Benelli has had a big year. The launch of Benelli’s first bolt-action hunting rifle, the Lupo, has grabbed most of the headlines, but as cool as the Lupo is, it might not be the most impactful new product to come out of Urbino in 2020. For over a decade, the engineers at Benelli have been quietly working on a new product that would offer a level of corrosion protection never previously imagined. You can call it armor for your shotgun. Benelli calls it BE.S.T..
Benelli Surface Treatment
BE.S.T., or Benelli Surface Treatment, borrows technology from the high-tech industrial plasma-coating industry. Physical vapor deposition (PVD) and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) are the two most common methods used in industrial plasma coating, and Benelli employs both to apply the BE.S.T. graphite coating on their guns. Without getting too deep in the weeds, PVD and PECVD applications use plasma to excite the graphite material that will be deposited on the surface inside a vacuum chamber, and this forms a vapor. A reactive gas is introduced to form a compound with the vapor, and that compound is deposited on the surface of the object inside the chamber.
Afterwards, the surface treatment is extremely uniform, durable, and stable. Unlike traditional chemical vapor deposition, the PECVD process uses plasma, which allows the reaction to occur at much lower temperatures. That’s critically important, because high heat can stress metal and weaken critical components of a barrel. The challenge for Benelli was to find a way to make these surface treatments suitable for firearms and to do so at a cost that wouldn’t price them out of the market.
Benelli now has their own custom-built PVD/PECVD machine in Urbino, and that has allowed the company to develop a line of shotguns protected by the BE.S.T. surface treatment. The advantages of this type of surface treatment are many. For starters, BE.S.T.-treated surfaces have a very high hardness level, much higher than traditional blued steel. This makes the surface abrasion-resistant, but it also ensures that the surface can’t be removed by scratching. The surface has a high chemical inertia, and that means BE.S.T. guns are completely corrosion-resistant and don’t need any special oil. These low-friction surfaces also have better lubricity than standard steel coatings. What’s more, the Benelli PVD/PECVD coating process doesn’t produce exhaust and is environmentally friendly.
Benelli conducted torture tests on BE.S.T. barrels to illustrate how effective this surface treatment really is. The first of these evaluations was to place traditional blued barrels and BE.S.T.-coated barrels in a salt fog test chamber.
Salt fog is highly corrosive to steel and causes oxidation to occur almost immediately. After 30 minutes in the chamber, the blued barrel began to rust, and after four hours the surface metal was completely oxidized. The BE.S.T. barrel fared far better. In fact, even after a full 200 hours of exposure to salt fog, the BE.S.T. barrel showed no signs of damage or corrosion. In practical terms, that means even waterfowlers who live on the coast and expose their firearms to salt spray on every hunting trip won’t have to worry about corrosion damaging their guns. I’ve seen at least two relatively new shotguns in coastal Texas that were so badly corroded by saltwater, that the metal had surely thinned—guns I wouldn’t even consider firing for fear of massive mechanical failure.
Benelli also evaluated the abrasion resistance of various barrels by exposing them to a steel wheel on a grinder. As you might imagine, the blued barrel took quite a beating in that test. After being exposed to the wheel, the bluing was gone and the unprotected steel lay bare. Other popular surface treatments were tested, but none stood up against the abuse of the wire wheel—except BE.S.T.. The BE.S.T. barrel survived the steel wheel exposure without a hitch.
Better lubricity and outstanding corrosion resistance make BE.S.T. a groundbreaking new technology for gun owners. Currently, Benelli is offering BE.S.T. on two different models: The Ethos and Super Black Eagle 3. What’s more, the company is so convinced that BE.S.T. will outlast anything currently on the market, that they warranty these guns against corrosion for 25 years.
We’re likely to see BE.S.T. treatments on other Benelli guns in the future, but it’s unlikely the technology will appear on other brands. Benelli didn’t trademark the BE.S.T. process, and that means there’s no access to the details of the company’s proprietary design. I suppose Benelli figured it took them 10 years to perfect the process, and it’ll take any other company the same amount of time to develop their own form of BE.S.T..
Months after I was initially introduced to the concept of BE.S.T. coatings, a Super Black Eagle 3 with Benelli’s new surface treatment found its way to me for testing. The parts of the Super Black Eagle 3 receiving the BE.S.T. graphite surface treatment are barrel and barrel extension, bolt and bolt handle, extended chokes, safety, sling studs, trigger, and trigger pins—virtually every steel piece in the gun. And while I didn’t conduct any saltwater bath or steel-wheel tests, I did my best to abuse the Super Black Eagle 3.
I took it into a pond and poured water on it. I put mud on the barrel and left it out overnight. I even slashed at the barrel with my car keys, only to wipe the scars clean afterward with a single stroke of my thumb. I was looking for any abnormality, any chink in the armor. There were none. The SBE3 didn’t have many weaknesses to start with, and the addition of the BE.S.T. treatment makes this gun even more robust than it already was.