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Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive
(Hard Chrome Plating)

by Randy Taylor, Advanced Tooling Corporation.
June, 2008

Plating a Shotgun

Q. Thanks in advance for any information you can provide. I am looking for a very durable decorative finish for my double barrel shotgun. I am a "Cowboy Action" shooter and really would like to "hard chrome" the receiver and barrel. I assume based on my limited research that this maybe the most durable finish I could apply (at a reasonable price. I would like the final finish to be "satin like" rather than "high gloss". I am also curious about "black hard chrome" if it exists for the same application? My question is purely for a single application, not any volume.... so if there is any companies you are aware of that will apply this type of finish... I would appreciate any contact info you can provide. I live in Minneapolis, MN.

A. Black chromium is an option but you might consider what is called "electroless nickel" Unlike chromium (black chromium) the process doesn't require much set up, rack and anode making etc. With E-nickel, part simply needs to be prepped and hung into the bath. No electricity is needed to plate with E-nickel, so you can rely on a very even layer of coating without build up and trees at the edges. A very thin layer of E-nickel can give years of wear and corrosion protection. It plates in a semi satin finish and it can be polished or dulled as you wish.

I've personally plated a number of firearms with it over the years. The weapon would need total dismantling, account for all pieces on a packing list, bag and take the parts to any local plater that provides E-nickel and ask for a price. There are numerous good E-nickel shops in every town, if you have trouble locating one, email me back, I can recommend several.

Q2. Randy,
Thanks so much for the information.

Not to take anymore of your time... this is what I understood you to say about "plating a firearm"

1) The Black Chromium process is a possible choice for my firearm

2) E-nickel is effective and provides better coverage (no buildup) with several finish choices (satin, gloss....)

my assumptions based on your email:
a) Hard Chrome (silvery finish) processes are similar to the Black Chromium process and might cause "buildup" or "trees" on the final finish.
b) E-nickel is a very durable finish (better than conventional blueing)
c) E-nickel is a silvery like finish... black is not an option
d) Chromium plating will be more expensive and requires more quality control to achieve the same coverage.

Thanks for the time you have spent on this... one more question...

Is hard chrome plating or black chromium plating worth the added cost ... will the finish be noticeably better or "harder" resisting wear of lots of handling than the E-nickel plating.

Dave - You are a very good "under-stander"! Chrome these days is of two general varieties. "Hex-chrome" (older technology) a silver-blue appearance and is very hard and "Tri-chrome" (newer technology) silver - brown, almost pewter like appearance. "Tri-chrome" is growing in popularity because it is friendlier to the environment and workers. "Tri-chrome" has less hardness than "Hex-chrome", but over-all is as good if not a little better. Unless you locate a shop that confirms you are getting "Hex-chrome", you will probably get "Tri-chrome". If you do, it will be a finish that is eerily close in color to that of E-Ni. (Silver-brown, to pewter appearance)

In my opinion, which ever chrome you choose, it's NOT worth the added expense. E-nickel is about 43-45 RC in coating hardness as plated, goes on evenly on all surfaces and is very durable when properly applied. And E-Ni has excellent corrosion resistance.

Hard chrome is harder and goes on unevenly, usually heavy on outer corners and thinner in nooks & crannies. Hard chrome alone on steel is not the best corrosion protection.

I have an old S&W 38 "secret service special" that my father hard chromed and polished back in the 50's. The coating held up but rust is present everywhere the Chrome had worn thin from handling. I gave up on keeping it nice. Compared to a S&W 38, with 6" barrel, that I E-Ni plated back in the early 70's and it looks as good as the day I plated it.

For me personally E-Ni is far superior for this application and as an added value, it is cheaper than chrome.

No matter which route you take, only plate the parts you will see when the piece is assembled. Caution the Plater to be careful not to damage close tolerances and do not remove the detail of your parts when polishing or bead blasting. Use a delicate approach, turning down air pressure on the blaster and only use soft back polishing techniques to avoid removing too much material. Sometimes it's best to do as much of the prep work yourself if you have the equipment. I used a plain malleable steel wire to wire up the smallest parts so they don't get lost.

Best of luck.

Randy Taylor





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