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Topic #28011 "Nickel Plating Appearance in the Late 19th Century"

Topic #43684 "How to dull a shiny nickel finish?"

Topic #44081 "Patina on nickel, Artificial aging"

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Get the Look of Aged (antique) Nickel Plating

Q. I am building a new "Classic Style" boat. I wish to have the interior hardware and fittings have an antique "nickel plated" look. External and structural hardware will be stainless steel. Interior hardware will be brass which is a maintenance headache therefore needing a protective plated finish.   Two platers with whom I have spoken, tell me that nickel plating will yellow very quickly and is not a decorative finish.   What is the dull chrome looking finish that is seen on brass items from the 1920's? Is it nickel or a type of chrome? How can it be achieved on new brass items?   Any advice or comment will be greatly appreciated. 

Paul Bremer

"Lanterns that Lit our World"

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A. I think the 1920's finish you are thinking of is in fact nickel, which was commonly applied in those days. True, nickel tarnishes, turning yellowish--but only slightly yellowish. It is certainly a decorative finish, very "in" again, and maybe exactly what you are looking for.

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

Q. We are currently fabricating a considerable number of pieces for a bathroom and residence in Manhattan, all stainless, and all to be antique nickel plated. While I have seen the finish a number of times, I am still wondering what the process is exactly and why it rusts (as opposed to copper dipped nickel which will last for half a century).

kurt l [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Brooklyn New York

A. You have me at a disadvantage here because I haven't seen what you are talking about. I'm a little confused about whether the rusting you mention is a beneficial part of the antiquing process you are seeking or if you are looking for a process that won't rust.

Since we're on a different wavelength I'll guess what you're talking about, which may risk further confusion, but . . .

The fact is, copper does not delay rust more effectively than nickel. Look at automobiles from the fifties and sixties, whose chrome bumpers were copper-nickel-chrome plated, and which rusted very quickly anyway. Contrast them to today's chrome bumpers (mostly used on pickup trucks and SUVs) which are usually nickel-chrome plated and contain no copper at all and remain rust-free many times longer than the older stuff. Copper plating doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help the corrosion resistance either.

Again, I don't know what "antique nickel" is supposed to look like, but I'll guess you're talking about some blackening process, perhaps relieved in places like some embossed high school rings? Drop us a picture of it if you get a chance.

Even stainless steel--some grades at least--can rust. Brass cannot rust because it contains no iron.

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

thumbs up signThanks for answering the question … You put the pieces together well, thank you.

kurt l [returning]
Brooklyn New York

Multiple threads merged: please forgive chronology errors :-)

Q. I am restoring 9 small antique items (100+ years old) made of steel. The original nickel finish is completely gone and I would like to bring them back to the original condition with an aged look if possible.

Assuming they can be properly prepared and re-plated, is it possible to produce an "aged" look to the new nickel plating? Can nickel plating be done with various degrees of luster (bright vs. medium)?

I can't offer any knowledge on this subject (hence my inquiry). The aged look typically has a yellowish tint to the nickel.

My speculation is that the yellowing is a combination of 1) years of oxidation, copper content/base plate, and 3) impurities and/or trace elements in the nickel solution during the plating process.

If so, my best option is to find a shop that can replate similar to days of old and let time do the rest. Not sure what options are available.

Thanks in Advance.

BJ Borel
Hobbyist - Austin, Texas

Aging the nickel-chrome on Les Paul guitar

Q. People, I am a man with a problem. I do not seem able to locate any service provider in my region to solve my dilemma. I am a guitar player (please tell me there are some guitar players among you...) and I wish to 'age' the appearance of the nickel-chrome hardware on my Gibson Les Paul Model. I have tried brick acid and oven cleaner [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] , but to no avail, all parts still nice and shiny. I am after a very dulled 'aged' look to these parts. I attempted to get the parts chemically etched, but no provider seems interested in carrying this out. I do not wish to damage the base material. Is there a way I can do this myself, and safely? Please note, this is NOT for commercial venture, simply as a result of a personal preference. Thank you for your consideration.


Jason Douglas
hobbyist - Gateshead, Northumberland, UK

A. Hi, Jason.

When you say "brick acid", I guess you mean what I would call muriatic acid [affil links] (hydrochloric acid). In that case you already removed the chrome almost instantly, leaving the underlying nickel plating. You should have immediately seen a slight yellowing of the parts, which should be increasing even as we speak (nickel tarnish). If that's not dull enough you would probably need to bead blast. Good luck with it.

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

Q. Did you solve the problem? I want to do the same thing to a ES-335 with nickel Classic 57 humbuckers.
Thank you.

Vicente Muñoz
- Valencia, Valencia, Spain

Q. Hello,

I'm a Knifemaker and hobby gun restorer. Most guns I like to restore are from 1850 to 1890, such as Colt, Remington or Merwin Hulbert and so on. For a month I've been looking for a recipe or a method to make a new nickel finish looking old(er). The nickel is looking too bright and shiny. In the old days the finish had a "frosted" or "dull" and more "yellowish" touch.

In Germany there is no firm (I can find) who is able to do the nickel-plating like they have done in the past. I would appreciate any help.

Thank you, with best regards

Wolfgang Dell
Knifemaker - Badenwuerttemberg, Germany

Nickel Plating of Antique Car Clock Parts

Q. I'm working on a car rally timer from the early 30's and made the mistake of using steel wool to brighten up some nickel parts. Apparently it was flash nickel and came right off. Can these parts be re-plated without polishing them?

antique parts for car radio

I don't want them to look artificially new, just bright nickel again.

Reid Zeigler
hobbyist - watch and clock restorer - Lansdale, Pennsylvania, USA

Q. I have an antique Sellars cabinet that I have a problem with. The latch on the op of the cabinet broke and I just ordered a new one. My question is how do I discolor the nickel plated new one to get it to look rusty and old like the bottom latch. If you have any answers they are greatly appreciated.

Becky Walston
buyer - Versailles, Indiana

A. Ni Becky. Have a local sandblasting shop remove the nickel plating.

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

Multiple threads merged: please forgive chronology errors :-)

Can I use Liver of sulfur to darken Nickel?

Q. I would like to "antique" some brushed nickel dresser knobs. They have a unique way of attaching so they can't be simply replaced with antique brass knobs. I would like them to look dark brown or black. Would liver of sulfur [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] work to darken them? If not, can they be painted with metal particle paint and then brushed with liver of sulfur?

Joanna Straughn
hobbyist - Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A.

A. Liver of sulfur is useless for colouring of nickel. But next formula must work:
1 lit water
0,5 gm potassium thiocyanate [affil links]
5 ccm concentrated sulfuric acid
25 ccm hydrogen peroxide
15 °C temp.,immersion 10 min.
Hope it helps and good luck!

Goran Budija
- Cerovski vrh Croatia

How do I Age or Antique Nickel Plating?

Q. Greetings esteemed plating experts,

I have had some small antique cast iron parts professionally nickel plated, and of course, they look nice and new. I would like to now process them in order to create the appearance of 100 years of age. I don't want to trash them, just give them the look of a century of reasonable care. The antique parts that were not re-plated have a satin appearance with lots of minute scratches, bubbles in the plating with rust beneath, a surface that has lost its original polished luster, and an overall look that is yellower than the new plating, but in areas it is also whitish or greenish. I would like the newly-plated parts to match the old parts. Can you give me any tips on processes that will help approximate this look of old nickel plated parts that I may be able to accomplish in my home shop? I have at my disposal a rock tumbler [affil links], sand blaster, lots of scratching/scraping tools & abrasives, etc. Are there chemical processes that might be helpful as well, such as etching or chemically coloring the nickel plating? I've read that ferric chloride [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] will etch some nickel plating. I have a supply from making circuit boards, and I also have on hand muriatic acid [affil links] and "Blacken it" hobbyist metal darkener. Will any of those chemicals work on nickel, or are there some that will in a controllable way? Thanks in advance for any and all ideas that I might try to make these new nickeled parts look a century old. --Perry

Perry Luger
Consumer - Brentwood, Tennessee, U.S.A.

A. Nickel can be coloured with lustre patinas (that solution produces several colours, one by one, color depends on immersion time).
One formula:sodium thiosulphate [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] : 80 gm
citric acid [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] : 30 gm
copper acetate [affil links]: 25 gm
1 lit water,25-30 °C
Hope it helps and good luck!

Goran Budija
- Cerovski vrh Croatia

Q. I want to age the chrome on my motorcycle engine. Does anyone have a method?

Ray Alexander
- Fred Jct , N.B., Canada

April 30, 2008

A. Hi, Ray. If you do this, I think it will greatly reduce the corrosion resistance. That's probably okay for guitars, considering the environment they see, but it may be unacceptable for a motorcycle with its constant exterior exposure. But if you want to do it anyway, muriatic acid will quickly strip the chrome, and the nickel will turn slightly yellow immediately, and will gradually get duller and yellower as the nickel tarnishes.

If you're thinking of "black chrome", this is not something you can apply yourself; rather, the old chrome must be stripped and replaced.

Good luck.


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

Q. How can I dull my bright shiny nickel plating on my slot machine? It is too shiny for my taste. I have lots of misc. parts that have been newly re-plated but they are way too bright. Should have been Watts nickel plating. Please give me a few suggestions on how to dull this shiny surface on all my parts that are already installed on my oak cabinet.

Steve Lynch
Hobbyist - Burley, Idaho, USA
April 6, 2009

simultaneous replies

A. Your new nickel will temper down with age, so if I were you, I'd bear with it. However, if you are too impatient to let nature take its course, you can gently abrade it with some wire wool. This will roughen the surface and make it duller, but if you overdo it, it will initially appear even brighter. However, I would not recommend this because once done, there is no going back and you will have a rough surface until you decide to get it resurfaced. Another option may be to gently dab it with dilute (ca 5-10%) hydrochloric acid and then dab off any surplus with a dry or slightly moist cloth. This will also initially make it brighter, but you will leave lots of chloride ions on the surface and this will quickly dull it down. Again, be very careful doing this because hydrochloric acid is pretty nasty stuff and if you have any kids or pets around, you may want to avoid doing it in their presence. If I were you, I'd be patient....

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

A. Anything you put on it to make it dull faster will probably attack the internal parts of the machine. The best way to get that mellow aged look is do nothing. Don't polish or rub on it. Just dust it off every now and then and let it age.

Frank DeGuire
- St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Q. I just had two portrait sculptures fired at Cone 1 with brass glazed. I wanted a smooth "somewhat" metallic surface. The pieces are finished, but the surface is so shiny you cannot see what it is for all the reflections. Any suggestions of what I can use or do to a ceramic glazed piece to "dull" the surface? I was trying to get a "realistic" bronze look.

Desperate to be dull,

Beverly C. Turner
- Newport Beach, California, USA
April 21, 2009

A. Hi, Beverly. Most of us on this site are metal finishers and don't know much about ceramics -- in fact, I had to look up "Cone 1" to understand what you were talking about. But I have heard of wax rubs (Rub'N'Buff [affil links]) and shoe polish, which might have some applicability for you.


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

Q. I am making a guitar and have purchased bright nickel tuning machines. I have decided the overall design would look better if the machines were grey, or at least matte silver. The machines are sealed, but I am concerned they may not withstand any gooey dipping. Any ideas?

Douglas Staton
Luthier - Tucson, Arizona
March 29, 2010

A. Doug,

As a guitar player and collector myself I can appreciate what you are trying to accomplish. I don't advise that you try to age the sealed tuning machines. You very well could damage the machines and render them useless. Aged tuners are sold by most of the major manufacturers such as Grover, Kluson, Gotoh and others and I can guarantee you that the metal parts are aged prior to assembly. It would be well worth your while to purchase the pre-aged tuners for the $60.00 - $100.00 cost rather than risk destroying a perfectly good set of tuners. Use the polished one for your next project instead. Visit Stewart-MacDonald's website.

Tim Hamlett
Tim Hamlett, CEF
- West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

Instant Rust

(affil links)

Sophisticated Finishes Patina

(affil links)

A. Hey, I am a collector of Les Pauls and I do aging myself from finish checking via Tom Murphy's methods to aging hardware. You can go to an arts and crafts store and buy a patina kit. The kit consists of liquid iron, Patina green and liquid rust .

I generally do NOT apply the liquid iron but I apply the patina green using Q-tip [affil links] on pickup covers, bridge, tuners tail pieces, etc. and then dry it with a hair dryer [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] . Then I would apply the liquid rust sparingly to screw heads and pole screws again with a Q-tip. This is basically how the Fender and Gibson custom shops apply the aged finish. Practice on some spare parts first to get the look that you want. One other thing, I cut the solution with a small amount of soapy water to get the chemical to flow or it will bead up on the plated surfaces. Like I said the kits are easily obtainable and test for the desired look that you want on spare parts first. Have fun!

John Machnicki
highland lakes new jersey USA
July 22, 2010

thumbs up sign Hi Guys, used the mentioned acid and it worked treat; I followed the advice of a guy called Billy Penn who has a vid on youtube. it aged all my parts with no problems, some took a little longer than others. BUT a word of warning if you have a Tonepros saddle ie.TP6N. The saddles themselves do not like the acid one bit. After my first attempt the notch in the saddle sunk inwards because the acid affected the metal below the nickel plate which I had notched. Second set of saddles arrived (had to buy a full saddle) so did not notch them, so into my fuming bath. Days went by and nothing seemed to be happening, so after 6 days took them out and washed them to clean any acid residue left behind. While drying them off and pressing to dry them one of the saddles just collapsed. What had happened the acid had eaten all the metal below the nickel plate via the screw hole. so back to the drawing board.

ANOTHER WORD OF WARNING PLEASE BE VERY VERY CAREFUL WITH THE FUMES FROM THIS ACID. IDEALLY USE OUTSIDE WITH SOME BREEZE ABOUT OR A PAINT BOOTH. NO ANIMALS OR KIDS ABOUT; goggles [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] and rubber gloves [this product on eBay or Amazon affil links] and if possible the correct mask to be worn.

- South Shields. Tyene & Wear. England
July 12, 2011

-- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I am restoring an old military dagger.

Someone has polished off the dark matte antique finish on the nickel plated fittings.

I am looking for a solution to re-create the finish.

Any help appreciated.

Mark Holloway
- Bedford England
October 28, 2022

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