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How to Set up a Simple Home Electroplating System

Intro / synopsis: Plating can be done at home, but there are limits to the size and the types of plating that can realistically be done. Specifically, while zinc, copper, nickel, gold are doable, chrome plating should probably be avoided.
Be careful about selling plating services or plated parts, because then you may be considered a plating shop and subject to a host of regulations. Read on ...





Q. HI, MY NAME IS RAY.

AS A HOBBY I RECONDITION OLDER MOTORCYCLES. I FREQUENTLY HAVE THE NEED TO CHROME PLATE OR NICKEL PLATE SOME COMPONENTS. I AM WONDERING IF IT IS FEASIBLE TO SET UP A PLATING SYSTEM IN MY GARAGE? I NEED TO KNOW WHAT A SIMPLE START-UP SYSTEM WOULD TAKE. I UNDERSTAND ONLY THE BASIC CONCEPT OF HOW ELECTROPLATING WORKS SO PLEASE BE SIMPLISTIC ON ME. HOPEFULLY WAITING!

RAYMOND J [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
HOLYOKE, Massachusetts
1999


A. Our FAQs "How Electroplating Works" and "Introduction to Chrome Plating" may help you, Raymond -- please give them a look! But unfortunately it may prove difficult for you to make a business out of chrome plating in your garage due to OSHA safety regulations and EPA waste disposal regulations.

The plating industry was this country's very first EPA-regulated industry, and the burden of compliance is heavy. Further, chrome plating solution is carcinogenic (think Erin Brokovich [adv: DVD on eBay & Amazon] and hexavalent chrome). If you charge a friend a few dollars to plate something, you might be considered in the business and possibly subject to reporting and disposal requirements. So please start by investigating the regs before buying anything and becoming forever responsible for it.

Why do we say "forever responsible"? Picture a company that has generated toxic waste. They hire a contractor for disposal which turns out to be an evil one which dumps the waste in a swamp, pockets the disposal fees, dissolves the corporation and disappears -- leaving the public to pay the cleanup cost as in days of old? To address that problem the EPA came up with a simple rule: it doesn't matter who you ship hazardous waste to, or how much you paid to get rid of it, or how long ago it was: the "generator" of the waste remains responsible for it forever no matter what! Then add their 'joint & several liability' clause and you realize that if they can't separate your waste from others' wastes it's not a good thing for you, it's a very bad thing :-(

Best of luck but be careful!

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




$29 to $80 kits chrome plating kits

Q. Funny, I have seen chrome plating kits in motorcycle mags. One long ago for 25 bucks. Recently for more but I can't remember where or how much. I want to plate the slides in Amal carbs. I am sure that this would improve their reliability. If you have any info on who would do this, please let me know.

p.r.k [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- g'ville, Florida
2000


A. Hi PRK,

Yes, you saw plating kits for about $29 some years ago from J.C. Whitney -- today Eastwood offers them at around $75-$80, but these were/are zinc plating kits not chrome plating kits. Again, chrome is an intensely regulated carcinogen.

If you wish to investigate entry level electroplating, you can also contact a supplier of brush plating equipment and small systems like Gold Touch [a finishing.com supporting advertiser]. And just googling "hobby plating supplier" will find them.

But if you spend some more time at this site, reviewing letters from earlier posters with similar interests to yours, you'll see why we urge caution and investigating the regulations before you buy the chemicals (especially chromic acid / chrome plating solution!) and become responsible for them. In America, once you use the plating chemicals (probably even once you open the bag), you are the "waste generator" and they become your waste forever! No matter how much you pay anyone to take, treat, or dispose of them, they are still your responsibility even 50 years from now and more. So look before you leap :-)

Good luck!

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


Q. Raymond J of Holyoke asked about a home plating system. Did anyone answer him ? If so what is the answer? I want to chrome plate my auto parts and will be 6' L x 18" W

James D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sylacauga, Alabama
2003

Ed. note: Chrome plating bumpers is very very different from the usual hobbyist/home plating needs and we would urge you to start much smaller and with zinc, copper, or nickel, not chrome.



Brush plating vs. tank plating

"Chromium Plating"
by Weiner & Walmsley

on AbeBooks
** rarely available **

or Amazon
** rarely available **

(affil links)

"Electroplating Engineering Handbook"
by Larry Durney

on AbeBooks

or eBay or

Amazon

(affil links)

"Water and Waste Control for the plating Shop"
by Kushner & Kushner

on AbeBooks

or eBay or

Amazon

(affil links)

Q. I am curious how well these home brush-based chroming kits. In particular, I have an old 1970's bicycle with chrome forks and rear stays, and chrome lugs. The chrome is almost intact, but there are lots of sand-sized rust specs in places.

If I can clean off the sand-sized rust specs, what will be the result of chroming using one of these home kits ($30 from JC Whitney, etc.) I am not looking for a perfect job, I'm looking for something that looks good at 5 feet and protects the finish so it doesn't rust anytime soon.

Donald G [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- San Diego, California
2003


A. James -- brush plating and minimal tank plating is clearly possible; we mentioned and linked some suppliers already. But you seem to be speaking of an automobile bumper or some other very big copper-nickel-chrome plated item, and this would be a large undertaking both in how much you'd need to learn to apply all the layers, and the effort of successfully plating such a large item with a tiny stylus. I think you may want to start smaller and with a chrome-free plating solution.

Donald, I don't think JC Whitney offers one anymore but, as noted, there is a $80 tin-zinc plating system available from The Eastwood Company.

Our site's focus is primarily industrial, where people typically spend thousands of times that much for a plating installation. We're certainly not trying to talk you out of a $75 investment in learning and experimentation. But quality plating with a real plating outfit is hard. Quality plating with a toy can be a joke. To chrome plate James' bumper with a plating cell like the kits you refer to, would require thousands upon thousands of AA batteries. Your job is smaller, but look up Faraday's Law of Electrolysis and figure out how many hundred batteries you would need. And then you still have the issue of preparing the substrate so that your plating won't peel off, the fact that it's a chrome substitute not really chrome and it won't quite match, etc. It's a big job.

Our concern isn't whether you spend $75 -- please do! And please try the plating experiments in our FAQ "How Plating Works", which will cost you nothing at all. Good luck; we just don't want to tempt you out onto a slippery slope that can pollute, be very costly, or possibly beset you with fines. Good luck!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
2003


thumbs down sign I know it's twenty years later but this pops up when your researching plating...Here is the title,
How to Set up a Simple Home Electroplating System
Then this is a reply that was by Ted Mooney.
"Our site's focus is primarily industrial, where people typically spend thousands of times that much for a plating installation".
Kind of defeats the purpose of asking questions, doesn't it?

Patrick Murray
- PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida
December 27, 2023


A. Hi Patrick. Thanks for visiting and reading. You're clearly welcome to whatever opinion you wish about anything -- including this page, or my comment. But 20 years later I see nothing wrong with it.

Our pages have offered help to hundreds upon hundreds of students & hobbyists with their electroplating questions & efforts, but this was a simple statement of fact in prelude to my comment about how non-useful a $75 plating kit will be towards the chrome plating of bumpers -- which we know must be done on installations costing many thousands of times that much; and the reason we know that is because we are very familiar with those installations. Zinc plating a hex nut, gold plating a small chrome plated car emblem, or copper forming a leaf is one thing, but chrome plating a bumper is something else entirely. I believe that hopeful home electroplaters should be helped to realize what is within the range of their home electroplating efforts and what they would be misspending their time and money on.

Luck & Regards,

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


A. I use a home kit frequently to chrome aluminum pieces. Just have to treat it first - remove the oxide layer and apply a layer of zinc -- I use a zincate solution.

MW Jansen
- Southern California
2004

Ed. note: Glad you found it easy.



Dangers are overstated!

thumbs down signThis is just a comment, you can ignore it, but I don't think you will be able to based on the NUMEROUS posts in the past.

This site DEFINITELY overstates dangers of home plating, I personally believe the reason is that if everyone found out how EASY it is to plate at home, the commercial shops would lose, LARGE...including yourselves.

I have been plating at home for years now, no problems. I find that there are dangers to EVERYTHING that a do-it-yourselfer must be careful of. Your attitude on this subject is "Don't get into woodworking at home, you could cut your hands of what with all those power tools." or "Don't get into painting at home what with all those fumes".

Honestly, RUBBISH!

How about doing us and yourself a favor and start posting educational responses to peoples questions and drop the 'tude.

Go ahead, blast me too. Oh yeah, I do take my waste to proper waste management facilities. Any "SHOP" can make mistakes as easily as a home do-it-yourselfer.

Jim M
- Kingston, Ontario, Canada
2005


Jim: we're happy to print your opinion & everybody's -- that's what a public forum is for. Here's all the space you want, free, to tell people anything you want about what you've learned.

But I don't own, manage, or work in a plating shop, never did & never will; so your claims of ulterior motive paint you as a petulant adolescent.

This free site includes thousands of pages of information for students & hobbyists, plating book reviews, links to plating educational societies and training sessions, ASTM plating standards, free MIL standards, addresses of free plating libraries, plus tens of thousands of highly detailed responses to plating questions & problems. We never censor postings (except ads & ad-hominem remarks); please share your experience instead of whining.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
2005


thumbs down signYES I AGREE PLEASE POST EDUCATIONAL RESPONSES ABOUT CHROME/GOLD PLATING JUST LIKE ANYTHING IT'S DANGEROUS..YOU AUTA SAY DON'T DRIVE A CAR YOU MIGHT GET IN A ACCIDENT...IF THE MARKET FOUND OUT ABOUT THE PROFITS THEY MAKE THEY WOULD LOOSE $$...I'VE BEEN PLATING GOLD FOR OVER 1 YEAR NOW WITH NO PROBLEMS NOW I'M EXPANDING INTO GOLD...WITH OR WITHOUT YOUR COMMENTS...FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN CHROME OR GOLD PLATING YES YOU CAN DO IT IN HOME THEY ARE MAKING MORE AND MORE SYSTEMS FOR THE HOME OWNER...GOOD LUCK CAUSE I'VE HAD IT...AND IT'S NOT JUST ME!

tyrone b
- Louisville, Kentucky
2005


Hi Tyrone: This isn't the Hotel California; if you've "had it" you can leave any time you like. But you, too, are welcome to tell people how to do electroplating at home. Here is all the space you want, an audience, and it won't cost you a dime. So get to it -- or is your posting just vacuous bitching?

Your analogy that our warnings are similar to telling people not to drive because they might get in an accident is perfect. The government requires that every driver be trained, tested, and licensed; the government requires that every vehicle be registered, inspected, and insured. If you don't comply, you'll be fined, and in egregious cases jailed.

Similarly, the government demands training, testing, and licensing of all plating shops and their employees. Operate a plating shop without the registrations, the blood tests showing that the employees are safe, the discharge permits, the testing of bath surface tensions, the ampere-hour logs, the waste accumulation records, the manifesting, the annual hazwoper certification, or without advising your neighbors of the dangerous materials that you have on hand (Community Right-To-Know law), and you are subject to fines or even jail time. I know two plating shop managers who did hard time.

Yes, you can probably illegally operate a small plating business and stay below the radar, just as you can probably get away with driving without a license, registration, or insurance. And lots of regulations don't apply if it's a hobby and you never take a dollar for plated product or your plating service.

But we had a 'cancer cluster' in my town so everything in the neighborhood was deeply investigated; all neighbors interviewed at length; and names printed in published books. If a child in your neighborhood contracts cancer and her parents find out that you were chrome plating in your garage, thus discharging carcinogenic fumes into the air, God help you! It's not likely to happen of course, but if it does, your life as you knew it is over.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
2005


thumbs up signChrome plating in your garage! Cover ups and conspiracies!
I was born into a custom chrome plating business. I worked there as a young teenager. I'm in my mid fifties now. Custom chrome plating is all I have ever done. I run the business. I know every aspect. I have done everything. Metal stripping, polishing, bead blasting, cleaning and activating for plating, cyanide copper plating, acid copper plating, nickel plating, chrome plating, customer relations, reporting to various agencies (EPA, DNR, local sewer districts, Etc.) All accounting and payroll. I know I am missing a few things, but I think Ted will understand.

And now Tyrone says it's a big cover up to deny people a chance to make millions in their garage. Oh Lord! Maybe we need a Canadian disposal place that doesn't require permits and testing as inferred in an earlier comment. To think all the years wasted when I could have done it in my garage and made millions!

Frank DeGuire
- St. Louis, Missouri, USA
2005




Is it possible to do touch-up?

Q. To MW Jansen: how about some details. I want to touch up a couple spots of chrome sheet metal.

Volts, amps, source of solution, what are anode and cathode materials, temperature, etc?

GF Kron
- Novato, California
2006




Q. Hi to those of you who will answer questions and not whine. I was wanting to replate the pot metal parts from my 68 El Camino. What's the best way to prep the parts with moderate pitting, and should they be treated as an aluminum part in the plating process? Last but not least if you're not willing to eat it or drink it, then treat it as a nasty substance be responsible. Dumping it down the drain goes right back into your drinking water. Thanks.

Michael Walters
novice - Water Gap, Pennsylvania
2007


A. Hi, Michael. "Potmetal" may be zinc diecastings or aluminum diecastings (they look just about identical although aluminum is much lighter). But a 1968 car probably used zinc diecastings rather than aluminum, so zincating probably isn't necessary.

It isn't easy to fix those pits because the porosity absorbs water and plating solutions, thus causing contamination; plus the absorbed water or gases can come back as steam when the parts are heated and that causes holes and blisters. But the usual way to deal with mildly pitted diecastings for restoration is to copper plate them in cyanide copper plating solution and "mush buff"; this means basically to "mush" the soft copper plating into the pits by/while buffing. After the pits are pretty much filled with copper you can go on to more copper plating, then nickel plating, then chrome plating. Severely pitted castings require a plating artist to hand-drill & hand-fill every one, and will cost hundreds of dollars each. Moderately pitted in your eyes may be mildly or severely pitted in someone else's:-)

Good luck!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
July , 2007




Q. Could I electroplate with a AAA (1.5 volts)?

Joe Wilson
hobbyist - Virginia Beach, Virginia
2007


A. For the purposes of a grammar school or early high school science project, yes you certainly can, Joe! Please see our FAQ: "How Electroplating Works".

For practical electroplating we'd need details of what you hope to do, though. Look into Faraday's Law because plating is energy intensive and that AAA battery is only going to be able to electroplate a very thin layer of metal on an item the size of a quarter before it's exhausted.

To understand this, simply recognize that a battery and a plating cell are actually the same thing -- but in electroplating we use a bigger battery or power supply to overpower the battery formed by the plating cell and force it to run in reverse. Your AAA battery doesn't move a lot of metal within it, so it can't move much metal outside of it.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
2007




Q. I have no experience with plating, but I have a great deal of experience with OSHA and EPA. The thing that would scare me the most about plating in my garage and disposing of the hazardous waste is this. Even if I did all the paperwork it requires to order, store and use the materials, then to dispose of the materials as hazardous waste, the thing that would not let me sleep another night I lived is the "Cradle to Grave" rule by EPA. Once you dispose of the material, the paperwork has to be maintained forever! And should the container you dispose of this material in should leak, then you the disposer are responsible and legally liable. The cost of a cleanup could be millions, and the fine is $25K per day until it is cleaned up. And you have to pay to reseal the junk, restore the junk and that means everyone else's junk stored with it. I just want to know, since I am just starting, what a fair price to pay for plating. I am restoring an old car and I want to plate the bumpers, etc. What would be a fair price?

Gus Weaver
hobbyist - Harrodsburg, Kentucky
2007


A. Hi, Gus. The biggest cost of plating, especially replating old stuff, is labor. It would be fair for a plating shop to charge you about the same amount for their time as a plumber or mechanic would -- maybe just a little more because of the cost of material and because a plating shop's equipment costs more than a plumber's equipment.

So the real issue is how long will it take, and this will depend on the condition (how much buffing and polishing is required) and on how high quality the job is. Reworking a single old bumper involves far more labor than manufacturing from scratch a new mass-produced one. So, unfortunately, it usually costs at least the same as a new bumper, often more; and replating an old diecast hood ornament can easily cost 10x-20x the cost of a new one.

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


A. Ted is on the money with everything he has said. I began looking around for a home based chrome plating kit...thinking it was that easy. It costs about $500 here to strip, repair and rechrome a vehicle bumper. In my wisdom, I thought I could do it for next to nothing. I came up against ALL the hurdles Ted has mentioned. I paid the $500 and have a fantastic bumper and no headaches. I am impressed with your site and knowledge Ted...keep up the good work mate....Peter

Peter Carey
- Perth, Western Australia
January 11, 2008


thumbs up signThank you the kind words, Peter!

A quick aside -- some people just love working on their boats; they are happy as clams, with a beer can in one hand, scraper in the other, day after day. I ask on boating forums where I can get something done, and these folks will not tell me, instead they bend my ear about how I can do it myself. They don't comprehend that some of us scrape our boat only out of necessity, that we hate this stuff, and our only interest is in getting it over with.

Maybe part of the "friction" here is that someone will say they're trying to electroplate something and I may read into it that they just want the darn thing plated, but aren't familiar with the fact that plating jobshops are readily available to do it for them. Meanwhile enthusiasts who enjoy hobby plating believe that the person wants to electroplate it themselves and we are stomping on their joy :-)

I especially appreciate your posting because it implies that you didn't particularly like the idea of electroplating yourself -- you tried it to save money.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
January 15, 2008




Q. I would like information on how one would go about starting a chrome plating business on a small scale.
Any information would be helpful.

Maynard D.Tuttle
- Cherryvale, Kansas
April 8, 2008


A. Hi, Maynard. I think you'll find our previously mentioned Introduction to Chrome Plating will give you a quick but good feel for what the chrome plating business is about.

I would strongly urge people to try to work a summer in a plating shop before volunteering to be eternally responsible for the toxic chemicals you will need to buy.

If that isn't possible, at least join the National Association for Surface Finishing (nasf.org) and attend some local monthly meetings and the annual Sur/Fin convention, take a 2 to 4-day introduction to plating through NASF or Kushner Electroplating School, read a few of the most important books, and subscribe to the monthly journals to understand what's going on. Good luck!

Regards,

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




Chrome-look paint, aka "Spray chrome"

sidebar

A. Hi I can give you a good answer to this. I purchased some paint called Mirrorchrome from ALSA Paints. I have never in my life seen a chrome paint that actually shines like chrome until now. It took me several tries but finally after the fifth one I figured it out.

You prep your item just as you would for any paint job then spray on a Black gloss, I used an over-the-counter Base clear black. Clear coat it, then comes the tough part, wet sand it all the way to 4000 grit then polish it to a mirror shine then just spray on the chrome it takes about 15-20 min to flash over then polish it with a lint free cloth then let it cure for an hour then spray a coat of the clear over it. I did find you have to use a base clear clearcoat all others put a haze over the chrome. Anyway check out Alsa and see their videos; it does work.

Scott Lancaster
- Norridgewock, Maine
August 10, 2008


thumbs up sign Hi, Scott. Yes, chrome-look paint is, for the amateur, a great alternative to real chrome plating. We thank you for providing so much detail on what worked for you!

There are many suppliers of "chrome-look paint" systems, and we try to discuss technologies here rather than bringing specific company names into it (huh? why?)

Thanks again!

Regards,

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



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