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9/22/2017 12:11:25 AM
Posted: 4/19/2012 9:50:38 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 4/20/2012 7:47:37 PM EDT by GTLandser]
You want to know how to make something expensive? Try to be cheap.

Like many of you, I had seen and read a lot about the benefits of Cerakote. Several months ago I bought a quart of the graphite black oven cure mix, in anticipation of re-finishing a couple of my AK’s. I was very unsatisfied with the durability of some high-temp engine paint I had tried before. Several more months went by before I even had the opportunity to work on them, and a “couple” AK’s had multiplied to six by then. The kits I was working with were exactly what you would expect…covered in cosmo, only the best paint work in all Bulgaria, and spots of rust, knicks, and wear all over. Basically, they looked pretty beat up.

As added incentive, my expensive quart of coating was scheduled to expire by June….so it was high time to throw good money after bad. I read my coating instructions, watched several youtube videos, and went around town to buy some tools and supplies.

Now, for those of you adventurous enough to try this yourself, skip right ahead to the pretty pictures.

But for those of you still contemplating, I’ll say this: there are MANY very good reasons people pay to have this done professionally, and you will see just a few of them below. Yes, you will probably pay several times more on a per-gun basis for professional work (especially if you are going all the way from parts kit to completed rifle), but someone ELSE will invest their blood, sweat, and tears into the outcome, and if you aren’t satisfied, it’s THEIR time and money lost to correct the issue.

If you do this on your own…that’s it, you get what you paid for. I was only able to attempt this myself because I had a LOT of free time, and once I started, an even stronger desire to get my kitchen (and life) back, from what had become pretty much a full time job…and not a very fun one at that. If you are a perfectionist, are working in anything less than a fully-equipped, very well-lit, and well laid-out shop, and don’t have TONS of time on your hands for when the unexpected happens, then the answer is simple: DON’T DO IT.

Cerakoting anything is actually fairly easy. Cerakoting anything WELL, on the other hand, is NOT EASY for the do-it-your-selfer. THAT is what you pay people for!

If you still attempt to do this from home, in spite of my warnings….plan ahead. You have to be almost religious in your thinking of how to use your space, so that starting one step does not conflict with finishing another. I would even go so far as to suggest that when you reach a stopping point, do a walk-through rehearsal for yourself—you’re going to have several things going on at once, and it SUCKS to have to start over, or wait, because you forgot something. This process is already time consuming, even before you add the cost of oversights and mistakes.

But, this is all after the fact. Only a few short days ago, I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a sharp finish! Ok, so, some acetone, grit blasting cabinet, air compressor, HVLP spray gun, and a few odds and ends, and I’ll be set!”

I live in an apartment, I have almost no tools, and my available time was limited. The old engineering saw still applies: you can have it done quickly, cheaply, or correctly—pick any two.

So, off to the store I went. And again. And again. And oh shit, one more time, probably 3 trips per each location listed below. To save yourself the same heartache, I have included my expenses, with some side comments, below:

Northern Tool
Bench-top blasting cabinet - $170
2 x pocket hex key - $6 – for misc. fixes
¼” ceramic nozzles - $18 – for siphon gun
2 x Teflon tape - $2 – for air fittings
2 x mini in-line desiccant dryer – $25 - for air lines
3pc nail set kit - $6 – for starting pins during de-mill
½” center punch $5 – for starting large, stubborn pins
8” flat file - $11 – misc de-mill tasks
File handle set - $5 – so I don’t impale myself with the file
24oz deadblow hammer - $10 – misc de-mill tasks
16oz ball-peen hammer - $11 – misc de-mill tasks
1 x roll masking tape - $4 – prevents marks, etc

Sub Total: $273

Harbor Freight
21gal, 2.5hp air compressor - $180 –
Compressor oil - $4
3/8” x 25ft air hose - $17 –
Mini air filter - $6 – removes oil from the lines
In-line desiccant dryer - $8 – I like this one better because you can take it apart, unlike the HF models
HVLP spray gun - $35 –
2-pack safety masks - $4 –
Misc brass air couplers - $12 –
Air blow gun - $4
Nitryl gloves - $6
20-ton arbor press - $150 – this was a sale price, see photo notes below

Sub Total: $426

Everywhere Else
Cheap baking pan set - $7
Dremel accessory kit - $12
2 x Easy Off oven cleaner - $8
PBlaster/Liquid Wrench - $4
#150 sandpaper - $3
Air whip/lead-in hose - $20 – this is essential for bringing air into your cabinet; it has a ball joint so you don’t get twisted up. The fittings will get gunked up with abrasive, so cover them or be prepared to clean regularly!
1” PVC fitting - $1 – to connect the vac hose to the cabinet, female plain and male threaded ends
Air-conditioner cord - $17 – I needed an extension cord with an amperage rating large enough to run the compressor safely
4 x gallons acetone - $68 – all I can say is, be careful with this stuff! Ventilation! Spills!
Rubber dish gloves - $8 – these actually resisted the acetone well, DO NOT get VINYL
Basket strainer, metal mesh - $3 – used as a cheap small parts basket for blasting, worked well.
Aluminum Oxide blasting media - $85 – 120 grit, 50lbs, from Grainger
Silica Gel beads, 2.5lbs - $25 – this stuff was impossible to find locally, and this was the minimum order I could get to qualify for free shipping.

Sub Total: $261

What Didn’t Work and Went to Waste
4 x plastic seed trays - $6 – these melted, don’t bother!
Pin punch set - $8 – non-tapered, managed to mangle every one of them!
4” x 2ft PVC pipe and end cap - $14 – these melted, don’t bother! Only metal/glass/fiberglass with acetone…Poly VINYL Chloride should have been my first clue.
2 x measuring glasses - $4 – not accurate enough, see below!

Sub Total: $32

Total: $992

And then there is what I already had in the kits, compliance parts, and DIY tooling:
4 x AK74 parts kits - $1275
4 x NDS receivers - $240 (including transfers, these were a short run of surplus)
4 x US gas pistons – $40 (I think?)
4 x US fire control - $100
4 x US pistol grips - $40
AKB trigger guard jig - $65
AKB rivet set - $36

Sub Total: $1796

And let’s not forget:
Cerakote oven-cure, graphite black, quart - $100

Total: $1896

Grand Total: $2888

So, all told, about $725 in each of these AK’s, maybe slightly less if you consider that I had two others that I was “only” re-doing the paint, and especially not considering the value of my time! A nice Arsenal or similar rifle might run from $850 and up, bump that to $1000 and up if you want it Cerakoted after the fact. Suddenly it seems wiser to save your pennies and go to the gun store, because all my “savings” are consumed in time and heartache.

But those lessons learned the hard way are often learned best, so…

Here’s what I was working with; a few NDS receivers, and parts kits. The barrels were surplus/new condition, pin slots pre-drilled, and parked. The parts kits were mostly coated in that lovely eastern bloc paint that resembles Enfield stoving or something. It was icky.
To begin with, I had to do some de-mill work on my existing AK’s, and then put together my receivers and trunnions on the kits. I tried to think of a way to spray everything separate and then assemble, but decided this wasn’t practical, and I don’t think stock AK’s have every surface covered before assembly, anyway. So, disassembly and partial re-assembly had to come first.

Here’s the HF 20-ton arbor press. I tried the 12-ton model, but it is a hunk of crap. The frame pieces didn’t even match up well enough to keep the frame square—it moved when I tried to press anything at all. That was another trip to return the damn thing, and then another week while I waited for the Easter Sunday sale, so I could use a 25% off coupon. The 20-ton model is MUCH better. Notice the reviews on the HF website, and you’ll see it is a recurring problem. Save yourself the headache now, and just buy the bigger press.

Pro tip: If you don’t have anyone to help you with extra hands, use the packing straps that secure the bottle jack box, to hold the bottle jack up while you attach the return springs. No heavy lifting!

After de-mill and partial assembly, you will need to blast the assemblies again, to take down knicks and scratches, and because the oils from your hands are going to oxidize the individual parts all over again. It starts slowly, but wait any more than a day, and you will have a light rust on everything. In hindsight, I could have saved myself a step if I had just blasted the assembled parts. I wouldn’t have reached every surface, but then, who cares? The trade-off is, it makes it that much harder to reach some of those interior surfaces for blasting, with the trunnions and trigger guard in the way.

After blasting, you need to soak the parts again, before putting them in the oven to gas out. Gas tubes in particular seem to trap and weep endless amounts of oil from somewhere. I eventually said “screw it”, and just dusted them off before spraying, and the results were fine. But anything more than a color change to the base metal is probably no good. I wasn’t so care-free with the parts which would be showing more.

Here’s a PVC pipe I tried to use as a vertical dunk tank for my barrel assemblies. I included this to highlight a very important fact: ACETONE EATS EVERYTHING. I went all around town trying to find wallpaper trays, and came to realize nobody uses wallpaper anymore. Paint trays are nowhere near big enough. Finally I found some cheap baking pans for $7. The muffin tin was great for small parts, and although the large cookie sheet was shallow, the barrel assemblies would just fit. This once again highlights the importance of having the right equipment. My finish on the barrels did not suffer (much), but a proper parts tray would have been much less hassle. I thought I had found the solution when I found some seed starter trays on the nursery aisle…but those got eaten too. Only metal or glass seems to resist acetone with any certainty. Be smart, get metal or glass from the start!

And here’s the air compressor, in a closet to hold down the noise level. You can save a few bucks if you get items like this on sale. Absolutely DO NOT skimp on the oil filter and air-line dryers. Blasting is one thing, but when you go to paint, you MUST have clean, dry air. I also ordered some silica gel desiccant, so if the dinky little HF air dryer became saturated with oil, I could clean it out and replace it. The alternative is to put it in the oven at 220* for a few hours to re-activate the silica gel—not optimal, and it does nothing for the oil. I couldn’t find any better drying/filtering alternatives that didn’t cost almost as much as this HF compressor…so this was my work-around.

Here’s the HF bench top blast cabinet. I made a few modifications, namely by cutting a hole for the vacuum hose, and another for my DIY light kit, made from a lamp kit from Home Depot, and a mason jar I literally took out of the fridge and kludged together—note the fancy retainer. The coupler is just a $0.98 piece from the PVC aisle that I dremeled to fit–– bring your vacuum hose or take measurements beforehand and just play with it. Pay attention where you put these holes, as any protrusions into the work space could interfere with getting the bottom grate in/out. DO NOT block the air intake, unless you want to burn up your vacuum!

On that note, you absolutely do want a vacuum for dust control, and if you are blasting more than a couple guns worth like I was, replacement underlayment for the viewing window…mine eventually got so foggy I may as well have been doing the parts blind. If anybody can think of a cheap alternative to proper underlayment, I’m all ears.

ETA: You will lose a lot of your blasting media in the corners of these benchtop blast cabinets. The whole thing is roto-molded in one piece or something, so the legs are hollow. I stuffed plastic grocery bags into the corners to fill up the space. Anything might work, but these were free and at-hand.

You will also want extra nozzles for the siphon blasting gun, I went through 3. The gun that comes in the cabinet is adequate, though I’m sure any of you familiar with professional equipment are appalled. I had the gun that came with the kit crap out on me, but I went back to the store and asked nicely for a replacement unit. With cheap equipment, preventive maintenance is key. I ran the thing until it died, but the better answer is to take it apart and clean it every day, it will last longer.

And here’s the HF HVLP spray gun, 43 psi max, and it came with the regulator included. This little guy actually wasn’t that bad, I believe it was the smallest one available at HF. Disassemble, clean, and re-assemble BEFORE first use to remove oils, and familiarize yourself with all the points of adjustment. Note the measuring glass—forget this––a proper graduated cylinder isn’t just helpful, it is required! I believe most of my problems with consistency between matte/gloss came from not using a VERY accurate measuring device. Get a grad cylinder and be happier.

And here’s my “spray booth”. If I had to do it all over again (and I might), I would either do this outside, or build a complete spray room out of the same sheet plastic (which invites a whole other level of preparation, such as a moon suit, respirator, and vent fan). Why go to greater lengths than the above? Because that spray residue floats EVERYWHERE. Trust me on this—if you are doing this at home, you will be flayed alive by HH6 once you all discover where that residue has collected!

Here’s my first couple pieces, blasted and ready for paint. They turned out really good, with a semi-gloss appearance…but wait a second, what’s this?

FFFFUUUUUUUUU. That’s right, drips and runs. No choice but to re-blast the entire piece and try again. Pieces like muzzle devices, top covers, gas tubes, and bolt carriers are FAR easier to do correctly than a complete AK receiver. You inevitably wind up over-spraying on a finished side, while trying to get better access to the interior, or an odd face, such as spraying in through the mag well to reach the ejector rails and center support. If I did this again, I would mask opposite faces with card stock to prevent the worst overspray. I don’t think tape is feasibly because it would leave some residue, possibly. Also, rather than hanging from wire, which has a tendency to swing, I would have made a wire frame to hold the receiver, and placed the whole assembly on a turn table. This would have required more forethought, hence why I am now making this thread, to hopefully save you all from your own ambition…

For those of you who think PPE is for sissies, here’s a picture of my N95 dust mask. Unless you want pounding headaches, or worse, this is the minimum I would use. I suffered no ill effects, but long sleeves and excellent cross-ventilation are essential. A tyvek moon suit isn’t actually a bad idea.

Another thing that came to have more importance than I expected was material to hang the work pieces. I used coat hangers. Even the coated ones didn’t melt, just chipped a little when bent, but 4-6 plain, uncoated wire coat hangers would be best. Take some time to think about how you will hang each piece—you’re trying to avoid un-coated spaces, ensure you have 360* access to the part, and that it hangs at a convenient height for spraying AND racking for curing. I sometimes used longer hooks to bring small pieces closer to where I was spraying, and just took the pieces on the small hooks away for curing.
Link Posted: 4/19/2012 10:05:54 AM EDT
space reserved for follow-on posts
Link Posted: 4/19/2012 10:11:31 AM EDT
Oy vey... I just did my CQC-7 last saturday, blasted outside, degreased with gunscrubber, hung it, sprayed it, baked it.

Came out fine
Link Posted: 4/19/2012 10:30:10 AM EDT
Originally Posted By sdman11890:
Oy vey... I just did my CQC-7 last saturday, blasted outside, degreased with gunscrubber, hung it, sprayed it, baked it.

Came out fine

Yeah, this was my problem...trying to do 6 guns and get them to turn out in acceptable shape, in a limited time frame, and with cheap tools.
Link Posted: 4/19/2012 3:39:18 PM EDT
If you are going to spray any coating escecially CeraKote ("H" or "C") series I STRONGLY suggest a quality respirator, one that covers your face and eyes with a hood is best and very well ventaliated area. Preferably use a system that pumps filtered fresh air in and sucks the vapor out. This is especially important if you are going to be in the vapor area for any length of time. Also as a few part timers have learned always wear gloves and NEVER touch soft tissue with any coating or hardener on your hands. This includes eyes, nose, mouth, or when you take a break to use the restroom. Take an MSDS sheet into a doctor or pharmacist and let him read the ingredients. Its nothing to play with. I dont even open a bottle without a respirstor on.
Link Posted: 4/19/2012 3:54:02 PM EDT
another tip... spray in the inside FIRST and THEN spray the outside. LIGHT coats and overlap by about half while spraying. Just like painting a car, it takes practice and patience.
Link Posted: 4/19/2012 6:31:50 PM EDT
Originally Posted By russellmn:
another tip... spray in the inside FIRST and THEN spray the outside. LIGHT coats and overlap by about half while spraying. Just like painting a car, it takes practice and patience.

Yeah, I should have turned the air on the HVLP gun waaaaay down. Again, this is here to show what NOT to do.
Link Posted: 4/20/2012 12:26:43 PM EDT
Very interesting post. I've never had any experience with cerakote and it's interesting to see someone's less than perfect experience.
Link Posted: 4/20/2012 3:29:14 PM EDT
I can't believe you did that in an apartment...and have all that heavy gear in there too...jesus!
Link Posted: 4/20/2012 6:15:05 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 4/20/2012 6:18:27 PM EDT by GTLandser]
Originally Posted By Kelmvor:
I can't believe you did that in an apartment...and have all that heavy gear in there too...jesus!

Yeah, I am in between room mates right now, that's the other reason I was in a rush, if anybody moved in they would strangle me.

I checked with the neighbors both upstairs and down, only the guys downstairs said they detected some vibrations. You'll notice, I have a whole stack of anti-fatigue foam mats from HF on the floor under the compressor. I also used some ear muffs...less for the compressor, and more for the vacuum, since it was right next to the blast cabinet, and my head.

Oh, and the result weren't a total loss. I am considering re-doing the top covers and receivers at a later date, but the barrels, carriers, gas tubes, and other small parts turned out just fine. I'll get photos of them up soon. I just want people to have an adequate appreciation of doing the interiors of the receivers, a real pain in the ass. The only reason I am dissatisfied with the top covers is, I either got the mix ratio wrong, or sprayed inconsistently, and I have some variation in the gloss/matte areas.
Link Posted: 4/20/2012 7:30:44 PM EDT
Good god! I don't feel like I have enough room in my 2 car garage, though I do have a significantly larger set up. I'm impressed by your determination, but am surprised that someone didn't call the cops on you. Once you get the proper equpoment, Cerakote is simple to do.
Link Posted: 4/20/2012 9:26:00 PM EDT
Really good tips. I'm setting up an area in my garage to do some parkerizing. I was looking at the same setup for sandblasting. I might just reconsider and get a nicer cabinet.
Link Posted: 4/21/2012 4:18:10 PM EDT
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