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topic 4125 p3

How to Set up a Simple Home Electroplating System



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A discussion started in 1999 but continuing through 2018

November 4, 2014

Q. Hi Jim

I have read through your posts on "home plating" and plating kits.

I am in the process of starting up a small one man artisan business and plan to be doing small scale acid copper and acid nickel plating - no cyanide / no chrome just the usual salts of copper and nickel and the associate acids which I buy at 30% and dilute.

I am not going to be offering a plating service, merely plating my own hand made products.

I wondered whether you would offer the same level of caution to these forms of caution as you do to chrome? I am not talking of my safety here as I understand the chemicals more the issues of commercial plating.

I am not in the US and will follow local regulations but I am environmentally aware and would always wish to prevent leaks by secondary containers and also to deal with any disposal issues responsibly ( I hope not to dispose of electrolytes any time soon as I have been informed that with proper care they can last almost indefinitely ).

I have a reasonable background in chemistry handling acids and so on.

I am in the position of a start up and I am trying to keep costs in the thousands rather than tens of thousands but at the same time I do intend to fabricate and buy a decent setup, I would of course be using sensible precautions like secondary containers to safeguard against leaks and appropriate safety measures for myself and rescue/fire although my workshop is ordinarily off limits to everyone except me and family members - no employees.

My largest objects would fit in a two foot cube.

I have been conducting small scale testing on plating miniatures of my product and everything works fine, currently I am not operating at a commercial level, the test pieces are not for sale.

I have specific reasons for needing to keep this process in house, my secondary processes after plating can never be 100% and sometimes I need to repair the surface and go back to the plating stage - I find I need to be able to tune my plating to the requirements of these secondary processes.

So in short are your cautionary views applicable across the board or do you feel some plating methods and chemistries are more suitable for small scale than others?

Kind regards

Jon Light
- Nordjylland, Denmark


simultaneous November 8, 2014

A. Hello Jon,
I am not one to encourage plating at home, but if you must, the Acid Cu and Sulfate Ni would be some of the safer chemistries to use. For the Acid Cu you will have to store small amounts of sulfuric acid and a very small amount of HCl. For the Ni bath the chemicals needed are less hazardous, but should also be handled with care. I would recommend a storage cabinet made of a heavy duty plastic that you can lock up for storage of the replenishment chemicals. As far as secondary containment of your plating baths, you are taking the right steps. If you could buy the bath chemistries "ready to use" you will avoid handling the sulfuric and the small amount of HCl for the make up of the bath. Also keep in mind that vapors from the baths must be ventilated. Ni bath vapors (dust) can cause severe respiratory problems. Read and follow MSDS guidelines for each chemical used. Good Luck and take caution.

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Phoenix, Arizona USA


November 6, 2014

A. I am not in love with plate at home kits. I have only had contact with 1 company. I guess that their prices were fair, but that is debatable depending on your access to chemicals and knowledge.

Out of curiosity, I bought that companies manual and was not impressed. Handling of wastes was incomplete and outright wrong in some cases.

Their control of chemicals used in plating was minimal.

I suspect that a fair percentage of their sales were used a few times and then put away and not used again.

Some people have a talent at plating with minimal education.

A large portion of the problems will come from the assorted environmental agencies. What one tells you can be opposite of what another tells you.

I would not plate in the same building as you live in! A detached garage could be OK, but not guaranteed.

2 foot cube parts will need at least a 3 foot cube tank. You are talking about 100 gallons, not just a couple of liters.

If you elect to do it, I would suggest rotationally molded poly ethylene or propylene tanks. Temperature will determine which. You can get appropriate tank support from enamel painted 2 x 4s.

This is a huge amount of secondary containment required.

An option would be to plate only the smaller parts and send out the rest to a commercial site.

You will need a minimal lab to control your chemicals.

Cobalt looks a lot like chrome, but is not as hard. It is generally harder than nickel. It is a whole lot safer than chrome to use.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida



November 9, 2014

Q. Thanks James and Mark

Its good to get gut reaction responses.

I am taking a good look at the issues with Nickel. Acids I am familiar with, I have worked professionally in a lab environment with hazardous materials in earlier years and the things that worry me are contamination issues - acids are black and white, you know whether you have had an accident with acid whereas things like the nickel airborne fumes may inflict damage over an extended period of time - personally I feel happier with the exposure issues you can detect easily, the black and white ones.

Do either of you advocate an extracted fume cupboard approach to acid Nickel? It would be easy and cheap for me to weld up an aluminium framed polycarb cupboard ( after checking first for material suitability ) if this is feasible then I would consider it worth the effort, I have also been considering whether it would be easiest to do away with fume balls and simply have a lid that descends into the tank as the workpiece descends - I have the advantage that all my workpieces are revolved spun surfaces (similar for plating tanks) so I do not need to plan for odd shapes, it would be simple enough to have the lid and workpiece moved down as a single unit on a central pole.

If I could I would gladly hand the nickel flash plating over to a professional so that I retain the flexibility of being able to do the copper plate myself but I am concerned with oxidation, I wonder how bonding might be affected with a four day delay between nickel and copper assuming of course that I use a pickle to activate the nickel surface.

I should add that part of my process involves a ceramic coating and the copper plated items are subject to elevated temperatures in a kiln after plating - I have found that copper plate holds up well but only if cleaning procedures are surgical, in my experience plating that seems well bonded at room temperature may not be so at elevated temperatures, it took me a while to achieve the levels of surface preparation required to reliably survive the heat process but now its stable with almost zero rejects.

I am also looking at the possibility of reducing my electrolyte volume by plating sheet metal before it is formed so that I can plate a flat sheet rather than a formed object, this would simply reduce volumes perhaps by as much as a factor of ten although I would lose a degree of flexibility as would need to retouch edges that have to be cleaned up - cut as part of the post forming process, this being unnecessary if the item is plated after forming. I have no idea how the copper plate would stand up to the forming process - shortest route is to suck it and see I think.

Thanks again...

Jon Lightbourne
- Nordjylland, Denmark


November 18, 2014

Hi Jon

I too have many reservations about home plating but there are two important points that have not been mentioned.

What is the base metal? Acid copper plating on steel is near impossible to get good adhesion -- which is why professionals use cyanides (or pyrophosphate which is difficult to control)

Also, the plating stage comes at the end of an appropriate (and essential) cleaning process which again depends on the base metal and will require tanks, rinsing, heating, waste disposal, etc.

Remember that it is easy to get elementary advice on the internet but when things do not go to plan (and they won't) you are left with the mess.

Surely there is a local plater who can help.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England


simultaneous November 20, 2014

A. Hello Jon,
I agree with Geoff regarding using outside services for the plating. I'm concerned about your process steps for steel. A nickel strike is required on steel before any subsequent plating. I assume this is what you mean by "acid nickel". It is not very common to plate Cu on Ni, but it can be done. It would be a shame if you spent all the time and money on the set up and didn't work out the way you planned. A Woods Ni strike coating done outside with a delay of 4 days until you are able to plate the Cu without the proper activation before Cu will cause adhesion issues. If you plan to go ahead with this anyway, a fume hood made of polypro would be essential. Chlorine gasses are nasty. As you may know, the bath is a low efficiency bath which means you will have gassing in the solution and above it. Now that you have shared more of what you will be doing it just makes sense to me to have all the plating done by a plating shop. Hope this helps.

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Phoenix, Arizona USA


November 21, 2014

Q. Hi Geoff,

Many thanks for the reply, I will take your points in turn.

"Home plating" - I will be running a small business so I should point out that the amount of research, investment and so on is not representative of "garage" plating, I feel I will belong somewhere in between "home" and "professional". I have already spoken to local authorities and it seems I will get a permit and I will be subject to health and safety inspections; my disposal routine will be the same as for the professional, although my quantities will be lower and if I look after my electrolyte properly I hope not to be disposing very much.

"base metal" - the base metal is mild steel.

"cleaning process" - I use a wipe with cellulose thinners to remove grease which is involved in the forming process, this is the recommended way to remove the bulk of the greases involved in my process.

I then move on to a heated sodium hydroxide bath for a generous period which is finished off with electrolysis, I find this works very well for me, I would like to repeat earlier comments on my history with hazardous professional lab experience and investment in safety precautions.

I finish off with a 20% HCl acid pickle for around 30 seconds, I have found a prolonged pickle detrimental to finish as carbon within the steel starts to be exposed at the surface.

"Acid copper plating on steel is near impossible to get good adhesion"

I would have to disagree on the basis of practical results.

I assume of course that "acid copper plating" here is taken to include a flash nickel plate.

As I mentioned in my previous posts the plated object is taken to elevated temperatures (around 850 °C) after plating, I have found this to be a severe test of adhesion, many early test pieces failed at this temperature whilst displaying apparently perfect adhesion at room temperature. The problems were all down to either cleaning or the smutty carbon deposits that appear on steel if it is pickled in HCl acid for too long.

In addition I use a professional polishing machine and out of curiosity I have sometimes gone to excess and polished first through to the nickel flash plate and then down to the steel substrate, I have observed a gradual cut through with no evidence of flaking but gradual excavation through the layers as you would expect for fully bonded plate. The polishing process involves abrasion, surface friction and significant vibration which I expect would reveal an improperly bonded plate.

By reviewing my cleaning process to the stage it is at now I have managed to achieve a near 100% success rate. My earliest test pieces are now one year old but of course hindsight requires time and there is no accelerated testing procedure that can fully replicate the effect of time, however the rigors of elevated temperature and the harsh environment of "polishing to destruction" as outlined above are pretty severe tests I think.

"elementary advice on the internet" - I don't think my current level of understanding ranks as elementary. There is a temptation in this kind of discussion to be polar and rank all professionals as professional and all amateurs as amateur.

I have read online reports of health and safety visits to plating shops and the horrors they have reported there. I am degree educated (sciences) and have significant understanding of chemistry and I have worked professionally in hazardous laboratories and my budget for doing the job properly stretches to thousands and I will be in full co-operation and compliance with environmental and safety bodies -- does that make me an amateur or a professional?

What is the difference between a small artisan plating process with the correct equipment, environmental and safety procedures and a "professional" - if someone points me in the direction of training courses or certification then I will go that route.

I disagree with some comments on this thread that belittle the risks of dealing with hazardous chemicals. On the other hand when we limit the discussion to acid copper and nickel then I do wonder at a polarity in the argument that does not seem to allow for the possibility that an informed and researched individual with adequate funding might achieve standards that would be called professional.

"local plater who can help" - As I mentioned in an earlier posting I want to keep control of the copper plating process although I am considering whether to farm out the nickel flash plate, this would be good since the environmental and health issues with the nickel process are the ones that bother me more.

Jon Light
- Saltum Nordjylland Denmark


November 22, 2014

A. Hi Jon

If we underestimated your qualifications for this type of work, I would point you to the title of this thread "Plating at home".

We get a large number of questions asking for help with processes which are clearly beyond the understanding of the questioner.

You do indeed seem to have the basic knowledge in place, and to go further is probably beyond what is practical on an internet forum.

I would suggest that you contact the Institute of Materials Finishing - there is a link on this site or go straight to http://www.materialsfinishing.org/

They run distance learning courses on all aspects of plating and issue regular updates on EU regulations etc.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire,
      England



November 24, 2014

Hello again Jon,
When responders on this site give advice (including myself), we don't assume the person asking the questions is an amateur. In your earlier letter you stated that you had experience in handling chemicals and in a later letter had worked in a wet lab with hazardous chemicals. It was also good to hear that you went through the proper channels regarding environmental requirements in Denmark. If you had stated this early on, our responses would have been different. If I may speak for other faithful responders on this site, we give advice based on decades of experience. I would like to think our goal is to help others and if applicable, warn them of the pitfalls in electroplating. Good luck with your venture, and I wish you success.

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Phoenix, Arizona USA


March 30, 2015

Q. Hi! I had had an interest in electroplating for some of my old tools but after reading your very informative comments I have come to realize that I will leave it to the pros and save myself the hassles. Life is complicated enough and I have kids. Rather pay someone and get it done right. I read there may be safer systems of electroplating like zinc and gold is this correct ?

patrick morin
Patrick Morin
Mechanic - Acton Vale, Quebec


March 2015

A. Hi Patrick. Yes, cyanide-free zinc or gold plating would be both safer and easier than chrome plating. But functional electroplating is not easy. As the first step please try the zinc and copper plating student experiments we describe in the previously mentioned FAQ "How Electroplating Works", so that you can see for yourself how the process works while also learning the limitations. Then you can move on from there if you wish. Good luck.

Regards,

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



How to repair pits in old diecastings

May 13, 2015

Q. I own a 1988 boat that has two 4" chrome bilge vents. They are very slightly pitted. Mine look much better than this picture from ebay.

4125

I brought them to a shop here in Sacramento and was quoted $500 to chrome both vents. Apparently they are pot metal and pits need to be filled with lead before being plated. I'd like to know more about that process. Is it lead plating?

Don Stocker
Real Estate - Sacramento, California USA


May 13, 2015

A. The usual method is to strip, clean, copper plate, fill the pits with tin-lead solder, polish and buff smooth, then copper-nickel-chrome plate.

It's a time consuming process, since deep pits will have to be manually cleaned of corrosion to sound metal, possibly with a drill bit or dremel tool. An expert might spend a few minutes per pit, and your part has hundreds.

$500 sounds like a lot of money, but given the man-hrs required may well be a fair price.

jeffrey holmes
Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
Spartanburg, South Carolina



July 7, 2015

Q. Does solution temperature affect either the quality of plating or the amount of time it takes to acquire a good plating?

Michael Horton
- memphis, Tennessee usa.


July 2015

A. Hi Michael. A point that I've tried to make many times, with limited success, is that plating is drop-dead easy in concept (third graders can learn to electroplate things themselves within 5 minutes). And in a few very limited cases, useful plating isn't especially difficult either: jewelers easily plate gold jewelry, and people easily strip the chrome from auto emblems and gold plate them ...

But useful, robust, bright, pore-free, corrosion-resistant, strongly adhering, good-enough-to-sell plating on other than jewelry and previously plated auto emblems can be very difficult. Further, a plater must be concerned not just with successfully plating one item, but in not ruining his solutions by contamination or by letting them get out of whack; plating "in equilibrium" is very important and quite hard to do. Finally, commercial plating almost always involves organic wetters, brighteners, levelers, etc.

Moving on to your specific question, those organic addition agents are usually very temperature sensitive. So, usually, it's not so much a question of the acceptable temperature range for the copper sulphate, copper fluoborate, copper pyrophosphate, or copper cyanide per se, but the acceptable temperature range for those addition agents.

Regards,

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



September 11, 2016

Q. Hi,
First of all, thank you for providing your advice.

I have a 50 year old keepsake gold-plated wrist bracelet that has lost so much plating the majority of the chain pieces are down to the brass base metal. I have asked local jewelry repair shops if they can re-plate the item but nothing positive (part of the problem may be small population so no demand) so I queried the manufacturer and got the same response. Would one of the inexpensive online gold plating kits work to keep the green off my wrist?

Thanks again,

Ray

Ray Miller
- Hanapepe, Hawaii USA


Medallion Liquid Gold Plating Kit

September 2016

A. Hi Ray. The quality of anything you can do will probably be significantly lower than the original plating, so you're more likely to get 50 days or 50 weeks from it rather than 50 years. But what I would probably do is try the simple electricity-free systems that have an activating disk and are heated in a microwave oven, and then apply a simple clearcoat like Everbrite [a finishing.com supporting advertiser].

Regards,

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


September 12, 2016

Q. Thanks for the quick response Ted. I'm afraid I am not at all familiar with 'electroless' plating systems. Can you expound a bit?

Ray

Ray Miller [returning]
- Hanapepe, Hawaii USA


September 2016

A. Hi Ray. The issue of electroless plating is difficult, with whole books written about it. It's tricky even semantically, with there being true electroless (autocatalytic) plating, immersion (replacement) plating, and "contact" plating with activating disks which seems to be a combination of autocatalytic and immersion. The short answer would be to follow the link to the Medallion Gold system we linked to on Amazon and read about it and see whether you like the idea. Best of luck.

Regards,

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



December 15, 2018

how do you plate plastic

Kelvin Bellrose
- Fort saskatchewan


December 2018

"Standards and Guidelines for Electroplated Plastics"
by American Society for Electroplated Plastics
from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon
or
see our Review

A. Hi Kelvin. If you just want to get some plated metal onto some plastic parts, without precision or real adhesion strength, you can just 'paint' the plastic with something conductive first, like copper-rich paint. Some other methods are listed on our FAQ, "How to Plate Organic Material".

But there are several pretty fat books covering plating on plastic, and they're directed at people who already are skilled at plating on metal, so they skip almost all of that. The techniques involve many steps. In short, there is no way you are going to plate any plastic automobile grills at home.

No abstract questions please because answering them is impossible :-)

Regards,

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



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