Coat of Arms
“I want to continue to challenge myself as much as possible every day. I enjoy working on projects that seem impossible and discovering new ways to complete them while learning more about the process along the way”.
Firearms finishes have been an important part of the manufacturing process since their earliest development. The process of browning, or russetting, predates firearms as a way of protecting iron and steel by causing the material to rust and then forcing that process to stop. The end result reduces glare and also helps prevent the metal from rusting in the future. This method gave way to hot and cold bluing, and then Parkerizing. Today there are dozens of different types of finishes all yielding different results and capabilities. One of the most common finishes in use today by professional manufacturers and gunsmiths as well as the “Do-It-Yourself” crowd is Cerakote… and few in this industry are doing it to the level of Scott Richardson, owner of Ronin Arms in Payson, Arizona.
Richardson started his creative life as an airbrush artist in high school where he made a name for himself in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area by doing commissioned drawings for tattoo artists before he was old enough to drive. Upon graduating from high school, one of the local tattoo artists took Richardson under his wing as an apprentice which began a 21-year career in the tattoo industry. This is an important foundation because, as Richardson points out “there is not a lot of room for mistakes as a tattoo artist… I had to become good at not only drawing the artwork but planning out how I would execute it and remain adaptable through the process. It also taught me a lot about colors, and how they react and look when put onto a medium that is not a white background”. A love of firearms instilled by his grandfather, and a restlessness that comes from doing something over and over again, eventually led him to start branching out and finding new ways to challenge himself and fulfill a creative part of his soul that was unsatisfied. Having left New Mexico almost two decades earlier, a firearms finisher in Arizona asked for his help in airbrushing some artwork on a firearm, and Richardson immediately felt comfortable with the airbrush aspects as well as the creative vacancy within the industry that he wanted to fill. In that moment, Ronin Arms was formed.
Established as a federally licensed firearms manufacturer and Class II SOT holder, Richardson threw himself into the world of finishing with a passion and dedication that few could mirror. His technique for spraying, and his ability to create with an airbrush and do things by hand that others considered impossible was already well established and documented. What Richardson really desired was a deeper understanding of this new medium called Cerakote. He began to study how it was made, how it adhered to different materials and what its strengths and weaknesses were. More than just studying the new materials though, Richardson began to look at actual camouflage patterns made out of textiles to study how they flow, how they are layered in the manufacturing process, and how to recreate that on a machined surface made out of metal or polymer.
Cerakote itself is a very innovative material and has opened up some amazing possibilities within the firearms community. Located in White City, Oregon, Cerakote was started in 1984 with a focus on “developing and manufacturing the highest performing line of ceramic coatings available”. Since its inception, Cerakote has added over 140 different colors to its catalog with a focus primarily on the firearms industry, but also finding its way into the kitchen and bath, automotive, bicycle and fishing worlds as well. Cerakote currently offers their coatings in a few different series. The new Elite series offers the highest corrosion and chemical resistance while being applied with one of the thinnest coatings. This series comes in a few different earth tones as well as black and some industrial finishes. This is perfect for internal parts and anything where the thickness of the coating and its ability to endure friction and wear are most important. The second series, and probably the most common, is the H series, which is a heat cured ceramic finish that comes in almost 150 different colors which provides moderate corrosion resistance as well as a huge palette with which to make almost any color imaginable, as the colors themselves can be mixed and blended to create custom colors. The C series is an air cure ceramic that has a heat resistance to approximately 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. This finish is perfect for barrels or suppressors and any other part that requires a high heat capability as well as products like optics and such that you would rather not bake as part of the heat curing process. The Final series is an NiR series that is available for military and Law Enforcement which features a proprietary coating that reduces the firearm’s Infrared signature. Between these different compositions, and all of the color offerings, there is very little that cannot be done with Cerakote.
Camouflage dates back to the late 19th century with its first real use being at the turn of the 20th century in World War I. Increased range and lethality of the weapons systems in use at the time created a need for more advanced methods of obscuring or hiding personnel and equipment. The earliest form of camouflage was textile-based and included the coloring of clothing and use of textile material to break up shapes and forms on people and vehicles. Over the years we have started adding camouflage to the actual surfaces of the vehicles and equipment, but true camouflage is textile-based, and so the colors and flow of the pattern is best observed when viewing it in clothing. Richardson has spent years observing the different patterns in clothing and finding ways to mimic the layering and color bleed found in these patterns. The result is a series of patterns and colors that, not only remain true to its original concept, but help break up the shape and straight lines associated with a firearm.
One of the areas in which Richardson excels is creating realistic textures and visual affects with his Cerakote applications. His shop is well stocked with all of the modern equipment needed for every possible process. His custom-built walk-in oven will handle objects up to seven feet long, effortlessly handling even the largest .50 caliber rifle. He uses a fiber laser to mark and remove material while also being able to use the laser at different frequencies to change the color of the pigment within the Cerakote itself. 3D printers are on site to create holding jigs and fixtures for custom work, and a vinyl cutter is there to create standard camo patterns and make your finished product exactly how you want it. Where Richardson really shines though is in all of the areas where that technology isn’t viable or applicable, and it is in this realm that experience, a trained eye, and a steady hand prevail.
On a recent AK creation, the client wanted his new gun to have the appearance of a gun that had been left behind on a battlefield. For this project, Richardson studied rust and how it forms, and also looked at hundreds of photographs to see how and where rust would form on a firearm, what colors it took on, and how it felt. Most people associate Cerakote with a smooth finish, so trying to create a tactile, multilayered result is not as easy as one would think. For this project, Richardson hand applied 5 different colors to create the rust… two reds, two oranges and one yellow. In some cases, the color was built up on top of the surface using a layering effect and multiple different tools to create a textured feeling above the surface of the gun. In other places, he hand painted the rust on prior to the black top coat so that he could erode away at it and expose the rust below the surface. Much like an authentic rusting firearm, some of the rust is a corrosive rust and some is a buildup of material, giving the gun not only the visual appeal the client was looking for, but the tactile feel as well. Hand applying the rust took over 4 hours on top of everything else that went into this gun, and the result is stunningly realistic.
The airbrush artist in Richardson never stops and he is always looking to try new things. While most Cerakote artists use a vinyl cutter and digital software to create camouflage patterns, Richardson chooses to hand cut many of his stencils so that they are unique and organic. One area where we see some of the creative work is on a .22 rifle that he made for his daughter. Hand cut unicorn stencils overlayed and blended with various forms of pink and purple create a colorful gun that any Princess would be proud to own.
Ronin Arms currently does some finish work for quite a few big-name companies in the industry. In addition to working on firearms, Richardson has also done finish work for knife manufacturers as well as some jewelry companies where he sprays clear coat layers on top of precious metals to prevent oxidation over time.
When asked about his aspirations for the future, Richardson replied “I want to continue to challenge myself as much as possible every day. I enjoy working on projects that seem impossible and discovering new ways to complete them while learning more about the process along the way”.
While there are a lot of people out there that can spray monochrome finishes in their garage, few can make a firearm come to life in the ways that Richardson can. If you are looking to revitalize an old gun, or make your new gun mission ready or just protect it from the elements, reach out to Ronin Arms with your dreams and ideas and let Richardson make your vision into a reality.