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Copper plating on tin/lead or tin/antimony solder

Q. A common patina used in stained glass work is to rub a copper sulphate [on eBay or Amazon affil link]solution on the solder (50/50 or 60/40 tin/lead). With enough 'elbow grease' enough copper will plate to the solder that it can be polished to a bright copper finish. I would like to find a way of plating a more substantial amount of copper that doesn't tend to have as much dark oxides to polish out. This is a home/hobby type application, so shouldn't be too toxic or require expensive equipment. What I am hoping for is a formula that might be a bit more efficient.

Burney Baron
- Rohnert Park, California

Copper Patina for Solder

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A. You could try copper phosphate or copper dissolved in zinc phosphate. I make my own by tossing a copper elbow (3/4") into a batch of zinc phosphate metal prep or a 10% phosphoric acid solution. Never tried it on solder. Works good on iron.

P.S. you could use a 1/2" elbow or a 3/4" bullhead tee if you prefer, just don't dissolve the whole thing. You want this to remain fairly acidic.

Earl Woolsey
- Grand Forks, North Dakota

Copper Plating Over 95/5 Tin/Antimony Solder

Q. I work in the craft brewing and distillation industry. We have a small copper still (tabletop sized) that we are looking to restore for display purposes and occasional use. There are some areas of the still that have been repaired with 95/5 solder (95% tin, 5% antimony). We would like to make those areas disappear with copper plating. My question is if copper will readily adhere to the soldered areas. If it does adhere, will it hold up as well enough to buff the part to an even sheen (assuming the solder doesn't melt underneath)?

I would like to send it away to a local plater but they could not give me a definitive answer if the copper would stick to the solder or not. Is there a difference in preparation or bath chemistry that would give optimal results?

Thank you in advance!

Jordan Cooper
Maintenance Engineer - Denver
March 10, 2017

simultaneous replies

A. You likely need some kind of fluoride based activation step.

David Wichern
March 11, 2017

A. Copper will adhere without any problems to that type of Solder as long as the plated piece is properly degreased of course. For a small piece like this you may want to copper plate the piece yourself using a small brush plating kit.

Or if you like, try to use 'contact plating' (contacting copper with iron piece like 00 steel wool [on eBay or Amazon affil link])

Here are a few references to such techniques:

Marvin Sevilla
- Managua, Nicaragua
March 11, 2017

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