Refinishing guns with DuraCoat

SiersBy John Siers
FFL and AGI Certified Gunsmith

Time was when a customer wanted a gun “refinished” a gunsmith had only a few choices – blue or parkerize for the metal, and if the stock needed some work it was time for sanding, steaming, and maybe some Tru-Oil.

Nowadays, there are still a lot of black guns out there, but many of them are not parkerized, and blued finishes are getting harder to find. More often than not, you have to turn to the “Used Guns” section of your local gun shop to find one with wood furniture, and in case you haven’t noticed, guns are now appearing on the market in some pretty strange colors.

So… how do you deal with that? In many cases, the simplest solution is a product like Lauer’s DuraCoat. This is not to be confused with Cerakote, a heat-cured product that produces a very durable finish but requires extreme measures for surface preparation and special equipment such as a curing oven large enough to handle rifle barrels, stocks and such suspended on a rack.

DuraCoat is a chemically-cured finish – requires mixing of the color component and a hardener – that is much more durable than ordinary paint and will adhere to any properly-prepared surface. About the only thing complicated about the process is the mixing. Lauer recommends a 12-to-1 mix of color to hardener. Too much hardener will result in a glossy finish rather than flat, while too little hardener will result in a less durable finish.

duracoat1You can buy DuraCoat pre-mixed in an aerosol spray can, but I don’t much care for that. If you ever worked with any kind of spray paint, you know how hard it is to control the paint application and apply evenly without runs or drips. To my way of thinking, an air brush is the only way to go with this… so bite the bullet, open up the wallet, and get a good one, such as the Paasche “Master” air brush shown here. This is a “two-stage” brush, meaning that you push down on the button to start the air flowing, then move the button to the rear or back to the front to regulate the flow of paint. It takes a little practice to get used to this, so plan on doing a lot of spraying on paper before you start on your customer’s Kimber 1911.

duracoat2While you are at it, consider your source of air for the brush. That monster air compressor in your shop will certainly do the job… IF you can regulate it down to somewhere around 25-30 PSI. For myself, I ended up biting yet another bullet and buying a little compressor specifically designed for air brush work. It’s small enough and light enough that I can tuck it away in a cabinet when I’m not using it, and it runs very quietly. The last thing I want when doing delicate spray work is to have a big compressor kick in with an 85db racket to bring the tank back up to pressure.

While we’re on the subject of “delicate work” let me say you don’t really need to be an artist for this. Yes, I’ve seen some really creative stuff done by airbrush artists, and I wish I could do it; but much of the work you’ll do on guns just involves getting the right parts evenly coated with the right color. I’ve tried my hand at freehand “camo” and some of those projects have come out pretty well (at least, I thought so and the customers agreed); but it’s mainly a matter of a little practice with the air brush to figure out what you can and can’t do.

duracoat3Actual results? Well… here’s an example of what you can do with one of those cheap “pocket pistols” that have been discussed in a recent article here. This involved spraying the frame and slide in the ever-popular Flat Dark Earth, then applying free hand black “tiger stripes” to the slide. You can probably double the value of a gun like this with a little creative air brush work – especially if the finish on the gun is a little beat up to begin with.

In this particular case, I only applied the DuraCoat to the metal parts of the gun. DuraCoat sticks very well to degreased, not-too-shiny metal. If you are dealing with a chromed or hardened nickel-plated surface it probably won’t work too well, but for most other metal surfaces a little steel wool or fine sandpaper will probably rough them up enough to provide good adhesion. Parkerized or flat-coated surfaces are no problem at all. In any case, test it on the metal before you go for an all-out coating job. It’s easy to polish off a little bit, but removing a botched DuraCoat job from the whole gun could be a real pain.

I should mention that there is one other Lauer DuraCoat product you’ll need – Reducer. Use this (very sparingly) to thin the mixture for better airbrush application. I also use DuraCoat Reducer as the solvent of choice for clean up, making sure I thoroughly clean my air brush (by spraying clean, pure Reducer through it) before putting it away. I’ve already lost one airbrush because I failed to do that, and the darn things are too expensive to make that mistake again.

duracoat4Earlier, I mentioned the stock and/or furniture of a gun. While I am not about to try DuraCoat on a wooden stock, any of the modern polymer furniture is a canvas just waiting for your artistic touch. Here’s an example of a job I did for a customer on a Remington 770 – he wanted the whole rifle (including the scope) done in “Coyote” tan, with black “tiger stripes” on the barrel. Hey… this was not my idea – and the customer is always right (or so we’d like him to believe). In any case, it actually came out looking better than I expected.

Note that I did mask off the front and rear bells of the scope of the 770, to be sure I didn’t get DuraCoat on the optics themselves.

Note also that I didn’t do the recoil pad. One of my earliest projects was a freehand camo job on a Charter Arms AR-7 “Explorer” rifle, and I learned the hard way that DuraCoat doesn’t play well with flexible surfaces. As you can see in the picture here, I applied it to the butt cap of the AR-7, and it looked fine at first; but it began to flake off immediately as the butt pad was taken off and put back on repeatedly to stow and retrieve the action and barrel.

duracoat5On the rest of the rifle – metal receiver and barrel and polymer stock – the finish has proven very durable. Just don’t use it on anything subject to flexing and bending.

OK – so you’re not a big fan of pink, purple or green guns, don’t care much for Flat Dark Earth or Coyote Tan, and aren’t about to attempt any freehand camo. There is still one area where DuraCoat can help you, and that is with today’s ever-popular “black” guns. It provides the best quick, durable touch-up I can think of for nicks, scratches and just plain wear on today’s black rifles and pistols.

The picture below shows how I’ve used that to advantage – a couple of beat-up Lorcin slides and frames, and the slide from a Taurus TCP – all of which got a nice facelift in one session with the airbrush.

I was a bit wary of DuraCoat when I first saw it – wasn’t sure about its durability, or how much hassle it might be to use; but I’ve since become a fan. Now, I use it a lot and it has become my “Go To” refinishing method for “modern sporting rifles” as well as the latest generation of semiauto pistols.


7 Responses to Refinishing guns with DuraCoat

  1. I have used DuraCoat on several firearms. As noted above, preparation is everything. Also, do not have any silicon based materials in the painting area. Just the dust in the air will ruin a coating. I was disappointed in the durability of the coating until I figured out that it requires as long as a year for the coating to fully toughen. It is usable with a week or so, but will scratch easily until it has cured for several months.

  2. If one is going to “bite the bullet” then I suggest just doing Cerakote from the beginning. It’s about the same amount of labor and nothing comes even close to the finished product in looks and durability. Do follow the manufacture’s instructions perfectly, though.

  3. This is actually a re-run of an article I posted some time ago. For an update, I’ve also recently tried another Lauer product – DuraBlue. This comes in the same form as other DuraCoat products and is mixed and applied the same way, but the result is a much glossier finish that looks just like blued metal. Now, I still do bluing, but there is one area for which DuraBlue is the perfect solution — the receiver of a post-1964 Winchester 94. Hey, everybody knows you can’t blue that thing (due to whatever alloy / process Winchester used originally), But DuraBlue does the job.

  4. Oh…yes, and P.S. James is absolutely right about one thing — DuraCoat (and DuraBlue) take time to cure. I like to allow two weeks for the finish to cure before I even want to touch the gun… and even after that, the longer it cures, the better.

  5. I have used Duracoat for a number of years, including one rifle that has been shown here. I did duracoat a wood stock and fire grip on a shotgun build. In part due to having two dissimilar wood types as well as to make something different.

    It has been a couple years and though having low use, appears to be very durable.

  6. Cerakote is great in terms of durability, and is ready to go when finished — because it’s baked. As far as “biting the bullet” in my case (doing it frequently for customers), the big problem is the ovens. Yes, you could do one or two handguns in your kitchen oven, but mama would get upset if I was doing that regularly, and it’s too small for long guns anyway.
    Just a note: people think Cerakote is a super-tough ceramic finish. It’s not. It’s a polymer-resin product just like Duracoat. It’s the baking process the cures it faster and gives it durability from the time it’s done. You CAN bake Duracoat and get similar results (in fact, Lauer has another product they refer to as “Durabake” that is intended to be baked). But Duracoat will cure over time and become just as hard.

  7. Duracoat’s slow hardening can be sped up with an oven cure, about 30 minutes at 110 F will be the same as waiting 24 hours to assemble the gun. Still takes 3-4 weeks to fully cure.

    Also, Duracoat can be good in that you have about a week where you can continue to add layers, like in camo effects, and the entire job will bond to itself. Makes it easier to get artistic with Duracoat than products like Cerakote.

    A spray booth is essential for these, with exhaust running to keep over spray and fumes from getting into your lungs. Wear protective gear. The booth also helps keep airborne dust particles off of the surface.