You're looking to buy a new barbell, but you're unsure which one you should buy. Barbells come in different finishes, suited for a variety of workouts.
If you're wondering what the differences between black zinc vs Cerakote barbells are, or whether to opt for a stainless steel bar instead, this comprehensive guide will tell you everything you need to know!
Table of Contents
- Cerakote Vs Stainless Steel Vs Zinc Vs Chrome Barbells: Which Finish Is Better?
- Pros & Cons Of Cerakote Barbells
- Pros & Cons Of Stainless Steel Barbells
- Pros & Cons Of Zinc Barbells
- Pros & Cons Of Chrome Barbells
- Frequently Asked Barbell Finish Questions
Cerakote Vs Stainless Steel Vs Zinc Vs Chrome Barbells: Which Finish Is Better?
Durability is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when buying a barbell. In terms of corrosion resistance, this will largely depend on the humidity level of your environment.
For highly humid areas, hard chrome is most resistant to rust, followed by Cerakote and stainless steel. Zinc offers the least amount of rust resistance compared to the other finishes.
Additionally, while the coating may be resistant to rust, what happens when or if it wears off? While chrome and Cerakote are very durable coatings, they are still made of steel and can rust if the coating chips off over time. Stainless steel, however, is un-coated and doesn’t have this problem.
Aside from environmental conditions, adequately maintaining your barbell will help to extend its lifespan and avoid it from rusting. Using UHMW lined J-hooks will help prevent chips and scratches caused by your rack. Cleaning your barbell by brushing and oiling can further help to avoid rust from forming as well.
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While the thickness of the actual barbell shaft is standardized according to each bar type (power bar, Olympic bar, etc.), the thickness of the coating can affect the grip. This is because the coating is applied after the knurling is made, which means it fills the groves between the knurl.
A thicker coating, like chrome, can make the knurl feel smoother and less grippy. To compensate for this, chrome barbells often have deeper knurling - but not always.
Although the coating thickness of Cerakote and zinc is only around 1mil thick (about 0.001 inches), you’ll still be able to feel the difference between a bare steel or stainless steel bar and a barbell that has these coatings applied.
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When it comes to knurling, there are a variety of features that determine how the barbell feels. These include how deep the knurling is pressed into the bar, what style of knurling is used, and how many knurl points per square inch there are (knurl density).
With so many features, the number of possible combinations is enormous, and it would be difficult to categorize them in a meaningful way based on their intensity. For this reason, we'll categorize knurling in terms of how aggressive it feels: mild, moderate, moderately aggressive, and aggressive.
Mild knurling has a shallow groove and is very soft. It can be described as passive or even dull. These barbells can be used for high-rep sets but require a lot of chalk to get a good grip. Moderate knurling is often found on CrossFit or multipurpose barbells.
They’re strong enough to provide a decent grip but won’t cut up your hands. Moderately aggressive knurling is commonly found on power bars and Olympic bars. They offer the perfect balance between medium and aggressive knurling.
Aggressive knurling is often seen on powerlifting bars. They’re ideal when you need a strong grip for a heavyweight. This knurling feels sharp in your hands but prevents the bar from slipping.
Taking a look at color options, traditional finishes don’t offer much variety or choice in color.
Stainless steel, bright zinc, and chrome barbells all feature the familiar silver finish (either satin or polished, depending on the metal). As the name suggests, a black zinc barbell offers a black finish.
The only reason you should opt for a black zinc barbell over a bright zinc one is for its black aesthetic. However, the black coating is notorious for fading fast and often develops a green patina over time anyways.
Unlike all the other barbell finish types, Cerakote barbells are unique in that they can be coated with just about any color imaginable. Additionally, you’re even able to add your own personalized text or graphic onto the center shaft of the barbell.
Of course, while any color option is possible, your choices are usually limited to the catalog of colors on offer by the manufacturer.
Ease of Cleaning & Maintenance
In general, you should brush the dead skin off the knurling (of any barbell) at least once a month. If you’re using chalk on your barbell, then you’ll want to brush it more often. This is because chalk attracts moisture, and moisture can cause rust.
Since Cerakote barbells are designed to be extremely resistant to rust and highly durable, they don’t require other specific maintenance in order to avoid rusting. The same can be said for a stainless steel barbell.
However, you should still brush them to remove dead skin and chalk from the knurling. When doing so, you want to avoid using anything other than a nylon brush for these barbell types.
For zinc barbells, you’ll also use a nylon brush (since using anything harder will rub the coating off). If brushing alone doesn’t clean the knurling adequately, you can apply some 3-IN-ONE oil to the bar shaft to help lift the caked chalk.
Even though hard chrome barbells are highly resistant to corrosion, they are made of steel and then plated with chrome. This means that they will rust if the coating chips off. To clean, you can brush this barbell finish with a brass wire brush. Brass is softer than chrome, and it won't damage or scratch the barbell.
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Various factors influence the price of a barbell, including the type of bar (power, Olympic, etc.). For example, an Olympic barbell will usually cost more than a power bar with the same finish.
Ignoring these factors and comparing them in terms of their finish alone, a zinc barbell is generally your cheapest option. Next in line is Cerakote, followed by stainless steel and chrome.
Aside from the actual price of the barbell, you should also consider the value for money. Even though a zinc barbell is the cheapest, will it provide you with the same lifespan as a stainless steel barbell?
Probably not. If you’re on the fence about whether or not a Cerakote barbell is worth it, consider the savings involved in the long-term if you don’t need to worry about doing rust-prevention maintenance.
It’s cheaper than a stainless steel barbell but still offers the same anti-corrosion benefits. For this reason, I’d say Cerakote barbells are absolutely worth it.
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Pros & Cons Of Cerakote Barbells
Cerakote is a ceramic polymer coating that is applied to a steel barbell.
It is an incredibly durable finish that offers superior corrosion resistance to all other types of barbell finishes.
The coating is so thin (under 0.001”) that it doesn’t affect the grip or feel of the knurling.
A Cerakote barbell comes in a variety of colors and also feels better in your hand. It’s slightly tacky and feels chalked, ideal for people who are prone to sweaty palms. A Cerakote barbell is great for a variety of workouts, including squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and Olympic lifts.
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Pros & Cons Of Stainless Steel Barbells
Stainless steel is technically not a coating but rather a finish on the barbell. The benefit of this is that there is no coating that can wear off and compromise the corrosion resistance of the barbell.
Of all the metals used for barbells, stainless steel is the most resistant to rust.
Stainless steel barbells have immaculate knurling and, since it’s not coated, can be very aggressive in feel. These barbells are simple to clean and care for, making them ideal for anyone to use. The downside is that they are pricey, but they will last a lifetime if cared for correctly.
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Pros & Cons Of Zinc Barbells
Zinc barbells are made of bare steel with a zinc coating.
They are available in either bright zinc or black zinc. A bright zinc barbell is submerged in a bath and plated with zinc to give it its shiny finish.
A black zinc barbell gets a second bath, which gives it its dark finish.
Zinc barbells offer more corrosion resistance than bare steel bars, but it can wear off over time since it's a coating. If you find the knurling of a bare steel bar to be too harsh, zinc barbells will be ideal for you since the zinc coating slightly dulls the knurling.
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Pros & Cons Of Chrome Barbells
Chrome barbells (also called hard chrome) are made of high-carbon steel and then dipped into a bath to coat them with chrome. These barbells are very durable and highly resistant to scratching, chipping, and fading. They are very rust-resistant and hold up in very humid climates.
Available in either a polished or a satin finish, hard chrome barbells offer a natural grip feel.
Usually, chrome barbells have deeper knurling since the chrome coating is relatively thick and fills in the gaps between the knurling. Avoid barbells made of decorative chrome. Although cheaper, they are far less resistant to rust and aren’t as durable.
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Frequently Asked Barbell Finish Questions
What does Cerakote do for a barbell?
Cerakote is a ceramic polymer coating that prevents the barbell from rusting. It also increases the barbell’s strength and hardness by over 100 times, compared to regular zinc barbells.
It is a durable coating that offers more corrosion resistance than stainless steel, but it can chip off. Having a stainless steel barbell coated with Cerakote avoids rust entirely.
Do stainless steel barbells need oil?
Unlike other metals, stainless steel doesn’t need oil to prevent it from rusting. In fact, there shouldn’t be any oil on the barbell so that an oxide layer can form. For the bearings, most barbells don't require additional oil.
However, some bars do have oil holes in the sleeves to drop some oil (not WD-40) into. This keeps the sleeves spinning smoothly.
How long does black zinc last on a barbell?
It depends on how well you care for your barbell. Black zinc is a coating that prevents rust, but it does wear off fairly easily and often turns green. You can maintain your black zinc barbell by using a nylon bristle brush to clean the knurling. Wipe the barbell down with 3:1 oil (avoid using WD-40) to help prevent rust.
Does a chrome barbell rust?
Like most finishes, chrome is a coating. Chrome in itself won’t rust but can tarnish/ discolor if not cared for. However, if the chrome gets scratched or chips off, the exposed steel beneath the chrome can begin to rust. Don’t rack the barbell on a bare metal rack to extend the life of your bar and keep it from corroding.
That wraps up our comprehensive guide to barbell finishes. We hope that all of your questions and concerns were addressed. Now that you know the differences between the types of barbell finishes, how they compare, and which one to choose for your specific needs, you'll be able to achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!
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