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topic 26881

Chemicals for nickel plating hard to find


A discussion started in 2004 but continuing through 2020

2004

Q. I am looking to purchase a small amount of nickel salt to try to do some nickel plating. In addition to the Dibuthydithiocarbamate I will also need a small quantity of sal ammonia. Can someone tell me where to purchase a small amount? Also why is it so hard to find?

Paul Primmer
- Columbus, Ohio, USA


2004

A. Hi, Paul. Please google with the phrase "lab supplies" because there are companies like Fischer Scientific who specialize in small quantity specialty chemicals like these rather than dealing in large scale bulk chemicals. Also try googling for "hobby plating chemicals". Good luck.

Product stewardship of chemicals turned a formerly simple process into a hassle. Suppliers today worry about what might go wrong -- "If the packaging isn't dog-proof, why didn't they ask me if I had a dog?" :-)
It can be a losing proposition to sell small quantities today, so they've harder to find. You may be able to find suppliers in your local Yellow Pages under 'Plating Supplies' though.

Virtually all nickel plating is done with proprietary processes these days, rather than home-brew mixtures. It's not clear to me whether you've a particular reason to want to formulate your own nickel plating solution or if you didn't know that packaged nickel plating processes are available. Good luck!

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


2004

Q. Hello,

A. I see you already have a protocol as you're mentioning a compound (Dibuthydithiocarbamate). Can you tell me what your protocol is as the ones I have are old fashioned ones and you seem to have a more fancy one that I may use!
Thanks,

thumbsdown Ted Mooney, P.E. I've read many of your comments and they don't help. Why don't you start helping out (isn't it the purpose of this forum?) instead of bringing people down? Or then, stop answering questions it's a waste of time for us, maybe not for you as it may be the way you fulfill your inferiority/superiority complex...

Michael M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- san diego, California


2004

thumbs up sign Hi Michael. You're free to hold a low opinion of me, but ad-hominems derail conversations rather than advance them.

But I did try to help: Paul asked why chemicals are hard to buy in small quantities and I told the hard truth: most companies don't want to sell dangerous chemical to hobbyists and very small business.
He asked where to get them anyway; I did my best to answer.
People assume they must make up plating solutions from raw chemicals like in science class; I told him that wasn't the case in case he didn't know.

Have a good day!

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



March 13, 2020 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I have a serious question and have never been able to get an answer from any source yet. I make vintage replica items for musicians. I am making nickel silver covers and plating them myself using the [brand name deleted by editor] products. I am using an aging method, mostly using ferric chloride. The problem with [brand name deleted by editor] nickel plating materials, probably. Their BRIGHTENER, in particular, is nothing like the nickel plating done on parts in the 1950's. These old parts do not retain the bright finish and tarnish quite easily.

I know that some companies are still plating this way, because I've been able to age some nickel plated parts very easily, but am not able to do it to my plating.

I am assuming they are using maybe some CHROME? In their brightener that simply will not let me use acid darkeners or ferric Chloride to age my plating. I have seen on some supplier sites that they offer brighteners that are not super shiny and offer them in various degrees. However, none of them will answer my emails and my attempts to buy in very small quantity so I can do a plating that I can easily AGE. Any information would be just wonderful, as I am battling this problem going on 15 years or more, and am having to resort to extreme measures to get the kind of vintage "looks" I am trying to copy. I am including a photo of a vintage article and how the nickel plating ages on these articles.

26881-1

Thanks for your time, hope to hear back with sources or knowledge,

Dave Stephens
Owner small business, looking to replicate vintage items - BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


March 2020

affil. link
ASM Metal Handbook
9th Edition, Vol. 5

"Surface Cleaning, Finishing & Coating"

from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon
or
see our Review

A. Hi Dave. Sorry, we had to delete the vendor's name from your posting (why?). But I doubt that their nickel plating solution concurrently deposits chrome because that is virtually impossible to do.

Since you are obviously willing to put a lot of effort into this, you might see if a library within driving distance has the ASM Metals Handbook Vol. 5 because it has a great, practical, chapter on nickel plating including naming some old-fashioned addition agents. You might try plating with a Watt's Nickel dull, or semi-bright, or even brightener-free nickel bath and manually buffing to smoothness if necessary. You can search the site for lots of info on Watt's nickel formulation, operation, and troubleshooting. You might also find thread 28011 and 38403 quite interesting.

Regards,

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


March 13, 2020

thumbs up sign Thanks for the reply. It was pretty confusing, but you sent me on the right trail and I think I found what I want to do. A guy did a little Youtube simple Watts bath demo on a penny and it came out nice and bright looking with 3 simple ingredients. From there I tracked down more information on the semi bright and bright mixes and I think Watts may be exactly what I'm looking for. I did once plate without any brightener but it came out kind of matte looking and polished up fine, but it didn't look quite right and didn't age like the vintage articles I have. So, I'm going to order the ingredients, mix it all up and pray it nails what I want to do. The information on brighteners is just way too confusing for my "pay grade," so won't even attempt that. Wish me luck,
Dave

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


Saccharin brightener in Watts Bright Bath?

March 15, 2020

Q. I ordered supplies to do a basic Watts nickel plating bath as per your helpful recommendations; I greatly appreciate your time.
I have read that saccharin is a good brightener to use, will it be anymore brighter than the higher nickel chloride Watts bath? Can I use it in the higher chloride bath recipe?
I seem to have read that SODIUM saccharin works better? Bear in mind I am amateur plater and have been using hobbyist materials from a well know hobby plating vendor to plate my commercial low volume products. So, this will be my first use of mixing my own chemicals to achieve a vintage method of bright plating that I can easily age.

So, I cannot find out how much sodium saccharin to use per gallon? Need real world advice here, and can't find an answer in the Volume 5 ASM book you recommended. Again, thanks for your time in sharing your professional time.
Dave Stephens

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, washington state, USA


March 2020

A. Hi again. The ASM Handbook suggests 0.07 to 0.5 oz./gal of sodium saccharin, and notes that it's not consumed by the plating process. So probably start on the low end ... but personally I'd try with none first.

An amateur plater with no instrumentation or lab experience formulating his own nickel plating solution is going to find the going very difficult; and if that wasn't tough enough, you then want to artificially age the plating with ferric chloride :-)

But this site has several threads about early nickel plating with good links to follow, like
https://nickelinstitute.org/media/2323/nph_141015.pdf
and
https://www.nmfrc.org/subs/history/hist.php

Real-world advice on a hobby that not many others are engaging in, and which uses practices which commercial platers would not use, is unfortunately difficult to come by :-(

Regards,

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


March 15, 2020

Q. I've never had a problem with being an OCD research driven guy ;-)
I've been plating for 15 years, using hobby resources, admittedly, but I am bound and driven to master this Watt's bath method for what I'm doing, and I think I can make it work. I am 70 years old and have a niche product, that involves small scale machining, plating and other craftsman/artist processes. I do have an adjustable rectifier DC plater transformer, and large nickel plates, so am not really starting from the beginning. I have those same 15 years of experience using ferric chloride to simulate 60 years of human acid sweat etching on vintage nickel plated surfaces. It works incredibly well, but on modern nickel plated surfaces its quite difficult, and involves abrasive sanding to break the hard glaze of the plating so the FC can more easily etch it successfully. This involves multiple abrasion and FC etching, and other techniques I've developed to eat away plating down to base nickel silver. I think Watts plating will simplify my aging techniques because I don't think its a surface that would survive the long process of destroying the really hard nickel plating designed to not tarnish EVER ;-)

I will do as you suggest and do the basic bright Watts nickel plating, and will have to experiment with voltage and amperage, but it's probably the same as I am doing now. I will attach a photo for your amusement of a super age/destroyed plating to show you the most extreme version of what I'm doing.

26881-2

I do really appreciate your help, and you're right, I don't even know anyone in my business who is plating their own covers, nor coming close to my aging looks, nor would even put in the insane hours I do to invent these techniques that no one can figure out what I'm doing, LOL. Wish me luck ... Dave

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


March 2020

thumbs up sign Thanks, and good luck. For sense of scale are they electric guitar pickups with the distance between screws the distance between strings?

Regards,

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


April 4, 2020

Q. OK, I spent a fortune on the Watt's chemicals. I took the maximum weights from the Wikipedia chart for "bright" chemical mix, and used 80% of the max, in a gallon and a half. It's all mixed up and ready to go. But the pH reading isn't up to what they show it should be. They show 4.7-5.1 pH. I'm getting 3.42 pH. Please see my chart and what I mixed up.

26881-3

Should I mix in the 20% of the chemicals that I left out? I was a little worried about having too saturated a mix, which is why I didn't use the maximum weights allowable.

I"m scared to death of ruining the bath, its more than $100 in that pail. Plus I don't want to ruin numerous covers.

Hope you can give me some pointers here, this is costing a lot of money and have very high hopes this will be what I need.
Thanks,

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


April 2020

A. Hello again, Dave. We have dozens of threads on this site about Watts Nickel plating, so Wikipedia may muddy the water rather than clarify it ... but I don't see where they suggest a pH of 4.7 to 5.1 ! The chart you posted says 3.5-4.5.

Don't add more concentration, and don't touch the pH for now, it's only slightly below 3.5 and will rise in operation if you operate correctly. You should be able to successfully plate from what you've made up.

But your general approach of making up the whole gallon and a half for experiments is not ideal. Although you probably don't have a Hull Cell, and I'm not advocating that you spend still more money, what people generally do is plate test panels in a 267-ml (about 1 cup) cell and scale up from there. Please spend some time searching the site, and don't miss Jeffrey Holmes posting on thread 55561, or the two threads I suggested earlier. Best of luck.

Regards,

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


April 6, 2020

The pH was cut off the image is all. I found another source that's not so crazy as Wikipedia anyway.

So, am completely discouraged tonite. The "bright" Watts bath didn't do anything but plate pure dull matte nickel. Not what I was hoping for. I wanted the covers to come out of the bath BRIGHT. No polishing needed. I'm sending a photo of what came out. The dark specks are not related to the plating so ignore those.

26881-4

I have 1950's covers that are bright nickel and have stayed bright all these years. If I dab nickel darkener acid on them they instantly go black. If exposed to ferric they instantly lose shine and get a little dark. The hobby brightener I use so incredibly hardens the nickel into a shine that cannot be "aged" without alot of scrubbing and torturous work to even come close to making them look aged. This is why I am trying to find out how to duplicate the plating on these 50's parts. I don't think they just plated matte nickel then polished it, because the inside of the covers are bright nickel. So maybe what I am hoping isn't possible?

I was hoping to find a company that sells nickel brighteners that aren't so bullet proof that they never tarnish, but the one company I wrote to wouldn't reply and probably weren't interested in selling me a small quantity.

If you have any other suggestions, believe me I appreciate your level of expertise, and believe me I have SCOURED your website and not found what was looking for. Also cannot find how the current density formula works. 2-10 A/Dm2 Does that mean Amperes divided by squared meters? I used 2 Amperes to plate this piece, according to the easy to understand hobby plating settings.
Dave

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


April 2020

A. Hi Dave. None of us know what we don't know. I don't even understand what look you are going for. I don't think we're even agreeing on the meaning of the word "bright". Sorry, I don't know anyone who has ever studied the effects of different brighteners and grain structures in resisting developing an "aged but still bright" look when exposed to various ferric chloride oxidizing agents. All I can do when you say that plating of a certain vintage works best is to try to refer you to literature describing the common platings of that vintage. I also did not realize you are trying to avoid buffing.

But you are misunderstanding some things too. Whether you pull a 'bright nickel' formulation from Wikipedia or from this site it does not mean that it will plate bright without brighteners and without buffing ... it means if you are going for a bright look, this is the basic Watts chemistry you can use to which you will add brighteners. Please try to look at the chapter on nickel plating in that ASM Metals Handbook and maybe try the formaldehyde and saccharin brightener combination that it speaks of.

Another thing I'm trying to explain is that people don't add quantities of brighteners and other tweaks to their whole tank full of solution based on book knowledge; that often leads to a tank full of witches brew. Instead, you experiment with small quantities and then scale up. Try to do one piece in a small portion of your solution to which you've added a small amount of the brightener combination.

2-10 A/Dm2 means per square decimeter, but you can work in English units if you prefer. I asked you how big the piece is: multiply the length x the width x 2 sides for an approximation of the square inches. Then divide x 144 to get square feet. Then multiply by the suggested A/ft2. But, yes, 2 Amps is probably the right ballpark.

Also please read up on "Hull Cell". I know you don't have one but it explains an orderly way to proceed in trying to develop a process, and it illustrates that if everything is right, the current density should not be knife-edge critical. For that reason you might try plating at 1 Amp/ft2. Another thing it gets across is that these pickup covers (if that's what they are) are probably not cheap, but you can develop your process with test panels rather than difficult to replace components. Good luck.

Regards,

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


April 6, 2020

thumbs up sign I forgot I had that ASM book in PDF. A quick look mentions formaldehyde and saccharin but not in combination. But I only looked real fast to see if there is some simple to concoct brightener that comes out shiny, not dull. I did buy some saccharin, but I figured by itself it wouldn't do anything.

Probably what I am asking is a brightener that doesn't really HARDEN the nickel so that it resists harsh environments. Mostly likely am looking for a brightener that leaves the nickel pretty soft, and is a super simple short chemical list. I saw a guy on youtube plate a penny with a simple Watts mix but his penny came out shiny nickel.

I've emailed a plating supply company and asked if they have some simple prepared mix for soft bright nickel, hopefully they can help.

I've even tried using my hobby bright nickel bath without ever replenishing the brightener and it just never loses the hard bright look. I bought another mix and just put in a tiny amount of brightener and didn't get a softer plate either. I'll keep looking and will look into that Hulls' Cell thing. Thanks again,
Dave

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


April 9, 2020

affil. link
ASM Metal Handbook
9th Edition, Vol. 5

"Surface Cleaning, Finishing & Coating"

from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon
or
see our Review

(Nickel brighteners pp. 204-205)

"As I have said, please try to at least look at the chapter on nickel plating in that ASM Metals Handbook and maybe try the formaldehyde and saccharin brightener combination that it speaks of."

Q. I have the ASM handbook in pdf form, and there is no formaldehyde/saccharin brightener formula that I could find. I do dig thru these ASM and Nickel Plater's Handbook, over and over and over...
Do you have a page number reference? Or are you remembering from a different book? The only mentions of formaldehyde are for formaldehyde chloral hydrate, and I can't find anyplace that sells that, Fischer doesn't. Will just regular formaldehyde work combined with saccharin? I already have saccharin. Just need a super simple brightener so that after mirror polishing the nickel silver cover, it will come out plated shiny instead of matte nickel. As for your not understanding what I am trying to get, I want a soft bright plating right out of the bath with no polishing needed. The hobby stuff I use puts a HARD bright finish that resists all forms of chemical darkeners, "aging" acids etc. I also looked through the Nickel Plating Handbook as well. If its not possible to make a simple easy to make brightener for a Watts bath, just give me the brutal TRUTH ;-) At least I successfully made the Watt's bath, and for that I thank you ;-)

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA


April 9, 2020

Q. OK, so if that makes sense. After reading some different places and sources, and looking on Fischer Scientific, would this get me where I want to go?

Carrier Brigthener
benzene sulphonic acid) in concentration 0.1-3 oz/gal (0.75-23 g/l)

Levelers, second class brighteners allyl sulfonic acid in concentration 0.0006-0.02 oz/gal

These are chemicals I can actually find and BUY.
Sorry to be so bothersome, but this stuff is slow to absorb, am doing my best. This involves spending another $70 probably, but looks worth a try? And yes I'd try it in a small sample of my Watt's bath.
Dave

Dave Stephens [returning]
- BATTLEGROUND, Washington, USA

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