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topic 865

Brass electroplating at home by amateurs


(1998)

Q. I am a chemistry teacher and I have a student who is interested in electroplating brass. This student makes miniature furniture and is trying to make miniature firearms and then finish them with brass. We have tried a solution of Muriatic Acid [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] but the finish wipes off. Can anyone help us out? Thank you for your help and consideration.

Linda Young


(1997)

A. Dear Linda:

Commercial brass plating processes are based on cyanide and as such should not be performed in a hobby environment both from a personal safety point of view and potential environmental impact.

There are reports of a commercial non-cyanide process being available, however I have no information regarding source.

To achieve a "brass like" appearance it would be more advisable to contact one of the lacquer suppliers listed in the supplier section of finishing.com. I believe some of them have products which can produce a simulated brass appearance.

Ken Lemke
Ken Lemke
Burlington, Ontario, Canada


(1998)

Q. Yes, this is just what I was looking for, but I do need more details. I race motorcycles and in this corrosive environment, nuts and bolts need some form of protection. I was thinking of brass plating all the exposed parts. I need to know what chemicals, concentration and current requirements are needed to accomplish this task. I realize that brass does tarnish, but that is preferable to rust and corrosion.

Anyone out there that can provide more detailed information, it would be appreciated. Please reply. Thanks a lot.

Craig Harms


(1997)

A. Hello, Linda; hello Craig.

3rd grade schoolchildren can follow the instructions in our article "How Electroplating Works" to quickly and safely do zinc or copper electroplating as a science experiment, but not for practical use.

Plating is like playing a piano. Plinking out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on a 12-key toy piano isn't a saleable skill, and the plating that kids and most amateurs can do isn't usable for anything: it's not bright, it's not thick enough, it's not strongly adherent, it's not corrosion resistant. Expensive equipment and years of experience/training is required to play a piano well or to plate well.

The best plan would be to get preplated parts. If the parts do not need to be highly decorative, and are not special high-strength steel, zinc plated nuts and bolts are available at the hardware store. If they need to be decorative, I have seen nickel-chrome plated nuts at motorcycle stores, and brass ones may be available as well.

If you want special parts plated, jobshops are available to offer you that service, and they are properly equipped and operated by trained employees--so that would be the second choice.

Yes, it is possible to electroplate yourself, but it can be quite complicated, and it has safety and environmental implications, especially in the case of brass plating (the solution is usually cyanide based), or chrome plating (which involves carcinogenic and tightly regulated hexavalent chromium). Further if the parts are high strength steel, electroplating will cause hydrogen embrittlement, which means they will probably fail like brittle glass unless you also employ the proper baking procedures to relieve the embrittlement.

The plating process usually includes:

Stripping off the old nickel plating with cyanide-based strippers or Metalx [a finishing.com supporting advertiser] proprietary nickel strippers (although sometimes it can be sandblasted off). Then, mechanical polishing and buffing (if the surface is not smooth and free of fine scratches, electroplating will not make it so! ). It takes a lot of experience to get good at buffing, but is certainly something you can learn. Next the parts are electrolytically cleaned to a waterbreak-free degree with proprietary mixtures of strong lye and detergent. Then the surface oxides are removed with hydrochloric acid. Now the parts are electroplated: sometimes with copper and buffed again, but always with nickel--sometimes two or three different proprietary layers. Then you apply the final plating, be it brass, chrome, or gold. Brass, gold, and chrome are not bright unless plated on top of bright nickel.

You must rinse between each step, and all of the rinse water may be categorically regulated. This means that regardless of whether the rinse water is very dilute or even innocuous, it is automatically regulated because it came from the "electroplating category" of operations.

You need to understand that your question is something like this: "I've never cooked or baked in my life, but I want to be a head chef" -- you need more than brief recipe cards. I would suggest either buying the parts plated, finding a plating job shop to do them, or perhaps painting them. If you want to learn electroplating for yourself, it is certainly doable -- it's just not easy, there are safety issues and there might be environmental issues. Good luck!

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


(1999)

Q. What is your opinion of brush plating? I am interested in plating an old trumpet I found. The thing is I find it difficult to believe that I would not be able to plate things myself, since electroplating is a process that has been around for thousands of years e.g. The Baghdad Battery (http://sophia.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/battery2.html). What did the ancients do to electroplate, and why can't I do the same? Is it possible to manually scrape off the old layers of silver to prepare the surface for plating?

Matthew T. Marchione
Belmont Technical College, Building Preservation Dept. - St. Clairsville, Ohio


 

A. Hi Matthew. Please remember that the Baghdad Battery is a blue-sky theory, not a device! According to the Discovery Channel, a stopper and a few shards of a pot were found, and in reasonable proximity some copper was found and some iron fragments. They really don't look like much :-)

But in wild speculation, scientists used those tiny shards of pottery and blobs of metal to arrive at a battery theory ... then they made computer images of what they guessed it might have looked like IF it existed.

Many archeologists feel that these fragments were just miscellaneous ceremonial knick-knacks that happened to found near each other, and that it is a disservice to present these crazy computer graphics in such a fashion as to imply that anything even remotely resembling those computerized conjecture images was actually ever found! It's just nonsense.

This is not to say there absolutely was not a Baghdad Battery. It's only to say that the evidence of a battery at all seems very thin to date, and the pictures you've seen are only wild speculation -- using those computer graphics speculations to jump to the conclusion that the ancients must have known electroplating isn't well founded at all.

You can do plating yourself; we have an FAQ showing young students how to do it. The question is whether you can do safe and truly useful plating yourself. And the answer is that silver probably cannot be safely and robustly electroplated by an individual without significant experience. However, there are simple "wipe-on" silvering solutions that may suffice. Please see our FAQ: "Silver Plating at Home". Good luck.

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


(1999)

Q. Another idea on the topic... Do you think it would be possible to sandblast the silver off the piece, buff it smooth, clean it with a strong solvent, such as Acetone [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] and detergents, and then plate it?

Matthew T. Marchione [returning]
Belmont Technical College, Building Preservation Dept. - St. Clairsville, Ohio


(1999)

A. A fascinating page at Smith College, thank you for that link. But "A recipe no more makes a cook than sermons make a saint". And you only have a recipe for making a battery, we need a lot more information to see if the ancients really plated gold onto silver with any success. I don't doubt it, I just don't know how they did it.

Brush plating kits are a proven technology. How you apply it depends upon your skill and training. Most people (including me) would say that brush plating of a car emblem or touching up a small (1 square centimeter) of a car molding is a more realistic task than brush plating a trumpet.

Good Luck!
Regards,

pooky
tom pullizi signature
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania


A. I would add that gold plating a car emblem usually involves just stripping off a very thin layer of chromium, and electroplating gold onto the beautiful OEM-prepared high quality multi-layer nickel plated emblem. The trumpet is not only much bigger, but is a mix of oxidized brass and worn silver; further, silver electroplating requires cyanide based solutions whereas gold doesn't. It's a much bigger job. Please try the "wipe-on" silvering first. Good luck.

Regards,

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


(2005)

!! Years have passed since the last post but I found this page in searching for a way to electroplate brass on my own. New developments in the sciences have come to the rescue for those who are hobbyists and wish to do their own electroplating, anodizing and metal finishing. I have no affiliation with companies producing the kits for these purposes, however, I have tried some of their products and they work. The skill required is no more than that required of a decent handy person. If you have skill in welding, fixing wiring or any number of routine skilled jobs, you can do your own electroplating. If you have two left thumbs and can't start a balky lawnmower, don't waste your time.

Complete kits are available for the hobbyist that do not involve cyanide or other deadly chemicals. Are they as good as the results of a professional plating shop? Maybe, maybe not. You judge. I'm happy with my results.

Ken Kreager
- Platteville, Colorado, USA


(2005)

Thanks Ken. Many of the world's bench jewelers fancy themselves platers. If the substrate is a very easy one, as jewelry usually is, and there is no mass production, then plating can be very easy. Gold plating of car emblems is similar -- the OEM did 99% of the work, and all the hobbyist need do is strip off a few millionths of chrome, and put gold in its place on top of a perfectly prepared corrosion resistant bright nickel plated item.

Still, some of us are not enthusiastic about plating as a hobby for several reasons, most importantly that the EPA chose electroplating to be the very first categorically regulated industry in America. With slight simplification, this means if any liquid was used in electroplating, it is a regulated waste, period. "New developments in science" make absolutely no difference! Every bucket of water, every drop of hose water that splashes on the floor is regulated. It's not a matter of whether I want you to electroplate, it's a matter of what the US government wants, so look up 40 CFR 433 (it's on the net).

If you do electroplating well, you may eventually charge people for the parts or the service. When you do, you've become part of an industry that is subject to very complex permitting rules. Odds are that small outfits won't be caught and prosecuted, but I personally know a man who served penitentiary time after plating in his attached garage, and getting sucked in by degrees until he got caught illegally disposing of wastes when he found that legal disposal would have meant telling his wife and children that they were losing their house.

If hobbyists want to electroplate, they need to realize its hazards, environmental impact, and their own usual lack of training, and they must also realize that the day it becomes a small business they become subject to stupefying regulations that are aggressively enforced and that just might ensnare them. Good luck.

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


October 30, 2011

Q. Before reading the great posts on this site, I had no idea that electroplating was so complicated and skill-intensive. I just want to get a key back plate for my door to look bright and brassy shiny. Evidently hooking it up to a battery in a solution like I saw in high school applied science isn't going to cut it, eh?!

So one of the posts hints that there are more "convenient" ways of getting a metallic-like finish on dulled metal, but with no link. Can anyone suggest a really environmentally safe (and human safe) spray or application of some sort that will give a bright metallic-like finish without bringing down the weight of the entire federal government on me?

Thanks. If anyone cares, please post personal experiences with something like this. Or...recommend a good metal shop that would do simple one piece work. My experience here is the guy who wants to cook a souffle but hasn't a clue how to boil water.

Frank Noel
- Brooklyn New York USA


November 1, 2011

A. Hi, Frank. Yes, plating is drop-dead easy, while useful plating is quite a bit harder :-)

What I would probably do is polish the existing backplate with rubbing compound, metal polish, or a more powerful buffing compound and a buffing pad on some sort of power tool (Dremel or electric drill). My bet is that it is either solid brass, which will polish, or that there is bright nickel plating underneath that brass and that, with care, there is a good chance of polishing down to the bright nickel plating. Then I would apply a brass-toned lacquer. It will cost little, you'll learn something hands-on, and if it doesn't work, you send it to a plating shop :-)

Good luck.

Regards,

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


February 12, 2015

A. For small parts you could try using an old blacksmith technique - mechanical peening with supplied heat energy to help the process along.

See this youtube video...

Jon Light
- Saltum Denmark



Brass plating of motorcycle parts

June 26, 2015

Q. I am working on a project where I would like to get an antique type of brass finish plated onto my parts. The parts consist of various aluminum castings, steel hardware (spokes and nipples, nuts and bolts). Some of the parts are already chrome plated, some are natural aluminum castings, which have a clearcoat on them. Ultimately I would like to finishes to generally look the same (to a point) when finished.

So here's my questions:
1) am I crazy to think that I can have a supplier Brass plate over chrome plating that already exists on an aluminum casting?
2) same thing for the steel parts?
3) next question has to do with the clearcoat that exists on the parts: will the etch process that occurs in the plating process remove the old clearcoat?
4) the spokes are steel with what looks like a chromate finish, can I brass plate over that?

I appreciate the help

Pete Daly
Motorcycle project - Yorktown Hgts, New York, USA



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