that this stuff is addicting!
    I just bought a CZ Scorpion Evo
    I am thinking about a snow camo pattern
    Or maybe a burnt Bronze and black digital pattern
    Any suggestions?

    • How about dark grey at the muzzle blending into burnt bronze for the rest of the slide?

      I love that look on one of mine with a burnt bronze slide … But I only get it after a couple hundred rounds. It’d be nice to have the gun clean but keep the look…

  11. I’ve got a few in the other options, but if I’m looking for purdy it’s blued steel and wood.

      • Unfortunately I’ve got more of a Ru ger budget than a Python one, but I’d have to concur. But even a matte blued fi rearm is just more aesthetically pleasing than stainless or any of the coatings I’ve seen.

        One advantage to bl uing is that those touch up blue pens do a fantastic job of covering scratches or wear. Put a big scratch in my Ma rlin 336 putting in a Wild West trig ger and you just rub the pen on it, rinse it off and the scratch completely disappeared.

    • Ditto. All of my colt reproductions are blued and wood (except the one with the Tombstone faux ivory grips that I made for It). I always refinish the wood grips with TruOil. Sadly, I have nothing with Colt Royal Blue, the best blued finish I have ever seen.

      That’s not to say I don’t have guns with other finishes. I built a kit Kentucky rifle with a plum brown finish, I have two with melonite (or related) finishes, and one that came with a matte finish stainless slide that I buffed out on the sides of the slide. And I want a M1911A with a parkerized finish because that is how they were made.

  12. My gun is EDC . Not concerned re finish. I usually carry same gun for several years, then switch to something that fits me better. When I retired from suit tie days, smaller pocket carry, LCP. When LC9S pro came ro my attention I switched. I’M sure it will happen again at some point, so extra cost of fancy finish isn’t worth it to me.

  13. My newer G19 has a very cool nickel boron finish by Tactical Firearms Solutions.
    It’s called “battleworn”
    It’s slicker than eel snot. Nothing sticks to it.
    NiB for the win!

  14. Quote: “Kept in a concealed carry holster and regularly cleaned, the typical gun is going to be fine . . . ”

    This is absolutely false! Any gun kept in a holster is more prone to corrosion than one that is not.

    The author is a shameless shill for his employer.

    • Kydex is usually fine, it’s leather that was an issue for me. I used to dry my rigs in the sun then mink oil them once a week back in the day in addition to removing my weapon off duty and wiping it down. Ruined my shirts though.

  15. I’ll be paying more than I probably should to have my pistols cerakoted. Why? Partly because it’s a durable finish, mostly because it’ll look cool, and entirely because that’s how I decided to waste some overtime money.

  16. I have a stainless 1911 that I wear on holidays and special occasions (grilling steaks with my father, etc.) but beyond that every other handgun has either a nitron or bruntion finish.

    I’ve been looking at various models of the Sig P226 and I happened upon the Alloy Stainless Elite (a PVD coating) and the visual appeal has been hotly debated among my buddies and I. I can’t really bring myself to want it even though it has a lot of features to offer for the price.

  17. I want a pump shotgun and I like the stainless Mossberg. When I get a revolver, it will be stainless. And if and when I get a metal frame semi-auto, it will be stainless.
    The barrel on my AR is stainless. So count me in the pro stainless column.
    Because in GA, you don’t get wet. The wet gets you.

  18. The firearms my grandfather left me are doing just fine without all this hype, what can we learn from this.

  19. Most of my guns are parkerized.
    My ar has fde duracoat finish and a nib bcg.
    And a s&w reolver that is nickel plated.

  20. If any of my guns are ever nicked by the cops after a DGU, I want them to be more impressed with my gun maintenance that I am with their professionalism.

  21. Im from the school of clean and oil. My guns are working guns. Tools as they say. Not something to be looked at or shown off.
    I take pride in what I own. But looks come 2nd to function.
    Now given a choice between a blued gun or stainless. I will go for stainless.
    They are just easier to keep clean.

  22. One more thing about gun finishes:

    Parkerizing, real parkerizing, can result in a very durable finish, provided you use the parkerized finish to do what they were meant to do: hold onto a good coat of oil or wax.

    Park’ed finishes should be oiled down – regularly. When this is done, a parkerized finish can be very corrosion resistant and very durable.

    Parkerizing is pud-easy to do, too. All you need is a tank which can contain a corrosive solution up to about 200F (a stainless steel tank does well – look at Brownells or Du Lite:

    http://du-lite.com/dulite_phosphating_compounds.html

    OK, you can get the liquid solution or the salts, whichever way you wish to go. Don’t add hard water to the salts – use distilled to make your solution.

    The Manganese solution/salts make the darker, almost charcoal grey, color on steel. Aluminum salts leave a lighter grey finish. In both cases, barrel bores and gas cylinders/pistols must absolutely be protected from the park’ing salts. You will destroy a barrel if you do not plug a bore before park’ing it. On a Garand/M1A/AR barrel, NB that you must also plug the gas port. You should not parkerize the area where the gas block mounts, either.

    When park’ing a piece of steel, all you need to do is clean it, strip any grease/oil off, then dump into the heated park’ing solution, and wait for the bubbles to stop. It’s that easy. Don’t polish steel to more than about a 240 grit finish.

    Once you remove the gun from the park’ing solution, rinse in hot water, then cold water, then dunk it in water-displacing oil. Easy-peasy. Park’ing is fast, it’s easy, it’s reliable, and (as I stated above) a park’ed finish holds oil. It takes up a terrific amount of oil – and keeps it there. This is how parkerized finished guns last so long without rusting – they get wiped down with a rag wet with oil. Don’t skimp on the oil. Dunking it and wiping it down is better than using a rag only faintly dampened with oil to wipe down a park’ed gun.

  23. Of the 15 guns I have (I think), all are blued except one that is Parkerized. They range in age from 1 month to 70 years. None are rusty. If they are dry, clean and oiled when put away, there is no problem. I don’t know how the 70 year old gun lived it’s first 68 years but someone apparently took care of it well as did whoever had the one from the early 70s.

  24. Well to me it always depended on the gun. I’ve had some guns I put together out of junk parts, some I’ve kept in pristine original finish, and everything in between.

    Now one thing I’ll say though that I found that I rather like DuraCoa. I once had a Taurus 24/7 that got messed up from an encounter with an energy drink. Ate the blue right off of it. I had the slide redone and it came out looking better than the factory finish. I’d definitely do that again if I were fixing up an abused or damaged gun.

  25. I only have one firearm that is Cerakoted, a Citadel 1911, 45ACP. It came new already Cerakoted, Black Slide and lower is OD Green. I really like the durability of the Cerakote and it looks great as well. I’m not sure that I’d pay to have it done though if it hadn’t come that way to begin with. Two of my other pistols that have a nitride finish are starting to show some holster wear. When they start to get a little worse, I may look into pricing a Cerakote job on them, or if I feel froggy, I may try my hand at doing a Duracote job on them.

  26. I like my brush stainless S&W j-frame revolver. It will easily out last me.

    I saw the picture of the one recovered from ground zero. I wonder if it still works.

  27. I went with hard chrome myself on my series 80 Combat Commander. Took 20 some years to make up my mind, but no regrets

  28. I generally go with SS on my revolvers, but with autos I take what I can get. I’m a fan of the bead-blasted stainless look after having a S&W M65 refinished that way. I do have an AR build that’s going to get Cerakoted once I finish it up since the black anodizing is different on every component, and the OCD in me can’t stand randomness in that regard.

  29. I have blued, stainless and cerakote guns, I even parkerized a few old guns. Rust was never a problem with any of the finishes. Just wipe ’em down after a trip to the range and keep them in a dry gun cabinet or safe and after 50 years they’ll still look good.

  30. I always choose stainless if it’s an option. Of course, some manufacturers don’t offer it(Glock AHEM).

    The old chestnut about shiny pistols not being good for defensive purposes because “a bad guy might see it” is kind of hogwash. You’re not going to be creeping through tunnels looking for VC, you’re going to pull the pistol and fire two or three shots in a rapid fashion in a DGU.

    Stainless holds up better than other finishes, and if it does get scratched you can bring it back to like new with some sandpaper and Flitz. When your Cerakoted pistol gets scratched, it’s just going to be scratched forever. Cerakote is just paint, after all.

    NP3 is an excellent choice,if you don’t mind Robar having your gun for months.

    Bluing is beautiful, but carrying a blued gun in the South means it’s going to rust.

    Glock’s Nitriding isn’t very durable either.

    Nope, it’s stainless for me—and as shiny as I can make it.

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