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AR Build Diary: Color Fill for my Lower Receiver

By Gabby

color filled safe and fire stampsI love my turquoise AR parts and I believe that the AR-15 may be the best DIY project EVER! Not only is it a great lesson in the mechanics of a firearm, but it's a do-it-yourself project that has something for everyone. If your a handy person, or more artsy, you will find a part of the process that speaks to your skills.

Personally, I'm loving it all! However, one thing I chose to start with, was filling the "safe" and "fire" lettering on my lower receiver with color. (These are also known as roll stamps, roll markings, selector indicators and by other names.) Many people do this because it helps anyone know, from any distance, whether the gun has been placed in the safe mode. I watched a number of YouTube videos with people using many different products to color fill these markings. Crayons, nail polish, whiteout seemed to work for them, but I wanted the right tool for the right job...so I went and bought model train enamel. It's not expensive, less than two dollars a bottle and I picked up a bright gloss red, a gloss white and a bottle of thinner. Don't forget the thinner because no matter how neat you are, or how steady your hand, you will need to do some clean up. (I opted not to fill my serial number stamp, as many do, because this number should not be easy to read at a distance.)

I didn't just go to the store and grab two colors. Remember, I'm a girl, and a designer... So I thought long and hard about this decision. Sure, these two words barely add up to one square inch of space on my gun, but to me, these details matter. Having worked with many kinds of paint in my life, I was exceptionally cautious, both in selecting the type of paint, and selecting the color.* I checked out metallic reds, and oranges for the "fire" stamp, and considered a number of silvery metallic colors for "safe". In the end I decided not to reinvent the wheel. 1&2 I bought Gloss Red, Gloss White and thinner from a model paint company called Testors and I picked them up at the local craft store.

*If the paint I used, didn't have a high pigment content, the color of the receiver would show through. If you consider that my receiver is turquoise, and red + turquoise can equal a muddy color, my paint job could have made the word "fire" appear to be a drip of dried blood, or worse.

how to color fill a lower receiver3 I had already FrogLube-d my AR receiver a few times, and I was pretty sure I had gone over the stamped words as well. If any lube was left in these grooves, they would keep the paint from adhering to the metal, so I grabbed a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol and gave the lettering a good cleaning.

At this point, every other explanation of this process, will say to put a few dots of paint on the lettering (without being too exact in where you allow the paint to flow) and let it sit, but here's why that's not gonna work:
1. When you take the thinner and rub off the excess, you're going to pull some of the color out of the letters and smear it on your lower. It will happen repeatedly and will be a never ending cycle where you will end up wanting to pull out all your hair!
2. I'm not working with a black receiver. Mine is a freshly anodized and a lighter color. Because of this, and because of the rubbing alcohol used to clean this spot a moment earlier, this section of my lower is just waiting to drink up any liquid with which it is about to come in contact.

What this means is that a drop of paint that flows outside the stamped letters, may permanently stain your receiver...you have been warned! And while we're warning; Be sure to work in a well ventilated area. This type of paint comes in small bottles but it packs a serious punch.

4 Very carefully I take a super thin paint brush, get a tiny drip of paint on the end of the bristles, and hold it over the largest indent in the word safe. The paint will slowly drip from the brush into the voids and then spread out. I really didn't need to touch the brush to the receiver and I barely needed to help it spread through the letters either. I add more drips very slowly, once the previous quantity has done its spreading thing.
5 Using the same tiny brush, cleaned thoroughly with the thinner, I clean up any mistakes. The brush should not be very wet with thinner when doing this cleaning, dipped once into the thinner and then tapped on a paper towel should be plenty. Touch the damp brush to the spot, hold it there for a second, and then work it back and forth a little until the color fades and if necessary you can wipe away the moisture with a tiny piece of paper towel.

Especially when working with the red paint, patients is absolutely vital. The red will stain a non-black receiver way worse than the white.

Steady hands are a gift that not everyone has, but you can maximize your steadiness by balancing as much of your brush-holding-hand on your work surface and covering one hand with the other. Don't work up in the air, but flat on a well lit table, seated in a comfortable chair. You also may want a small piece of fabric handy to place under your receiver to keep it from sliding.

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