March 16, 2015
Wandering the isles of the SHOT Show, I came across Robar's booth. They displayed various offerings including custom rifle and shotgun builds, examples of their gunsmithing prowess, grip reductions and various firearm finishes. What caught my eye though, was a silvered snubby. Not looking like stainless steel, it's unique coloring set it apart.
Picking it up, a company representative encouraged me to pull the trigger. My effort was rewarded with an extremely smooth pull. I asked about the trigger job that was obviously done, but his reply surprised me. I was told that the revolver did not have a trigger job, it was in fact, a factory trigger. The difference was that the revolver was completely NP3 plated—inside and out. Naturally, I pulled the trigger a few more times, not to be any less impressed. I had known about the NP3 process for plating components, but up until that point I had not heard of using it for finishing a complete firearm.
Robert Barrkman, Robar's owner, started out as an instructor for Gunsite Academy. While still an instructor, Robert formed Robar to offer gunsmithing services to students to keep their guns running in class. Robar became a full-time enterprise as a gunsmithing shop in 1986. Shortly thereafter, Barrkman bought the exclusive license to offer NP3 plating.
NP3 is an Electroless Nickel/PTFE coating that combines sub-micron particles of Teflon with Electroless Nickel. Skipping all of the technical jargon, the simplest explanation is that it is a dry lubricated, low friction surface that is extremely hard and resistant to wear. The plating is used in a wide variety of industries including cryogenic atmospheres to high temperature applications. NP3 has been accredited for aerospace use which is the ultimate testament to its usefulness and durability.
Robar boasts that NP3 increases firearm reliability because it requires little to no oil for lubrication. Its high lubricity and low friction coefficient reduces wear and increases life expectancy of plated parts. NP3 is very corrosion resistant, exceeding a 250-hour salt spray test. Robar backs up its claims with a lifetime guarantee against corrosion and peeling.
Unlike bright finishes, NP3 is a non reflective, satin gray, although it looks pretty close to the color to stainless steel with a just a tinge of grey to me. The NP3 plating can be applied to specific parts or entire firearms made from stainless, blued steel, aluminum or scandium. The only metal used in firearms that is problematic is titanium. With a coating thickness of only 1 mil (0.001) even tight tolerances won't be negatively impacted. If you ever change your mind and choose to refinish, the NP3 is strippable with no effect on the base metal.
The aspect that I find most amazing about NP3 is that it is self lubricating. The Teflon component of the plating is what gives NP3 its lubricity. Robert suggests using some oil for about 300 rounds as a break in. After that no lubrication will be needed. I asked him if the self lubrication is only for NP3 parts that slide against other NP3 parts and he stated that even if only one part is plated—such as an AR bolt carrier group inside an anodized upper receiver, no lubrication will be necessary after break in. Given that dirty guns typically don't like running without lubrication, this will dramatically increase reliability since the self lubricating NP3 won't run out of lubricity.
No need to disassemble your firearm before sending it in, as Robar does that as part of their service. Before plating, parts are sandblasted to remove any bluing, imperfections, surface scratches and rust, then bead blasted to a even, satin finish.
All parts are NP3 plated except the insides of barrels, sights, the charge holes in revolver cylinders, coil springs and leaf springs, although some leaf springs can be plated depending on their manufacturing process. Robar even plates the screws and pins. Once the plating process is finished, Robar reassembles the parts and guns completely.
I sent Robar one of my well-used Ruger SP101s. I chose the SP101 because I have a second one which remains as a factory stock model making it an ideal choice for a before-and after-comparison. Getting the gun back from Robar, it looked like a brand-new gun. The sand and bead blasting that Robar did eliminated the surface marks and scratches beautifully.
Upon its return, I pulled the trigger a few times which brought that familiar smile back to my face. I immediately compared to the factory stock model. There was no comparison. The NP3 version was much smoother than the factory stock model.
Before I sent Robar my gun, I measured the trigger pull at 11.75 lbs. After refinishing with NP3, the trigger measured the same. The added lubricity and smoothness of the plating made the trigger smoother and thus gave an impression of a lighter trigger even though it was not.
With the proof being on the range, off I went. I ran about 300 rounds through and found the smoother pull made the gun easier to shoot. The big test was next, cleaning.
Revolvers are dirty guns. In addition to the carbon inside, revolvers get more soiled on the exterior compared to semi-autos. I have to spend a lot of time cleaning to get the carbon off the barrel, cylinder and frame—no matter how hard I try it is never really clean.
The NP3 snubby takes just a wipe to clean. Wow! Not only does it take almost no time, the gun gets much cleaner than my stainless guns.
Robar's NP3 works equally well on semi-automatics as well. The plating will smooth out the operation, eliminate the need for oil and protect the metal, just as it does on revolvers.
In addition to the snubby, I also sent Robar an AR15 bolt carrier group. Like the snubby, it came back looking like new, not a blemish to be found. I oiled it up a bit and ran about 300 rounds through the rifle. Removing the bolt carrier group and wiping off the dirt, carbon and oil, I then ran it dry for the next 500 rounds, flawlessly—about all the rounds I could get done before finishing this article.
Like most shooters, I hate cleaning the carbon off all the nooks and crannies of the bolt. NP3 to the rescue—the carbon wipes right off with a dry rag.
In addition to gunsmithing and firearm finishing, Robar is accredited as a NP3 aerospace plating contractor. Gun parts are run side-by-side with aerospace parts, and as such, Robar's plating process is run to the highest possible standards. In this manner, Robar offers shooters an aerospace-quality process at a commercial price. Combining NP3's benefits and Robar's lifetime warranty makes it a match made in firearm heaven.