A Guide to AR-15 Barrel Finishes

A Guide to AR-15 Barrel Finishes

PSA Barrel Selection: 

Hey guys, welcome back—Tye from PSA here with another quick tip video. When buying an AR-15, there are some things to consider regarding the barrel. Today we’re talking barrel finishes, so let’s jump right in.

Here at PSA, we primarily use four different types of barrels for our ARs:

  • Phosphate
  • Nitride
  • Cold Hammer Forged
  • Stainless Steel

All of these barrels are available in different:

  • Lengths
  • Profiles
  • Gas system lengths
  • Calibers

So to start things off, let’s take a closer look at Phosphate barrels.

Phosphate Barrels

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.

In all; 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. Now let’s move on to Nitride barrels.

Nitride Barrels

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. Next up is Cold Hammer Forged.

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 starting your next build or choosing your next firearm, use this information to make the best decision for you.

Louis S Middleton, Jr
Very informative. Thanks.
Chuck Coursey
Great information, for us occasional shooters without being to wordy.
William Mckitrick
Tye, excellent information
Tim Stoeckle
Very informative. Looking forward to upcoming posts.
Very timely article. Just reinforced my decision to go with a CHF barrel.
Larry Cox
Excellent info for a first time buyer of an AR-15.
Nathen Head
I feel like I should know this but I can’t find it anywhere… if the phosphate barrels only have the phosphate treatment on the outside, what treatment, if any, do they have on the inside of the chamber and barrel? It seems like the CHF barrels have phosphate in the outside and chrome on the inside, but barrels listed as having a “phosphate” finish don’t usually say they have any kind of treatment on the inside. If that’s the case, how does that compare to nitride, chrome line, etc…? Thanks!
Mike Schofield
Straight to the point! Thanks for the writeup!
Robert McGrath
Thanks for info,it was very helpful! ????
McKim Symington
I can remember when ARs came with green furniture, which dates me. Barrel profiles, plating, rates of rifling, metallurgy, sizes of gas ports have all changed since 1962 when I saw my first pre-M16 AR-15 at the Colt's factory in Hartford. The AR is still the best. Carried an A1 for two tours in Vietnam and it never failed me, When I went through Basic at Jackson near PSA, we trained on the M14, Sweet shooter, but since you carry your weapon more than you shoot it, I was glad to have the M16A1 at the SE Asian War Games, v/r McKim
Jack Beaudette
Very informative video ..... like mom usta say, learn something new every day. Thanks Palmetto, always on top of your game.
Gary Pitkin
Are your Springfield M1 A socom factory fresh or made from mis. Parts?
Ken Hoskins
Anyone out there have a 300 AC blackout used upper they would be willing to part with. I have a complete lower build. Lost my job and just can't afford to complete the AR build. Really wanted to complete with a 300 ?? Any reasonable deals out there?? Would greatly appreciate it!
Does the PSA nitriding process comply with SAE standard AMS-2753?
Carl Aquino
Are all premium barrels FN Cold hammer forged?
Trying to match a Noreen lower. What finish?