Electroless Nickel Plating for Firearms

You might be surprised to learn that, while living in Southern Arizona, I sweat a little bit in the summer.

I’ve had problems with many carry guns rusting. At first, I thought it was just inadequate finishes. My Kimber 1911 with its blued finish quickly rusted in a leather holster, and even a switch to a kydex holster didn’t help. I bought stainless firearms – Sigs, Kimbers, and Smith & Wesson revolvers. They developed rust as well. I even had a Smith & Wesson M&P – stainless steel with a Melonite finish – rust. I’ve also caused Glocks to rust, as you can see from the following photos. All of this happened on the very first day that I carried the firearm, and all were properly wiped down with CLP before carry.

You can see here how nasty my Kimber looked after several years of carry and hard use.

Obviously, I could have had any of my firearms refinished by Robar in their NP3 finish, but with several carry guns, I would have spent close to $1000 doing so, and would have been without my firearms for several months. I was about to give up and just live with the rust, when I found the Caswell Plating website. They offer many different do-it-yourself finish kits, and I finally settled on their electroless nickel plating kit. I ordered the “standard” kit, which was about $125 after shipping costs were added in.

Here are the contents of the kit. They also include an excellent manual which is a great reference for all kinds of refinishing, and a 2.5 gallon bucket suitable for firearms refinishing. You have to mix the chemicals according to a very simple formula. Basic math here.

The first step is removing the old finish. There are several ways to do this. The easiest is with a 5% muriatic acid and water solution. The bottle was $3 at Ace Hardware.

The finish literally slid off the slide, without any scrubbing. Thank you, Kimber, for putting out a product with such a high quality finish…I’m rolling my eyes right now.

I’ve done several more firearms since, and have decided to use blasting media to remove the finish from anything that I plate. This is better for getting the last little bit of finish out of a crack or pin hole. It’s also faster and less hazardous/smelly, but if you don’t have access to a blasting cabinet, you might want to stick with the muriatic acid solution.

One other benefit to blasting, I’m told, is that the finish is more likely to “stick”.

Once you’ve stripped the finish, you need to degrease the part. I’ve found that the “industrial degreaser” concentrate sold in a purple gallon jug at Home Depot works very well for this. I try not to touch the items after I blast them, and I use a hooked dental pick to “swish” them around in the degreaser solution for about 15-20 seconds.

After the part is degreased, thoroughly spray it down with distilled water. If there is any oil or grease still on the part, the water will bead up. If not, the water will sheet off evenly. This is called the “water break test”, and it’s very important. Don’t plate something that has oil or grease on it anywhere; the nickel won’t plate there.

I should say that I start to heat up the solution before I degrease the part and spray it down, or in the hour or so it takes for the solution to reach 185 degrees, the part might rust. You can fix this, but it’s simpler to avoid it in the first place.

So, once the solution is at least 180, and preferably 185-195 (but NO HIGHER than 195!), I place the parts in the bucket. Those balls are “mist control balls”, designed to limit evaporation. You can keep adding distilled water to bring it up to the original water mark, by the way.

At this point, you just wait. Sometimes I flip parts upside down or on their sides at regular intervals, because the portions touching the bucket might not plate at the same rate. I do this with a clean dental pick, no hands in the bucket, gloved or not.

The parts plate at a rate of 1 mil per hour. 1 mil is 1/1000 of an inch. Robar apparently does 2 mils when they do NP3 and Electroless Nickel. Caswell says .5 mil for firearms, but this is not enough for me, as I’ve caused rust on firearms with .5mil of electroless nickel. I had to redo the process and ended up with 1.5mil as “good enough” – a balance between corrosion resistance and fit.

After the hour or so, I pull the parts out and put them in a small bucket of distilled water.

They’re going to be hot, in case you didn’t know.

That’s pretty much it. It’s a simple process, but the prep work is the most important and determines your success or failure. And the methods – blasting, scrubbing, polishing – determine what the finish looks like after you’re done. I prefer the frosted, matte finish that comes from blasting. This is most evident on the two Glocks below.

Here are some of the items I’ve plated.

Oh, and that ugly 1911?



Filed under Refinishing Kits

6 responses to “Electroless Nickel Plating for Firearms

  1. Kristofer_G

    The bolt looks like it got a really good finish. Almost looks like one of the super duty exotic alloy bolts that are around.

    BTW this is a pic of the short rail CZ75 I was talking about:

  2. Absolutely beautiful. That 1911 looks good enough to lick!

  3. James

    How is the bolt holding up?

  4. Jesse

    Awesome article man! I just discovered your Blog 2 days ago, impressive.
    Here’s another way to degrease I’ve been using for a number of years when using ceracote, duracote, gunkote, color case hardening, etc.
    after blasting or finish removal, spray part(s) down with straight Simple Green, rinse with hot water blow out all traces of water, and finish up with either acetone or denatured alcohol.
    It’s a bit of an overkill, but I’ve had great success with it.

  5. Steve

    The Para you have pictured, is that E-Nickel Plated?

    Thoughts on sanding (600/1000/1200) instead of sandblasting?

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