Cheap and simple copper plating of lead bullets
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
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
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
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
May 7, 2012
- melbourne, florida, bevard
February 29, 2008
Q. I am very interested in the process of copper plating cast bullets. The process of swaging jackets sounds to 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. 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 =>
fellow shooter - Enville, Tennessee
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 gascheck 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 acid to clean the bullets. I but 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 your 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 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.
- Los Angeles, California
May 7, 2012
A. Rich Thompson
I use a simple setup as Richard Plater, 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 ~110F and move the solution around using a miniature pump. I used a desktop fountain water fall.
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 24VDC. 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 bear 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 scrapped 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 20-30min to plate 0.002- - 0.003" at 1A 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.
- Melbourne, Florida
May 26, 2009
! Some 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 in 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.
- Stony Point, North Carolina
June 13, 2009
i. 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-e . 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 it's 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 Plater (returning)
- Los Angeles, California
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-e" :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Brick, 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
A. Hi, Stan. Cyanide is not banned in the USA, but it may be banned in South Africa. But the fact that this incredibly 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: it also requires hydrofluoric acid to activate, which is about the nastiest chemical the plating industry deals with.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Brick, New Jersey
July 24, 2009
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 its 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?
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?
- Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.
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