|By: Steve Ostrem
Last time, we got all of the tough machining work on the High Power out of the way. The sights are now installed, the serrations are in the top of the slide, the trigger job is done, and the grips have been selected. All we have left to do is apply some type of finish to the thing and we’re home free. With all the choices available it should be fairly easy to decide which to use, right?
The pistol in question is intended to be used, carried, and not given a great deal of attention. Of course, it still has to look good at the same time, so just any finish won’t do. Let’s go down the list and see what we’ve got:
Bluing: Very attractive and easy to apply if you are set up for hot bluing. With this finish, the gun can be highly polished, bead blasted, or left somewhere in between and will still look good. It is also a traditional finish that goes well with wood and gives a gun a very classic look. The downside is that bluing, while fairly durable, will eventually wear off with constant use or rough handling. A blued gun needs care and maintenance if the bluing is to remain on the metal. A great finish for the majority of guns, and my personal favorite, but not what is needed for this particular piece.
Parkerizing: The great military finish that provides outstanding protection in all but the worst conditions. The original formula using manganese phosphate turns most steels an attractive charcoal gray. The zinc phosphate version, which we also carry, turns steel a much lighter grey; almost a battleship grey. There is also a pre-dip blackener that allows anyone using the zinc formula to turn guns black as well as grey. Aside from its great rust inhibiting qualities, Parkerizing requires only a hot park tank, one or two hot water tanks, and a fiberglass tank for the post-treatment dip. Most people find Parkerizing much easier to do than hot caustic bluing. In short, a great finish for “hard use” guns.
Spray On Finishes: Fast, fun, and easy. The spray-on and bake-on finishes have come a long way and can no longer be considered mere paints. In fact, many factory guns now come with a baked-on finish of some kind. Properly applied, these finishes will hold up very well under tough conditions and are available in a large number of colors. Some need to be baked, such as Gun Kote, Teflon Moly, and Baking Lacquer. We also carry one that can cure with exposure to open air, called Aluma Hyde II. This is a favorite with people who do not want to bake the gun but still want a durable finish. Aluma Hyde II takes about a week to fully cure, and, because it does so at room temperature, it can be used on synthetic stocks or anything else you would not want to put into an oven. Many people use Aluma Hyde II for camouflage purposes and spray it over the metal, stock, optics and all with the weapon fully assembled. One of the Techs here at Brownells coated a ladder for his tree stand with Aluma Hyde II, and, after three years, it still looks good! Like I said, this is not ordinary paint we’re talking about.
Layered Finishes: Probably the toughest finish the average gunsmith can apply in a normal shop setting. This is nothing more than a spray-on finish applied after the weapon has been freshly Parkerized, in effect, giving two layers of protection. In this process, the gun is Parkerized as usual but instead of being dunked in the oil tank to seal the finish, it is coated with one of the spray-on finishes such as Gun Kote, and baked to cure the top layer. The zinc Parkerizing is recommended for the base, as it seems to do the best job of adhering to anything applied on top of it. The Manganese Phosphate formula will also work, but the Zinc seems to hold the paint better in the long run. In all honesty, the average shooter would probably not be able to wear completely through either finish in a lifetime of average use, so I don’t have any problem using whatever “Park” solution happens to be on hand to provide the undercoat. Interestingly enough, the same holds true for the spray finishes we offer. A great looking and extremely durable protective coating can be achieved with Gun Kote, Aluma Hyde II, Teflon Moly, or Brownells Baking Lacquer properly applied over the parked finish. All of these coatings have been tried by the Techs here at Brownells over the years, and all of them have proven to be extremely tough and durable when used in conjunction with Parkerizing. We consider any combination of the two processes to be the ultimate finish that you can put on a firearm at a reasonable cost and without spending thousands of dollars in equipment. If you have a Parkerizing setup and a place to bake the parts, you have everything you need to do this. If you are set up for bluing, you just need to add a stainless tank to your collection and buy the Parkerizing supplies we offer, and you’re in business. Many gunsmiths, who have done bluing for years, are often surprised at how fast and easy it is to Parkerize, and how many guns can be done in a short time. Plus, for military weapons, there is no better finish to make the gun look and feel correct.
Plating: Chrome and nickel plating are great finishes for firearms that are meant to be used a great deal, but government regulations and the difficulties involved in acquiring the proper chemicals make it much less convenient than it used to be. This is one area I leave to the specialty plating companies for the few jobs that come up. With the proliferation of stainless guns, the demand for nickel and chrome plating has gone down steadily over the years. It is also a fairly complicated process requiring attention to detail every step of the way. I must confess to having a natural aversion to bright finishes on my guns, so there is a degree of personal prejudice at work here. Personal feelings aside, I would say that most nickel plating done today is used to restore guns that came from the factory that way. Luckily, there are places that specialize in this for the gunsmith who doesn’t want to invest in the equipment for a couple of jobs a year. For those that already have a plating system in place, however, it’s a great way to completely protect the exterior and interior of a gun. An added benefit is that the internal components of most guns have enough leeway in their tolerances to allow them to be plated and completely protected from corrosion, regardless of the guns exterior finish. In other words, there is no reason a blued gun can’t have nickel or even gold plated internal parts to add a bit of elegant looking protection to the workings. Many fine guns are offered today with plated hammers, sears, and triggers, and it does add a very refined touch to the firearm. No matter how many times I see it, it is always so pleasing to open-up an action and see those gleaming, plated parts shining up at you. So, while plating is not the most popular or easy way to coat gunmetal, it will always have a place in the gun world.
With this bewildering array of options in front of me, choosing the best finish was starting to get a little complicated. I figured the best way to start was to decide what color the finished product needed to be and go from there. Dark but not black was how I wanted the pistol to look. A dark gray would make the serrations on the slide stand out, and, after going to all the trouble of machining them into place, I wanted them to be noticed. Dark gray would also give the gun a military look, which would look good on a High Power and give it a very business-like appearance. I also wanted to have all of the controls and even the sights to be the same basic color, mainly for reasons I don’t completely understand. I just like the way it makes a gun look, particularly a service pistol of this sort. For photographic purposes, a two tone scheme or even contrasting sights and controls would be better, but for this gun, I think simpler is better.
With dark gray as the primary objective, a couple of possibilities come to mind. Brownells Teflon Moly, Baking Lacquer, and Aluma Hyde II are all available in Dark Parkerizing Gray. I think this color looks fantastic on any military gun and would be good on a Browning. The standard Manganese Phosphate Parkerizing solution we sell, which is the same type as used by the military, would also give me that dark, charcoal color. I decided to Parkerize the pistol first, and possibly paint it with the Teflon Moly. However, if the gun came out of the Park tank looking exactly the way I wanted it to look, then I would stop there. Either way, it would wind up with a tough finish that would look great.
With the gun completely disassembled, the parts were thoroughly bead blasted and taken to the Bluing/Parkerizing room. The bluing tank was removed from its stand and the Park tank was substituted. The parts were submerged in the hot cleaning tank with Dicro-Clean 909 (#082-005-008) as the Parkerizing tank came up to temperature. By the time the Parkerizing tank reached 190 degrees, the parts were clean and ready to go. One by one, the parts were rinsed in the cold water tank, and then heated back up in the hot water rinse tank. The hot water tank is not absolutely necessary, but it prevents the cold parts from lowering the temperature of the Park tank and helps to keep things moving along. Then, the warm parts are submerged in the Parkerizing solution. The steel should begin to bubble and fizz almost immediately. This tells you that the solution is working. Most parts will stop fizzing after 5 minutes or so and can be removed. You never want to leave a part in the solution for more that 15 minutes, as excessive etching of the metal can occur. Five minutes is usually plenty and that is all it took in this case. Before the High Power was dipped, the parts for an FN FAL were done and came out looking great. After dipping those parts in the Post Treatment Oil, they were exactly the color I wanted the pistol to be. Painting was beginning to look unnecessary.
Next up was the Browning, and the parts were cleaned and rinsed the same way. The pistol parts went into the Park tank, and 5 minute later I had a beautiful dark gray slide and frame. This was exactly what I wanted to see and the parts were put directly into the oil with no further thoughts of painting them. The small parts turned out the same way. Had I elected to spray a finish on top of the Parkerizing, I simply would have skipped the Post Treatment Oil step and allowed the pieces to dry completely. Then, they could have been sprayed and baked normally according to the instructions on the can.
Normally, I leave freshly refinished parts to sit overnight, but with plain Parkerizing, this is not absolutely necessary, and to be honest I was in a hurry to see what the pistol looked like assembled. A High Power is not a particularly difficult gun to assemble, and about an hour after supper that night, I was admiring the finished product. The combination of new sights and serrations, along with the new grips really looked nice against the dark gray color. The end result is a gun with some truly useful and distinctive improvements that is meant to be used and used hard. In short, it is everything I wanted and no more. No useless ornaments or gadgets, and no major deviations from the original. Just a good, tough handgun that can be depended on to work when it is needed. (Plus, it looks great!)
High Powered Alterations - Part I