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topic 59257

Can tin be nickel plated? Plating onto silver solder

A discussion started in 2004 but continuing through 2020


Q. My problem starts out with, our company fabricates Invar waveguide filters that have Invar pins brazed (soldered) into them using a 95% tin and 5% silver solder, after the brazing process we wash off the water soluble flux residue and send them to a plater where they are to be cleaned and prep for a copper then silver plating and then they are sent back to us for further assembly.

My problem is the solder is being eaten away or crystalized at the fillets causing most or all of the filters not to perform when they are tuned to customers specs. They get what is termed as insertion loss. When we started sending product to this plater several years earlier we did not encounter any of these problems. Only over the last two or three years have we had a major problem with this fallout. The plater claims they have not changed any of their processes, times or chemical baths. I suspect that they changed to a stronger cleaning acid bath.

I would really like to hear your thoughts or anyone else's who might have had this or similar problems. Also, could you please inform me as to what it takes for a plater to go through their plating process for these types of parts?

Thank You for your time and Effort,

David Wayne Young
Manufacturing Fabshop - San Antonio, Texas, United States of America

A. Hi David. Frankly, when a plating shop is no longer plating your parts satisfactorily while claiming they changed nothing, the best answer is usually to move on to a shop who will. Trying to figure out exactly what they changed, even with help from the plating community, is rarely helpful.

Most plating shops must do at least some 'production' plating where the parts are sent through the plating line without great regard to what may differentiate your parts from the next guy's. Unless your volume, plus what you are paying, justify personal attention to your parts, you may not get it, and your parts may be exposed to alkaline cleaning processes, electrolytic cleaning processes, and acid activations designed for steel, zinc, or copper parts rather than for silver-soldered parts.

Luck & Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 30, 2013

Q. I'm working on a home-hobby and I have a question about nickel plating. My goal (hope) is to nickel plate a substrate of tin. I currently have a good amount of tin (star shaped) I want to use in building a battery. Nickel-Iron is my goal, requiring alkaline resistant plates. Does anyone know if the nickel will properly plate to the tin for longevity. Any input would be appreciated!

Neal Hammill
I'm doing it all! - Northeast, Pennsylvania, USA

May 1, 2013

A. Hi. Neal. I don't think plating nickel on top of tin will present any special difficulty, but I don't think I've ever heard of it. But when you say the substrate is tin, I hope you actually do mean tin (the element Sn), not "sheet metal".

Sorry, I'm not following your description of what you are trying to build though.


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

Replating Norton Motorcycle foot pegs with silver solder on them?

July 27, 2019

Q. I have a similar question. I am trying to re-plate the foot pegs on a Norton motorcycle. I removed the chrome with hydrochloric acid and underneath there is a silver metal filling the pits which I have been told is probably silver solder. I have been down at the hardware store looking for silver solder and all I can find has either lead cadmium or tin in the mix. from online I know not to use lead or cadmium --but nothing one way or the other about tin. What do you think about trying to plate over silver solder with tin in it?

dirk murray
retired truck driver - meeker colorado

Norton Motorcycle Company
July 2019

A. Hi Dirk. If you can do it safely and responsibly, there is nothing wrong with trying to do this yourself, and silver solder with tin in it should be okay. But your chances of success are low, so you might want to send the foot pegs to a plating shop for restoration unless you are doing this to learn and are not concerned about the possibility of ruining the pegs.

First, I doubt that the foot pegs were just chrome plated, they were probably nickel plated then chrome plated. Please see our Intro to Chrome Plating for further explanation. You did not remove the old nickel plating with your hydrochloric acid, and you will not be able to successfully plate anything onto those pegs until your either strip the old nickel plating or are successful in activating it by mechanical abrasion followed with a Wood's Nickel Strike.

Secondly, real chrome plating (plating with hexavalent chromium, the stuff that made Erin Brockovich famous) is the very last finish an amateur should attempt because of its carcinogenicity & toxicity and the environmental damage it will probably do. After you do the nickel strike, followed by bright nickel plating, there are some chrome-like top coatings available from hobby plating suppliers that might suffice for an amateur though. We have more than 60,000 metal finishing topics on this site and you can search the site with any keywords that interest you. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

July 28, 2019

Q. The foot pegs for the Norton are cast steel, and are very poor castings -- hence the repairs from the factory. New stock foot pegs are available, and while expensive are way cheaper then the quotes I have gotten to have them professionally replated. I am not going to "show chrome" them (they were not that nice new). The plan is just to nickel plate them, and polish the nickel; in my opinion that looks nicer then chrome anyway.

From my reading online, it looks like people are nickel plating with just white vinegar and nickel strips to make the nickel solution. While I'm sure it's not a commercially viable process, it seems doable in a small batch like I am planning.

In the reply to my post, Wood's Nickel Strike is mentioned as necessary. In my previous reading nothing like that was mentioned, but they were just plating new steel. I am going to repair the deep pits with silver solder and just sand the small pits smooth which is what it looks like Norton did originally. I have sanded and filed the pegs and have gotten all the chrome, and most if not all the nickel off. I have priced Wood's Nickel Strike online, and it is very expensive $55 for 16 oz, is there a cheaper alternative? If I need to use Wood's Nickel Strike can I activate it with just a small part of the peg submerged at a time the pegs are 10" long and stick up 5" wide. the plating solution I plan on making will fill up most of a 5 gal bucket, which is way more Wood's Nickel Strike than I can afford.

dirk murray [returning]
retired truck driver - meeker colorado

July 2019

A. Hi Dirk. If you've gotten or can get the nickel all off there is no need for a Wood's Nickel Strike -- it's only necessary when plating onto stainless steel or old nickel.

It is true that amateurs have some advantages over pros: professional production platers must generally maintain equilibrium: the solution concentration, pH, etc., must be the same after they've plated ten parts or a hundred parts as it was before they started, so it's ready to plate part no. 101 (and so they never have to dump the solution). Amateurs usually don't have to worry about anodes going passive, either. And since you're planning on buffing/polishing you also don't have to worry about the plating coming out bright right out of the plating tank. Finally, it's easier to satisfy yourself than someone else. In spite of all that, I tend to doubt that vinegar is a good electrolyte, let alone a good plating solution. I think you should look into buying Watts Nickel Plating solution, or the Nickel Sulfate, Nickel Chloride, and Boric Acid you would need to make it yourself. You can search the site for "Watts Nickel Formula" or similar terms. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

August 3, 2019

thumbs up sign  Thanks for the information. I was thinking about trying the vinegar first because it is a pretty benign chemical and seeing how it goes. if that doesn't work satisfactorily I can try the nickel sulfate, nickel chloride and boron I saw a recipe for that somewhere. They didn't do it from the factory, but I was thinking maybe to do a copper plate first. I saw where they used a dilute hydrochloric solution and a copper anode, this will supposedly plate copper onto metals like steel that you normally can't plate, and I can use this as a strike before the nickel. As an amateur and retired I got a lot of time to jack around and see what works. If I was getting paid by the hour I would have so much time into this, that these would be high dollar parts. If nothing else works I can sand blast it and do a powder coat.

dirk murray [returning]
retired truck driver - Meeker Colorado usa

August 2019

A. Hi again. If you have the time and inclination to mess around on your path toward learning, experiment with what you wish ... but I think copper plating will only complicate things for you. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Bright nickel plating over silver bearing solder

August 7, 2020

Q. Hello everyone!

I'm a metal fabricator that frequently has items plated. These forums have helped immensely with my understanding of the plating process, so a big thank-you to all involved.
All the items I build are decorative, and it's important to get as 'perfect' a finish as possible. Here's my dilemma...

I have hazy solder joints on a piece that was to be bright nickel plated. I'm using silver bearing plumbers solder (approved by my plater). He says the hazing occurred because the part should not have been sent to the cleaning cycle with current applied. I'm having him strip the parts and I plan to compound buff them back to 400 grit for another try at bright nickel.


The parts are fabricated from cold rolled steel tube, tig brazed with sil-bronze filler rod, then the joints are filled with silver bearing solder.

Question 1: Is this solder acceptable or should I be using another type altogether.
Question 2: If this solder is good to use, is here anything that I can suggest to the plater to give him better odds of success?

Thanks everyone!

Johann Dunbar
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada

August 2020

A. Hi Johann. Your plater understands that his pretreatment is a problem for this construction and that's a good sign. Turning off the DC power in his electroclean tank may solve the problem, but the caustic may still be too aggressive. Maybe you can slap together a few scrap pieces to test first? It is possible, although it's a lot of work, to clean the item with a scrub brush and pumice powder, and maybe a few drops of liquid detergent. Maybe, while wearing gloves, you could scrub the piece so when it gets to the plater a very quick dip in his caustic cleaner will be all that's necessary. Usually parts of this general type are only brazed, no filler, but that probably isn't sufficient for your design.

Luck & Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

August 9, 2020

thumbs up sign Hello Ted!

I had a feeling you would be one of the knowledgeable ones weighing in on this question. Thanks for the response!
I was thinking the same thing, and have provided a sample piece with the solder for my plater to test a bright nickel cycle on. If the non-electrified caustic clean is still too aggressive, then I'll give the manual clean a try. I'm only sending a half dozen parts through at a time, so the investment in a little elbow power is not a concern.
I'll follow up when I have the sample back from my plater.

Johann Dunbar
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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