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topic 323

Copper plating onto lead bullets

A discussion started in 1996 and continuing through 2017.
Add your Q. or A. to restore it to the "Current Topics" discussions.


Q. We have recently started copper plating lead cast bullets up to 100 µmeters in a cyanide copper bath. We are having a problem with the adhesion of the copper on the lead. The process that we are using is as follows;

hot soak at 60 °C in HP-10
electro clean at 60 °C in HP-15
pickle in A-720 (fluoride based acid)
plate in cyanide copper at 60 °C
passivate in MS-020 (chromic acid)

I would appreciate any comments or advice.

Martin Swart
bullets - Zaire


A. Just a wild guess to get things started, but have you checked to make sure you are not dragging hexavalent chromium up and down the line in cracked rack coatings, or improperly rinsed barrels, or routing chrome rinsewater into the preplate rinses?

I am assuming that your supplier set you up with the preplate cycle, it looks OK except for:

Are you using a copper strike? A hot, full strength copper cyanide may not give you perfect adhesion without a strike.

How are you testing adhesion? (Do you have to work very hard to see the adhesion problem)

tom pullizi signature
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania


A. It seems to me you are going from an acid almost directly into a cyanide solution. This will cause problems. We immersion clean, rinse, rinse, weak fluoboric acid rinse, rinse, rinse, weak sodium cyanide rinse, rinse then into the copper. We don't passivate. We don't strike in our barrel operation and I assume you are barrel plating.

David Guleserian
- Rhode Island

thumbs up signGreat help, David. Thanks!


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

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Copper Hardener


Q. We copper plate lead bullets to .006 thickness. I heard there's a copper hardener-gel like additive available on the market.

Please inform me as to where I could buy this additive or get info on how to make our present finish harder.

We use Acid Cu to build up & finish with same solution but with brightener.

Michael Ronquillo
Ener-Tech Inc.


A. Contact a brightener vendor who does baths for rotogravure. They include a hardening agent. McGean-Rohco has a bath called 320 or 321 that uses a hardening agent. I'm sure there must be other vendors, too.

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


Q. Can anyone offer any information about plating onto lead. Obviously, adhesion seems to be the biggest problem.

David Grimes
David Grimes
plating company - Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom


A. Hi David. I found a reference to ASTM B319 [link by ed. to spec at TechStreet], "Recommended Practice for Preparation of Lead and Lead Alloys for Electroplating".

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


A. A number of years ago, I was involved with a project for the copper plating of lead bullets. I don't remember all the details, but the use of a fluoboric acid dip (followed by appropriate rinsing) was very important in obtaining good adhesion of the copper. Copper was a cyanide based process.

Trust this helps Ken Lemke

Ken Lemke
Ken Lemke
Burlington, Ontario, Canada


A. Hi David ,

Ken Lemke is right, the use of 5% fluoboric acid as an acid dip prior to a Cyanide Copper plate is most important to achieve good adhesion on lead based products; you cannot use either Sulfuric or Hydrochloric acids because the lead salts of both are insoluble.

Best regards

John Tenison-Woods
John Tenison - Woods
- Victoria Australia

June 1, 2008

A. I have worked with lead and plated without cyanide copper plating and directly plated to bright acid copper, it works successfully, but should carefully and quick dip with current connected to hanger always, and acid dip with HNO3.

Makk Safna
- Gresik, Indonesia

Plating pistol bullets


Q. I run a small company that makes hard cast hand gun bullets for hunting and I would like to learn how to apply a copper plating to them to get rid of the problem of leading the bore. I need a process that will apply the copper to hundred's of bullets at a time and will not beat them up or distort them in anyway. Also it must be put on in a way that the plating won't strip off in the riflings of the bore under the extreme pressures of the bullet passing at high velocity. I know it can be done as another company does it to their bullets.


John Anderson
- Andalusia, Illinois


A. Match Grade 308's? I prefer 300 Mags on a windy day, and 25-06 on a hot calm day. I've shot those rounds and the Copper still comes off in the rifling. In order for the rifling to function it must gall the bullet surface, and in so doing some of the copper is transferred to the rifling lanes. You can analyze the cleaning patches for copper and find it there. Anyway I recommend barrel plating in a finer media such as BBs. If you are really concerned you can use a rotating kiln design. This would virtually eliminate any distortion of the surface, then screen separate them. Fluoborate process. I used to barrel plate Cadmium with a Chromate conversion coating onto 20mm rounds for the navy without media and they still shot as true as 20mm can shoot.

Dave Kinghorn
Dave Kinghorn
Chemical Engineer
SUNNYvale, California


A. John,

Many years ago I worked at an ammunition company. They manufactured ammo of most common cals. They used a tumbler barrel plating process in very hot potassium cyanide plating solution. I remember the two main hassles they had,were with the antimony content of the lead, causing passivity during chemical cleaning. So be sure of that and work back. and the absolutely critical level of free cyanide in the copper strike bath. That's how they did it.

Mark Gunn
- NSW, Australia

Electroplating and Electroless Plating of Copper and Its Alloys
from Abe Books


February 11, 2009

A. Hi I am not a engineer but I have been experimenting with a small drum plating setup for my personal use on 45 acp and 45 70 with mixed results not having access to cyanide I have focused on an acid type plating bath (copper sulfate / sulfuric acid). My plater handles around 400 rounds at a time and while not the best bullets I have seen it does turn out usable plated bullets. The drum plater itself works great but I am not happy with the rest of the process but I am still learning. Bonding to the lead is not what it should be, and the plating is somewhat brittle. May try annealing after plating. Also I am casting from wheel weights, and other elements in the lead may be affecting the copper-lead bond. Also need to work on the pre-plating preparation. My first batch I washed in sodium hydroxide solution and got very poor bonding; plain hot water worked much better -- may try phosphoric acid wash next. I will email you pics of the plater if you wish; it would be easy to scale up to a larger size if needed. Don't be afraid to experiment!

mark dula
- stony point, North Carolina

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Hard plating of cast lead bullets


Q. Sirs:

I am a small cast lead bullet manufacturer looking for an edge and better sales. Copper clad bullets are not the best, pure copper over lay on bullets peels off at high velocity and leaves too much fouling in the barrel. Iron would be harder and with a carnuba wax final polish would be a distinctive dark color and do the job. Questions? Can lead bullets be barrel plated with iron? They come out of the caster clean with no oxide coating to be removed. What chemicals would be needed, what basic plating equipment would work? Process question- I use cement mixers in a Teflon polymer coating process now, can they be used with modifications to barrel plate? I have a complete machine shop and can make almost anything. Please return your thoughts and suggestions.

Thank you,

Peter Wilbur
- Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, USA


A. Most job shops do not know how to properly prepare lead for plating, therefore the plated deposit has poor adhesion and "peels" off easy.

The process should be: Alkaline clean off the "organic soil", rinse, dip in 10% Fluoboric Acid. rinse, strike in a Copper Fluoborate Plating Solution, Rinse, Copper Plate in a Copper Sulfate Solution to thickness desired.

Proprietary Hardeners are available from companies listed on that will work in the copper sulfate solution.

One of the problems you may be having with your current copper sulfate solution is that fact that lead removes the 50 ppm of Chloride that is necessary for the Copper Sulfate Solution to work. By first striking in a lead soluble solution you will cover the lead and then the sulfate solution only "sees" pure copper.

robert probert
Robert H Probert
Robert H Probert Technical Services
supporting advertiser
Garner, North Carolina

Editor's note: Mr. Probert is the author of Aluminum How-To / Aluminio El Como

Copper plating self-cast lead objects


Q. I'm trying to electroplate lead objects that I have cast myself but I can't seem to get it to plate at all. I have purchased battery acid (watered down sulfuric acid) and some scrap copper pipes. I am running off a PC power supply 5v line putting about 1.5 Amps to it. I put the lead in the solution and the copper is attracted to it but it just forms large porous clumps of copper around the lead object. When I remove the copper clump the lead is as it was when first put in. Could someone please tell me what I am doing wrong.


Joshua Mello
- S. Dartmouth, Massachusetts, USA


A. I think that acid copper plating on lead is not possible.You can use pyrophosphate copper bath(or cyanide but for home use first is better and not so toxic) or you can colour your works,for example:

Brown colour for lead:
20 gm copper sulphate
5 gm potassium permanganate
1 lit water

Hot immersion(70-80 °C)!1-5 min.

Goran Budija
- Zagreb, Croatia

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Q. Lead shot has been copper plated for many years. Now, lead bullets are copper plated. How do you plate copper onto lead?

Thank you.

Wayne M. Godfrey
hobbyist - Westford, Massachusetts


A. Hi, Wayne. One thing you might need to do is to treat the lead with hydrofluoric acid -- the single chemical which probably most frightens trained professional platers. Don't even think about plating onto lead in a hobbyist environment unless you've had special training in it please! What do you wish to copper plate and to what end? Thanks.

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

plating systems and technology banner


A. There is a mechanical process for plating copper on lead projectiles. This involves no cyanide and no electroplating. It is a variation of mechanical plating and uses a special technique to get a uniform, bright, adherent copper deposit.

Arnold Satow
- New City, New York

thumbs up signThanks Arnold.

Mechanical plating sounds like the way to go.


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

June 21, 2014

Q. I am looking to set up to plate lead bullets. The bullets that I plan on plating are .9 Square inches. I am trying to find out how many amps and volts I would need to barrel plate them to a thickness of .005" if I were doing 1000 at a time? Also, I am wondering if I were to plate say 2000 at a time would that be as simple as doubling the amps or is it much more complicated than that?

Ryan Wooton
- Medford Oregon USA

Thick copper plating for bullets (0.020 in)

September 15, 2017 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Dear all,

I would greatly appreciate the help of you folks in developing a copper bath to thick plate (0.020 in or 500 microns) lead parts, some are pure lead others are lead-antimony alloys.
The layer must have very high adhesion and good ductility, that is, hardness of about 100 to 130 HV.

So far, after properly washing the parts throughly and degreasing, surface activation with 10-15% fluoboric acid guaranteed good adhesion results.

My problem is achieving the desired ductility/hardness as mentioned early (100-130 Vickers). I am using traditional alkaline copper (cyanide) baths, as I believe the consistency on layer thickness, porosity, etc are better in alkaline than acid solutions.
In addition, to my very little knowledge, although cyanide baths usually have slower deposition velocities than acid baths, it yields softer and more homogeneous layers.
It's taking me about 12 hours to reach the 500 micron mark, but hardness is between 200 and 220 HV!

Would you please give me some details on how could I achieve this hardness with such thick layer? I need details on bath compositions, additives, temperature, etc.
In addition, any detailed literature is welcome.

Thanks for the help in advance. This will immensely help my project.


Marcelo Moreno
Researcher - Sao Paulo, Brazil

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