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Metal Armor

Metal Armor

By John Haviland

Teenagers, with their indifferent attitudes, are notoriously hard on gear. Add slogging through rain and knocks along the trail while hunting, and a gun in a teenager’s hands can quickly look used and abused. However, after the two years my teenage son has been carrying a .223 Rem. made by Sisk Rifles, it still looks good as new. He’s crawled through the dirt after ground squirrels and prairie dogs, and waded through deep snow hunting coyotes with the gun. Through it all, the rifle has maintained its good looks because the gun’s metal coating has deflected the water, mud and scratches of hunting.

In addition to keeping a rifle looking new, today’s metal coatings reduce the elbow grease required to clean a gun and reduce wear on its moving parts. One coating is even applied to the barrel bore to protect against erosion and bullet wear. These coatings aren’t just sprayed on and cured in a kitchen oven, however. They require proper preparation of the gunmetal and curing.

Doug Burche of Fit 4 Duty Inc. says there are over 1,500 formulas in the ceramic coating industry for protecting metals against corrosion, wear and heat. Burche selected Cerakote as the best one for protecting firearms. Cerakote contains 40 percent solid ceramic and leaves a cured layer only half a mil thick (.0005 of an inch). Depending on the formula, Cerakote is cured with heat or simply allowed to dry.

“It’s impervious to chemicals, salts, blood, rain — you name it,” Burche says.

About four times harder than a Teflon finish, Cerakote is very abrasion resistant. Burche says it has the highest rating for abrasion resistance on the Pencil Scratch Test scale and actually is somewhat harder than the scale can measure.

Metal ArmorMy son’s well-used .223 is protected with Cerakote. Though several thousand rounds have been fired through the rifle, Cerakote still covers the metal on the muzzle.

Only for the sake of science did I conduct the following experiment. I ran some water in the kitchen sink and then added salt until no more salt would dissolve. I soaked a dishcloth in the water and then wrapped it around the Cerakote-coated barrel of my son’s rifle. The salt-soaked cloth remained around the barrel for a full day. I fretted the whole time. But when I removed the cloth from around the barrel, there was absolutely no corrosion. If Cerakote can protect metal from a salt soaking like that, anything in the hunting field should be a piece of cake.

Cerakote is self-lubricating. That allows using no oil or a minimal amount on a firearm’s moving parts. That’s one less thing to attract dust to gum up a gun’s operation. The finish is also available in a variety of colors, as well as clear. The clear coat works well on guns with blued metal and also on wood, brass and aluminum, Burche says.

To protect the smallest and tightest-fitting parts like trigger assemblies, Fit 4 Duty applies Micro Slick. It leaves a coat only 25 microns, or 25 millionths of a meter, thick. Burche has also found that Micro Slick works well in rifle bores. “The coat is thin enough that it doesn’t change bore dimensions,” he says. “Plus it reduces throat erosion to practically nil and completely stops copper fouling.”

Metal ArmorBurche says the U.S. military recently tested Micro Slick in the bore of a .30-caliber machine gun. After firing 2,000 rounds successively, the bore showed no appreciable wear. “What’s real nice is when you’re done shooting, just pushing a dry patch through a Micro Slick coated bore removes 90 percent of the powder fouling.”

Mike Boglarsky of M&R Arms Specialties in Mt. Clemens, Mich., says your gun will never rust after he coats it with Diamondkote. Boglarsky has applied Diamondkote to nearly every model of rifle, shotgun and handgun available, and guarantees the finish will never blister or flake.

“I’ve had guys take those guns up to Canada hunting in the rain and snow and use them in duck blinds all day. At the end of the hunt, they might wipe their guns down or just stand them in the corner to dry. It doesn’t make any difference because they will not rust.”

Proper metal preparation is essential to correctly apply Diamondkote and most other coatings. If it’s not done correctly, it’ll peel right off. To prepare a gun for coating requires completely disassembling it, degreasing each part and stripping down the parts to the white of the metal with aluminum oxide in a blast cabinet.

A phosphate base coat is then applied to the bare metal. The Diamondkote poly resin is sprayed over that and heat cured. That leaves a finish .0005 of an inch thick that will not blister or flake.

“There are no chemicals that affect Diamondkote,” Boglarsky says, “and no other finish or anything else will stick to it.” That means dirt and powder fouling wipe off easily. Diamondkote contains a Teflon base, so it’s self-lubricating, and guns need little, if any, oil. “I tell guys just a drop, one drop, of oil is all they need on the slide of their pistols,” Boglarsky says.

One of Diamondkote’s best features is it quickly dissipates heat. Boglarsky once shot a .308 Winchester until the barrel was cooking hot. He walked down to look at his targets at 100 yards and then walked back. “By the time I got back, the barrel was completely cool.”

Metal ArmorThe demand for protective coatings on hunting guns has been growing for years. It’s only natural that a major firearm manufacturer would spot the trend and offer its own version. Remington has done that with its Model 700 Xtreme Conditions Rifle coated with Remington’s TriNyte Corrosion Control System.

Remington starts with a stainless steel barreled action and treats it with a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) coating of zirconium nitride. PVD is done in a vacuum where the coating material is converted from a solid to a vapor and back to a solid, gradually building a film on the metal surface. The result, Remington says, is an extremely hard micro-thin coating that resists abrasion and corrosion. The coating is there for good, too. It cannot be stripped or ground off like chrome or polymer coatings.

Mark Graham of Arizona Response Systems finishes firearms with Metacol coatings. He completely disassembles a gun and strips the parts down to bare metal. A Metacol IV finish is a coating of manganese phosphate, known for years as Parkerizing. This coating shields against abrasion and provides additional corrosion resistance because its rough surface holds oil.

The finish also provides lubrication between parts. “I still tell people, though, to put some oil on the moving parts,” Graham says.

Metacol III is more of a process than a product. “Most of the labor in this process is properly preparing the surface,” Graham notes. “If the metal is not stripped and the surface prepared properly, the coating won’t stick.” A phosphate base coat is first applied to metal, a polymer-based coat is added next and then heat cured to chemically bond with the base metal.

The finish can be applied to carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, brass and even some high-temperature plastics. At .0003 to .0007 of an inch thick, the coating is thin to cover a gun’s smallest parts. “The finish is unbelievably tough and will never chip, peel, bubble or crack and is impervious to rust,” Graham states.

Metacol III is available in a variety of colors from satin-black, dark-gray, combinations of greens, browns and tans and camouflage patterns.

Alpha Tech Coatings uses over 5,000 Teflon-based coating formulas to protect metals.

“A lot of gunsmith shops use one generic coating for everything,” says Richard Ankrom of Alpha Tech Coatings. “Not here. You call me and tell me what you need, and I’ll customize a coating formula just for you. I have a formula for wear, for corrosion, for extreme corrosion or about anything else you need to protect your gun.”

Ankrom says all of his formulas leave a coat thin enough that the finish does not interfere with operation of moving parts, like the trigger. Grime and powder fouling don’t stick to Alpha Tech’s coatings.

Subscribe Today!Virgil Tripp has studied corrosion on firearm metal and thinks a polymer coating is the best finish for preventing corrosion. “That’s as long as the coating doesn’t wear off,” he says.

Tripp Research’s polymer coating, Cobra Coat, is a combination of two types of plastic resins. One has high temperature stability, hardness, abrasion resistance and corrosion resistance. The second has a low coefficient of friction, high thermal stability and chemical resistance. Combined, Cobra Coat is chemical resistant, self-lubricating and able to withstand high and low temperatures.

“Cobra Coat is our name for it,” Tripp says. “But three or four chemical companies sell the coatings. Everyone in this industry just buys one of those coatings they think is the best and calls them whatever they want.”

Tripp says hard chrome has a Rockwell C hardness of 70 to 75 and stands up much better to wear than polymers. He believes a hard-chrome plating .0003 to .0005 inch thick is best for metal protection and positive gun function.

The difficult part is applying an even amount over all parts of a gun. “Surface preparation of polishing or bead blasting takes a lot of time,” Tripp says. “If you start with a rough finish, that’s what you’ll end up with.”

Hard chrome is applied with an electroplating process with chrome in a solution around the parts. “Sharp edges tend to take on more chrome, while depressions don’t want to take as much,” Tripp notes. “So you have to rack each part just so and place each anode close enough to each part to end up with an even coat on all of the parts.” Once that hard chrome is on there, though, nothing reduces wear better between parts, he adds.

While hard chrome is great at preventing wear, Tripp rates it as only moderate in corrosion protection. The whole idea behind preventing corrosion is to completely cover the surface so there is no path for corrosive elements to reach the base metal. However, hard chrome has microscopic cracks that, after years of use, allow moisture through.

All of these coatings and processes help protect hunting guns, no matter whether they suffer neglect from teenagers, salt spray from the ocean, scratching against backpack frames or just your sweaty palms anticipating the coming hunting season.

Reprinted from the July 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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