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How to tarnish or "age" new electroless nickel plating

January 10, 2012

Q. Hello everyone. I am a professional tattoo machine builder. I have recently started collecting vintage tattoo machines and I make replicas for my customers. Many of the old tattoo machines were nickel plated before the mid 1940's, so when I make a replica machine from this era, I send the frames and parts (screws, brass binding posts) to get nickel plated by a company who does electroless nickel plating. Some customers as well as myself like them to be "antiqued" or "aged to show wear". I'm looking for an inexpensive way to slightly tarnish the frames and parts. Most of the photos I've seen and from machines of that era I have seen in person have a slightly "white-ish" almost frosted look and some have a darker tarnish or oxidized look to them. Is there a way to relatively quickly speed up the natural process? I like the look of both, and it seems that the tarnish on the brass nickel plated frames looks different than the tarnish on a cast iron frame. Any help would greatly be appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Andy Bolin
- Mary Esther, Florida, United States

January 10, 2012

Hi, Andy. The first step is to ask the shop to not apply an anti-tarnish post-dip, as some shops would do that as a matter of course. But if you want true authenticity, you would need to have the components nickel electroplated, as electroless nickel plating didn't exist in those days. It may look a bit different. Yes, worn nickel plating on brass will look very different than worn nickel plating on cast iron. The frosted look is probably from bead blasting before plating, rather than from the plating chemistry. You might see if liver of sulphur can add the slightly tarnished look you seek. Good luck.


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

January 12, 2012

Thank you Ted. I will contact them and ask if they do provide an anti corrosion dip. I've sent some photographs of the finishes I will be trying to achieve, hoping to narrow down my search for the right methods. Thank you all for your time.

58165-1 58165-2 58165-3

Andy Bolin
- Mary Esther, Florida, United States

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