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"Is Immersion Copper Plating Real?"

April 19, 2010

Q. I'm sure you've heard of the copper plating nails experiment...I challenge that indeed copper plating (as in bonding, not sitting on) is not the correct term they should use. Honestly when the nails turned "pink" we believe it is a reaction of the nail causing it to rust, not the copper "plating" over the nail.

Copper is a very stubborn element it is near to impossible to plate or cast it. Given also copper is a liquid similar to mercury, it will wear and bend easily.

Copper works very well in plating using high temps to other noble metals, silver and gold, and even zinc, but that's about nothing ferrous, nickel being the best choice but even so, triple plating is best and best left to professionals.

Can you give me your opinion if you have one?

And another suggestion would be to use one of the newer "real" copper paints and then lacquer over many times.


Annie Keifert
coppersmiths - Washington, DC

April 20, 2010

A. Hi, Annie. Sorry, but you are on the wrong track on this one. Of course immersion copper plating onto steel is real. Not only has it been demonstrated thousands of times, but it is used as an industrial process for materials such as welding rod. In simpler times it was even used as a wastewater treatment technology, with scrap autos placed in rural streams to remove copper from the water. And, of course, batteries would not work if the phenomenon were not real.

Conventional electrolytic copper plating is widely practiced on steel -- in fact chrome truck bumpers are steel, and often copper plated before the nickel and chrome plating.


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

April 29, 2010

A. Copper does indeed immersion plate onto steel in acid ( but not alkaline) solutions. This is a chemical displacement reaction where the driving force is the dissolution of iron and one atom of copper replaces one atom of iron.

This is often called cementation in the metallurgical field, and the copper is not very adherent to the steel.

It is actually very easy to electroplate copper onto steel with good adhesion and good mechanical properties. To do this however, the first layer of copper is usually plated from an alkaline copper "strike" bath. After the first coating, either acid or alkaline copper baths can be used to plate a thicker deposit.


Lyle Kirman
consultant - Cleveland Heights, Ohio

August 30, 2010

Q. Not to be difficult, however the electrolysis from dissimilar metals from electrolytes causes an electro-chemical reaction that according to placement in that assigned chemical series of metals causes rapid deterioration (galvanation) of the lower number assigned. Iron is #4. copper is last on the list at #8. (SEE LIST BELOW) therefore, copper is not affected by the other metals at all. Not the one and only atom in it.

That's why you see rapid rust which can appear to be copper colored.

Because of this galvanation, when constructing a building using dissimilar metals, it's important in which order they are placed.

The friction from acid rains off copper can galvanize all of them. They are, in order
1. aluminum
2. zinc
3. steel
4. iron
5. nickel
6. tin
7. lead
8. the one, the only, COPPER.

To further note please: I am saying the electric strength in this experiment is not strong enough to actually plate at all immediately and what you are seeing is rapid deterioration of the nail.

I believe the formula but the numbers are off.

CU !

annie keifert [returning]
- washington, dc

August 30, 2010

A. Hello again, Annie.

Some of your statements are correct, but you are not viewing the copper plating of iron nails experiment correctly.

You are right that, if you had a sheet of steel and a sheet of copper pressed together and exposed to the elements, the steel sheet would rust and the contact with the copper sheet would be responsible for accelerating that rusting because the steel "wants" to dissolve and the more noble copper "wants" to stay undissolved. Similarly, if the experiment involved wrapping a copper wire around the nail and putting it in a bowl of water or salt water, the nail would rust for the same reason.

But the experiment is not about that. The experiment involves putting an iron nail into a solution of copper sulphate, which is a solution that already has a lot of copper dissolved into it. That dissolved copper wants to come out of solution and return to metallic form. And that's what it does. The positively charged Cu++ ions in the copper sulphate come into contact with the neutral Fe0 atoms and steal their electrons; the Cu++ ions are reduced to Cu0 metal and the Fe0 atoms become Fe++ ions dissolved in the solution.


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

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