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George W. aka GSW3

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  • George W. aka GSW3

    Hi George,
    I saw your web site and it looks amazing; you really know what you are doing. I live in Tampa, and I already posted some questions. However I have not gotten any answers. Would you mind helping me. I do metal sculptures and I am only interested in copper plating some pieces. With that in mind how many tanks should I have in my set up? Also, living in Florida my garage gets pretty hot in summer would that affect the performance of the process?, And finally, since I saw your roto system I would like to know if you are willing to share some drawings or instructions with me.
    Thank you
    so much
    Alfredo Alamo

  • #2
    Copper plating

    Alfredo, copper plating is a pretty simple (ditto for nickel) and you only really need the following:

    A power source (D.C.)
    (1) acid pre-dip tank
    (1) rinse tank
    (1) plating tank
    air source for agitation (LARGE bubbles)

    A lot of platers use a hot tank (180 degrees F.) of SP degreaser , however, I use either "Dawn" dishwashing detergent for large parts or my ultrasonic cleaner for smaller parts.
    As long as the part passes the "water break" test (water sheets off the part rather then beads up on the part after washing) you will be OK.

    Don't ever touch the part with your bare hands (or dry it off) after washing/rinsing.
    Go right into the acid pre dip tank, rinse tank and then go "Hot" (electrically connected) directly into the plating tank.

    For most anything, an hour in the plating solution is required.
    Be careful if the part is critical. An hour will built up the part by .001+ per side.
    If plating close fitting parts or screw threads you have to take this into consideration.

    What concerns me is the type of work you do.
    I assume that you are thinking that the copper plating will come out all nice and shiny right out of the tank.

    It won't. The copper comes out of the tank a smooth, dull, pink color that must be buffed to bring it to a high mirror like shine.

    While this is really no big deal for most anything I do, for small intricate items it may prove to be a challenge.

    I plate a lot of non-conductive items (plastic, foam, leaves, bugs, and soon animal skulls) and do to the nature of the leaves and bugs, you just can not buff them. Therefore, I use a Caswell's conductive copper paint and go directly to nickel plating them.

    As far as the temp. of the plating....I always run my solutions at "garage" temp.
    Could be 75 to 95 degrees F. depending on the season here in Florida.
    No ill effects what so ever. In the winter I will put in a heater to bring it to 75 degrees.

    I could sent you some .pdf's of the AutoCad drawings on the rotoplater.
    It is pretty simple to construct.
    Getting the small D.C. gear motor will be the most expensive part (and machining a "nose" and conductive wiper contact for the motor shaft to connected the cathode wire requires some mechanical "know-how".

    My rotor plater device is made for two gallon tanks. Anything larger and you will have to adjust the dimensions accordingly.

    E-mail me thru my profile and I will sent you the pdf.s of the drawings of the rotor plater.


    George W.
    Orlando, FL


    • #3

      I'm re-invigorated with your "bubble" idea. I used to do this but got tired of my 25 gal compressor cycling all the time. Once I get my new IR 60 gal 175psi compressor (next few weeks) I might run some PVC air line and give it another try!!

      The other problem I had was regulator drift. The level you need is in the "noise floor" of the regulator.

      Do you know if there is a pvc-compatible regulator out there that would be optimized for <5psi applications?

      Kind regards,


      • #4

        Do you think the rotation approach is required for copper? Caswell's Flash Copper and Acid copper have amazing throws. I would think that 4 anodes located evenly spaced around the tank would do the job, or not?

        Kind regards,


        • #5
          Most likely (4) anodes would do the trick just as well.

          Since I plate copper, nickel and Copy Chrome (and the nickel anodes are way more expensive then the copper anodes) I use (2) 4 x 6 anodes in a two gallon tank, lots of large air bubbles and the rotation device.

          I have never, ever, had to buff the nickel or copy chrome after plating over the copper with my set up.

          The parts look just like a mirror right out of the tank (of course I go to great pains to insure the base copper looks the same first thru a lot of manual finishing).

          BTW: The copper comes out pink and as smooth as a babys butt and is easy to buff with the same set up.

          George W.


          • #6

            I use a 14x7 rectangular tank, about 10 inches deep. I put two anodes in the front (long side), and a half anode on each of the two short sides. I am plating bell covers and bezels for clocks--and keys, setters, etc which are small enough to plate well regardless of orientation. I never want to buff the nickel because the bells have holes and slots in them. Try buffing them and you'll tear up the nickel around the openings. It's a fact of life that irregular edges catch the buffing wheel and wear through readily. So the parts must have the buff and finish needed before the nickel tank.

            A challenge is keeping the buffed copper from getting very fine scratches if it rubs up against the plastic tank sides! Copper's that soft--and I'm that picky.

            The only thing they get when they come out of the nickel is a hand rub down with a diaper and Fritz metal polish, which gives them a nice luster and some light wax.

            Because of my other clock work, I use ammoniated clock cleaning solution in an ultrasonic tank to degrease after buffing. Boy does that work well. Then I follow up with a soak in a cleaning solution designed for professional plating. I love Caswell's products but personally I got somewhat erratic results with SP Degreaser. I can understand why he sells it--there is no personal hazard or disposal problem with it. But it wasn't until I started using the professional stuff (which contains lye) that I got repeatably good results, time after time. I wish Mike would consider carrying the stuff. I'd love to buy it from him, as opposed to buying a minimum 5 gallon tub every time I need some.

            Many of my parts are steel. I have had great luck with Caswell's Flash Copper. I like it because if I rub through any of those edges during sanding, I don't have to go back to the nickel. And it unfortunately is almost unavoidable with the edges.

            I have thought about the rotational mechanism for the small parts, but the throw of the formulations is good enough that the parts plate evenly. The backs of the bells which are 5-6 inches in diameter don't need much plating thickness, as they see no wear and are barely visible. They do get enough field that the insides plate up nicely and have a good appearance. But I've considered using one of my many clock motors (1rpm) to do a rotating cathode. One day perhaps I'll build up a proto and we can compare notes.

            Kind regards,


            • #7
              Ken, Sounds like you have everything working to your liking.

              It is great how we all discover different ways of getting the results we need.

              You can try and tell someone how you do it, however, experimenting is the only way to fine tune your set up, techniques and procedures.

              In these days, not too many young people have that "experimental urge".
              They want instant results and gratification.
              It is a shame.

              Anyhow, I also use an ultrasonic cleaner (looking at a bigger one for larger parts as mine is small) and I could kick myself for not buying a five gallon Branson ultrasonic cleaner that a place I worked at (it was going out of business) offered me for....ready.....don't get sick on me now......$200.00!

              Oh well, sometimes you have a judgement lapse! LOL

              I will have to try the flash copper one of these days.
              I just go nuts when I am sanding the copper and break thru the nickel into the steel.
              I always put on an hours worth of nickel flash (well, ok it really is not a flash coat if it is in the soup for an hour) to keep me from going into the steel.

              Have you (or know anyone who has) tried Caswell's new silver paint for non-conductives?
              I have been using Caswell's copper paint and getting fairly good results (sometimes there are areas that just won't take the nickel).

              I have a few non-conductives to plate and really want to try it.

              George W.


              • #8
                I have tried the silver, but only with a flash copper plate afterwards. The flash copper just lifted the paint right off. So, I owe a try to the nickel plating bath after the paint.

                My gut tells me that the paint has to be baked on before attempting plating. Not sure how to do that. Would be great to talk to the original manufacturer and find out what they recommend. Sometimes a web search using Google can turn up a few hints. I have not perfected that aspect of it yet.

                Kind regards,


                • #9

                  I found some info on silver paint used in scanning electron microscopy. It appears to be similar to or the same as what Caswell supplies. Here is the instruction they offer on drying.

                  Drying: The paint was formulated to be air dried to a tack-free state within 30 minutes. Adequate conductivity and adhesion are achieved after 24 hours in air at 25 °C. Adhesion may be improved if necessary and the cure accelerated by force drying at 100-150 °C for 15-30 minutes.

                  It behooves one to allow this stuff to CURE completely before attempting plating. Some solvent-based paints can take a week to cure without baking.

                  Let me know and I can forward you more info on the properties and characteristics of silver paint.

                  Kind regards,


                  • #10
                    Flash copper

                    I would like to ask a question about the flash copper.
                    Just to back up a bit. I have a 15 gallon tank of flash copper and at one time it was working great. Meaning great throwing as well as a nice color. Now I am getting black spots as well as spots that are not plating or even not throwing onto areas in front of the anodes. I do not know what happened? Any ideas?
                    To change the subject, I have tried the silver paint on a leaf and it worked good. The only problem I had was getting the current to go low enough. But I will try again soon.
                    On bare steel the flash copper works great. On a part that I have stripped the nickel off I am running into problems. I ran the solution through a filter with activated charcoal thinking I had contamination. But the results on the bare steel tells me it is not that.


                    • #11
                      Two questions:

                      1. How many parts have you run thru the copper since you mixed it up?

                      2. What did you use to strip the nickel?

                      Kind regards,


                      • #12
                        number of parts plated

                        Well if I add up all of the parts that I have plated I would say that I have done about 4000 sq. inchs maybe a bit more.
                        It is funny you ask what I stripped the nickel with. I was reading some post here on the forum and there was some talk about this "new" nickel stripper available. So I ordered some. Not knowing what I was ordering I just asked for the nickel stripper. The base of my items are steel but I always flash copper and then acid copper plate before I nickel plate. So now I have a problem because the stripper that I got was for steel not copper (MXB9). I did not now there was a difference. I then called tech support and was informed that I needed to get a different kind. So to make a long story short I ended up stripping them in a pickle # 3 and using lead plates. Then of course I had to sand blast as well as lots of repolishing, then degrease and into the flash copper again. Here is where my problems start. I get the black steaks (possible lead) and very poor depositing.
                        I test plated a polished part of bare steel never been plated before and it plated good. I also filtered the bath overnight using activated charcoal and filter cloth.
                        After several attempts, I got enough copper down to enable me to level it and polish the part for nickel plating which seemed to be ok.
                        What do you think could be the problem?


                        • #13
                          Here are my thoughts on this problem.

                          When I refinish steel, I don't use nickel stripper. The reason is that the steel base usually is rusted anyhow, and the rust must be thoroughly removed. By the time I clean out the rust pits, the old nickel is gone too! So, into the sandblaster all steel parts go. I use between 120 and 180 grit depending on how delicate the part is. Then, I give the part a careful pass with the Brightex wheel. At this point the part looks like it is new (with the exception of a few pits).

                          Next, wearing nitrile gloves, I clean the part thoroughly with lacquer thinner, to remove any residue from the brightex wheel. Here, I inspect as I go to make sure every trace of contamination is gone. Then I use a commercial plating cleaner (but I would imagine any of the Caswell cleaning formulations would work at this point, since the part is nearly spotless from the lacquer thinner). Then rinse, dip in Pickle 4, rinse again, and into the copper. It plates perfectly every time.

                          I experimented at great length with the Nickel stripper. It is great stuff. However, after thoroughly scrubbing off the smut, there is a surface haze left on the substrate which is somehow incompatible with the flash copper. By the way, it IS compatible with nickel, so I'd guess it must react with the alkaline flash formulation but not the acidic nickel. It must be removed thoroughly. Sandblasting does a great job at it...but if you are going to sandblast, why not just sandblast and forget the nickel strip. That's up to you, but before putting any object in the flash copper that has been stripped with the nickel stripper, give it a light going over with the sandblaster and then with the Brightex wheel as I described above. I have found that SOS pad does pretty well as a means to clean off the smut, but is not as effective as a light sandblasting.

                          Regarding the type of nickel stripper: I have tried both formulations. They both work with steel as long as you don't add sulphuric acid to the mix. I've used them with copper and brass with excellent results as well. With copper and brass, you can plate up with acid copper. I have not tried this for compatibility with the haze mentioned earlier, but my guess is that it would be ok.

                          Here again, please note. The smut MUST be thoroughly removed. When I refer to compatibility, I am referring to a slight discoloration of the base metal or a slight haze left from the smut, not a surface coating of any kind. Nothing will plate over this.

                          If you suspect your parts are slightly contaminated with some other surface smut from the Pickle strip, a light sandblasting and Brightex treatment should clean them down to the bare steel again. Clean thoroughly and be sure you pass the waterbreak test before trying again.

                          I never use reverse plating for stripping. I've damaged too many delicate parts that way and won't go back to that method.

                          It doesn't sound like the problem is your tanks since you are able to plate a reference part reliably.

                          One last suggestion: try lowering the part into the copper flash tank "hot;" that is, connect the hanging wire with an alligator clip so the part is hooked up to power as it is being lowered in.

                          Kind regards,


                          • #14
                            platting chalenges

                            Ken, thanks for all of your tips.
                            I actually sand blasted the parts before I tried to flash copper them. I tried to sand blast off the nickel but I felt I would have been there all day as the parts I do ususally are any where from 6" x 9" or larger. Today I had a very frustrating thing happen. I had prepped some parts for nickel plating, they were brass. I polished them, wiped them down with isopropanol and then soaked in sp degreaser. I rinsed with a distilled water spray thoroughly and multiple times. After nickel plating I inspected the parts and they looked great. I needed them to be satin so I ran them over a scotch brite wheel and the plating came off?? The other day I nickel plated something (actually the part I was having problems with in the flash copper) and the nickel stayed on. I am again thinking I have a problem with my degreaser. I rinsed and rinsed again, I was sure I got it all off. What could I be doing wrong?


                            • #15
                              oh no!

                              OOPPS gave bad info, the "appearing to be good" plating pealed off too.
                              As soon as I touch it with the blendex wheel (scotch brite) the nickel peels right off?
                              I just do not understand. It passes what I am interpreting as to be the break test. Lots of rinsing. It just doesn't hold. Too much current? To strong a degreaser? I am baffled?