Have you ever wanted to smarten up old nuts/bolts, washers, brackets etc? Nickel plating is something that is easily achievable in the domestic garage and to be honest it is easy and rather satisfying too
You will find numerous videos on UTube and you will here lots of different views on how to best do it. I don’t suggest that my way is best by any means, I am not a professional plating specialist, nor am I always successful. But I have been asked to write a few words about the process as people seem to be interested…
First off – its fun….
Loads of variables to consider and much waiting to see what happens. What I am really after is a satin sheen and not the brightness of modern day bolts (which are actually zinc plated because it is cheaper. Apparent;y many of the variables change the finish.
The picture above shows you the kit as delivered. There are several suppliers and I tried the kit from Gateros, Caswell is another well known supplier. The Gateros kit is smaller but cheaper.
The instructions are pretty simple to follow in order to produce the tub of Electrolyte.
Apart from the basic kit you really need a couple of other items. Firstly a small heater as the electrolyte must be heated between 20-50 degrees. I started at 32 degrees simply using an aquarium heater and have pretty much stuck with that temperature.
Next the electrolyte works best if constantly moved. I can advise that it is a bit boring, stirring with a spoon for up to an hour. So…. I use an aquarium pump and a long air stone. The bubbles wont stick to the metal and spoil the finish and it keeps the fluid moving nicely. Very easy. Very cheap.
Initially I tried a 12 volt battery charger but after a while I upgraded to a proper voltage regulator because there is a power formula to plating…. for each 1 square inch of metal to be plated you need 150Ma. So round figures 6 square inches is about 1Amp.
With the kit you get a seriously basic rheostat (essentially a loosely wound coil of resistance wire). To work out how much power you need, you add up all the surface inches to be plated (remembering that all items have edges and a reverse side! Add up the milliamps as per the simple formula and then……. guess where that amount of power is on the rheostat wire. Yeah you could put an Ammeter in series with the power but I didn’t have one.
The theory continues that you plate the metal for 30 – 60 mins but cant (shouldn’t) take the metal out of the electrolyte until its finished. Bit like guessing when a cake is done without opening the oven door – it is a game of experience…
Enough of the theory, lets get on with it.
Good plating just like painting is all down to the preparation. Cleanliness is everything. After cleanliness comes the finish – matt / satin / shiny
Shot blasting the item before plating gets it clean and smooth and produce a nice matt finish
Following on from the shot blasting with a piece of wire wool gives you a satin finish
Completing the job with a rotary wire wheel in a drill starts to bring a shine to the bare metal.
The more shiny the bare metal – the more shiny the nickel plating. In case you wondered… chrome plating is a three layer process. Nickel plating is first, the it is plated with copper and polished to a very high level, and finally finished off with the chrome plating. Its the polished copper that gives chrome its highly polished look.
Personally i use a home shot blaster to clean (previously degreased) pieces. There is a wide range of blast media – I used aluminium oxide initially, but it produces a lot of dust so its quite hard to see what you are blasting. Now I use Garnett, a low dust, low cost media. I tried B&Q kiln dried sand for paving stones but it was absolutely hopeless – it just bounced off the metal.
Air pressure I set to 150psi. To be honest I dont blast anything over about 6” in size as the professionals are pretty cheap. Really I just plate brackets, bolts, linkages, washers etc.
There is a light inside the unit – but a 250watt halogen lamp adds more visibility and does not produce much heat.
Below are the items that i will be plating. Apologies for the rubbish photo, I didnt realise it was out of focus until after the event. These are part of the front shockabsorber installation. It the sleeve that sits on the bolt that the shockaborber slides onto.
Out of the blast cabinet gives you this:
I thought I would do the top bolts at the same time so these were blasted too.
Next we come to the drill with a wire wheel attachment:
I run the drill at about half speed which is not painfull when your fingers touch the wheel…
After a quick clean with the wire wheel the components look like this
This took no more than two minutes an item.
Now the alchemy…..
Plating works by one piece of metal sacrificing its self when a current is passed through it. So you need pieces of nickel suspended into the electrolyte. This is simply achieved by drilling the nickel and passing some copper wire through it then placing the nickel block into the electrolyte but NOT the wire that it is attached to!
So you now connect the positive part of the circuit to these blocks of nickel. You must now suspend the items you want to plate into the electrolyte using more copper wire and hang them from a piece of copper (see photo). The negative connection goes onto THIS piece of copper.
So the current flows from the nickel blocks through the electrolyte to the components and back to the power supply.
All that is left is the power… Egor….. through the switch…
Although this picture is also blurred (sorry), you will see that about 1.75 amps is flowing.
The amount of time you leave the item in the tank for, depends on how thick the plating is. Personally I leave them for an hour.
And this is the finished item: