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topic 4913

DIY Nickel plating onto steel



A discussion started in 2000 but continuing through 2018

(2000)

Q. Dear finishing.com,

I am currently restoring a 1960 Mini which has been off the road since 1966. I am trying to do as much of the restoration work myself, as a hobby.

To protect some of the steel components on the carburetor levers, etc. I would like to plate them for corrosion resistance. I was given some pure nickel anodes several years ago which I would like to use because the color is similar to bright steel and has good anti corrosion properties. I'm really not too concerned with the finish quality since the parts are functional rather than cosmetic (throttle stop lever, etc) but I don't want them to go rusty again.

I have a ready source of power in a car 12v battery charger [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] . I have a suitable container to use in an old ice cream tub, and have some copper wires to hang the parts with. Current can be controlled with 5w or 21w bulbs as necessary.

My question is, what kind of electrolyte can I use? I would prefer something easily available if possible from ordinary household chemicals, is this feasible?

I've tried several solutions already with no success at plating, although I have succeeded in producing considerable quantities of oxygen, hydrogen and even Chlorine (that was fun!). Before I blow myself up I thought I had better ask the experts...

I know it's possible to buy special "DIY plating kits" but they seem to be a lot of money for what they are, given that I have everything I need already except the electrolyte, and only have a few parts to plate. Of course, everyone seems coy about the exact content of this magic potion, making me even more sure it's probably something ordinary that I could easily lay my hands on at home!

Any advice greatly appreciated, I would like to make some progress with the restoration over Easter if I can.

Martin Savage
- Ashby de la Zouch, England


(2000)

A. Hey Martin, You might be half right about the ordinary part, But, you still wouldn't plate a useful deposit. Only about 5 - 10% of the platers even try to make some of the chemistry used in plating/finishing.

The Coy part, for me any way, is mostly for your safety, and my environment. I have concerns. What do YOU (not you but some of the do-it-yourself-ers) do after the plating? Down the drain?

Earth week is just passed and for my part I'd like to let the professionals do the plating along with the waste treatment. Save our planet. I'll step down now. Plating really is more tech. than you think. Regards, Fred

Fred Mueller, CEF
- Royersford, Pennsylvania


ASM vol5
ASM Metals Handbook vol. 5

Surface Cleaning, Finishing and Coating

gsb book
Basic Practical Electroplating

GS Branch of AESF

Electroplating Engineering Handbook
by Larry Durney
from Abe Books

or

Water and Waste Control for the Plating Shop
from Abe Books

or

(2000)

A. Hi, Martin. No coyness, a Watts Nickel plating bath is:

- 225 to 300 g/l NiSO4.6H2O (nickel sulfate hexahydrate)
- 37 to 53 g/l NiCl2.6H2O (nickel chloride hexahydrate)
- 30 to 45 g/l H3BO3 (boric acid)
- Operated at 140 °F.

The ASM Metals Handbook, Vol. 5 has a chapter that explains how to formulate a plating solution for yourself using generic addition agents like coumarin, formaldehyde, saccharin and sodium lauryl sulphate. The balance of the info you seek is there or in nearly any plating book you can find -- please see our "must have" book list. But people aren't necessarily being coy when they are unable to distill the contents of a book into a two-paragraph internet answer to tell you everything about how to formulate nickel plating solutions and do nickel plating. Woody Allen acknowledged that point by saying he took a speed reading course, then read "War and Peace" in 10 minutes, and ... "it's about Russia" :-)

The "magic potions" you refer to are modern proprietary "brighteners" and "addition agents" which work better than the generic addition agents I just mentioned. They are the result of decades of research, and companies keep the infom out of the hands of other corporations. But hobbyists can't make them anyway because they're not mixtures; rather they require "synthesis from precursors" -- like making gasoline or plastic from crude oil. So it's best to buy the proprietary plating solutions, but you can vertainly electroplate nickel without them, either using the older addition agents I mentioned if you wish, or by plating it with the Watts nickel bath and no addition agents, and just polishing/buffing it to a shine.

The principles of electroplating are very easy -- we have a FAQ "How Plating Works" that thousands of students have used to learn how to zinc or copper plate small items as a science project in just a few minutes. But practical plating is harder to do, and nickel plating your parts crudely may accelerate corrosion rather than retarding it, as seen on the fender of this 3 month old bicycle . . .

corroding chrome plate bike fender

That's because nickel is a barrier layer plating of a more noble metal. Just as zinc anodes on boats corrode away to protect the steel hull, your steel parts will corrode away to try to protect the nickel plating if there are any tiny pinholes or any porosity. That causes the steel to rust bloom and pit in an effort to cathodically protect the nickel as you see in the pic. So, even though you are not concerned about looks, you do need full coverage and complete freedom from porosity.

Skill, knowledge, and experience are all very helpful in getting the best results, and are obtainable by practicing on scrap and learning! But ruining important parts, thinking plating asn't hard, not so much. Good luck!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


(2000)

! As usual, you'll hear tons of 'don't do it' stuff on this site. Yet nickel plating is one of the simplest and most predictable of all the small time operations.

In fact there are several companies in England who sell very successful nickel plating kits. They even have 'electroless nickel' with its own SAFE disposal system, using steel wool [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] and a proprietary additive to accelerate the plate out. (This technique has often been promoted on this site, yet never mentioned when 'home DIY-ers are answered! Weird!)

If you have a search engine simply type in 'nickel plating' and spend half an hour surfing. You'll be amazed at what's out there. I'm sure you'll find several people who are prepared to sell you small quantities of nickel solutions.

Personally, I'd be more concerned if you were smoking cigarettes or drinking whisky than I ever would about you nickel plating! Perhaps this is just scaremongering to protect the plating shop subscribers here?

Here is a very simple formula that works extremely well: Formula to be added to 2 US Gallon Distilled Water Nickel Sulfate 1700 gms, Nickel chloride 300 gms, Boric Acid 200 gms; operate at 1 amp per 10-15 sq in. of surface area, voltage @ approx. 1.5 - 4. You might find getting the raw chemicals more difficult than purchasing the proprietary chemicals available.

I. Wallace
- LA, California


(2000)

This is in response to a couple of Mr Wallace's comments.

1. Nickel is quite safe, unless you happen to be one of those that is allergic to it.

2. pH control was not mentioned. It only works well in a given range and is uglier than sin outside of that.

3. A brightener is necessary to get the bright "steel" look. without it, you get a matte tan.

4. It will take a huge bank of lights to get his 12 volts down to the 1.5 volts that he needs for a small amount of parts.

5. You are wrong, most of us that are or were platers, do not want the business. The history is massive bitching about the price because all we do is "dip it" in a couple of tanks. Also, while he will accept nearly anything for his own output, he very probably will not be that forgiving if a plater does it and it has a contact spot where he did not want one.

6. My experience is bad. Some home plater dumped his tank and it spiked the sewer system to nearly out of limits. I got to spend a day (unpaid) defending my operation and basically doing a mass balance accounting for all of my nickel. What do you think that my feelings are about "home" platers.

7. Platers are limited to an effluent of less than 1 microgram on nickel per liter of waste water. Your formula is about 1000 grams of nickel as metal, so is about 1 million milligrams of nickel. He probably will dump it because it is very expensive to get rid of it. If a plater had this much go to effluent, it would be over a quarter of a million gallons of effluent or a massive fine if caught.

8. Do you really think that most people will spend the $250.00 to have the treated waste tested for compliance? Or the $300 or so dollars to have the gal or so of residue sent off to the mandatory certified land fill?

With all due respect, I do not know the gentleman from England, so "He" refers to noncomplying home platers in general and not specifically him.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


(2004)

I am a chemist. I can see the concern of having to dump waste. However did anyone think if he is using small amounts to allow the water to evaporate when he was finished? He would be left with Nickel crystals and other goodies. Then he could simply scrape this into a container seal it up and find a chemical clean-up crew (yellow pages) who he can pay to dispose of it. Last I checked a few Kilos of many different metals (not mercury) were not expensive to dispose of if not combined with strange constituents. The key is getting rid of the water. Hell he could even heat it to get rid of the water faster. Most of the weight involved with chemical removal is in water, remove the water and lower the cost. Plus he does not have to dump it down the drain. Why do most people in the professional industry think home DIY are irresponsible. If he were he would have not asked for anyone's advice and continued creating gases! (by the way don't smoke dear any hydrogen gas one of the many byproducts of electrolysis) Many of these metals can be cleaned up with cheaters and I am sure the plating industry uses such organics to "lock-up" the bad chemicals to "so to speak render them useless".

Thank you,

Michael Moore
- Dover, Delaware


Hi, Michael. Evaporation for recovery of plating chemicals is fine, and widely practiced, but you need to "run the numbers" for the particular case. It is necessary to dilute the plating solution that is dragged out by about 1000:1 for successful rinsing, and that might be a lot of water.

You can evaporate rinsewater in lieu of more complicated treatment, just as you can dig a hole for a concrete foundation with a garden tool instead of earthmoving equipment; but it might be practical for a dog house and not for a skyscraper. Thanks and good luck.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


(2006)

Wow! Isn't this great, all fluff and no useful information in a website supposed to be filled with experts. Par for the course I'm afraid, If I ever find the answer, I'll be sure to come back and post it.

GRRR!

frustration.

Robert Tinsley
- Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada


(2006)

Hi, Robert. You're welcome to hold a low opinion of this site. You want to follow a nickel plating recipe like you'd follow a cake recipe, but the reason it doesn't work is you have a lifetime of general familiarity with food preparation but none with plating. Example: if a cake recipe says "add two eggs", you wouldn't float unbroken eggs in the batter -- you know that the recipe implies a protocol of buying fresh eggs, keeping them refrigerated, cracking them and not getting any shell into the batter, etc.; the recipe I gave you says the nickel bath needs 30-45 g/l of boric acid, but you don't know the methodology, so will you simply throw that much into the tank and cause plating problems? I can tell you that methodology, but as I tell you to put the boric acid into a spare anode bag, you're confronted yet again with what constitutes the kind of anode bag we are implying, etc. Everything can be explained in complete detail but it takes dozens of pages when starting from nothing, not a couple of paragraphs.

We told you which book to borrow from the library at zero cost to answer every question that was raised, including what generic brighteners, levelers, and wetting agents you can use if unwilling to buy a brand-name plating solution! You can attend monthly meetings of the American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society (www.nasf.org) in any area of the USA or Canada at zero cost and without being a member. You can view the 60,000+ pages of this site at zero cost, and we and our readers are happy to answer any question cheerfully.

We have an FAQ that explains to elementary school children how to safely do zinc or copper electroplating for a science project. But we are simply unable to tell an untrained person how to graduate to industrial quality nickel plating in a couple of paragraphs. Meanwhile some of them steadfastly refuse to pick up the books we suggest from the library, and refuse to try to learn any background basics like the nomenclature of chemistry :-)

And all the while, no matter how much time and effort we spend at it, the same people insult us left & right that we're trying to keep this stuff secret so we can rip them off. Geez.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


October 10, 2009

I understand why people feel they get no positive response from this website, they don't.

All I see is read this book. Why have a website when all you are is a referral service.

Nickel plating is more simple than baking a cake and you need less items to plate than to cook.

Just do a web search for plating forums and in no time you will find sites that actually try and offer real help to a new person.

Anyone can say read this, when they cannot explain it themselves.

Sad.

John Frank
- Elkhart, Indiana


October 10, 2009

Hi, John. Thousands of school children around the world have learned how to do electroplating from our FAQ: How Electroplating Works. It includes how to do zinc plating and copper plating for a science project in tutorial fashion.

Our FAQ: Introduction to Chrome Plating is read by thousands of people every week and has been reprinted in auto enthusiast magazines and on countless websites.

Virtually every conceivable question about plating has been answered in exhaustive detail within the 60,000+ threads of this website.

But when you want to graduate from grammar school science-project plating to useful, bright, corrosion resistant, exterior, industry-ready finishes, and you want it all in one continuous cogent tutorial, it won't be short of a hundred pages and will require investing months to write & organize it. But I'd be crazy to do that when dozens of others have already spent their lives doing it and the product of their efforts is already available free for the asking at any library and even on line.

Maybe you should look inside yourself as to why "book" and "library" provoke such hostility and rage?

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


October 28, 2009

GO Ted! & Right on man, Tourists who think "just go!" Are Wak, Everything you posted is Clear..> DO YOUR RESEARCH ! the responsibility of craft is in the background info & so, until then , Go... First and foremost,Ted~ best & Clear.:>

P.s *Grasshopper ask'd the Master, What is the sound of "One Hand Clapping"? ~ Master delivers a Open Handed "Slap" to the inquiring cheek. Right ! However Ted you are a genteel human,Good work & thanX, {Neva late when you wish to plate} Marcos.

marcos davidson
Marcos Davidson
Au-Gusto inc - Melbourne Victoria Australia


Nickel Plating Solution


Clean Earth Plating Solutions Copper Primer

January 28, 2010

As a bench jeweler I can say that all the back and forth is silly. Small part plating is very simple, contact any jeweler supply catalog and buy a bottle of plating solution, it's not that expensive. Polish and clean your part, place it in the solution and plate, rinse and dry. If you won't use it again let the solution evaporate and recycle the residue. If you want a fine finish, copper plate and polish again before the nickel plate.

Or you could just go to a jewelry repair shop and ask them to plate the part for you (most can plate pieces up to 4" x 4").

Gene Raiti
- Columbia, Missouri


April 2010

Hello, Gene. Thanks.

Our FAQ gets schoolkids electroplating in 10 minutes or less; and yes, plating jewelry is easy as well.

But when antique auto enthusiasts like Martin bring you their corroded diecastings to replate, you'll find that a bench jeweler will achieve nothing with them except to destroy them. Such parts teach a lesson in humility to world-class electroplaters :-)

Please prove us wrong! Simply try one corroded old diecast car emblem and share with us how you did. My bet is after you've been completely unsuccessful after weeks of trying, you'll start to realize that plating diecastings and 'raw' metal is a very different thing than what you are familiar with.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


April 27, 2010

I have also been looking for an answer to plating and stumbled across this page in the interweb. It is an interesting rant from both sides - I'm just wondering if the mini got finished. It does make me laugh at the people who want instant answers...here's how to build a house, for those that want to know......get some bricks, stick them together, make a roof....live in it. There, that is surely enough detail..after all, building a house is so easy for a DIY project. I can't see why Ted is so upset, all he does is offer his knowledge, gained over years of trial and error, for free, only to be slatted on line by people wanting instant answers... why get upset (sarcasm for the idiots that can't spot it).

You know what, I will answer the question (as I too have no experience in plating). Here's how to do it....

1) Make a box from chocolate.
2) Fill the box with a mixture of jam and rubber.
3) Attach the part you want to plate to spaghetti.
4) Fashion an electrical cable, into the chocolate, made from bamboo.
5) Switch it on.
6) You should have nickel plated thing.

Let me know if it didn't work...better still, why not have another go at Ted for trying to help (more sarcasm).

Thanks.

John Humbletack
- Clacton, Essex, UK


July 9, 2010

I appreciate the fact that the procedures can't be explained in the same manner as in a book, but this is what the people expect from this site. Everyone does not have access to the library mentioned / not mentioned. This is why we click and surf the web. For all the posts backwards and forward the info in the books could have been explained already.

Jc chris2
- Vryheid KZN RSA


July 9, 2010

So wherein is your difficulty then, Jc? The chemical formulation for nickel plating baths is already printed twice just on this one page, and we've already told you to try coumarin, formaldehyde, saccharin and sodium lauryl sulphate as your addition agents if you are unwilling to buy the packaged nickel plating solutions with modern proprietary addition agents which are impractical for an amateur to formulate.

But if you want to try your hand at synthesizing brighteners from precursors anyway, see letter 305 which tells you where to buy propane sulftone, 1-(2-Hydroxy-3-sulfopropyl)-pyridinium betaine, and N-benzylniacin.

We've already written FAQs for you explaining How Electroplating Works and an Introduction to Chrome Plating. We've answered thousands of questions about nickel plating in exhaustive detail on these pages, and provided a search engine so you can find those answers. Ask any detailed question and we'll answer it.

But the idea that books are unavailable in KZN is ridiculous! From here in New Jersey, USA, I found a dozen plating books listed in one of your libraries in less than two minutes. I'm beginning to think that the reason some of the younger generation prefer public forums to books is that they haven't learned the patience to quietly apply themselves for 5 minutes without bitching about it, and books won't listen :-)

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


September 25, 2010

Hello Ted.

I am trying to build small aromatic oil distillation units, cheap enough for a small farmer to afford. The herb-boiler unit is the problem.

It is to be made of stainless steel, but normal argon welding is very very expensive here & also not readily available. So, alternate is to do brass brazing (cheaper & readily available in small job shops).

Now, for corrosion, I have to coat the brass joint (brazing joint) with something. First I thought chromium plating but is seems it is very expensive & poisonous.

So, is it possible to do nickel plating -
1. I have to do without electricity
2. I have to do at home. When I approached professional platers, they refuse to do such 'small' jobs and also charge very high (saying that even for small jobs, their entire setup will be involved)
3. I am not at all worried about the 'looks'. Only corrosion.

I am looking for help in this respect.

Thanks.

George

George Raut
- Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India


September 27, 2010

Hi, George. I don't think nickel plating is the answer for many reasons including the fact that it requires electricity, which you say you won't have. Please look into "tinning". This has been a rural trade for a hundred years, and thus sounds well suited to your needs. You can search this site for "retinning of pots" to get started. Best of luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


September 29, 2010

Thanks Ted. I am now looking at tinning option.

Also, somebody suggested to me to look at teflon coating if temperature is below 200 °C.

Regards
George

George Raut
- Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India



November 3, 2010

One of the Turkish kids in my village asked what a Watts bath is and could I make one. Having given up with his chemistry teacher he thought he would try a retired miserable lawyer for the answer! First of all BUY A GOOD PAIR OF GOGGLES AND A PAIR OF RUBBER GLOVES AND WEAR THEM AT ALL TIMES DURING THE FOLLOWING PROCEDURE.

I used the formula of 1 kg Nickel Sulphate, 220 g Nickel Chloride and 160 g of Boric Acid added to 4.5 liters of deionized water to make a Watts Bath. After mixing the chemicals together I added some nickel brighteners available from ebay plus a couple of saccharine tablets from Hot Lips Hasan, our local chemist come plumber. I tipped this lot into a large glass tank, added an cheap fish tank heater set at 34 °C and an cheap fish tank pump/filter. Using pure Nickel ingots (from ebay UK) and a 5 volt power supply capable of 100 ma per inch we were ready to go.

I had been meaning to plate some old steel Train model rail track for years so decided this was the time. I immersed the track in a weak hydrochloric acid solution to clean it as much as possible and then washed the track with a strong solution of wash-up liquid finally running the track under the clean water tap. After cleaning and drying the article you want to plate don't touch it with bare hands or let any mucky Turkish schoolboy anywhere near it, use your Marigolds (rubber gloves) or better still suspend the item from the copper wire you will be using in the plating bath. To save space here go to google and type in Nickel Plating to find out how to connect everything up to the 5 v supply. I suspended the Nickel ingots from titanium wire although I am sure something much less exotic would suffice. The track was suspended in the bath in a copper wire basket which was easy to construct from household solid power supply cable, Plating time varied so it's best to practice on waste items first until you are happy with the result.

The Eurostar and SNCF TGV not to mention the Flying Scotsman has been running fine around my garden on nicely plated rust free track for months now!
Hope this helps and please be patient with your plating and also with those running this site as they are only trying to help.

Paul Robinson
- Mersin, TURKEY


 

thumbs up signVery happy to hear of your success, Paul. Thank you greatly for taking the time to share the info!

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



April 7, 2012 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative threads

Q. First, I am no chemist so I get lost in quick in this subject.
I want to restore and dress up some old tools, new projects and things.
To do this I want a simple nickel plating system.

The biggest problem I think I face is a good cheap plating solution.
I have watched youtube videos and looked on eBay for the chemicals they use.
Nickel sulfate, Nickel oxide powder

Nickel sulfate seems cheap but I haven't found a formula to make a plating solution with it.
Nickel oxide powder looks expensive how far does 50 grams go when plating?

Will I be able to plate aluminium, steel, cast iron?
would I need to copper plate any of these first?

Is a nickel anode required for all solutions or do some provide all the nickel from the solution itself?

It looks like most solutions have temperature requirements.

What voltage & current is best for the plating? Electronics I do understand well.

Any help would be appreciated.

Bruce Campbell
- Cedar Lake


April 10, 2012

A. Most people will not like the product they get from a garage shop home plating, unless they have a complete kit and good guidance.
Proper cleaning and activation are just as important as the plating step. Hard material needs to have a bake cycle after plating.

Legal disposal of the solutions is extremely expensive. An EPA violation typically starts at $500 per violation.
Why not find a shop that will take it as a filler job. It will be cheaper in the long run.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


April 26, 2012

! My elderly aunt started volunteering at the local library, and I warned her that they had BOOKS there and if she wasn't careful, she might LEARN somethin'! WATCH OUT!!!

Adolph Kurdyla
- Geneva, Florida, USA


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