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"Cheap and simple copper plating of lead bullets"
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A discussion started in 1996 but continuing through 20202004
Q. I am an avid shooter and would like to copper plate lead cast bullets cheap and simply. I have seen websites where you pickle the lead then use their solution for striking or plating, but you have to use their copper anodes. I would like to use scrap copper or even possibly pre 1983 pennies (95% copper), whatever source of copper I find cheapest. A big part of the hobby is shooting as cheap as possible as I enjoy having friends and family join me for a Saturday at the range. Also, I will admit it would be nice to have bullets as pretty as the big boys make them, not to mention being able to reload without lubing bullets. I do not have much knowledge in this area, only what I have read on the internet so please assume I know nothing and be detailed, including where to get supplies.
I would like to thank anyone who shares any knowledge with me, THANKS.Craig McAdam
hobbyist - Macon, Georgia
TUTORIAL FOR NEWBIES:
Although copper pipe, old pennies, and wire are sometimes used for amateur copper plating, for anything resembling production or continuous plating you need phosphorized copper anodes and a controlled addition of chloride ion (see letter 47124, "Passive anodes in the acid copper plating bath" for a discussion of that topic.
A vinegar & salt plating solution is ideal for a grammar school science project (see our FAQ, Electroplating -- How it Works) due to low toxicity, but is too limited to be very useful in the real world.
To get adhesion of plating onto lead requires hydrofluoric acid (HF) or other nasty fluoride-bearing chemicals; and nothing in a plating shop is treated with as much fear & respect by professionals; and cyanide is a very powerful & dangerous material. Daryl is warning that fluoride-based acids and cyanide-bearing materials should only be used by professionals who've had haz-mat training in its safe handing.
Q. I am looking for the same answer and found this with Google search engine. No answers yet. I have tried vinegar and salt solution, 1.5V D battery, heavy copper wire as the cathode and have managed to plate .0005" but cannot go beyond that point. Also tried battery acid solution but cannot get it to plate anymore.Doug Henry
- San Jose, California
A. I don't think you're going to be able to accomplish what you want. I used to plate lead bullets for an industrial munitions company. We used a fluoborate based acid followed by a heavy coating of cyanide copper. This is not a venture for the hobbyist.
Daryl Spindler, CEF
decorative nickel-chrome plating - Greenbrier, Tennessee
Hobbyist copper plating of lead bullets
"Electroform" isn't quite the right word in this case. The word 'Electroforming' is used when the plating layer becomes the actual object, and the original object upon upon which the plating was done is inconsequential and is often discarded (hollow earrings and other hollow gold jewelry, for example, are electroformed onto a wax mold/mandrel). Craig seems to be saying that his plating is sort of "shrink wrapped" onto the lead, rather than adhering the way adhesive tape would.
Q. From what I have read online I decided my best way to accomplish what I wanted was to electroform the copper onto the lead. In case I am saying this wrong, I am plating in an acid copper bath to a thickness of about .010 inches forming a jacket around the bullet. I am plating at 100 ma. I would like to get input as to how to buff the bullets so they are smooth or should I add some proprietary ingredient to bath or change amps I am plating at. Any help would greatly be appreciated and thanks to the ones who have already responded.Craig McAdam [returning]
hobbyist - Macon, Georgia
May 7, 2012
Walnut Shell blasting media
The only way I have been able to get near polished bullets is:
1, as soon as I remove them from the plating, I hand dry them.
2, then using Cracked walnut dump them in my tumbler ~1hr.
3, then using corn cob and Dillon bullet polish, tumble ~1hr.
The bullets may not be as high a shine as factory but they do look good.
You could use rice for the first tumble if you do not wish to buy the walnut. It is cheaper but will need a bit longer in the tumbler.
- melbourne, florida
February 29, 2008
Q. I am very interested in the process of copper plating cast bullets. The process of swaging jackets sounds too expensive, cumbersome and time consuming. Can anyone tell me how to find more detailed info on how to set it up, please. Thanks for any input.
A. Someone asked how to buff his plated bullets. I wonder if a swage die would help you. I have found links that led me to ebay where you can buy a die that will fit on a Rock Chucker that will swage the entire bullet.
fellow shooter - Enville, Tennessee
May 5, 2009
A. I've been researching this thing for a while, and decided that while it seems cool to do, it's a lot easier to use a copper gas-check and a good bullet lube. A lot of leading comes from hot loads burning against the base of the bullet. keep velocities around 1700 FPS or less, and use a good lube, like glycerol monostearate (I found this by accident. It's used as an antistatic treatment for fabrics. It is stable at very high temps, and acts like a hard wax. Melts at 140 °F.)
I digress. Your solution should be made with copper sulphate. It's called "blue-stone". It's used to kill off algae in small ponds, or it used to be. Saturate the copper sulphate into distilled water (mix until the bluestone won't dissolve any further).
In a jar I took clean plumbing pipe scrap and covered it with concentrated sulphuric acid, and allowed that to saturate also.
I made a little tray of 10 Ga. copper wire for 25 bullets in a square 5" on a side suspended like a trapeze. I used a small plastic tub about a one quart size for the solution.
I used 20 Oz. copper sheet as the donor electrode. According to my reading, you need at least one square inch of anode for each square inch of surface to plate, so I just went with 25 square inches formed in a square ring around the perimeter of the tub. The solution is made by taking the saturated copper sulphate and adding the sulfuric acid solution in with a dropper 'til the pH reads (you need litmus paper for this) 2.0 or there about. Mix it in the tub.
Prep the bullets: I used straight Muriatic Acid [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] to clean the bullets. I put them on a plastic tray made like the plating tray and let them sit for 10 min. and then dunked them up and down, and let them sit some more, for about an hour, till they're all dulled out. Then dump the acid and fill with distilled water. Rinse the bullets and then let them sit in the distilled water until you're ready to plate.
Power supply: The big boys use expensive power supplies that can supply high current at low voltage. I started with one bullet and one alkaline battery. Not good. I finally made a rack to parallel 25 1.2 V NIMH rechargeable batteries. That's 50 amps at 1.2 volts, but the current drops off quickly. 1.2 V adds material and as the voltage nears 0.4 V the plating gets finer.
place your prepared, dunked bullets on the plating rack, dunk into the solution and hook 'em up! Raise the rack up and down in the solution every 10 minutes or so and go watch TV. As the volt meter shows the batteries to be about flat (I used a cheapie DVM), pull a bullet and measure it. You should get 2-3 mils of plating. Remove, wash and buff. Had enough work yet?
Problems: I found that the bullets don't plate where they touch the rack. I may try a new rack with nibs sticking up so that I could drill a hole in the point and mount them upside down. I also found that the plating depth was greater where the bullets were closest to the anode, and I'm not sure if that was strictly because of proximity, or if I did not agitate the solution enough. The bullets are murder to squeeze through a sizing die. I wound up lubing them to get them through the die. Pure soft lead helps, but you throw away a lot of bad bullets because pure lead does not fill out the mold well. I saw no big improvement in accuracy at the end of the day. If I was going hunting I would use commercial jacketed bullets and work up the most accurate load, giving power a back seat within reason. That's all I got.
- Los Angeles, California
May 7, 2012
A. Rich Thompson
I use a simple setup as Richard P, above. I use Root Stop copper sulfate and distilled water. Same saturated solution with root stop and leave some of the undissolved crystal at the bottom to insure a saturated solution.
I take about 1/4 oz from my auto battery to get a pH of about 2, acidic enough to make the solution a good conductor. Just be very careful as the sulfuric acid will do damage and burn you.
Casting the bullets, I do a water drop from the mold and transfer them from the water into a coffee can with Colman fuel. This will prevent oxidation of the lead and can be stored for long periods without danger of acid.
Plating, I use TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate) and warm water [saturated solution] in a can to clean the bullets of any oils. This is safer than using acid. We used this in the subs to clean most anything. But it is a bit harsh on your hands, so wear gloves.
Plating Bath: I keep the bath at ~110 °F and move the solution around using a miniature pump. I used a desktop fountain waterfall.
Using a simple 110VAC to 24VDC center tapped transformer [110V in 24V center tapped 2A out} and a full wave diode bridge, I control the current using a 50 Ohm wire wound ceramic resistor with a wiper terminal. If you set it at ~20 Ohms you will have ~1A with 24 VDC. I found the resistor at a locale electronics reclaim shop for ~$5. you might find the transformer and diode pact there as well.
I use a sheet of copper on the bottom and copper wires across the top of a cheep glass cooking dish that is about 2" high edge and plastic tube to move the solution around through the pump.
To hold the bullets, I use enameled copper wire [again from the reclaim store] The enamel on the wire is impervious to most any solvent I can find at the hardware store, including some acids. So by cutting the wire at an angle, I have a sharp point of bare copper wire to make electrical contact.
The wire looks like a "C" but at sharp angles. The angular cut section is point up and bends 90 degrees. the bottom runs the diameter of the largest bullet you intend to plate. Then bend it up 90 degrees to a height of about 2x that of the tallest bullet. Now bend it down at ~45 degrees until it lined up with the sharp edge, now bend it up inline with the sharp tip.
The top of the hanger, I scraped off the coating and form it into a loop as a hanger. This loop makes electrical contact with the copper wire.
You may want to add a little strength to the copper wire. Simple, just place one end in a vice and on a long run, using vice grips pull the wire until you feel it stretch a little. This will add more spring strength and give the formed "C" some spring action.
Now place the bullet with the bottom against the pointed section and the head at the sharp bend at the top. If the bullet does not hold fast,just pull the top at 90 degrees to the bullet a little and it should hold.
Drop it onto the copper wires, turn on the pump and power to the DC supply and it takes about 20-30 min to plate 0.002" - 0.003" at 1 A current.
If you want more info, let me know and I will answer your questions and even send you a photo to help explain the above.
By the way, I am an electrical engineer and shooter.
- Melbourne, Florida
May 26, 2009
Some great responses and very helpful I have been plating a few bullets and have had acceptable results with acid copper solution in all areas except adhesion which is poor; plating looks great but isn't bonded well. I use a homemade barrel plater made from 8" PVC and it will do about 500 at a time and eliminates the problem of unplated areas on the bullets, plus requires no action once started
Will try the muriatic acid prep described in a previous post.
- Stony Point, North Carolina
June 13, 2009
Q. I could easily be wrong but it is my understanding that in electroplating the anode is the plate-er and the cathode is the plate-ee? So, how do the bullets rolling around in a plastic drum become part of the electrical circuit?Mike Grider
- Fresno, California
July 7, 2009
! The tumble plater sounds interesting, please describe its construction and RPM. Are there ribs inside to encourage the bullets to tumble rather than slide? How is the circuit completed? I am guessing that the inside of the pipe is lined with the cathode material and the center or axle is a copper bar to act as the donor anode? This may renew my interest in this endeavor, as I had become disinterested, due to the extraordinary amount of work and marginal results that I obtained after several tries at it. The whole thing may be a moot point if I can't find any primers or powder.Richard P [returning]
- Los Angeles, California
A. Hi, Mike; hi, Richard. We have an online article here on Barrel Plating which will show you the basics. And, yes, the cathode is the "plate-ee" :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
July 8, 2009
Q. I want to plate lead bullets with copper. What method should I use. Is cyanide still available and not a banned substance?Stan Kaczor
- Port Elizabeth, East Cape, South Africa
July 21, 2009
A. Hi, Stan. Cyanide is not banned in the USA, although it may be banned in South Africa. But the fact that this very powerful poison is available to trained workers in industry doesn't necessarily mean that a hobbyist can easily get it. Lead is very hard and dangerous to plate really properly: it also requires hydrofluoric acid to activate, which is about the nastiest chemical the plating industry deals with. As hobbyists have reported here, the processes they use offer no adhesion and they are relying on sort of a "shrink wrap" effect to hold the plating on. We don't presume to censor people and we've printed their suggestions ... but it certainly doesn't mean we accept them as non hazardous.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
July 24, 2009 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread
Q. How do bullet companies plate their bullets? How do they get an even layer over the entire surface of a lead core?Lucian Marin
- mount prospect, Illinois, USA
March 15, 2012
Q. Hi! I want to copper plate lead bullets with a thickness of 0.020" and the plate need to be extremely adhered to the lead for preventing jacket separation in travel through the bore giving the accuracy of a Jacketed projectile. My questions are: What type of machines should I use -- tumblers? How long I should run the process? I know that it's really difficult to stick copper onto lead by electroplating but some use hydrofluoric acid to help this. I'm not an expert but I really want to engage this ... what books do you recommend about this topic? what other methods do you recommend?
product designer and gunsmith - Argentina
November 7, 2013
Q. Dave Laing
I am interested to know how well your plating process reduced lead fouling of the barrel?
- Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.
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
Wire feed welder as a plating power supply?August 27, 2014
Q. What about using a Wire Feed Welder (110v.) as a plating power source--me (DUMMY?) maybe?. Or -- if only .223 or 5.56 bullets use fired .22 lr cartridge cases as bullet jackets in a Bullet swaging setup. Works great--double duty and cheap--but must buy Swaging dies, but will pay itself back in short period of time. 1000 rounds later, used up a couple weekends though, but "What the H____".
- Long Beach, California, USA , West Coast
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.
Researcher - Sao Paulo, Brazil
Copper plating solution questionsJune 2, 2020 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread
Q. Hi there.
I am embarking on a project with the goal of being able to copper-plate lead bullets at home. I have (mostly) built a barrel plating setup and I have read on here about the approximate amounts of copper sulphate, sulphuric and hydrochloric acids to add.
My first questions are about maintaining the chemicals in the tank. What happens to the sulphur content over time? It's been some time since I took high school chemistry and my chemical equations are lacking.
- Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
June 3, 2020
A. Hi Daniel
First the simple answer. Nothing happens to the sulphur. You can look on the sulphuric acid as a carrier for the copper ions. Copper sulphate baths can operate for years with very little attention and the copper is replenished from the copper anode.
However there are a couple of things to consider.
Lead always has an oxide film on the surface that must be removed to ensure adhesion. For this we usually use fluoboric acid that is not easily obtained by an amateur.
Secondly, lead sulphate is highly insoluble so plating from a sulphuric acid solution is not practical. Flupborate copper processes are made but unlikely to be available to you and standard copper cyanide processes are not for home use.
Have you considered the problem of barrel plating heavy but relatively soft bullets. Even if you cast a hard alloy the sharp edges of the base are liable to damage and that will seriously affect accuracy.
Voltage, current and solution mixture for copper platingNovember 4, 2020
Q. I'm planning to do copper plating on my lead bullet heads as a value added service and alternative to our current line of powder coated products. I've done my initial research and I was hoping someone could help me out on how I'm supposed to compute the mixture of copper sulfate and distilled water. Also, what would be my basis for the voltage and current that I will need. I've spoken to a local nickel plater here in country and he told me that he runs on 200amps over a period of 24 ours which is contrary to what I've read around the internet which runs low current and low voltage.Nico Ariate
- Quezon City, Philippines
A. Hi cousin Nico. We appended your inquiry to an existing thread on the subject to offer you some perspectives, cautions, and food for thought. As for how much current you will need, please see our Introduction to Faraday's Law to help you understand that the amount of plating that will occur is directly proportional to the current you apply and the length of time you apply it: essentially you must move 2 electrons through your rectifier and wiring for each atom of copper you want to move from the anode onto your cathode.
But you are not free to use really high amperages and short times because the copper ions can't move through the solution that fast. Probably somewhere around 20 amps per square foot of plating surface area is your limit. Voltage is just whatever is necessary to drive the desired amps -- probably somewhere between 4 and 10 volts depending on the geometry.
Luck & Regards,-->
November 10, 2020
A. Lead sulfate is insoluble. Therefore if you try to plate lead bullets in a copper sulfate bath you will achieve only unacceptable adhesion.
CTO - Jackson, Michigan, USA
A. Hi Tom. Thanks for your response which is certainly correct from a conventional standpoint.
But some bullet platers seem to be claiming that they successfully plate on bullets from copper sulphate, and I tend to believe the claims because I was involved in the replating of the ironwork on Philadelphia city hall's William Penn Tower, and the very heavy copper plating (generally about half the thickness of a penny; probably as thick as a penny in some spots) had zero adhesion but lasted a century (although not without damage).
Much but not all of the underlying iron and steel was irreparably corroded because once the plating was perforated, galvanic corrosion occurred, but it apparently lasted many decades before trouble set in. The copper on the tower ironwork stayed in place, even after some of the iron was badly deteriorated, by sort of a shrink-wrap effect rather than by adhesion to the substrate :-)
Luck & Regards,
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey