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It has now been over a year since barbell manufacturers first started using Cerakote coatings on their barbell shafts.
What’s the verdict? Does it hold up to abrasion? Does it rust? How does it feel? Should you go for a Cerakote bar on your next purchase?
I’m answering all those questions here.
For starters, Cody did a review of the American Barbell Cerakote Training Bar in 2017, giving it to folks at his local Crossfit box to try out as well. He found that the Cerakote coating holds chalk well, and it stays in place on an athlete’s back during back squats without slipping. So the texture of it seems to be about right!
What the Heck is Cerakote?
Cerakote® is a brand name. It’s the latest material manufacturers are using for bar coatings. In June 2017, Rogue came out with their first Cerakote bars, and it got some good attention and quickly piled up great reviews.
BUT… Rogue didn’t spearhead it.
American Barbell already had been making Cerakote bars since at least early 2017. Their previous California Bar didn’t have Cerakote options, and now they’ve moved the bar entirely to Cerakote only. After they started selling them, Rogue noticed a good thing and jumped on it. Not that it matters who was first.
Anyway, so what’s the deal with Cerakote?
It’s not a brand new technology. Gun makers have been using it for years.
It’s a thin ceramic coating that’s been used by gun makers because of its hardness and durability, but even more so its corrosion resistance. Nothing gets through it.
Stainless Steel vs Cerakote Barbell
Stainless steel barbells have been considered the absolute best and are priced as such, fetching another $50-100 over barbells made with other coatings.
Unlike other coatings, stainless steel is not a coating at all but an alloy of steel itself that requires no coating over the top to be effective at preventing corrosion. As such, there is no corrosion-preventing coating that will wear off from grinding against your rack.
As far as coatings go, Cerakote basically makes your bar maintenance-free forever… However, I would still suggest brushing the dead skin and chalk out of your bar knurling. Especially when you have company over.
Stainless steel can’t be hardened like other steel alloys. This makes it weaker than hardened steel. Cerakote in this way gives you the advantage of using hardened steel with a good coating that is extremely tough.
How Thick is Cerakote?
I got curious and looked into the thickness of different bar coatings.
|Black Oxide||0.03 mil|
|Hard Chrome||1 mil|
(1 mil is approximately .001 inch.)
As you can see, it’s about as thick as hard chrome and zinc. These plating thicknesses can vary, but from my research this is about what they come out at in a heavy duty application. Decorative chrome used on some appliances, for example, is thinner than that.
Why Does Thickness Matter?
|FUN FACT: Knurling is pressed into the steel with an extremely high pressure industrial machine that rolls over it. It is not a cutting operation, even if you might think from the sharp knurling on some power bars that the steel has been shaven away – not the case. Cutting it would weaken it.|
The thickness of the bar coating matters because the coating partially fills in the grooves of the knurling, making it a bit smoother and less grippy. It’s unavoidable. The coating is always applied after the lathe presses the knurling. Otherwise the coating would be compromised by the lathe.
The amount that the coating fills in the knurling isn’t huge. But it’s significant enough that you can feel the difference between a coated bar and a bare steel or stainless steel bar. Black oxide with its ultra-thin coating is the exception, but black oxide always rubs off quickly on a rack or even against your skin, leaving you a partially black oxide and partially bare steel bar.
Cerakote Color Options
Traditional finishes don’t give you much of a choice in color.
Cerakote can be done in an unlimited number of color schemes. Just look at the Rogue Freedom Bar:
This opens up a whole new world for custom designed barbells.
Maybe soon, Rogue or another company will have an online Cerakote bar design template for you to upload your own graphics to, as easy as designing a custom t-shirt? How sweet would that be? A unique bar that nobody else on Earth has.
The morning after I wrote the above paragraph, I received an email from Rogue offering almost that exact thing. I clicked through, and yep, they’re doing it.
Once you’ve selected your preferred Cerakote color finish for the Ohio Bar shaft, you can take the extra step of adding a personalized image and/or text to the center of the shaft.
Currently your custom design is limited to a largish center area of the shaft. Perhaps they will expand the workable area to the whole shaft soon?
As far as other colors, while a factory can obviously do an unlimited number of colors, practically speaking a manufacturer has to pick and choose what colors to do a production run on and keep a stock of. So you’ll only see a dozen or so standard color or design choices from each manufacturer. It isn’t economically viable for any company to stock 50 different color designs of the same bar.
Standard solid color options for Cerakote are more than aesthetic. It makes it easy to identify bars if a gym is consistent with its color scheme it wants to adopt. For example, red for power bars, blue for weightlifting bars. That way you won’t see a blue bar sneaking its way into the squat rack before anyone notices it’s out of place. You can do a pink cerakote barbell to make it even more clear who it’s reserved for.
Does it Stop Rust From Forming?
Apparently it has better corrosion resistance than black oxide or zinc, as well as other coatings that aren’t often used on barbells but are used on guns, like phosphates and other top brands of gun coatings.
The gun market is a whole lot bigger than the barbell market, so that’s why we’re looking at guns here.
While firearm owners would be stupid to leave their guns outside like this, barbell owners have their stuff in garages, and this video is actually a pretty telling test for barbells. It was done by NIC Industries, the company that owns the Cerakote brand.
NIC also did a salt chamber test. After 72 hours, here are the results:
The Cerakote one in the middle appears to easily win.
However, I found another pic of the same test. This one must be after more hours:
It shows some corrosion with the Cerakote, but not as much as the other coatings.
Does it Wear Off Like Black Oxide?
The consensus among lifters is that the Cerakote coating on bar shafts will indeed wear over time, and it can be scratched, but as far as wear from your skin or from UMHW plastic on your rack J-cups (which is standard nowadays on good racks), it will not rub off nearly as quickly as black oxide or zinc, both of which look great on day 1 but show their weakness a few months down the line.
It’s not an invincible coating. Chrome is the toughest for abrasion resistance. If you’re going to use a Cerakote bar on a rack, I highly recommend you have UHMW liners on your rack.
Cerakote has been used for so many years on firearms that we would know by now if a little regular abrasion rubbed off the coating. Metal on metal rubbing can do it (which is why you don’t to slam it directly on the steel of a rack), but other than that it should last a lot longer than zinc or black oxide coatings.
Update 2021: A poster on reddit reported his Chan Bar‘s cerakote sleeves have held up great over 6 months with regular use and constant sliding on plates on and off:
A Weird Note on Steel Durability
A surprising thing Rogue found out was that the finish/plating on a bar shaft impacted the shaft’s durability. Not just in terms of surface scratches or rust, but literally causing a bar to wear out and bend. They determined that Cerakote actually made the shaft last longer. See the article I wrote on Rogue’s F-scale barbell rating they came out with for a full explanation.
We had caught some hint of this issue in 2002 when Ivanko put out an article about chrome damaging the integrity of a bar through hydrogen embrittlement. They were the only ones saying this, so I had a hard time knowing what was true. Maybe they were right after all? Maybe it’s time to take their word for it, now that two major manufacturers are claiming this.
How to Clean a Cerakote Barbell
Cerakote barbell care is pretty much the same as chrome, black zinc, or stainless steel barbells.
To summarize, you should brush any dead skin or chalk from the knurling with a nylon brush.
Wiping it down with a very light coating of oil should not be necessary, but it couldn’t hurt. That’s mainly necessary for black oxide and for any bar where scratches are appearing or the coating is wearing off.
See our article dedicated to barbell maintenance.
Who Makes the Best Cerakote Bars?
All the Cerakote coatings themselves should be equally as good. Everyone offers a different color or design selection.
Weightlifting and General Purpose Cerakote Bars
American Barbell has a few Cerakote bars.
Wright Equipment has Cerakote versions of their bearing bars.
Bells of Steel has a Cerakote Utility Barbell.
Cerakote Powerlifting Bars
In black Cerakote only, you can get the Rogue Thor Edition 29mm Power Bar. Thanks to Chris for pointing it out to me!
A stainless steel Cerakote bar is made by American Barbell as the Mammoth Stainless Steel Cerakote Power Bar (Thanks for the update, Gil!). At first I thought it was just a grey Cerakote that looked like stainless steel. But no, it’s actually stainless steel underneath, with a Cerakote coating. Stainless steel on its own, with no coating, has excellent corrosion resistance compared to any coating used on regular steel bars… except for Cerakote. Cerakote has stainless beat in corrosion resistance because nothing gets through the coating. Even if it gets scratched up badly enough by a rack with no padding on the J-hooks, hey, you still have stainless steel underneath. This bar is NOT cheap. This is the kind of bar people buy who want the best.
Texas Power Bars now offers Cerakote versions of all their bars (thanks Isaac!).
Bells of Steel has the Onyx Cerakote Powerlifting Barbell (thanks Michael!), which is the same as their Barenaked Powerlifting Barbell with the new finish.
Custom Designs / Logos
As described above, as of writing the only options for custom designs or lettering on your bar are the Rogue Custom Ohio Bar or Rogue Custom Bella Bar. Let me know if you see someone else doing custom bars and I’ll add it here.
Do you have a Cerakote bar? Share your thoughts on it below!