LCW DuraBlue: today's performance with yesterday's appearance.
Several months ago I was attending the Knob Creek military gun show and shoot and as usual Lauer Custom Weaponry (LCW) had a display area selling their DuraCoat firearms finishes. On one of their tables I saw an excellent condition blued steel revolver on display and wondered why a company, who promotes sprayed on polymer gun finishes had an excellent condition blued steel gun on display. It turned out that this gun was not really a blued steel gun. This gun was actually a promotional sample of their new DuraBlue spray-on polymer gun finish. The sample gun had a finish that was almost impossible to tell apart from traditional hot bluing unless you were looking it over extremely closely. The finish on this sample looked very much like the highly desirable Colt Royal Blue finish found on Python revolvers of yesteryear. I was so impressed with the looks of the gun that I immediately got ahold of Steve Lauer, the owner of Lauer Custom Weaponry, and quizzed him about the product. I was told that DuraBlue is a variation of their regular DuraCoat firearms finish that has been modified with additives to resemble rust or hot bluing. DuraBlue offers all the benefits of DuraCoat but with the looks of rust or hot blue.
DuraBlue is offered in the colors of Blue, Black and Blue/Black to cover the usual color variations found in rust or hot bluing. Blue resembles the bluish colored finish found on old-time rust blued guns while black resembles the almost black bluing found on today's mass produced guns. Blue/Black splits the difference. These color options are apparently also offered in semi-gloss and matte sheens according to the samples I received but they were not listed in the latest catalog (contact LCW for clarification on this aspect). The samples I received for evaluation were polished Blue and Polished Blue/ Black plus Matte Blue and Matte Blue/Black. DuraBlue is offered in common liquid form (4 oz., $29.95) for those hobbyists who have spray equipment and also in aerosol cans (12 oz. can size, $39.95) for those without spray equipment. Just like LCW DuraCoat, DuraBlue is a two-part polymer sprayed on gun finish that offers superior protection to the base firearms material. It can be applied to metals, plastics and wood. It applies just like Common spray paint so if you can paint a model car you can likely apply DuraBlue (assuming you follow the included instructions). Prior to applying DuraBlue (or DuraCoat), you mix in a small quantity of a hardening agent. This hardener starts a chemical reaction that slowly hardens the finish beyond normal air drying. This reaction is very slow and can take a couple weeks for full hardness although the finish will feel "dry" in a day or so. Once the hardener is mixed in the reaction is Unstoppable even if it is slow. If mixed, DuraBlue (or DuraCoat) is returned to the container of unused and unmixed product the hardener will slowly harden all of it. You should only mix what you will need for your project because any leftover finish will need to be discarded.
Aerosol DuraBlue (or DuraCoat) also needs a hardener added prior to use but the hardener in inside the aerosol can. A small container of hardener is inside the aerosol can and a pin in the bottom of the can pierces the container to allow it to mix with the DuraBlue in the can. Unlike liquid DuraBlue that can be mixed in whatever amount you need, with the aerosol cans you are locked into full can-size amounts. Once the hardener is mixed, the rest of the DuraBlue in the can will slowly harden ever though it has not left the can. The aerosol cans of DuraBlue are typical 12 oz. size spray cans but do not assume that one 12 oz. aerosol can equals three 4oz. containers of liquid DuraBlue. Due to the interior can of hardener and the aerosol propellant you are not getting 12 oz. of DuraBlue. While aerosol cans of DuraBlue are great for those without spray equipment it can get pretty pricey wasting a whole can of DuraBlue on a small project. If using aerosol DuraBlue, plan your projects to utilize as much mixed DuraBlue as possible. In the future I hope LCW offers DuraBlue in smaller aerosol cans for economical usage on smaller jobs.
In order to test DuraBlue I needed a project gun. Fortunately I had recently acquired a perfect subject. I recently bought a new Rock Island Armory 1911 .45 ACP Tactical model pistol. The Tactical model features several added features not found on a basic gun. This 1911 featured a beavertail grip safety, full-length guide rod, skeletonized trigger with over travel stop, extended ambidextrous safeties, Novak style fixed combat sights, commander style hammer, two sets of grips (wood and rubber), eight round magazine, and plastic pistol case. The gun featured a Parkerized finish that would be perfect for DuraBlue application. Believe it or not but I bought this well-equipped 1911 on sale at my local Rural King farm supply store for only $369! I have no idea how this store sells Rock Island pistols this cheap since most other dealers in my area want $550-5600 for the same model. I have owned several Rock Island 1911 pistols over the last several years and I have found them to be excellent guns despite their incredibly low cost. I recently sold a big-name 1911 that cost me close to $1,000 because my sub-$500 Rock Island guns easily outshot the high dollar gun. Personally I feel the Rock Island 1911s are the best bargain in 1911 format guns one can buy today. Don't let the extremely low price scare you away from a great product.
With the very low purchase price for the Rock Island 1911 I had some funds left over to add a few more desirable features. I turned to Firearms News advertiser Brownells for a few parts. While the pistol came with two sets of grips that were quite functional, they were nothing to look at. I ordered a set of Pachmayr American Legend 1911 grips (Brownells #692-000-022, $37). These very attractive grips featured laminate rosewood panels with soft rubber finger groove inserts. I chose the rosewood versions but they are available in several colors. I prefer extended slide releases on my 1911 pistols because my fingers are short so I ordered a Wilson Combat extended slide release (#965-601-045, $33). Because my short, fat fingers also have issues with standard magazine releases I ordered an Ed Brown extended oversize magazine release (#087-011-150, $34). This release features extra length plus it has an oversize button that is easier to depress. Since my budget-priced 1911 came with only one magazine I figured I could use a couple more. The Brownells catalog or website has dozens of styles and brands of 1911 magazines to choose from. They also offer their own line of 1911 magazines. All the Brownells branded magazines I have bought for other models of guns have been very good products so I decided to buy a couple of their 1911 magazines. I ordered one 7-round magazine (#078000-027, $20) and one 8-round magazine (#078-000-169, $25). These Brownells-brand magazines feature stainless steel construction that has a black Xylan finish.
While I was ordering project materials I decided that I did not want my gun to be one solid color. I decided to add some color highlights to my project. From KG Industries I ordered some KG GunKote in the color of gold. I would use the gold GunKote for some of the controls and small parts. Since I would be using DuraBlue in the color of Matte Blue, I thought gold would make a good color for highlights. I normally get my GunKote from Brownells because they sell a Brownells labelled version. Unfortunately they only offer it in a half-dozen color options, and gold is not one of them. Buying directly from the KG website (www.kgcoatings.com) gave me several dozen color choices. GunKote is a sprayed-on polymer gun finish that is very hard and durable. Once it is sprayed onto abrasive blasted parts it is baked at 300 degrees to create and incredibly hard and durable finish. Because this article is not a GunKote article I won't go into any detail of how to apply it. For those readers wanting in-depth information about GunKote I can recommend that you purchase the specialty publication Shotgun News Gunsmithing Projects. This 440-page publication is filled with dozens of gunsmithing articles from the pages of Shotgun News, now Firearms News. In it I cover the finishing processes of hot bluing, Parkerizing, applying GunKote and DuraCoat. It is available through the store section of the Firearms News website (www. firearmsnews.com). With the DuraBlue, 1911 pistol, accessories and GunKote in hand it was time to start the DuraBlue project and review.
DuraBlue is very easy to apply and full instructions are included with the product when you buy it. I will briefly give readers an overview of the process so they can decide if they would like to try the product. LCW claims that only a few steps must be taken to get good results. First, you disassemble the project as far as you are comfortable doing. At a minimum you should break the pistol down into major subassemblies. The minimum requires that you clean the parts with a solvent (such as Lauer's own solvent) and then slightly roughen the surface with sand paper or abrasive pad. The parts are re-cleaned and then you spray on DuraBlue. This is a minimum method, not the best way that a professional refinisher would use.
Normally I use the same methods that a professional refinisher would use. I completely disassemble the gun down into individual parts and decide which parts will get finished and which will remain original. After I have the parts I want to apply DuraCoat (or DuraBlue in this case), I abrasive blast the parts to roughen the surface. Although blasting is not absolutely required for Dura Blue or DuraCoat, the finish will adhere much better to an abrasive blasted surface and resist chipping much better. Both before and after blasting I clean with solvents such as acetone or lacquer thinner. After the parts are blasted and cleaned of all dirt and oil I mix up my finish and apply it with a small spray gun or air brush.
As stated I almost always abrasive blast my parts prior to finish application. There is however an exception that applies in this case. Since my 1911 featured a Parkerized finish it was abrasive blasted prior to being Parkerized. This means that the surface is already slightly rough. When the gun was parkerized the chemical reaction also etches the surface a little more. The Parkerizing process creates a granular porous surface that the finish can "soak" into. This creates a very good surface for the DuraBlue to bond upon. Many professional polymer finish applicators actually Parkerize the guns before applying their finishes (such as DuraCoat, GunKote, Norrel's Teflon/Moly, Cerakote and others). Because my project gun featured a Parkerized finish all I had to do was clean the parts with solvents and then spray the DuraBlue.
DuraBlue is a two-part product that needs to be mixed right before application. The correct ratio of DuraBlue is 12 parts DuraBlue to 1 part of hardener. This must be well mixed so that the hardener is distributed evenly. Poor mixing can cause streaks in your finish. If using liquid DuraBlue you mix the product to the approximate proportions, exact proportions are not critical as long as you are close to the 12:1 ratio. A ratio of 11.5:1 or 12.5:1 isn't going to mess up anything. In the aerosol cans the mixing proportions are set internally and will be right as long as you pierce the can correctly and shake the can long enough. Remember the product will begin to harden once the hardener is mixed in. Usable product life varies according to temperature and mixing ratios but normally you have several hours. Just don't mix it up and then walk off for a few hours and expect the finish spray well later when you come back.
I spray my finishes with a small spray gun or air brush depending on project size. For a handgun, an airbrush is just right. While a full-size automotive spray gun will work, you will waste a lot of material in overspray and waste in the cup. You can buy small spray guns and airbrushes at Harbor Freight stores for less than $20 each. For another $50-$75 you can get a small compressor that will run small spray equipment. If you are going to do many projects it will be a lot less expensive in the long run to just spring for spray equipment rather than buying very many $40 aerosol cans of DuraBlue. Spray guns also offer the most flexibility and control in finish application. An aerosol can has a set spray pattern size and fluid flow that may not be what works best for your specific job. An aerosol can is convenient but you pay for the convenience with limited capabilities. Aerosol can also waste a lot of expensive finish.
Before spraying your DuraBlue you need to hang your parts on metal hooks so that you can spray the parts without holding them by hand. You need to rotate your parts when spraying so that you can access all areas. You may want to hook parts in two places so that you can rotate then in any direction. You also need a place to hang the parts between coat applications that is away from any draft that could blow airborne dust particles into your wet finish. When spraying DuraBlue or any gun finishes be sure to have adequate ventilation such as open doors or exhaust fans. You do not want to breathe in finish vapor and particles any more than you have to. I usually run exhaust fans, wear safety glasses and wear a particle mask although I sometimes omit the mask for pictures. DuraBlue (and DuraCoat) contains flammable solvents so keep all liquid and vapors away from ignition sources.
When you get around to actually spraying DuraBlue you will immediately find that this is a very thin liquid. It will take several coats to get adequate coverage. To get a good representation of bluing, there seems to be a lot of clear finish and a limited amount of pigment in DuraBlue. It may take 3-4 coats just to hide the surface color. Be very careful not to make runs in your project. Due to the thin viscosity it is very easy to make runs if you aren't paying attention to where your over spray is going. This is especially important if you are using an aerosol can with a wide spray pattern that is pumping out a lot of liquid. A small spray gun will allow, you to adjust pattern size and fluid flow to get into tight spaces without spraying all over the rest of the part. Due to the translucent nature of DuraBlue, the color of the base material can affect final finish color. Final color will be different if you have a black surface verses if you start with a silver surface. Keep this in mind when choosing you colors. You will need to allow solvents to "flash off" between coats till the finish is tacky in order to apply many coats. A wait of 10-30 minutes may be needed between coats depending on temperature and humidity. If you don't wait for each coat to dry sufficiently the finish may sag after you get too much finish on your parts.
After you have your parts sprayed with DuraBlue they need set aside to dry. They will be dry to the touch in several hours and can be re-assembled in 24-48 hours. The drying can be sped up by forced drying. Baking the parts in an oven at 120-150 degrees for a couple hours will greatly speed air drying. Only force dry after the parts have had a couple hours of air dry time to allow most of the solvents to work their way out of the finish. Drying too soon or at too high of temperature can cause bubbles to form in the finish. I typically dry in stages. I start low and then turn the heat up about 20 degrees every half hour or so till I get to 150. I recommend that the novice put off forced drying till they gain experience with the products. Force drying works great if you do it right but if you mess up by doing something like having a part too close to the heat source you can ruin the finish you spent hours working on.
Once your parts are dry you can reassemble your project. You may find that you cannot reassemble your parts because of finish build up between tight fitting parts. This is common and it is not unusual to have to sand or file a little finish off till parts fit. Lots of time you will have to sand a little off pins and holes to allow tight fitting pins to be re-installed. Masking parts prior to spraying can reduce the need to scrape off excess finish. Due to the already tight slide-to-frame fit on my 1911 project, I masked off the rails so I wouldn't have to do a lot of work to get the slide back on the gun's frame.
After I re-assembled my Rock Island 1911 I was very pleased with the results. The dark blue and gold color format was attractive without looking outlandish like some wild color schemes seen on guns today. My color choice of matte blue DuraBlue actually turned out to be a little "bluer" than I wanted but it wasn't that far off. I would probably choose the color of Blue/Black if I was doing it again. In fact you will likely see some future Firearms News project finished with DuraBlue since I have more in stock. I was fairly pleased with this new Dura Blue product but I am going to say one thing about it that was applicable to my particular case. This is more of an observation than criticism.
LCW offers regular DuraCoat in a color called "Gun Blue" that I have used on past projects. In my experience with this particular color I thought there was little difference between DuraBlue in the "Matte Blue" color option and regular DuraCoat in the color of "Gun Blue". DuraBlue seemed to have more clear in it than regular DuraCoat but in the end they looked about the same. Both produced a pleasing dark matte dark blue finish. Perhaps if I had chosen a different color option and chose polished instead of matte it may have looked a lot different. Colors can be a pretty subjective thing. What looks like one color to one person can look like some other color to someone else. No matter what I think of the particular colors I chose I can tell you that LCW DuraBlue is a good product that offers superior metal protection to your firearms. Weather it is DuraBlue or DuraCoat you are getting a great finish that you can economically apply yourself that will last for years. If you are looking for a gunsmithing project that is relatively easy to do and you want to apply a quality finish to your guns at a reasonable price then you may want to give LCW DuraBlue a try.
Present Arms--P. O. Box 839, Wilbraham, MA 01095, 413-575-4656, www.presentarmsinc.com
Lauer Custom Weaponry--3601 129th St., Chippewa Falls, WI 54729, 1-800-830-6677, www.lauerweaponry.com
Brownells--200 S. Front St., Montezuma, IA 50171, 800-741-0015, www.brownells.com
PRESENT ARMS 1911 ARMORER'S PLATE A QUALITY WORKSTATION FOR YOUR 1911
Last year I obtained a Present Arms AR-15 Gunners Mount. It was an impressive piece of engineering. It was made from CNC machined blocks of plastic. This workstation could hold an AR-15 in a multitude of positrons for gun assembly, repair or cleaning. I now use this fixture for just about every AR-15 I assemble of work on.
Present Arms has now added a 1911 fixture to their lineup of firearms work stations. Just like the AR-15 fixture, the new 1911 model is made to support a 1911 pistol in many positions for assembly or servicing the 1911 pistol. The 1911 Armorer's Plate is CNC machined out of thick blocks of plastic; no cheap blow-molded parts here. A 1911 pistol can be supported with a magazine well insert that allows the gun to be positioned in whatever angle that makes servicing easy. There is also an optional fixture block that performs several functions. Among the features is that it has precisely placed pins that allows you to tune the hammer and sear for best trigger pulls. The base of the Armorer's Plate features pockets to hold small parts and prevent them from rolling off your workbench. There are other recesses in the base to hold various 1911 components for tuning or assembly. The 1911 plate makes a great third hand when you are trying to install the tiny fire control parts into the 1911 frame.
Just like their AR-15 fixture, the 1911 fixture is massively over-engineered and exudes quality. This is the kind of product that us old timers remember from the good old days when products were well made rather than made cheap. Present Arms fixtures can be a little pricey, but this is a case where you really get what you pay for. For full information on the Present Arms product line up visit their website or request a product brochure.