We often get asked while designing a custom AR-15 build what’s the difference between all the different barrel finishes and materials and what we think is the best one. That’s a tough question to answer because the answer usually is dependent on what the finished rifle is being used for. A precision shooter will usually settle for nothing less than accuracy while a Sunday plinker is still interested in accuracy but can get away with spending less and might sacrifice cost for a more affordable barrel. Below is a quick reference for you to read on the different AR-15 barrels and finishes we recommend at Aegis Cerakote & Gunworks and their intended purposes. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mention different twist rates which is a completely different subject.
Phosphate barrels are going to be your finish of choice if you are going for that mil-spec look. The treatment itself will leave more of a gray finish that has a rough-textured surface which allows for oil to better soak in to protect the barrel. Now only the exterior of the barrel will be treated with this process. Phosphate barrels are tough, rugged barrels that can take a beating though you will need to keep a coat of oil on it to fend off any surface rust.
These barrels are coated using a slightly different process that actually forms a smooth, dark black hardening of the metal. This finish is applied to both the exterior and interior of the barrel providing rust protection and less maintenance than phosphate. Over the years, Nitride has quickly become the barrel of choice for the recreational shooter. It provides excellent accuracy and durability whether you are hunting, plinking, or slinging lead at that tactical carbine course.
Cold Hammer Forged Barrels
These are for the shooter wanting the most durable, longest-lasting barrel. They actually come standard on many US-issued machine guns because of their resilience. Cold hammer-forged barrels are literally hammered into their shape. This process entails taking a blank and repeatedly hammering it as a mandrel and reamer to create the chamber and the rifling. These barrels are also typically chrome-lined for added durability. In all, cold hammer-forged barrels will last a lifetime for the average shooter, though you will have to pay a bit more for it. Last but not least Stainless Steel.
Stainless Steel Barrels
Quite literally the standard in the precision shooting community, stainless barrels have long been the choice of those wanting to get the most accuracy out of their rifles. These barrels will consistently produce better shot groups than their average counterparts but at a cost. The softer metal does wear out faster and will not hold up as well to rapid-fire or corrosive ammo. So, for those shooting for accuracy, these are an excellent choice.
Now, there are other options out there, but from our experience, these are the four most popular barrels. So, when it comes to designing your next firearm at Aegis Cerakote & Gunworks, use this information to make the best decision for you and your needs. Our fathers always told us that you should always use the right tool for the right job and when dealing with firearms, the same thing is true.