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topic 001

Electroplating Skulls, Leaves, Flowers



A discussion started in 1995 & continuing through 2017

(1995)

Q. Can you suggest sources of info on electroplating or bronzing organic material such as animal skulls?

[name deleted for privacy by Editor]


(1995)

A. I can tell you what is done to finish non-conductors in the (vinyl) record industry and in our business (electroforming coaxial cable devices).

In vinyl record production (I did this years ago) an acetate master is cleaned, sensitized, then sprayed with a two component silver compound which lays down a very thin coating of pure silver. This silver is the conductor on which nickel is then plated. When plating is done the acetate is peeled off, the silver is stripped, and you have a negative image from which to press additional records or from which to make "Mothers" from which to make additional pressing plates, ad infinitum. Each plating cycle introduces more micro defects which show up as hiss, etc., so there is a limit as to how far you can go.

In our current process, a shape is injection molded with special wax, then cleaned, sensitized, and sprayed with the same silver spray system as above. Then we copper plate to a thickness of 10-20 mils. The wax is evacuated and the remaining shape (a precision electrical cable/connector assembly) is trimmed to spec and undergoes final test/assembly.

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


(1995)

Midas Silver Conductive Paint

A. Besides the electroplating societies (www.nasf.org) and the links you find from finishing.com, and the electroplating texts we recommend, I can tell you quickly what my experience has been for this kind of work.

1) I always used "other people's" electroplating facilities. That is, it was a hobby for me, so I used a plating tank during lunchtime or whatever. If you have an electroplating facility available, that's great. If you are thinking of setting up your own tanks, it's possible, but in today's world, it means wastewater, waste sludge, permits, etc.

2) I never plated big stuff, but for the nuts and berries and leaves I fooled with, I used a silver conductive paint. I think it was called Electrodag or something. I think you might be able to airbrush the paint onto the subject.

3) It requires a little technique for starting the plating strike with low current and many contact points so you don't burn off the silver paint.

4) The biggest problem, I think, that you need to overcome with organic material is sealing the thing so plating solutions are not absorbed during immersion. It ruins the job when you have tiny points of bleed-out which corrodes and destroys the look. You might try multiple dips or sprays of a wax, then paint the wax and plate. So watch out for hot solutions which will expand the trapped air. (I know a person who plated a banana and it blew up in his desk, so remove the brain before plating skulls.) Or how about making a mold of the skull, then a reverse of plaster, then plate that?

5) Ted Mooney is getting a copy of this letter. He told me that they electroplate orchids somewhere in the Far East. Those are the people you want to talk to!

6) Good Luck, and send me a photo of your work when it's done. I may want one for my house in Vail, if I ever get a house in Vail.

7) If I did or did not help, I would be glad to try again.

tom pullizzi monitor
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township,
   Pennsylvania 



sidebar  

There was a reference to plating orchids there. I wondered if this was a put-on, this is mighty close to gilding the lily.

Ward W [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
aeronautical & navigation- Louisville, Kentucky


thumbs up signThanks for the allusion, Ward :-)

But gold plated orchids are a reality =>

Bill described the making of vinyl record stampers and hollow electroforms plated onto wax where adhesion to the substrate is unimportant. So the one note I would add to Bill and Tom's nice responses is that in some other cases the plating must adhere excellently to the substrate which you've plated onto: in those cases the two-part silvering which Bill described may not offer the necessary adhesion. That metallization approach is not used, for example, for chrome plated plastic automotive grills because the plating would not stick well enough for exterior automotive applications. So it is necessary to understand the application before a proposed metallization process can be proposed; a plated skull which sits on a desk might use two-part silvering; but one which is mounted on a motorcycle would probably need a more robust metallization method. Good luck. Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



(2007) -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I would like to electroplate a flower with copper. The problem is that the flower is a non-conductor of electricity. So, do anyone have any ideas of how to electroplate the flower? Thank you.

Jennifer H. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Student - Singapore


  -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I read your postings at finishing.com and I found them very interesting, congratulations.

I want to ask you if you can help me on how to prepare organic stuff like flowers or insects making them ready for gold depositing or plating.

Thanks a lot in advance

Humberto M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Mexico


March 3, 2010

A. Pour glue all over the flower and sprinkle carbon powder over it (make sure to cover all places) conduct the electroplating.

shaun Chee
- Singapore



 

Q. I am a GCSE student in Chichester, England. I have taken is art & design. I saw something on the net about electroforming over leaves, I would love to do this as part of my project and was wondering whether anyone could tell me how I would go about this? Any help would be very helpful.

P.S. I can probably get everything from school but a list would be helpful.

William G [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
-Chichester, England


December 26, 2008

thumbs up signSounds very interesting. I hope you will succeed. Good luck!

Lisa Wong
- Qingdao, China


A. Hello William. Please see our FAQ about plating organic materials for a start.

Our FAQ doesn't give a list of materials yet, sorry. On the other hand, the education of a surgeon doesn't begin with a list of scalpels and clamps either :-)

Good luck!

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



May 17, 2009 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Does anyone know how to metallize (different metals/colors i.e. bronze, pewter, silver, etc.) skulls or bone?

Jim Spencer
hobbyist - Greenwood, Indiana


August 6, 2011

A. Hi, Jim.

We appended your inquiry to a thread that will at least partially answer it. Once the object is metallized you can electroplate it with nickel, bronze, copper, silver, or whatever plate-able metal you wish as an alternative to gold plating. Good luck!

Those who are interested in this topic will probably also find the following threads interesting: letters 934 on "Coatings for metallizing non conductors", and 15106 on "Electroplating insects and other small non-conductive items".

Regards,

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



(1997) -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I am interested in finding a method to gold plate ostrich eggs for display at crafts shows. I heard of a spray used to activate the egg surface prior to plating. If anyone else has any answers, it would be appreciated.

Franklin D Asbell


wikipedia
John Brashear

A. Yes, Franklin, you may be describing "two-component silvering solution". You simultaneously spray a silver salt and a reducing solution on the item in question. The silver in the salt is reduced to metallic silver. This is the same process that is used for silvering mirrors (research "the Brashear process") =>

But the silver will soon tarnish to black if not protected from the atmosphere, so you must electroplate a layer of something else onto the silver.

Alternately you may be looking for a conductive paint; this is heavily filled with copper or silver flakes for good conductivity. Best of luck.

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



(1998)

Q. Hi. I am conducting an independent study project on the topic of electroplating. I have only found very little and vague information on this topic. If anyone has any helpful information they can provide me with a.s.a.p. it would be greatly appreciated. Please send me anything and everything you may know on electroplating.

Thanking you in advance,

Newsha Kashani


(1998)

A. Dear Newsha,

You have found perhaps the greatest repository of non-vague information about electroplating (and metal finishing) this side of Alpha Centuri (and I do mean universe) here at finishing.com, and I am being modest.

Look in our FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) Off Our Home Page (OOHP), there is a section showing photos of an actual plating shop (I can't recall where it is, but try the library OOHP. There are formulas, book lists, and a petting zoo, deli, and a world class juice bar (the last three are not available on line).

Sincerely,

tom pullizzi monitor
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township,
   Pennsylvania 




Standards and Guidelines for Electroplated Plastics

(1998)

Q. I am interested in knowing all different methods available for plating on nonconductors especially plastics, with all it's scientific details, might someone has any info., or recommend any article or book in this subject.

Alex Kaven

----
Ed. note: Our FAQ on Plating Organic Material now lists all of the various ways to metallize non-conductors. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but automotive plastics (grills, etc.) are invariably metallized via electroless plating on plastics because the adhesion is sufficient for this very tough service =>


(1998)

A. Dear Alex,

Basically, you need to make the surface conductive, so that it will carry an electric current. If you do not have access to a university library, you might be better off looking around these pages at finishing.com. A lot of letters have been posted over the years. See our library section off our home page, www.finishing.com

Regards,
tom pullizzi signature
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania 




Q. Could you please help me to find an etchant (it is probably some acid, but I am not sure) to slightly etch some organic materials, like dry leaves or flowers, to better reveal their internal structure.

Ekoba M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Cleveland, Ohio


December 18, 2011

A. Hi, Ekoba.

Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide, Drano [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]) is very aggressive towards organic material, including leaves, flowers, and you. So be sure to wear goggles [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] and protective gloves [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] as a minimum. It's dangerous stuff. Start with lukewarm water and add a few crystals. It probably doesn't need to be too strong, but never attempt to dilute it: always add the crystals to water, making it stronger if necessary, never add more water. The old adage "Do as you oughta, add acid to water" applies to caustics as well.

You can neutralize the leaf or flower with diluted vinegar.This is book knowledge, I haven't personally done it, so practice on some old leaves or flowers first. Good luck.

Regards,

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



November 14, 2013

TUTORIAL Re. Alloy Plating:

If we look at the lemon batteries and potato batteries that grade schoolers make for science projects, we see that a copper penny vs. a galvanized nail will generate about 1.0-1.1 volts, as copper from the penny migrates through the solution and coats the nail.

So it is a wonder that can we do an alloy electroplating of brass (copper and zinc) or bronze (copper and tin) when the plating layer is "fighting back" against us, desperate to throw the zinc back into solution and plate out only copper.

More advanced students will want to look into the "Nernst Equation" and the concept of "complexing" the copper to understand how this strange thing can be accomplished.

But the quick take-away is that it's electrochemically very difficult to electrodeposit alloys, and we rely on the plating solution suppliers to provide a chemical solution to complexing the copper so that it is not readily "available" to plate out.

wikipedia
Nernst Equation

Q. I am a graduate student who wants to bronze plate dried cotton boll stems. I am choosing to bronze plate them because it will reference mementos like bronze baby shoes, etc.

The cotton will be removed for plating, of course, and then be returned to the boll part afterwards. There will be 9 stems in total ranging in lengths from about 4 to 7 inches. They range in width at the boll or burrs (hard dried leave-like structures) area from 3 to 4 inches. These will be used as part of an installation about memory. They will each represent women in my family, alive and deceased, and will be accompanied by a fine art video.

I will add cotton stem images as soon as my post is approved.

cotton stem-1 cotton stem-2

I need to do this very soon so any assistance in getting properly and safely set-up is great. Instructions would be awesome too. I thank all of you very much.

stephanie_wagner
Stephanie Wagner
- Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States



November 18, 2013

A. Hi Stephanie. I haven't done it and can't give exact directions; but earlier on, we linked to our FAQ on the subject, and I can add a few more comments --

Bronze plating is quite difficult because bronze is an alloy. As a minimum you should do copper plating first so that the difficult bronze plating is done onto a stable copper layer rather than onto a frail metallization layer. But it would be easier to do copper plating and then some sort of patina to obtain a bronze color rather than doing actual bronze. If you insist on real bronze plating, I think you'll need to buy a proprietary process for it.

Good luck.

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


November 20, 2013

thumbs up signHi Mr.Mooney

Thank you so much for your response. After poking around to try to figure it out, I can see that adding the layer of bronze over copper is a touchy process. I find it interesting that some "bronze" plating of baby shoes are not actually bronze. They stop at the copper plating stage and add a patina to achieve a near-bronze look. So, I will consider copper plating with patina. I can see, too, how you would recommend a specific bronze plating kit of sorts. They seem to be fairly straight forward. Again, I thank you for your kindly assistance!

Stephanie

stephanie_wagner
Stephanie Wagner [returning]
- Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States



October 16, 2015

Q. Good Afternoon,

I realize this is an older posting, but since there seems to be no shortage on expert advice, I'll take my chances. I'm attempting to electroplate inorganic materials (rocks, feathers, leaves, bones etc.) on a strictly hobbyist basis (small quantities, low budget). Having read through the previous posts, as well as watched some tutorials, I have a few remaining questions.
The first is, is it necessary to lacquer the object being plated prior to using a conductive paint on it? (my current favorite is a micronized graphite powder dissolved in gum arabic) and if so, why?
The second question is about voltage. I currently have a power supply I'm using for electrolysis cleaning of iron artifacts, but the lowest voltage I can produce is 12 VDC. Will this be too much voltage to use with a copper tube anode and copper sulfate pentahydrate solution?

Will Hasse
- East Earl, Pennsylvania, United States


November 2015

A. Hi Will. No, it is not always necessary to lacquer the article first. It's just a question of whether the micronized graphite powder will adhere properly, and whether it or the plating solution will attack the substrate, and whether the substrate is robust enough. For example, I would think that a delicate flower usually must receive multiple very thin coats of lacquer before anything else is applied -- for holding its shape if for no other reason.

12 VDC is going to be too much. I would estimate that about 3V would be more appropriate for small objects with reasonable anode-to-cathode spacing of a few inches.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"


Grainy shiny electroformed surface suddenly

October 19, 2015

Q. I have been electro-forming for my work successfully for the last 4 years or so. I am an artist and also a jeweler. I use a 5 amp digital rectifier and a small commercially purchased bath. I prefer to apply my coatings in a slow process over many hours. I use non organic and also organic items. All organic items are sealed well before applying a commercial graphite conductive paint. I regularly clean my bath and have replaced it several times.
Just recently I have had some trouble. Nothing has changed except a new batch of solution. Several of the things I have done in it have been perfect but the most recent attempt is different than anything I have seen before. Hence searching the net to solve this problem.
The wires attached to the objects hanging in the bath have a grainy deposit on them that I can rub off with my finger. The deposit on the prepared pieces [this time rocks that I have done before perfectly] is shiny but grainy. It does not rub off at least. In the bottom of the bath I can see copper residue building up quickly.
Since I have not changed anything much other than the new solution I am wondering if it might be too strong? I want to dilute it with some distilled water?

Any suggestions?

Cindy Durant
artist - Penong, South Australia


November 1, 2015

A. First, check basic chemistry - sulfuric acid and copper metal. I do not have the spec in front of me but that info is not hard to come by.

If those are OK, you might try adding a bit of molasses.

dave wichern
Dave Wichern
Consultant - The Bronx, New York



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