Whenever the topic of gun coatings comes around, there are at least as many opinions as there are AR-15 brands (maybe more).
“Blued is best.”
“Cerakote is superior to everything, kind of like CrossFit.”
“If anodized is good enough for the troops, it’s good enough for me.”
Just like there is no perfect gun, there is no perfect gun finish. There are finishes that work exceptionally well for certain applications while performing poorly in others. Lead & Steel are major proponents of anodized finishes and will employ the process on our forthcoming firearms (stay tuned!). Let’s find out why.
What Is Anodizing?
Anodizing is a process that is applied to metal surfaces. It is perfectly suited for aluminum and is not for use on steel. It is an electromechanical process that converts the surface to an anodic oxide finish.
The beauty of anodizing is that it can be done in a broad range of colors. So what makes it better for aluminum than its competitors?
Anodizing is not a coating that is applied to the surface. It is not a painting that’s applied and baked, nor is it a cold chemical process that coats the surface. Once the component is anodized, the coating becomes wholly integrated with the aluminum substrate. Anodized surfaces cannot chip or peel because the surface is metal.
The aluminum components (stripped upper receivers, lower receivers, magazine release buttons, buffer tubes, etc.) are dunked into an acid electrolyte bath. The electrochemical process occurs when the acidic bath is then energized with an electrical current.
The aluminum component acts as an anode (the positive side where charge moves into), adding a cathode to the tank to complete the electrochemical process. In essence, anodizing the part is a form of highly-controlled oxidation. The result is an extremely hard, durable, and corrosion-resistant finish, ideally suited for firearms.
Anodizing has been used in manufacturing for many decades and was the first widely adopted aluminum surface protection. Over the course of many decades, the process has been continually improved to where the color options are close to that available by paint, especially metallic colors (blue, red, green, orange, etc).
Finally, anodized coatings are a safe process that won’t harm humans, unlike cold bluing which is the most disgusting substance known to mankind.
What Is Cerakote?
Cerakote has made major inroads in the shooting community, and if you really like FDE or camouflage, it’s probably the right coating for you (author’s note: if you want camo, be a real man and rattlecan it).
Cerakote is a finish that is basically painted on and then baked using an industrial oven.
The material is a ceramic polymer that is widely adaptable to all sorts of surfaces, and since it is in essence paint, it is produced in any color you want.
The benefit of Cerakote is that it is adaptable to all kinds of materials and is extremely durable once the heat treatment process is complete. Of course, the problem with paints is that paint chips. Even though paint, at some point, chips. If the rifle is dropped, the finish can be damaged without too much effort. Touch-ups are not a possibility with Cerakote, at least not from the end user, so the weapon would have to be submitted to a trained Cerakote shop to repair.
Like anodization, Cerakote is a professionally applied finish; it is not a DIY process. If you want to DIY it, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Another problem with paint-on options is that they are subject to overspray and paint runs. Even the most careful technician can overspray, under spray, or leave runs on your parts. Also, there is the risk (however remote) of Cerakote being broken down by harsh chemicals. It is still painted, after all.
What Are the Benefits of an Anodized Firearm?
Since an anodized finish becomes a permanent part of the metal, it is extremely durable almost to the point of being impervious to scrapes and abrasions that will ruin other finishes. Due to the electrochemical nature of the process, the coating is not actually a coating, so it is also impervious to the harsh chemicals used to clean firearms, along with the filth and grime that comes with the territory.
In fact, the possible downside to having an anodized finish is that the color of the finish can be slightly different than other parts. This is caused by slight variations in the metal itself; recall that anodizing is an electromechanical process that alters the overall chemistry of the metal. Since aluminum comes from all over the world, batches will always have slightly different chemistry even when the material specificity is identical.
If that’s the worst side effect of the sturdiest finish on the market, we’ll take that W.
Why Lead & Steel Chose An Anodized Finish
We love shooting at Lead & Steel, and we throw a lot of lead downrange. We know the rigors of the range or the field.
We also know that buying a gun is an investment. You expect your firearm to give you many years of service. The surface finish is the first line of defense against corrosion, the mortal enemy of firearm longevity.
When we looked for a finish for our products, we wanted the best that money could buy. We didn’t want pretty good; we wanted the finish that your rifle will be wearing for years. One that looks showroom ready after the 10,000th round goes downrange.
What Are the Color Options for Anodization?
The palate for anodization does have some limitations, but you can find a lot of options if you look for them. Blues, reds, greens, oranges, and yellows are all fairly common, and black is the standard bearer.
The main advantage of anodization is the inherent durability of the finished product rather than the widespread availability of colors. But again, there are still a good number of color options if you want a colorful rig.
Wrapping It All Up
The decision to go with anodizing or Cerakote can be a tough one sometimes. They both have advantages, and they are both durable finishes. However, one is a coating (Cerakote), while the other changes the chemical properties of the metal itself. Because of this, you cannot match the durability of an anodized finish. This is important since, if you scratch or ding a Cerakote surface, you have to ship it to a professional for repair if you want it fixed. We’d rather just finish it with the strongest finish in the first place.
Make sure to keep your eyes open for our upcoming products and product reviews, along with new releases!