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Cheap and simple copper plating of lead bullets

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Q. I am an avid shooter and would like to copper plate lead cast bullets cheap and simply. I have seen websites where you pickle the lead then use their solution for striking or plating, but you have to use their copper anodes. I would like to use scrap copper or even possibly pre 1983 pennies (95% copper), whatever source of copper I find cheapest. A big part of the hobby is shooting as cheap as possible as I enjoy having friends and family join me for a Saturday at the range. Also, I will admit it would be nice to have bullets as pretty as the big boys make them, not to mention being able to reload without lubing bullets. I do not have much knowledge in this area, only what I have read on the internet so please assume I know nothing and be detailed, including where to get supplies.

I would like to thank anyone who shares any knowledge with me, THANKS.

Craig McAdam
hobbyist - Macon, Georgia


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Q. I am looking for the same answer and found this with Google search engine. No answers yet. I have tried vinegar and salt solution, 1.5V D battery, heavy copper wire as the cathode and have managed to plate .0005" but cannot go beyond that point. Also tried battery acid solution but cannot get it to plate anymore.

Doug Henry
- San Jose, California


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A. I don't think you're going to be able to accomplish what you want. I used to plate lead bullets for an industrial munitions company. We used a fluoborate based acid followed by a heavy coating of cyanide copper. This is not a venture for the hobbyist.

Daryl Spindler
decorative nickel chrome plating - Portland, Tennessee

TUTORIAL FOR NEWBIES:

Copper scrap, pennies, and wire are less than ideal for copper plating -- which requires phosphorized copper anodes and/or a small amount of chloride ion for the anodes to dissolve properly (see letter 47124, "Passive anodes in the acid copper plating bath" for a discussion of that topic.

A vinegar and salt plating solution is ideal for a grammar school science project (see our FAQ, Electroplating -- How it Works) due to low toxicity, but is indeed so limited as to not be useful.

To get adhesion of plating onto lead requires hydrofluoric acid (HF) or other nasty fluoride-bearing chemicals; and nothing in a plating shop is treated with as much fear & respect by professionals as HF. Daryl is also saying that cyanide-based solutions are used; and cyanide should only be used by professionals who have received haz-mat training in its safe handing.



Can bullets be nylon coated?

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Q. For a variety of reasons, I'm a great fan of using cast lead alloy bullets in cartridge reloading. The chronic problem is the deposit of lead in rifling grooves beginning at the origin of the rifling in the breech. This is mitigated, but not solved through various practices in alloy composition, lubricants, and use of copper alloy gas checks crimped on the base.

It occurred to me that a coating, e.g. nylon or some other plastic would resolve this problem once and for all. This coating would have to strong enough to prevent the lead alloy from breaking through to the bore during the vigorous ride from breech to muzzle. The coating itself must not leave deposits that are difficult to remove. Maximum thickness would be .001" so that new bullet molds would not have to be designed.

Copper plating is a viable and widely used solution to this problem, but I'm looking for something simpler. This is a two-part question: what is the optimum material to use, and how can the coating be applied in a relatively simple and straightforward way?

Tony Gdeleted
Sierra Vista, Arizona


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A. You can also reduce build up by cryogenically processing the barrel for both less lead & powder residue, along with the increase in barrel life and increase in accuracy.

F. J. Diekman
- Streamwood, Illinois, USA


April 3, 2008

A. I would think that a dipped on paint process with something like epoxy plastic paint with an additive like powdered moly mixed in would do what you want. The Nylon coating process is pretty involved, with casting, cleaning, phosphate coating, putting the Nylon 11 on, heating to fuse ... not an easy process.

AW Fisk
- phoenix, Arizona, USA



Hobbyist copper plating of lead bullets

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Q. From what I have read online I decided my best way to accomplish what I wanted was to electroform the copper onto the lead. In case I am saying this wrong, I am plating in an acid copper bath to a thickness of about .010 inches forming a jacket around the bullet. I am plating at 100 ma. I would like to get input as to how to buff the bullets so they are smooth or should I add some proprietary ingredient to bath or change amps I am plating at. Any help would greatly be appreciated and thanks to the ones who have already responded.

Craig McAdam (returning)
hobbyist - Macon, Georgia

TUTORIAL:

"Electroform" is not quite the right word. Electroforming is where the plating layer itself becomes the object, and the object upon which the plating was done is discarded (hollow gold jewelry is electroformed onto a wax mold/mandrel for example). Craig seems to be saying his plating is sort of "shrink wrapped" onto the lead, rather than adhering the way adhesive tape would.


May 7, 2012

A. Craig,

The only way I have been able to get near polished bullets is:

1, as soon as I remove them from the plating, I hand dry them.
2, then using Cracked walnut dump them in my tumbler ~1hr.
3, then using corn cob and Dillon bullet polish, tumble ~1hr.

The bullets may not be as high a shine as factory but they do look good.

You could use rice for the first tumble if you do not wish to buy the walnut. It is cheaper but will need a bit longer in the tumbler.

Good Luck
david

David Laing
- melbourne, florida


February 29, 2008

Q. I am very interested in the process of copper plating cast bullets. The process of swaging jackets sounds too expensive, cumbersome and time consuming. Can anyone tell me how to find more detailed info on how to set it up, please. Thanks for any input.

A. Someone asked how to buff his plated bullets. I wonder if a swage die would help you. I have found links that led me to ebay where you can buy a die that will fit on a Rock Chucker that will swage the entire bullet =>

Rich Thompson
fellow shooter - Enville, Tennessee


May 5, 2009

A. I've been researching this thing for a while, and decided that while it seems cool to do, it's a lot easier to use a copper gas-check and a good bullet lube. A lot of leading comes from hot loads burning against the base of the bullet. keep velocities around 1700 FPS or less, and use a good lube, like glycerol monostearate (I found this by accident. It's used as an antistatic treatment for fabrics. It is stable at very high temps, and acts like a hard wax. Melts at 140 °F.)

I digress. Your solution should be made with copper sulphate. It's called "blue-stone". It's used to kill off algae in small ponds, or it used to be. Saturate the copper sulphate into distilled water (mix until the bluestone won't dissolve any further).

In a jar I took clean plumbing pipe scrap and covered it with concentrated sulphuric acid, and allowed that to saturate also.

I made a little tray of 10 Ga. copper wire for 25 bullets in a square 5" on a side suspended like a trapeze. I used a small plastic tub about a one quart size for the solution.

I used 20 Oz. copper sheet as the donor electrode. According to my reading, you need at least one square inch of anode for each square inch of surface to plate, so I just went with 25 square inches formed in a square ring around the perimeter of the tub. The solution is made by taking the saturated copper sulphate and adding the sulfuric acid solution in with a dropper 'til the pH reads (you need litmus paper for this) 2.0 or there about. Mix it in the tub.

Prep the bullets: I used straight muriatic acidamazoninfo to clean the bullets. I put them on a plastic tray made like the plating tray and let them sit for 10 min. and then dunked them up and down, and let them sit some more, for about an hour, till they're all dulled out. Then dump the acid and fill with distilled water. Rinse the bullets and then let them sit in the distilled water until you're ready to plate.

Power supply: The big boys use expensive power supplies that can supply high current at low voltage. I started with one bullet and one alkaline battery. Not good. I finally made a rack to parallel 25 1.2 V NIMH rechargeable batteries. That's 50 amps at 1.2 volts, but the current drops off quickly. 1.2 V adds material and as the voltage nears 0.4 V the plating gets finer.

place your prepared, dunked bullets on the plating rack, dunk into the solution and hook 'em up! Raise the rack up and down in the solution every 10 minutes or so and go watch TV. As the volt meter shows the batteries to be about flat (I used a cheapie DVM), pull a bullet and measure it. You should get 2-3 mils of plating. Remove, wash and buff. Had enough work yet?

Problems: I found that the bullets don't plate where they touch the rack. I may try a new rack with nibs sticking up so that I could drill a hole in the point and mount them upside down. I also found that the plating depth was greater where the bullets were closest to the anode, and I'm not sure if that was strictly because of proximity, or if I did not agitate the solution enough. The bullets are murder to squeeze through a sizing die. I wound up lubing them to get them through the die. Pure soft lead helps, but you throw away a lot of bad bullets because pure lead does not fill out the mold well. I saw no big improvement in accuracy at the end of the day. If I was going hunting I would use commercial jacketed bullets and work up the most accurate load, giving power a back seat within reason. That's all I got.

Richard P
- Los Angeles, California


May 7, 2012

A. Rich Thompson

I use a simple setup as Richard P, above. I use Root Stop copper sulfate and distilled water. Same saturated solution with root stop and leave some of the undissolved crystal at the bottom to insure a saturated solution.

I take about 1/4 oz from my auto battery to get a pH of about 2, acidic enough to make the solution a good conductor. Just be very careful as the sulfuric acid will do damage and burn you.

Casting the bullets, I do a water drop from the mold and transfer them from the water into a coffee can with Colman fuel. This will prevent oxidation of the lead and can be stored for long periods without danger of acid.

Plating, I use TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate) and warm water [saturated solution] in a can to clean the bullets of any oils. This is safer than using acid. We used this in the subs to clean most anything. But it is a bit harsh on your hands, so wear gloves.

Plating Bath: I keep the bath at ~110 °F and move the solution around using a miniature pump. I used a desktop fountain waterfall.

Using a simple 110VAC to 24VDC center tapped transformer [110V in 24V center tapped 2A out} and a full wave diode bridge, I control the current using a 50 Ohm wire wound ceramic resistor with a wiper terminal. If you set it at ~20 Ohms you will have ~1A with 24 VDC. I found the resistor at a locale electronics reclaim shop for ~$5. you might find the transformer and diode pact there as well.

I use a sheet of copper on the bottom and copper wires across the top of a cheep glass cooking dish that is about 2" high edge and plastic tube to move the solution around through the pump.

To hold the bullets, I use enameled copper wire [again from the reclaim store] The enamel on the wire is impervious to most any solvent I can find at the hardware store, including some acids. So by cutting the wire at an angle, I have a sharp point of bare copper wire to make electrical contact.

The wire looks like a "C" but at sharp angles. The angular cut section is point up and bends 90 degrees. the bottom runs the diameter of the largest bullet you intend to plate. Then bend it up 90 degrees to a height of about 2x that of the tallest bullet. Now bend it down at ~45 degrees until it lined up with the sharp edge, now bend it up inline with the sharp tip.

The top of the hanger, I scraped off the coating and form it into a loop as a hanger. This loop makes electrical contact with the copper wire.

You may want to add a little strength to the copper wire. Simple, just place one end in a vice and on a long run, using vice grips pull the wire until you feel it stretch a little. This will add more spring strength and give the formed "C" some spring action.

Now place the bullet with the bottom against the pointed section and the head at the sharp bend at the top. If the bullet does not hold fast,just pull the top at 90 degrees to the bullet a little and it should hold.

Drop it onto the copper wires, turn on the pump and power to the DC supply and it takes about 20-30 min to plate 0.002" - 0.003" at 1 A current.

If you want more info, let me know and I will answer your questions and even send you a photo to help explain the above.

By the way, I am an electrical engineer and shooter.

david

David Laing
- Melbourne, Florida


May 26, 2009

thumbsup2Some great responses and very helpful I have been plating a few bullets and have had acceptable results with acid copper solution in all areas except adhesion which is poor; plating looks great but isn't bonded well. I use a homemade barrel plater made from 8" PVC and it will do about 500 at a time and eliminates the problem of unplated areas on the bullets, plus requires no action once started
Will try the muriatic acid prep described in a previous post.

Henry Dula
- Stony Point, North Carolina


June 13, 2009

Q. I could easily be wrong but it is my understanding that in electroplating the anode is the plate-er and the cathode is the plate-ee? So, how do the bullets rolling around in a plastic drum become part of the electrical circuit?

Mike Grider
- Fresno, California


July 7, 2009

! The tumble plater sounds interesting, please describe its construction and RPM. Are there ribs inside to encourage the bullets to tumble rather than slide? How is the circuit completed? I am guessing that the inside of the pipe is lined with the cathode material and the center or axle is a copper bar to act as the donor anode? This may renew my interest in this endeavor, as I had become disinterested, due to the extraordinary amount of work and marginal results that I obtained after several tries at it. The whole thing may be a moot point if I can't find any primers or powder.

Richard P (returning)
- Los Angeles, California


July 2009

A. Hi, Mike; hi, Richard. We have an online article here on Barrel Plating which will show you the basics. And, yes, the cathode is the "plate-ee" :-)

Good luck!

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

July 8, 2009

Q. I want to plate lead bullets with copper. What method should I use. Is cyanide still available and not a banned substance?

Stan Kaczor
- Port Elizabeth, East Cape, South Africa


July 21, 2009

A. Hi, Stan. Cyanide is not banned in the USA, although it may be banned in South Africa. But the fact that this very powerful poison is available to trained workers in industry doesn't necessarily mean that a hobbyist can easily get it. Lead is very hard and dangerous to plate really properly: it also requires hydrofluoric acid to activate, which is about the nastiest chemical the plating industry deals with. As hobbyists have reported here, the processes they use offer no adhesion and they are relying on sort of a "shrink wrap" effect to hold the plating on. We don't censor people, so we've printed their suggestions ... but it certainly doesn't mean we accept them as less than very hazardous.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


July 24, 2009appended

Q. How do bullet companies plate their bullets? How do they get an even layer over the entire surface of a lead core?

Lucian Marin
- mount prospect, Illinois, USA


March 15, 2012

Q. Hi! I want to copper plate lead bullets with a thickness of 0.020" and the plate need to be extremely adhered to the lead for preventing jacket separation in travel through the bore giving the accuracy of a Jacketed projectile. My questions are: What type of machines should I use -- tumblers? How long I should run the process? I know that it's really difficult to stick copper onto lead by electroplating but some use hydrofluoric acid to help this. I'm not an expert but I really want to engage this ... what books do you recommend about this topic? what other methods do you recommend?

Thanks!

Nicholas Tarayre
product designer and gunsmith - Argentina


November 7, 2013

Q. Dave Laing

I am interested to know how well your plating process reduced lead fouling of the barrel?

Thanks

Jim Powell
- Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.


Wire feed welder as a plating power supply?

August 27, 2014

Q. What about using a Wire Feed Welder (110v.) as a plating power source--me (DUMMY?) maybe?. Or -- if only .223 or 5.56 bullets use fired .22 lr cartridge cases as bullet jackets in a Bullet swaging setup. Works great--double duty and cheap--but must buy Swaging dies, but will pay itself back in short period of time. 1000 rounds later, used up a couple weekends though, but "What the H____".

martin_pierce
Martin Pierce
- Long Beach, California, USA , West Coast

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