Issue 19 How to Cerakote — Like Building a Model Airplane, But it Lasts a Lot Longer Peter Palma Join the Conversation The firearms industry currently produces an overwhelming amount of products to customize your firearms, and while some companies offer finishes in limited colors, most follow Henry Ford's rule of “You can have any color you want so long as it's black.” Historically, there has been no simple and cheap way for small shops or individual shooters (who are usually limited in resources) to apply a finish to their firearms and accessories that rivals the colors and quality available from the manufacturers. Here's how to Cerakote your own firearms. Warning! When handling firearms, always observe safety rules and the precautions set forth in the firearm's owner's guide. Be certain that your firearm is unloaded and made safe before proceeding with this DIY. Cerakote is a ceramic-based coating that is available in hundreds of colors, is moderately flexible, offers wear protection and chemical resistance, and has a corrosion resistance similar to those clay pots you see dug up on The History Channel from ancient civilizations. Cerakote can be used to provide a professional coat to a modified part, as a basecoat for a rattle-can camouflage job that can be removed at will, solely as a protector from corrosion, or to simply change the color of your firearm's parts. Check RECOIL Issue 13 for an in-depth comparison on how it stacks up against other finishes. The makers claim that it's easy to apply, but we'll let you decide that after you read this article. That being said, anyone who has the patience and the mechanical ability to assemble a model airplane should be able to apply a professional-level finish of Cerakote. How To Cerakote: Preparation Before starting, you'll need some basic materials that are available at your friendly local hardware store and a discount retailer like Harbor Freight. These include masking tape, metal coat hangers, floral wire, acetone, a blasting cabinet, aluminum oxide, an air compressor, paint gun, oven, and of course Cerakote. If this seems like a lot of equipment, consider it an investment, because once all of your friends find out you're Cerakoting you'll have plenty to do. We also solicited some help from our buddy Tom Evans, who has been Cerakoting for some time and works in a paint yard on an industrial plant. He's required to follow much more rigorous coating application procedures than we show here. He lent us his expertise, as well as his photography skills. Step 1: Disassembly The first thing you need to do is disassemble your firearm completely, because you'll ultimately be heating it up in an oven. Any polymer parts or springs can be damaged, so they should be removed. You then have to decide how many of the small parts you're going to coat. It can be far more time consuming to prep and coat a ton of small parts, but having corrosion resistance and matching aesthetics may be worth it to the individual — it's your call. Since Cerakote is a coating and adds thickness, it should not be applied to parts with very tight tolerances, such as the inside of AR takedown pins or the slides of match pistols. If it's tight to start with, you should avoid coating it. Step 2: Degreasing Now that you've selected the parts you wish to coat, it's time to start prepping them. Any lubricant or fouling should be removed with acetone, though brake cleaner is a quick, cheap, and easy substitute. Any remaining lubrication will negatively affect the coating's ability to adhere to your metal part, so be thorough. Step 3: Blasting Now that we have the parts cleaned, they need to be blasted so that the part has what is called a “blasting profile.” A light blasting profile will leave the factory finish mostly intact, so that when the Cerakote wears there will still be some level of protection. However, the deeper the blasting profile, the stronger the bond between the part and the Cerakote. The amount of blasting needed will depend on the part's function and your personal preference. Two items that aren't strictly necessary, but are strongly recommended are an in-line water/oil separator (to reduce moisture going on the parts) and a large air compressor, because the blasting process uses copious amounts of air. For those looking to save some money, the aluminum oxide in your blasting cabinet can be substituted with play sand, but it doesn't last as long and is a bit messier. Always, but always, wear a respirator when blasting, as media can lead to long-term havoc with your lungs. Steel parts that are not treated with a ferritic nitrocarburizing process (e.g. Melonite or Tenifer) should be taken down to bare metal, and if money is no object, you can send them out to be surface treated so that when the Cerakote wears off the parts will still be protected. This author's favorite nitriding company is H&M Metal Processing (now Black Nitride +), but there are other options, as well. After the blasting process, clean the parts again with acetone or brake cleaner to remove any remaining blasting media, oils, or debris. Step 4: Hang Your Parts Suspend the large parts with coat hangers, or copper wire if you're concerned about damaging the part, so they can later hang in the oven. Set up your hanging wire so the part can be coated completely. Floral wire is ideal, because it can easily wrap around small parts or be creatively bent to form hooks or loops. We suggest attaching multiple small parts to each strand of wire for ease of hanging and painting. Note that you'll be spraying the parts with compressed air while coating, so if you make a wide loop the part will move around during this process. This problem can usually be resolved by tightening the wire so that the part is secure — however this will leave behind a “tan line.” With some forethought and attention to detail, this can be minimized by trying to secure parts with two points of contact. Step 5: Pre-Warm Hang your components in the oven you intend to use at 300 degrees. This serves two purposes. First of all, we need to pre-heat the metal parts to burn up and purge any residual oils and to give the coating a warm surface to initially bond to. The second reason is to require you to carefully plan out how you're going to place and remove parts from the oven once they're coated. Step 6: Coating We're now ready to paint. But before we start going full steam ahead, let's go over some simple tricks to make our life easier. We suggest purchasing the Cerakote refill kits and a bunch of disposable plastic 50-mililiter centrifuge tubes for mixing paint and hardener. These are available at low prices online. Refer to the manual for the ratio of hardener to achieve your desired finish — e.g. matte, satin, or semi-gloss. Note that the less hardener used, the less resistant to wear the coated part will be. Thoroughly mix the two components. Like a good martini, they should be shaken, not stirred. Set your paint gun and air compressor to the desired settings. Pour your mixed coating into the sprayer, and test the spray pattern. Once the hardener is mixed in, you only have two hours of working time, so make sure you set yourself up for success and prep as much as possible. The limitation will be the size of your oven. Spray small, hard-to-reach areas of the parts first, and work your way to the easier areas. As you spray the multitudinous crevices, you'll inevitably get some overspray on the easy-to-reach areas. Start with a very thin coat and slowly work your way thicker. You can always make another pass, but removing excess Cerakote is a royal pain in the ass — you'll need to strip the part down and start over. Begin with a light coat and work your way up to a monolithic, even coat. We said that twice for a reason. It's always a good idea to have some extra parts you'd like to coat on hand at this time. If you mix too much product, you'll end up throwing it out because once mixed it's only usable for a finite amount of time — and this stuff isn't cheap. We usually end up with leftover product because it's sometimes difficult to judge how much coverage a part will need. It varies with size, shape, and intended use. Moreover, you don't want to run out of mixed Cerakote in your paint sprayer, because not only is it a pain to mix more, mid-spray (ask us how we know this), but you may not exactly match the hardener ratio, resulting in an uneven finish. Step 7: Curing It's now time to place the parts in the oven. Refer to the manual for the required temperature, depending on material and desired cure time. It's safer to have the oven turned off when placing your parts, so the worst thing that can happen is you smudge the finish and turn the air blue. If you're brave, you can pre-heat parts at the same time you're spraying; thus shortening your critical path and making the most efficient use of your two-hour working time. Just remember the inside of your oven and every part of your gun will be 300 degrees, so it'll be like playing a high-stakes, life-size game of Operation. Allow your parts to cool before handling. You'll only make this mistake once. Hopefully you put the small parts you didn't paint in carefully labeled bags so that you know where all those springs and roll pins go when you reassemble your firearm. Promptly clean out your equipment after painting, so that the Cerakote doesn't start to gum up in your paint sprayer, thus ruining your next Cerakote day. Now that you know what you're getting into, you can decide if this is something you want to tackle on your weekend or just pay someone to do for you. Don't start out on your favorite and most expensive gun. You may want to start out on some of your older guns with no intrinsic value, or just use some old car parts to refine your skills. Like anything else you'll improve over time. For example, the parts of our firearm that our pro sprayed looked a lot better than some of the parts we sprayed. It was a bit of a learning curve, but we've definitely tackled some more difficult things — such as putting together a model P-47 Thunderbolt. This article and more can be found in DIY Guns: RECOIL Magazine's Guide to Homebuilt Suppressors, 80% Lowers, and More. More DIY Articles on RECOIL DIY Home Security Systems. 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