When choosing a handgun for police duty an overlooked component is the weapon’s finish. While great improvements have been made in recent years, handgun finishes still deserve attention in selection.
When I first began my police career, most handguns were blue finished. A few officers had nickel or chrome plated weapons.
Blue is basically a form of controlled rust. Heat and chemicals are used to oxidize bare gun metal and form a black or blue finish. Traditional blue is not durable enough for modern police weapons for several reasons. Today’s officers are not usually as ‘gunny’ as officers of the past, although they may seem better trained. They are not likely to wipe the weapon down with oil everyday or even every week. Increased training makes greater demands on weapons in the 90’s. To achieve our full potential with modern duty weapons, we must practice presentations from the holster. Drawing, dryfiring and handling produce wear on the best weapons. Modern duty holsters are the best we have ever fielded. Most are perfectly molded to the weapon they are designed to fit. The best examples are still hand boned to the weapon, resulting in superior retention and brilliantly fast presentations in trained hands. Some weapons wear more quickly from such a holster.
Officers carrying weapons off duty or on special assignment often carry these weapons close to the body. They may even be carried without a holster, Mexican style, in the waistband under a pulled out T shirt. We recommend always wearing a holster, but even so the weapon may be exposed to natural body acids. Temperature, humidity, and skin acids are hard on gun metal. Many old-timers have turned the body side of their snubnose .38’s or Colt Commander .45’s brown in such carry. I have ruined one .45 auto. The corrosion even attacked the inner workings of the weapon.
There have been several finishes introduced to combat the effects of corrosion and wear. A criticism of the blue weapons has also been reflectivity, and a number of finishes are non reflective.
Manganese phosphate-parkerizing is an answer that is applied to military weapons. It is reasonably effective but not as durable as we might wish. Nickel finish results in surface buildup and is subject to chipping and peeling. It shows wear fairly quickly in high points and is subject to abrasion and scratching.
Stainless steel is one answer. However, stainless is far from perfect. The finish of stainless guns is often unattractive and uneven. Stainless will show scratches fairly easily. And, as many of my fellow officers will attest, stainless is corrosion resistant but will corrode and pit. Stainless weapons often seem less smooth than their carbon steel siblings, although this is less of a problem than in the past. A number of high quality weapons are not available in stainless steel. One of the better finishes available on factory weapons is Glock’s Tennifer finish. Extremely durable and proven in hard use, this dark finish has never shown corrosion in my experience. Beware of the aftermarket steel sights often fitted to Glocks. They will corrode and spread rust to the Glock slide.
An answer in the minds of some manufactures is the matte finish, usually appearing more black than blue. Matte is even less durable than polished blue finishes. Matte is just that matte, and roughly finished. It actually results in MORE wear than a standard blue finish.
One of the best finishes as far as durability is hard chrome. Hard chrome is durable to the extreme. We have one hard chrome weapon that has seen years of hard use and countless presentations from the holster. Although it is on it’s third pair of grip panels and has worn out at least three magazines it still appears as new when clean. Hard chrome is an excellent option. The only legitimate criticism of hard chrome is reflectivity.
Another option is a special finish offered by the Robar company. Known as NP 3, this finish has proven durable in our single example. A mixture of electroless nickel and Teflon, NP 3 has a subdued gray appearance. We have had a great deal of experience with NP 3 coated service cartridges and they have proven smooth in loading and function. NP 3 has adhered to these cases in many resizing’s in cartridge loading dies, so we could have state it is durable. At this time, with a few months of use, our single NP 3 weapon seems to be corrosion resistant and remarkably easy to clean.
Some years ago a remarkable product called Teflon was introduced to the American consumer. Originally developed to coat cookware, Teflon technology has been applied to handguns as well. One of the better examples of a Teflon derivative is Bear Coat. This finish may be applied to any weapon, including stainless steel pistols. Blackening stainless pistols is popular. This process has been performed by the factory on several models, including the SIG P 229 and Beretta 92 FS. The Bear Coat still seems to be the superior finish. Abrasion, pitting and marring are eliminated. The Teflon based Bear Coat is self lubricating.
My duty weapons are Colt 1911’s. 1911’s like lubrication and should be cleaned and oiled weekly for best reliability. Lubrication will simply run off the Bear Coat finish and ruin holsters. The weapon is perfectly reliable without lubrication as shown by range work. The trigger is a bit smoother than it was from the factory. Bear Coat takes time to polish rough edges and burrs before refinishing. All surfaces show a smooth, even application, including internal surfaces. The trigger action is a bit smoother also this is the finish Les Baer uses on his special FBI H.R.T. pistols!
Our backup revolver is the best of the breed, a Smith and Wesson Centennial we were loath to part with, even briefly. The finish had deteriated to the point we were in danger of damaging this irreplaceable revolver. After years of ankle carry, the Centennial has grown it’s share of light rust.
The Centennial returned with an attractive two tone finish. The frame and barrel are gray, the cylinder latch, and side plate screws are black. The weapon now had a decided high tech look. We tested the weapon Bear Coat finish by immersion in rainwater and placing the weapon in mud overnight. After such tests, we can detect no signs of wear or corrosion.
Blue finishes are sometimes worn by firing the weapon. One of my early issue .357 Magnum revolvers lost all of its blue around the leading edge of the cylinder while firing the first box of 125 grain .357 Magnum ammunition. While most blued guns do not lose their finish so quickly, all would show wear around the muzzle if used very much.
Our Bear Coat .45 has digested well over 1,000 rounds without any signs of wear. The .38 snubnose has fired about 150 rounds, including 50 +p+ loads without any signs of wear. Both weapons are very easy to clean. Burnt powder does not seem to adhere to Teflon based coats very well.
The finishes we have tested have proven durable in constant use. They are a credible option for our most important survival tool.