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Zinc, Copper, Nickel, Chrome Bath (Cyanide-Free) Composition



Over the past few months I've been contemplating whether to continue sending my plating needs to a shop, or to have a go at it myself. I've solved the issue of where to acquire small quantities of the chemicals necessary for zinc, copper, nickel and chrome plating, respectively. Throughout my research, I've read many different ingredients for plating solutions for whichever metal I intend to deposit. Reading your forums has led me to understand that most of you who reply are professionals in the field. My request is if I could possibly achieve some fool-proof formulas for my baths. I intend to plate aluminum, pot-metal and steel. I'd like to get a complete list of ingredients for the pickles/bright dips I might need, as well as for my baths. I have several motorcycles, new and antique alike. My research has given me enough confidence to achieve professional results if I follow the 'rules'. I thought about buying a kit, but that would run me to over $1000.00. Some examples I priced out wouldn't even reach the $300 mark. I just want to be sure I buy the proper chemicals. I would only be interested in using a cyanide-free system. Any response would be greatly appreciated.


Frank Bruno
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Please continue to send your plating needs to a shop, Frank. I almost don't know where to start :-)

None of the professionals here even know all the formulations that you as an amateur are seeking to mix up. Virtually all plating today is done with proprietary trade-secret mixtures, not from raw chemicals. As one example, nickel plating solutions are made from nickel sulphate, nickel chloride, boric acid, and a minimum of three secret proprietary addition agents. Professional platers run in-house labs but usually still regularly send samples of their solutions out to the vendor for analysis. Where would you send yours? What lab facilities will you have if $1000 sounds like a lot of money? I'm not trying to be difficult, only realistic.

Professional platers still suffer periodic bouts of poor adhesion, gas pits, star dusting, shelf roughness, burning, milky plating, etc. How are you going to solve these problems with no vendor, or consultant, or substantial experience, or costly lab equipment?

The processes are very complex too. Aluminum must be cleaned, then etched, then desmutted, then zincated, then stripped in nitric acid, then zincated again, then cyanide copper plated, then acid copper plated, then buffed, then copper plated again, then semi-bright nickel plated, then bright nickel plated, then chrome plated, then color buffed to remove minor burns--if all goes well. Pretreatment for zinc diecastings and steel involve still more and different processes. And you need skills in each of them.

A very basic plating manual, like the Garden State Branch AESF "Basic Practical Electroplating" runs 363 pages, but doesn't contain nearly enough info for everything you want to do. The AESF "Regular Training Course" fills about 7" of binders, and is a good starting point for someone going to work for a plating shop where they will then receive hands-on training.

It is difficult to plate aluminum or zinc diecast or old steel without a cyanide copper strike, and impossible to chrome plate without using highly toxic chromic acid.

Unfortunately, plating is a poor hobby. You could perhaps start by stripping the chrome off a few small emblems that are otherwise in good condition and gold plating them, but it just isn't realistic to plan on replating old motorcycle components. Sorry.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

I forgot to mention, I'd possibly be interested in eliminating the Chromium plating process, as I am aware of the hazards that go with it (hexavalent chromium in the chromic acid). I'd try the zinc, copper, and nickel end of it, and then send the pieces out for the final chrome. Thanks.

Frank Bruno
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Shipping a drum of haz waste to a certified treatment facility runs about $500. Your rinse water is a haz waste as are drip clean up, some rags some old equipment and etc. I am a chemist with several years of hands on experience and would not consider a home brew plating solution. Nickel strike is an exception. I started out with sulfamate nickel on stainless in 5 gal buckets and had over $15,000 in "stuff" before I could afford to upgrade to 30 gal tanks. And I had a customer that needed my product very much and was willing to pay premium dollar for it. If the environmental police inspect, plan on the fine being $5,000 unless you have gone to a haz waste school at about $1,000. You can read the CFR, but if you can understand it without help, you are a lot better than me. Plating is a nasty dirty filthy hobby. Free country, however. Do what you like.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

Thank you, Jim, for your informative response. I appreciate your warnings as they are certainly in my best interest. However, being a stubborn European, I'd still be interested in seeing what results I can come up with myself. Trust me, I'm not attempting this alone. My chemical supplier is giving me some tested formulations, as they are electroplating suppliers as well as being listed on your site. I trust they will give me the correct apparatus, and have been most helpful in consulting me with my queries. In addition, two of my employees formerly worked as platers, so I am also relying on their expertise. The reason for my attempt at this is that I currently spend over $12,000 a season on plating, so I believe it would be a good idea to at least try it out. Not utilizing a cyanide based system is merely out of concern for my employees and I want them to work in the most hazard-free environment possible. I just wanted to hear from a professional, like yourself, as to some tried and true baths. Thanks in advance, any information will be taken with utmost caution. Regards, Frank.

Frank Bruno
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This letter number 22539 says he found the answer to a supply problem I have (for a library customer).

He did not say where the chemicals he buys actually came from. Can you ask him on my behalf, as you rightly did not supply me with his email. That would be so helpful !

David Vaprin
- Indianapolis Indiana

Ed. note: It is very gratifying to hear that there are still library patrons asking for help and librarians helping them, David. I don't know that I could reach Frank 2-1/2 years later but I guess we can try.

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