Normal Wear

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How many times have you gone to the local gun shop and seen an old gun that looks like it’s been through hell – bluing worn off, where it had obviously been used as a carry gun.  Then you look at a new gun that is pristine, bluing all shiny, when you notice a small mark, like the finish didn’t quite take. According to some people that I talk to, that little blemish in the finish is worth arguing with the salesman for a discount on the price. But the blemish is on the slide or the barrel in a location that is normally where metal to metal contact is made.

Yes, there are people that inspect a new gun to the point of exhaustion to find an imperfection in the metal finish, then raise hell about it. I have refinished hundreds of guns and have seen how the factory does finishes. I can tell you several things about finishes. The biggest thing about finishes is that there is no such thing as a perfect finish.

Let’s look at the finishing processes and what it takes to put a finish on a gun.  Maybe that will give us a little more information about why imperfections occur.  We start with a few simple facts. Most finishes are either blued finishes, or a form of metal paint. There are several variations, so we will deal with the most common.

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Bluing is a controlled form of rust. You basically use chemicals and heat to treat the steel and darken the outside layers of the steel. There is cold bluing which is usually done as a refinishing and there is hot bluing which is the normal factory blued finish. Hot bluing is a long and tedious process requiring large equipment and a lot of time.  Factories have a very large set up to do bluing and tend to do several guns at one time. The guns are dipped in a cleaner at high temperature, then cleaned off and put in the bluing tank for a short period of time, then cleaned again and lubricated,  This process some times needs to be repeated in order to get the finish right. If, for some reason, the metal does not want to take the bluing, or oil or dirt gets in the process, it possibly could have a blemish. In most situations when this occurs the process would have to be repeated. There are some times when blemishes occur due to the metal and has no solution.

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Duracoat and Ceracoat are paint-on finishes, which are not that complicated, The process involves bead blasting (a type of sand blasting), followed by de-greasing the gun entirely and thoroughly. Then you hang it (a few more prep steps involved but this is the jist of it) and spray it with the paint of choice.  After painting, you need to let it sit to cure.  Usually several coats are needed to achieve the correct finish.  If you missed a spot while de-greasing or a piece of dust or dirt got on the metal, it can cause a blemish. To fix that you have to start all over and bead blast it down to nothing and do the whole thing again.

Now to the real purpose of this post:  gun wear. These finishes today do bind with the metal at a molecular level, however they are subject to wear.  Why are they subject to wear?  The material used to paint is a solid material once it cures, however just like metal, the more you rub metal against metal or leather, the more you take small amounts of material away. Over time this becomes more and more accentuated.  Every firearm has places where contact is made with other metal parts, plus heat from shooting it. All of these factors will effect the finish directly. When it comes to blued parts, as you wear the steel away you are wearing away the layers of the finish that has embedded itself in the metal. This is a continuing process and will go on as long as the gun exists unless you let it sit in the safe and don’t use it.

Most people don’t know this but in a factory-produced firearm, the finish is done quickly but correctly. However due to the fact that it must go from one location to another during the process, things can happen that will not be visible till the end of the process.  After finishing and assembly, all firearms are shot to verify that they work correctly.  That means there is going to be a degree of wear on the finish from the beginning,  When you get the firearm, it has usually been handled and operated a lot by customers and shop employees; there is going to be some wear from that as well. This wear is something that can not be fixed or altered.

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When it comes to finishes on firearms, you are going to find a degree of wear on the finish be it a new or a used gun. If it is a blued gun, it can be cleaned up and touched up using cold bluing or completely refinished. If it is a painted gun, the solution to finish problems is to refinish the entire firearm. There is no solution for touch up that will match the original finish of the gun.

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2 thoughts on “Normal Wear

  1. There are three other types of finishing commonly used on firearms even tougher than those you mentioned but even more difficult to repair. carbonitriding and nitrocarburizing are processes that effectively case harden the surface of the part leaving a black finish. Glock slides with there proprietary Tenifer finish are a good example of this type of finish. This finish finish has the advantage of extreme hardness but any damage can not be repaired because running the part back through the process runs the risk of making thinner cross sections brittle. The next is metallic plating such as chrome or nickel. These are old processes that are finding uses all over the industry especially with the expanded use of black nickel teflon coatings that have the ability to provide a self lubricating surface. Although it is posable to strip and replate parts there is a risk of hydrogen enbrittlement. The third type of finish is a physical vapor deposition coating or PVD often sold as DLC diamond like coating. This finish is deposited by vaporizing the material to be deposited and allowing it to bond to the intended surfaces in a sealed chamber. It can be hard to tell this finish apart from some of the better painted on finishes but it is molecularly bonded to the surface material making it much more durable but again nearly imposable to repair. Because these finishes require extraordinarily expensive equipment to perform and work best and are most cost effective when used in large batches. It will be interesting to see how gunsmiths deal with repairs and modifications of parts that have these exotic finishes. The plus side is that when properly applied these finishes could protect a firearm from deteriorating for centuries under conditions that would destroy traditionally finished firearms in days. There is every chance that a rifle or pistol recovered from the bottom of the ocean after a century may function as well as the day it went in.
    Thanks for the article, there are a lot of times that I wish that I could write some of my own but work precludes open discussion of a lot of the information that I learn.
    -Luke Howlett

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    • Thanks for the comment Luke, those finishes are a little more complicated. I don’t see too many people investing in higher end finishes which is why I stuck to the ones I talked about. This blog is here to educate people as much as I can so your comments are always welcome

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