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topic 27089

Electroplating Hard Material -- Tungsten?

A discussion started in 2004 but continuing through 2017


Q. I am a researcher in Microsystems and am looking for a material which is hard and conductive which can be electroplated. Particularly I would be interested in tungsten if it is possible. Can anyone offer any input on this?

Also if anyone knows how to increase the stress in nickel electroplating the info would be gratefully received.

Michael Cooke
R&D - Durham, UK


A. Hi Michael. Tungsten cannot be electroplated from a conventional aqueous bath, but that is not the only coating technology available. Chromium is probably one of the hardest electroplateable materials but maybe you already considered that one. Composite plating with diamond or other particles may be useful to you. Rhodium is hard, but extraordinarily expensive and perhaps not thick enough.

Chlorides should drive the stress in nickel electroplating through the roof.

Please tell us what you are trying to do. Thanks!

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


A. Stress in nickel can be induced by almost anything, but one surefire way of doing it is to add chloride. Sulphamate nickel has been designed to offer low stress deposits, but you can always use high sulphate and/or high chloride baths.

For hard materials, probably the hardest is hard chromium, although you can also get hard electroless nickel with a high phosphorus content. You certainly cannot electrodeposit pure tungsten, (although there are some claims you can) but you can deposit binary systems using tungsten and (say) chromium or other metals. If you want to deposit pure tungsten, try vacuum technology; this will also let you put down tungsten nitride, which has a hardness well in excess of 2,000 Hv. Perhaps you would like to tell a bit more about what you are doing?

trevor crichton
Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK


A. I think that he is looking for sodium tungstannate, which is added to nickel plating solutions to increase the hardness. Twenty years ago, there were several articles and formulas in print. I am fairly sure that it is still being used in some brush plating solutions, with a very limited build up possible -- i.e., a cap coat.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida



September 13, 2013

A. Electroplating of Tungsten is quite simple actually. Ideally, the material should be bead blasted.

1. Reverse electroclean, periodic- 3 seconds at a time 5x @ 5 volts.
2. rinse
3. reverse sulphuric acid (Type II anodize tank may be used) for 5 seconds at 8 volts
6. rinse
7. Nickel chloride strike (live entry) @ 5 volts for 20 seconds (periodic- 5 seconds at a time).
8. EN plate or copper or whatever you need to do.

Jeff Mills
- New Gloucester, Maine USA

September 2013

thumbs up signHi Jeff. Thanks. Someone is going to have to invent some new vocabulary for the electroplating industry. We are back to different interpretations of the phrase "can be electroplated" . . .

Trevor, James, and myself assumed that Michael was inquiring about electroplating of tungsten onto a substrate of something else, whereas you have assumed he was inquiring about electroplating of something else onto a tungsten substrate :-)


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

September 15, 2013

A. Ok Ted. My mistake. Sorry. ;-)

Jeff Mills
- New Gloucester, Maine, USA

September 20, 2013

A. Hi,
I am new student to this fascinating science.
I believe the correct term is electrodeposit, e.g., "I want to electrodeposit W".

- Perth, WA Australia

September 26, 2013

thumbs up signThanks Adib, you're absolutely correct! Consistently using "electrodeposition of" and "plating onto" would fix that confusion.


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

September 23, 2013

A. Tungsten can be plated from a melt of sodium tungstate with a small addition of sodium pyrosulfate. Temperature 1650 °F

Bill Zweig
- Vancouver, BC, Canada

January 30, 2014

Q. Hi All

I have a problem that would be solved if I could electrodeposit W on Copper.

But perhaps someone could guide me to an alternative solution please?

I need to have a small bead of mercury spinning in a channel made of copper with a coating of some metal that won't form an amalgam or degrade the mercury and have similar electrical properties to Tungsten and Copper.

Any ideas perhaps?

Kind Regards

Trenton Carr
- Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

January 30, 2014

A. The electrical properties of nickel are not too far from tungsten. Nickel can be easily plated on copper, and, I believe, will not amalgamate with mercury at ambient temperatures.

jeffrey holmes
Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
      South Carolina

Would an electrodeposit of Ni-P-W on Cu prevent the formation of an amalgam if in permanent contact with Mercury?

February 10, 2014

Q. Hi All

I need to have a bead of Hg spinning in a Cu channel plated with some material that has similar electrical resistivity to Cu [ (20 °C) 16.78 (ed. note: units unintelligible) ] but that will not form an amalgam with, or degrade the Mercury.

Tungsten is a candidate (52.8 [ed. note: units unintelligible]) but it's difficult to deposit on its own in a complicated molten salt process beyond my cost target. Therefore co-deposit appears the only viable option, but I'm worried about the Ni in the alloy being amalgamated over time.

If so, would the P-W keep its structure? If it does, would it be possible to "pickle" the Ni-P-W and then use fresh Hg for the rest of the application?

The Hg and plated Cu channel can be operated in an inert gas environment if needed and I'm looking for a 10 year operational life.

Possible answers are pay-walled to me.


Trenton Carr [returning]
- Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

Electroless Plating
Mallory & Hajdu
from Abe Books


February 2014

A. Hi Trenton. Access to is free, but if you have found papers on another site which require payment to view, we can't help with that.

You can do an electroless deposit of Ni-P-W alloy with up to 20% tungsten according to Mallory & Hajdu =>
Gawrilov's "Chemical (Electroless) Nickel Plating" [link is to product info at Amazon] very briefly mentions electroless Ni-P-W alloys. Brenner's "Electrodeposition of Alloys" has a whole chapter on tungsten alloys, but that 1400-page tome is so exhaustive that I don't have the necessary several hours to study it and summarize :-(

Iron is notable for not forming amalgams with mercury. Could the copper be plated with iron, kept in an inert gas environment, and maintain low enough resistance to convey the electricity to the copper channel?


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

February 11, 2014

thumbs up signHi Jeffrey

I've been advised that only Iron and Tungsten are not amalgamated, thank you for your reply.

Hi Ted

Paywalled not by but by other technical paper repositories, and I'm not asking for help to circumvent that, but perhaps for a solution to my problem from someone with that knowledge.

I'm going to try Ni-P-W on Cu and pickle that in Hg to see if the Ni is amalgamated out the alloy. The process is cheap. Might also try some Moly.

The resistivity of Iron is too high.

Another option for me (and by the look of things, the best) is to try CVD Graphene on Cu, but once more, I cannot find any info on the interaction between the two.

Thank you for your reply.

Kind Regards

Trenton Carr [returning]
- Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

Electroless plating of tungsten onto alumina

July 22, 2015 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Can tungsten be plated on alumina? Electroless or other means.

Thank you!

Jean Bedard
- Montreal, Qc, Canada

July 2015

A. Hi Jean. I think a PVD vacuum process would be necessary. I'm not aware of electroless tungsten and strongly doubt that it is possible (but see the earlier entries about alloys). Good luck.


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

December 30, 2016

Q. We have a China supplier who is plating 4140 steel with tungsten. They seem to struggle with achieving hardness levels (750) we desire. Please comment on the process.

jerry priest
b.k. thorpe co - long beach, California

December 2016

? Hi Jerry. Can you tell us anything about what they are doing -- like thickness, purity, method of application? What the component is so we can visualize whether line of sight methods are useable, the criticality of thickness distribution, etc.? Maybe it would be ideal if the shop doing the work described the problem? Thanks.


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

simultaneous January 1, 2017

A. Hi Jerry
Tungsten coatings are unusual whereas tungsten carbide or tungsten nitride are common. Both are used as wear resistant coatings which is related to hardness but not directly equivalent. These coatings are only a few microns thick and hardness is impossible to measure by standard methods. In effect, you are measuring the hardness of the base metal.
So my question is - why and on what basis do you specify hardness.
And 750 what? I guess VPN but guessing is not a good quality tool.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

January 1, 2017

A. Jean,
W can be painted onto alumina, it's quite common.
How is the coating thickness? Thin coating can be a cause and one may wish to test parts that have been sitting out building up an oxide layer as opposed to parts fresh out of a cleaning solution or oven, etc.

blake kneedler
Blake Kneedler
Feather Hollow Eng.
Stockton, California

December 30, 2016

Q. As comment this is our second supplier of tungsten coated rods. First supplier is limited on size range hence we move to a new supplier. You do not get "straight" answers from the Chinese suppliers. Perhaps language or simply they figure you do not need the detail or information. They struggle with achieving thickness and tensile. Previous supplier polished the tungsten surface and this seemed to work harden the material to acceptable level.


jerry priest [returning]
b.k. thorpe co - long beach, California

February 24, 2017

Q. Picking again the interesting second question of Michael Cooke made in 2004, this may sound like an odd request but if I wanted (within the restriction of commonly/easily available materials) not only to maximize stresses and hardness in an otherwise standard nickel plating as originally asked, but also roughness and microporosity (or preferably nanoporosity) what would I generally have to do? I realize this would be almost the exact opposite of what a good electroplating would normally be. Actually I want a "bad", but durable plating.

Since it was asked before, what I plan to do is obtaining a material that will be able to trap microbubbles of hydrogen without deforming in electrolytic experiments, not really just a surface finish. For disclosure, I'm still in the planning stages and I'm very new to the subject of electroplating.


Bill Antoni
- Rome, Italy

A. Hi Bill. Easiest would probably be to just plate at too high a current density, generating a "burnt" deposit. Good luck.


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

August 19, 2017

Q. Why tungsten cannot be electrodeposited alone?

Lava Kumar
ARCI - Hyderabad,Telangana,India

August 20, 2017

Q. Why is it difficult to electrodeposit tungsten alone? Why a codeposit of tungsten is preferred with Ni and other metals but not alone?


Ron Ort
- Beawar, Rajasthan, India

Electrodeposition of Alloys
by Abner Brenner
from Abe Books


August 2017

A. Hi Lava. Hi Ron. Brenner's "Electrodeposition of Alloys" =>
has a 66-page chapter on tungsten alloy deposition, including about 10 pages just addressing a number of hypotheses about why tungsten cannot be plated from an aqueous or organic bath but alloys can, especially with nickel or iron. It's an unsolved mystery so far.


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

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