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topic 0085

Copper electroforming problems

Current questions and answers:

February 19, 2021

Q. I have a ring I electroformed I followed the instructions and painted only where I wanted my copper to go and sealed my stones with latex. But the copper totally covered my stones, is there a way to remove it now so I can have my stones show?

Patsy Solomon
- Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
^- Reply to this post -^





March 19, 2021

Q. I am extremely new to electro forming I have my red wire connected to the copper anode and my black wire attached to the copper wire that is holding my piece (pendant covered in graphite paint) I have watched several videos on how to set up my rectifier however my vault do not seem to go up no matter what dial I move. The amps will go up but the voltage does not. What am I doing wrong? Also is it normal for your piece to be covered in blue stuff from the bath?

Madison Warren
- Lebanon Ohio
^- Reply to this post -^



We'd like to give credit for this graphic explaining Ohm's Law (A = V / Ω) but see it on many websites without info of whose work it actually was :-( ohms law
March 2021

A. Hi Madison. The voltmeter on your rectifier is apparently defective because the amps is not increasing unless the voltage also increasing. If you have a portable multimeter you can check the voltage between the red and black wires and verify this.

If your piece is covered in blue stuff perhaps your graphite paint is rough and spongey.

I realize that people would like to swallow the whole elephant in a single bite, but I think everything will go much faster for you if you do some trial plating on metal first. Plating/electroforming is hard enough to learn without adding the complication of a graphite paint attempt at metallization.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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April 9, 2021

Q. Hi.
I don't know what's wrong with my electroforming tank. I am now getting these random streaking/ erratic ridges on the surface of my samples.

I made some silly decisions and messed with it. it was over-saturated so I added 1L distilled water to 9L tank, at the same time I filtered the solution through a house filter. Did not come out completely clear - still a bit murky. Additionally, I made another 2L of the solution up and added it because I needed a bigger bath (however it's important to note I did not add any chloride because I am trying to achieve texture).
My pH is now around 0.8. I'm getting about 2.0 amp to 1.0 V.
Ran a test piece overnight and got a lot of texture. Ran 20 min test piece this morning, streaking still evident, and pieces are incredibly brittle.
Also worth noting I have no brightener in the bath. So at least that removes one of my troubles.

marlo lyda
- Eindhoven Netherlands
^- Reply to this post -^



April 16, 2021

Q. Hello! First of all I'm from Spain and hard to find a lot of the items and materials needed.

I just want to start electroforming, bought an Alkaline copper plating solution 1L, don't know if I should get the acidic one.

I have my rectifier that goes to 30V- 10 Amp.(I use it to a very low V/A)

I have bare copper wire in a small plastic container, where the 1L of solution fits.

The thing is I ordered the conductive paint, as I want to make some jewelry with no conductive materials, bus as now I don't have it yet, so I tried the Graphite and Acrylic paint method but... it doesn't work, like at all. I already putted in some metal pieces to know if they would plate/electroform and for sure they do, also the copper wire I hang my pieces from gets dark or so on when fitting at first the rectifier.

So... am I not using the right homemade conductive paint measurements/recipe? I did a lot of tests with different ratios and nothing works. ALSO, IMPORTANT: I just let the paint dry and the put it in the bath, I'm not sure if I should do lot of layers and wait like hours or a day for the graphite paint to dry or if is just because I should just wait for the real deal, the good conductive paint?

Thank you before hand!

Marta Fraile
- Alicante Spain
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April 18, 2021

Q. I am experiencing white anode. After I used some muriatic acid... Also the blue is losing color... Cooper forms on objects a pale salmon and very smooth. Can my bath be saved? If so what do I need to do. The easiest way would be to start over but I want to learn how to fix mistakes.

Tonie Knutz
- Curtis, washington
^- Reply to this post -^

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Ed. note: Hi folks. Please remember that this is a public mutual-help forum, not a consulting service. Please try your best to answer a question not just post your own. Thanks!




Previous closely related Q&A's starting in:

1995

Q. I am attempting to electrodeposit a copper layer on a silver coated conductive substrate (wax), resembling a large coin/medallion. It is very important to me to preserve as much of the surface detail as possible, because my next step will be to melt away the wax and use the plated copper as a mold. The diameter of the wax medallions is approximately 6 inches. I am experiencing surface burning, dendritic features, surface "wrinkles", porosity in the areas of low radius curvature, and spontaneous flowering of beads. I must be doing something wrong. Can anyone help me? Thanks for any info or advise.

D Marti


affil. link
"Principles of Electroplating and Electroforming"
by Wm Blum
from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon

1995

A. Hi, D. Yes, as you suspect, the problem is not the limitations of the technology, but that you are doing something wrong :-)

The preservation of detail that you are looking for is not even a challenge for a properly operating process. Compact discs with their billions of precise dimples, and record stampers, wave guides, precision screening and a host of super critical items are made by processes similar to yours.

First, please talk to a plating chemical supplier and consider getting a proprietary copper plating bath. Their leveling/brightening agents are the result of decades of research and development. Follow their technical data sheet, and you'll quickly see dramatic improvement. Then control the temperature as recommended, and keep the amperage in a very low range. You may also want to get out to some local AESF meetings to discuss your situation and polish your skills still further.

Although you want to minimize the defects you speak of, they are on the outside of the electroform and it is the inside surface that is most important because it will be replicated. Good luck.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


1995

A. My company also does electroforming on wax shapes (for a totally different application) and it sounds like a bath control problem. Follow the previous advice and tank to a qualified vendor. We are using a product that was developed for rotogravure (printing) but we control to a lower hardness. It is a proprietary bath and I'm sure other vendors have good products too.

bill vins
Bill Vins
microwave & cable assemblies - Mesa (what a place-a), Arizona 



Leveler / Brightener for Acid Copper Electroforming

1996

Q. I NEED HELP FINDING A FORMULA FOR MAKING A LEVELER/BRIGHTENER FOR ACID COPPER ELECTROFORMING. I'VE BEEN USING SOME COMMERCIALLY PREPARED ONES, BUT THEY HAVE BEEN VERY EXPENSIVE TO BUY AND SHIP. I WOULD VERY MUCH APPRECIATE ANYONE'S HELP ON THIS ONE. I AM ELECTROFORMING ART OBJECTS, AND LEVEL DEPOSITS ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO ME … BRIGHT IS OK, BUT NOT NEARLY AS IMPORTANT AS LEVEL AND NON-NODULATED. PLEASE HELP. THANKS.

MARK STANITZ

^- Reply to this post -^


affil. link
"Electroplating and Electroforming for Artists and Craftsmen"
by Jay H. Newman
from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon

A. Hi, Mark.

Sorry that commercial products are expensive to buy and ship, but virtually every production plating shop finds that they really are worth it. Hopefully a reader can offer some ideas for specific generic formulas, but I don't have any. In fact, I think that you might benefit from considering a different proprietary salt rather than copper sulphate.

One point to remember is it takes time to make a quality electroform--a lot of time! While it may be possible to acid copper plate at 40-50 ASF, you'll probably need to electroform at a small fraction of that to avoid nodules. Best of luck.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


2001

A. One thing is very important. Are you using air for agitation of the solution? If not, this is very important for distribution of copper and leveling. Then, and this is for the last 41 years, is a product that I use: its called UBAC#1. I also have made electroformed copper guitar, one piece guitar. I can also duplicate any wooden instrument in copper, but that's a different story.

David Neily
- Watsonville, California, USA
^- Reply to this post -^



Electroforming rectifier questions

2000

Q. I have recently purchased a small plating rectifier and accoutrements for my small jewelry business, and have attempted to electroform some small items as a sideline. Recently, the copper electroforming is, well, not working. I have had some success (a nice, bright finish), and some failures (a lumpy, dark finish -- because I "burnt" the process), but the last several attempts have resulted in a smooth, dark, oily finish -- what on earth have I done wrong? AND does it have anything to do with the fact that my rectifier is now "on the blink" and doesn't seem to transmit any electricity to the leads? (Although the oily finish started a day or so before the rectifier started acting up)

Blake Johnson
- Oakland, California
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2000

A. I have done an extensive amount of electroforming in my business. I have done everything from real flowers to baby shoes to wax models.

From some of your successful attempts, I assume that you are applying the conductive paint, silver nitrate, tin solution, etc., in a proper manner prior to plating. From my experience, you can look at the part after it had been in the tank for about a half an hour to get a very good indication whether your power (amps) is properly set. If the part is copper colored like a new penny, then your setting is perfect. Salmon-pink equals amps too low. Burnt brown or dark brown, amps too high. Try to calculate the area being electroformed as best you can. 10th of an amp per square inch … no less … no more. As for your rectifier, it may be on the blink.

Henry H Hemsley
Pewter and Plating - Bel Air, Maryland
^- Reply to this post -^


thumbs up signVery exacting and informative, Henry. Thanks!

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey



Copper electroforming with non hazardous chemicals

2002

Q. I have absolutely no experience electroplating or electroforming with anything. My intention is to electroform copper onto a conductive paste. I want to avoid hazardous materials, even if it takes a great deal more time to build up the copper. I came across letter 4188, "9th grade electroplating science fair project" which suggests using acetic acid (vinegar), Epson salt (magnesium sulfate), sugar and dishwashing fluid (a drop).

I also came across a site that implied their particular electroforming solution was acid based (non alkaline? -- probably sulfuric acid?) but no details, and I also came across a detailed electroplating? formula:

0.25 M Copper Sulfate
1.8 M Sulfuric Acid
40-100 ppm Chloride ions
50-500 ppm Polyalkylene-Glycol
5-100 ppm Organic Sulfide (SPS)

Anyway, my questions are: Is it even feasible to electroform with an acetic acid in general? If so, does anyone have a good formula? Or could someone critique the formula that I pieced together:

5% acetic acid (vinegar)
0.25 M Copper Sulfate (62.48 grams/liter)
50-500 ppm Polyether (polyalkylene glycol)
some amount of Sugar?

I have so many questions (ugh). Is that formula realistic? Does anyone know how much sugar per liter is an optimal amount? Is Epson salt still needed or beneficial along with the copper sulfate? If so, does anyone know the optimal amount per liter? Does anyone know or is there a way I can estimate how high I can push and maintain the bulk copper concentrate, and an optimal realistic value to aim for (is more always better for the bulk copper concentrate)? With the absence of chloride, is polyether still an effective leveler? Does adding the drop of dishwashing fluid enhance that formula?

A couple of followup questions: the flow rate that I read so much about, does that refer more to the agitation of the solution, or the filtration pump recirculating rate, or both, or neither? When it comes to the agitation and number of times the solution gets filtered per hour, is more always better? One final question: in a setup like described does anyone know the highest voltage advisable without running the risk of "burning"; does that depend on the size of the bath and surface area of the copper anode? And can someone experienced point out to me where my novice / ignorance on electroplating is jumping out at them, and offer any information I'm lacking.

Best Regards,

Joseph James
- Bridgman, Michigan, USA
^- Reply to this post -^


2002

A. Hi Joseph, I can see that we have confused you a bit. Sorry, but please try to forget the idea of vinegar, epsom salt, and sugar! That was proposed solely to help grade school children present a science project with little risk (vinegar is exceptionally mild, and in every kitchen; epsom salt cannot release chlorine gas no matter what because it contains no chloride; sugar is a brightener of questionable if any value, but allows for safe experimenting whereas real brighteners can be hazardous). If a child knocks the project to the floor, which happens on science night in elementary school, there's no real problem. The solution is completely wrong for serious electroplating or electroforming for a dozen reasons.

As for hazardous materials, "'Toxic' is a matter of statute, not opinion" -- attributed from my recollection to former NJ Governor Tom Kean. When chemicals are employed on a commercial basis for electroplating they are, by law, categorically hazardous anyway. If you managed to electroform out of the school children's vinegar solution, you would still be, by law, generating regulated hazardous waste :-(

A realistic guideline about avoiding hazardous processes though would be to not consider using any cyanide-based solutions, any concentrated acid or alkali, any chromic acid, any cadmium, mercury or lead, or any fluoride compound no matter how dilute. Copper sulphate based solutions can be used for electroforming, and copper sulphate is often used in high schools for similar experiments.

As for the desired concentration of copper, it's pretty much "the more the better". A simplified explanation is that the copper ions must migrate across the solution and through the boundary layer, and you do not want the cathode ever "starved for copper" because then the excess electrons will pull hydrogen ions out of solution instead, leaving behind OH ions to neutralize the acid you need and causing other problems. High circulation rates make for better filtration and better ion transport across the solution.

As for what you might be missing that "jumps out at me", it's that real plating processes are not home-brew affairs. You don't mix them from basic chemicals; you buy a proprietary plating/electroforming solution from suppliers who have figured out, from years of research, exactly what they need to contain besides the bulk ingredients like copper sulphate. One other thing that jumps out is that you will find it productive of your time to visit a library and look for the "Metal Finishing Guidebook", the "Electroplating Engineering Handbook" [affil. link to book on Amazon], or another plating textbook; books are invariably arranged in a structured tutorial fashion where learning is straightforward, whereas wandering around between smatterings of web pages from different sites offers no organizational structure, so progress can be difficult and tedious, and always involves the ten steps forward / nine steps back protocol because you'll always partially misunderstand things when the information doesn't come to you in proper sequence :-)
Best of luck!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey



Eco friendly electroforming?

2007

Q. Hi, this is Ornella from the RCA and I wanted to know if there is any kind of solution for electroforming in copper and silver that can be used and which would be not so bad for the environment? My work is based on this process but it is also related to Nature and I think it might be a bit paradoxical to use chemicals to say that we should take care about Nature … Let me know if you've got any suggestion. Thanks

ORNELLA IANNUZZI
student - UK
^- Reply to this post -^


2007

A. Hi Ornella. I don't necessarily see environmental harm from either of these processes. The potential environmental harm comes from misuse or mishandling of the process solutions, not from the electroformed object. But silver plating may only be practical from cyanide based solutions and they are quite dangerous to use, and only for the experienced, not for beginners. Copper should be fine, and if you need a contrasting color, maybe think of nickel rather than silver?

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey


2007

A. Acid copper electroforming is a comparatively harmless solution if compared with cyanide-based. As Silver electroforming solution you can use ferrocyanide bath (1% of cyanide toxicity and it works), phosphate bath (according to one ex-USSR handbook), or thiosulphate bath (according to one expired US patent) or you can buy proprietary bath. Hope it helps and good luck!

Goran Budija
- Zagreb, Croatia
^- Reply to this post -^


2007

A. Ted is right. All plating solutions are harmless to the environment until they are wrongly used and processed and let loose into the environment. However, if you want to take account of the carbon footprint of the solutions, then you need to do a complete life cycle analysis and I am not sure this has been done in the chemical industry. Electroforming is a precise and delicate science that has taken many years to perfect. It is not possible to formulate a new electrolyte that is green (although nickel solutions are all green!) as the requirements are for specific deposit properties. The best electroforming solution for nickel is nickel sulphamate and for silver it is silver cyanide. The trick to making these environmentally green is to keep them away from the environment and have sufficient environmental protection that they cannot get in contact with the environment.

trevor crichton
Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK



To minimize search efforts and to offer multiple viewpoints, we combined previously separate threads onto this page. Please forgive any resultant repetition, failures of chronological order, or what may look like readers disrespecting previous responses -- those other responses may not have been on the page at the time :-)



How to electroform copper anodes for spark erosion

2003

Q. I want to make electroformed copper electrodes for spark erosion to make moulds for glass products with different designs. Can you suggest the method how it can be made, with the process and the know how? I am ready to enter into a technical tie-up or know-how transfer. Can you also suggest to me an alternate to make the designs in the moulds?

Parmanand P Acharya
mouldmaker - Baroda , Gujarat, India
^- Reply to this post -^


2003

A. In electroforming the basic principles involve the selection and special treatment of the mother surface to permit separation and a proper chemistry and plating parameters to produce very thick coatings without cracks, distortion or premature separation. From this very brief idea you can follow that you need a pattern with exactly the negative surface of the electrode (positive to the EDM mold surface). The rest is a matter of either years of personal research and involvement or the hiring of a professional in the field. One organization that could help you is The Nickel Development Institute.

Guillermo Marrufo
Monterrey, NL, Mexico
^- Reply to this post -^



High-Strength Electroformed Copper Parts

2007

Q. I'm interested in electroforming parts to create small, intricate pressure vessels. I've read all about large liquid rocket engines using electroformed nickel and copper structures to produces parts that would be near-impossible to machine. Obviously these rocket engine structures withstand an incredibly high amount of thermal and mechanical stresses.

My project involves electroforming copper parts that must be able to withstand a fairly high level of stress due to pressurization. Although I've done a bit of research I've never seen anyone directly compare the mechanical properties of electroformed parts to those of raw machined stock. Will I be able to electroform parts capable of taking appreciable loads?

From what I've read in texts and in some of the finishing.com posts, the best mechanical performance sounds like it comes from pure, clean copper sulfate solutions with relatively low current densities. Is that correct?

Can someone recommend a good starting point for me to experiment with the plating solution and current levels? My part has roughly 0.6 ft^2 of area and I'm hoping to deposit roughly 0.120 inch of thickness. There is no need to produce these parts quickly so it is acceptable if it takes a long time to plate on the desired thickness.

Thanks! Finishing.com is an amazing resource!

-Ian

Ian Whittinghill
University of Southern California - Los Angeles, California, USA
^- Reply to this post -^

----
Ed. note: Thank you for the kind words, Ian. As you've already discovered, we at finishing.com personally contribute little of the technical expertise; we rely on the generosity of a good number of regular contributors. When you thank us, we trust that they realize that you are thanking them.


2007

A. I think you should get a copy of the book "Properties of Electrodeposited Metals and Alloys" [affil. link to book on Amazon], by W. Safranek. It's full of references to the properties of electroplated or electroformed copper (and other metals too) using different electrolytes and conditions. Also, mechanical work hardens copper (all kinds) and makes it more resistant.

Guillermo Marrufo
Monterrey, NL, Mexico
^- Reply to this post -^


2007

A. Also get ASTM B832 [affil. link to spec at Techstreet], 'Standard Guide for Electroforming with Nickel and Copper',
and a freebie, 'INCO NICKEL ELECTROFORMING PROCESSES AND APPLICATIONS' at www.inco.com/customercentre/nickelplating/science/pdf/EcopyElectroformingGuide.pdf

The above items together are basically an update of the Electroforming chapter in Electroplating Engineering Handbook, 4th Edn., although omit iron electroforming.

The Electroforming chapter in The Canning Handbook, pages 573-590 (23rd Edn.), gives more information on plating Ni-Co alloys.

The Electroforming chapter in ASM Handbook, Vol. 5 Surface Engineering, is short but gives more iron plating solutions and mentions periodic current reversal for producing fine-grained copper of excellent mechanical properties in greater thicknesses.

One probably can locate additional information by searching on the authors and titles of papers presented at the 1996 AESF & NiDI Electroforming Course & Symposium, www.finishing.com/library/conferences/eform96.html

However, I have some doubt that an electroformed copper pressure vessel is permissible under the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. Staying below 10 inches diameter will avoid the regulations.

Also, pure copper isn't very strong and suffers from creep when moderately heated, so normally isn't used for pressure vessels. The wrought Cu alloys typically used are alloyed with Ni, Sn, Al, Fe, Zn, Mn, etc.* and have annealed strengths 1.5 to 4 times that of pure Cu. For higher strengths, Cu can be clad onto steel.** The NASA rocket application requires extremely high thermal conductivity rather than high strength -- an oxygen-hydrogen combustion chamber is cooled by liquid hydrogen -- so the only alternatives to copper are silver & gold.

* ASTM B171/B171M [affil. link to spec at Techstreet] , 'Standard Specification for Copper-Alloy Plate and Sheet for Pressure Vessels, Condensers, and Heat Exchangers,' and ASTM B96/96M [affil. link to spec at Techstreet] , 'Standard Specification for Copper-Silicon Alloy Plate, Sheet, Strip, and Rolled Bar for General Purposes and Pressure Vessels.'

** ASTM B432 [affil. link to spec at Techstreet], 'Standard Specification for Copper and Copper Alloy Clad Steel Plate.' "The material is generally intended for pressure vessel use but may be used in other structural applications where corrosion resistance or conductivity of the alloy is of prime importance."

Ken Vlach
- Goleta, California

contributor of the year

Finishing.com honored Ken for his countless carefully
researched responses. He passed away May 14, 2015.
Rest in peace, Ken. Thank you for your hard work
which the finishing world continues to benefit from.

----
Ed. note, Dec 2016: As an update to Ken's incredibly generous bibliography & research, Inco is now a part of Vale which sadly seems uninterested in the product stewardship that Inco was so noted for. Sorry, not only can't we find that one particular article but, unless I'm missing something, I see none of Inco's famous white papers on their site anymore :-(
However, Gar Electroforming is currently maintaining a copy of that paper at
garelectroforming.com/downloads/Inco-ElectroformingGuide_Oct-13-2011.pdf
Download it while you can, product stewardship seems so 'yesterday' for today's megacorps :-)



Treeing / burning only on bottom of electroformed objects

2007

Q. Treeing and burning only on bottom side of acid copper electroformed objects? I am using a simple acid copper bath for electroforming on ceramics. It seems that no matter where I place the anodes, or how I agitate the solution, dendrites form much more on the lower portion of the object. They also show blackening unless I scale the current way back. I don't get it … the solution concentration should be the same through any vertical cross section of the bath, and even if I place the anodes higher than the center point of the object or move them away, the bottom still forms a denser dendritic growth (with blackening) than the top or sides. What am I not taking into account?

Robert Coyle
product designer - Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
^- Reply to this post -^


2007

A. Hi Robert,
If this was high current density burning you would think you would be getting it at the top or at the point of rack/wire to part or outer edges. Because I don't know of your exact bath make-up, I can only suggest fixturing a copper thieving strip an inch or so below the part. If you can't incorporate the thief strip on the rack or wire you can hang the strip from the cathode bar with two pieces of copper wire for placement. This will help, and most likely eliminate burning. Good Luck!

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Syracuse, New York
^- Reply to this post -^


2007

A. Either the bottom of your anodes hangs well below the part, or you are getting stray current through something metallic which is below the part. Piping, heater, etc.

jeffrey holmes
Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
Spartanburg, South Carolina


2007

Q. I have tried raising the anodes so they are well above the midpoint of the object being plated. The geometry of the object doesn't seem to matter. I still plates selectively on the bottom side.

I am plating glazed ceramics that are somewhat acid sensitive so I am using a copper sulphate/acetic acid/boric acid solution that seems to plate well but doesn't attack the glaze as sulfuric or HCl would.

I did find a little anode metal precipitated out at the bottom of the tank. Maybe that's the problem? I'll clean it out and try again.

Thanks.

Bob Coyle

Robert P Coyle [returning]
- Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
^- Reply to this post -^


2007

A. I think that Mark is on the right track. Current will bounce off the floor of the tank and increase plate on the bottom. I also wonder if you have enough agitation in the tank.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida
^- Reply to this post -^


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