How durable are nickel finishes?


December 20, 2008, 01:17 AM
I see that RIA is now offering a 1911 in a nickel finish. It's certainly pretty,but how does that finish hold up to use? Are there more than one type of nickel finish? I shudder when I see old revolvers at shows with the nickel peeling off them. I'd hate to see that happen to something I own. Any info appreciated.

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December 20, 2008, 03:34 AM
There are two common types of nickel finishes - electroless, and a 'bright' nickel that requires electrolysis to plate the gun. The electroless nickel finishes are significantly more durable than 'bright' nickel.

As you have stated, bright nickel peels and flakes off. Things commonly encountered by firearms like bore cleaners can exacerbate this peeling.

I would consider a high-tech electroless finish like Robar's NP3 for some guns, but I would never buy a gun that I intended to use much that was bright nickel plated. Just MHO.

December 20, 2008, 06:19 AM

I've had any number of bright nickel plated guns over the years; all have held up quite nicely without any hint of peeling, flaking, or wear in regards to the plated finish. As nicholst55 alluded to, a number of bore cleaners (i.e. copper solvents), can be detrimental to some plated guns because when they were plated, a layer of copper plate was applied first to the metal to allow the chrome or nickel finish to bond properly. When copper solvents were used to clean a plated gun, the solvents would find their way into the base copper plate, causing the copper to lose its cohesive bond with the metal and thereby letting the chrome or nickel plate to peel or flake off. So with my plated guns, I use Hoppes No. 9 on the barrel only and clean any solvent off of it before I reassemble the gun. For the plated surfaces I use Flitz to keep it clean and protected from tarnish, plus it does a very nice job of polishing the nickel plate.

December 20, 2008, 08:44 AM
nickel plating is very similar to chrome plating. if the nickel, or chrome is peeling it would be from a chip, corrosion, or there was a problem with the plating process to begin with. nickel, and chrome are quite hard as compared to the base metal, and should wear just fine. now, if you should drop the gun onto concrete, dent the base metal and damage the plating, then it may start to peel. but under normal circumstances, it will hold up to most chemicals, and normal wear just fine

Old Fuff
December 20, 2008, 09:18 AM
It depends a lot on how well the plating job is done. Most nickel plated guns today consist of C/N/C, or a layer of copper, as second of nickel, and a third of chrome. This is similar to the plating done on car bumpers and trim back when they didn't 100% paint cars and make bumpers out of plastic :(.

As with car bunpers, a coat of good quality wax once and awhile helps to protect them. Ask any old timer and they'll tell you that given reasonable care those old "real steel" bumpers lasted fine, even in environments where they put salt on the roads during the winter.

December 20, 2008, 10:00 AM
Uhmmmm, I don't know of any guns that use car bumper chrome plating, maybe Jennings or Lorcin but no reputable companies. Most firearms use what is referred to as Hard Chrome which is a different process and much more durable.

As far as nickel for a finish, it basically sucks when it comes to durability, but it looks lovely. It gives a nice luster than can be satiny or polished up to really glow. But it's the base for a good hard chrome finish, which you rarely find chipping or peeling. Nickel finishes have (I don't have my book handy so I'm guessing) about 50% of the impact strength of hard chrome, and probably 30-40% less wear resistance.

Old Fuff
December 20, 2008, 10:16 AM
I would be willing to bet gun that is the subject of this thread is CNC plated, or at least nickel-chrome plated, rather then electroless chrome or nickel plated. With few exceptions your older S&W and Colt revolvers were copper-nickel-chrome plated. If you go to either Colt or S&W today and buy a "nickel plated" handgun it will come with a CNC finish unless something else is specified.

I am sure that Mooseman is most interest in the nickel finish that is likely to come on the pistol he is thinking of buying. If someone wants an electroless chrome finish they would be best off buying the stock gun and having a aftermarket finish applied. Also, any "smithing" should be done before any plating is done, and if one buys a pistol that has been plated already there is very little that can be done to the gun that won't cause problems with the plated surfaces, regardless of what kind it is.

December 20, 2008, 12:23 PM
The major difference is in how the bonding between the base metal and the surface material works.

The conventional "electroplating" process creates a purely mechanical bond. Think: Spandex unitard or paint. About the only thing keeping it in place is how tightly and completely it conforms to the shape of what it's applied over. Anything that compromises the integrity of the exterior material will weaken that substantially.

"Electroless" processes use a combination of heat and chemistry to form a bond with the base material that is essentially molecular. If done correctly, it can't "peel" or "flake" because it actually becomes a part of the base material.

Both nickel and chromium are much harder and more resistant to abrasion and oxidation than steel, even so-called "stainless" varieties.

Most nickel-based finishes are actually a bit more corrosion resistant in the standard "saltwater spray" tests than chromium, but chromium, with a Rockwell "C" scale hardness of about 70, has an edge in wear resistance, especially under sliding contact loads.

Most of the proprietary "electroless" finishes are compounds rather than "pure" nickel or chromium. There are also differences in the application processes that affect their suitability to a particular material or task.

Compared to conventional (sometimes referred to as "decorative") electroplating about any properly applied "electroless" finish based on either metal will prove to be much more durable, IMHO.

The nature and strength of its bond with the base metal make it virtually impervious to damage from solvents other than very high concentration acids or bases and resist wear from friction, heat and extreme environmental conditions longer too.

Old Fuff
December 20, 2008, 12:44 PM
Yup, you are correct. :cool:

Problem is though, most guns that come plated from the factory wil have the "decorative" kind of finish. Factory nickel plate has been largely replaced with polished stainless steel - which to most eyes looks the same and is less expensive too do. If you want one of the electroless finishes you are looking at a relatively expensive (but good) aftermarket job.

An example of factory nickel plate that is still with us is Colt's very costly Single Action Army model (think cowboy six-shooter) and the finish is exactly what it has always been - "decorative" copper/nickel/chrome plating.

I expect that the same finish is the one that Mooseman would find on a nickeled RIA .45 pistol - if he bought one.

And I think that's what he really want's to know. :scrutiny: ;)

December 21, 2008, 12:59 PM
I'd agree with your assessment, but only if we stipulate that the words "nickel finish" are being used in the context of "plating" and that that term should be limited to a specific type of surface finish resulting from the electrolytic process.

But you also are getting a "nickel" or "chrome" finish when you buy a firearm supplied from the factory with a name such as Tanfoglio's "Wonderfinish" (a "hard chrome"), S&W's "Melonite" (nickel telluride) or Glock's "Tennifer" (another salt-bath nitriding process using nickel).

Several manufacturers offer what they describe as "nickel" or "hard chrome" finishes as an option. These are almost universally the product of the same types of "electroless" process, so if they're included in the definition of "plating" then the ones above must also fall into the same category.

See what I mean?

Obviously, the least expensive way to get a hard, durable, corrosion resisitant electroless finish is to buy a factory model supplied with it. There are a bunch of them to choose from, and it is almost always a good deal less expensive than buying a gun without it and having one applied later. If it's an option on the make and model of pistol or revolver you want, of course.

Personally, I wouldn't spend the extra money for a "nickel" finish on a 1911 unless "electroless" was specifically mentioned. IMO, any extra money would be better spent for a basic stainless model instead.

I'd also point out that, IMO, it's more cost-effective in the long run to buy a 1911 already factory equipped with things like a beavertail grip safety, good high-visibility sights, ambi thumb safety (if you want or need it) and the like than it is to start with a GI-spec 1911-A1 and bring it up to the same trim.

Some folks will likely flame me for this, but at least I'll be in some rather good company (Clint Smith, for one). IMO, if you want the most all-around practical value you can get right now in a 1911 for your buck, take a close, hard look at the Taurus PT1911.

IIRC, your basic carbon steel GI-spec RIA 1911-A1 runs about $350-400. Compare one side-by-side with a Taurus, if you can, for fit, features, etc. before you commit to a purchase and see if you don't think you'd be getting a heckuva lot of practical value for the extra $150 or so.

December 21, 2008, 01:06 PM
i wouldnt get a gun with nickle plating unless i planned on using it as a wall peice.they all shiny now but after while they will look like hell.

but usually that comes down to how well you take care of it

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