home-brew electroless nickel plating.
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  1. #1
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    I have some parts coming up that need "antique nickel" plating for appearance, I was told that electroless nickel plating would yield this finish.

    After I got the quote back from a plater, I looked around and found a home brew kit

    I also saw that wikipedia makes it sound a bit more involved than the people selling the kit do (natch).

    Parts are to be buffed out brass base metal.

    If I used the kit, I could plate 3-4 parts for the same cost as one through the plater, not including my labor, i.e., more money in my pocket, less in someone else's, and less chance of things going horribly wrong in shipping to and from.

    Anyone got experience with these kits, or should I just pay the piper (plater)?

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    Pay the plater and pass on the cost. If something should go wrong doing it yourself, like not clean enough, should have copper flash prior to nickel anyway ETC. It would cost you twice as much to get them stripped and platted the second time. my $0.02

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    1. ENC is not a cheap and easy process. We have parts out all the time for this. We have also worked with the plater for about 6 years to get the process down. Even then, they still screw up a load now and then.

    2. Why ENC?? Any good plater should be able to "age" his nickel plating. Most of the good chrome shops do copper, nickel, and then the chrome.
    JR

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    Rudd:
    Dec 26, 2006 is detailed instructions on how to do home nickel plating. This may not be what you want but it would be worth a look. Just type in "nickel plating" in search and it is the one listed on the above date.

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    JR, OK, I hope your plater is not the one in SC that I finally got a quote from. It's sounding like I need to forget doing the process in house and farm it out.
    On #2, the "antique nickel" specified - I was told that ENC would provide that. Not too shiney, not too flat. I was told that by someone that did ENC of course. These people (customers) are nuts about their instruments. The instruments are nuts. If there is a better way, I'm all ears. I know next to nothing about plating. Perhaps I need to find someone local that repairs bumpers.. used to be a mess of those guys back home, don't know if they exist anymore, what with EPA regs and such.

    thanks D and JR. I am a control freak on my parts, some things I need to let go of. It's hard.

    edit- stuball- I shoulda used the search function to start off with. New problem = new post. Bad habit of mine, sorry.
    Reading that convinced me that I do not want to go into the plating bidness unless I have a whole lot more demand. I do indeed have warts, but none of them are on a wall.

    Thanks all,

    Rudd

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    You could check at Brownells gun Parts. They deal in plating kits and chemicals. Electroless Nickel is something they deal with, lots of info about plating on their website.
    This goes directly to the info you need:
    http://www.brownells.com/aspx/NS/sto...NICKEL+PLATING

    Will

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    Rudd,
    The last thing in the world you'd need is a bumper basher and rechromer. Most of those characters would be okay with the final drive housings on a D9 Cat, but anything less is way too fragile for their skills

    You probably need to focus your search for a decorative plater. For the most part, industrial platers don't have the mindset required for dealing with items whose appearance is paramount. The best of the decorative platers (and some who aren't so good) are doing primarily motorcycle and custom car plating because that's where the volume and money is today in the job shop type plating business. Anyone who's doing decorative chrome is also doing nickel, as that's a part of the process. Whether they can do the specific nickel finish you want is something only the plater could answer. In the southeast, Chromemasters in Nashville, TN and Brown's Plating in Paducah, KY are both excellent. I've seen work from both shops, and decorative chrome just doesn't get any better. Might be worth a call to find out whether either one can do your parts. Be aware though that any top notch decorative plater is going to have a turnaround time of 4 to 6 weeks at the minimum in most cases.

    FWIW, I lived in Greenville, SC for about 10 years, and never knew of anyone in that area who was doing decorative plating. There's one shop near Spartanburg that does, but a shop owner I know in Spartanburg tried them on some parts a while back, and they ruined them and then wouldn't stand behind their work.

    Just remembered, another decorative plater that's been around for a long time is Graves Plating in Florence, AL. I used to see a lot of their work 30+ years ago when I was involved in bike building, but haven't seen anything recently. Back then their work was fine on parts in good shape, but lacking on anything requiring repair such as old parts being replated.

    http://www.brownsplating.com
    http://www.chromemasters.com
    http://www.gravesplating.com

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    Caswell is a pretty good outfit.

    Plating is pretty simple if you start with everything brand new, clean and known. It gets really hard when you have a big bath and have to maintain it batch after batch.

    If you do it yourself be careful of disposal.

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    The people I got a quote from are B & E Electroform out of Simpsonville SC. I guess the thing that really throws the job out of my shop (at least for electroless) is that it seems the solution only lasts for a period of time, i.e., I could not do a part, store the stuff, and do another part 6 months later.

    And it seems it will just about have to be electroless for most of these things, as they will involve threaded busings and nuts.

    Thanks for the additional leads, I'd like to get another quote or two before I go to the customers with a price.

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    I guess the thing that really throws the job out of my shop (at least for electroless) is that it seems the solution only lasts for a period of time, i.e., I could not do a part, store the stuff, and do another part 6 months later.
    Wow, is that right? I've had my eye on the Caswell electroless nickel kit, but it didn't see anything in the description that indicated that once you mix the solution it goes bad after awhile?

    The reason I was interested in EN is that it seems like a better coating than the cold blue kits to prevent rust when you're coating in a home shop. It's harder, and better looking.

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    If you definitely need the electroless, Greensboro Industrial Platers in G'boro NC is another source. They do stuff like roll grinding, plating, and regrinding in house, so they definitely have a handle on precision work. I had a conversation a few years ago with one of the owners there when someone referred him to me about possibly doing some work for them. What they needed was out of the scope of what I was doing at that time, but the chat left me with the impression they were an outfit who knew their business very well. I remember him mentioning EN because I had no idea what the process involved, and he gave me the short course on how its done.

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    You might ask over in the gunsmithing forum. There are places like this that have a good reputation: http://www.robarguns.com/index.htm

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    Lazlo, look at the information on the wikipedia link I posted above. It says "lifespan of chemicals is limited". Evidently you pour hydrochloric acid into the bath which starts a reaction. Wikipedia makes me think the Caswell sales liturature doesn't tell you the whole story.

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    Caswell operates their own message board for polishing and plating issues. Its the typical sales tool sort of board though. Some good info from many of the posters, but any mention of a non-Caswell product being good, or any inkling that a Caswell product is less than the ultimate will result in a deleted post. For quite a while they were selling a bunch of Chinese buffers whose motors had a strong propensity to burst into flames. I've never dealt with any of their plating stuff, but I've found I can buy buffing wheels and compounds which are top quality domestic products for about the same price as their so-called sale prices on imported junk.

    I always got the impression they sorta tried to gloss over the dangers inherent in handling and using any plating related chemicals too. That's fine for people who know those dangers, but a less than ethical practice for internet selling where you have no idea of the knowledge level of the potential customer. Over time, the chemicals for some of these benign processes have disappeared from their site without a mention, which says a lot IMO.

    As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly what you'd call a Caswell fan

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    OK, now I'm really really convinced I never want to plate anything, other than maybe a nice porterhouse medium well thank you. I'll take that on a plate anyday. I have dimensioned hard line drawings. Finishes called out. Idiot forgot general tolerances, but, hey, I can make that part up.
    I talked to a plater in SC, came with really great references from a member of this board. "Whut do it look like?" I described the part, sitting there looking a the drawings.. "hey, maybe I could fax you these drawings, you have a look and figure out the cost"
    "Oh no, from what yer saying, it'll be 20-30-40 bux a part, just ship them up here" Pardon me, but WTF??? 200 percent variation in cost and "just ship them up here" ????/
    Emailed the folks in Alabama with the drawings, got back a nice note, "We'uns caint quote from drawins, can you send a pitcher???" Pardon em again, but WTF? You'r going to use an undimensioned jpeg to figure out how many square inches per part? You need a photo to figure out what something looks like????? They are really really simple parts. They do not even require a 2 view orthographic projection, one will do nicely, thanks.
    Shheeeesh. That stuff must kill brain cells. IPA is more pleasant to kill them with, no plating for me.

    On a lighter note, I figured out that production on the parts I am reproducing ceased before electroless nickel was discovered in 1944. One source indicated it didn't really hit industry till 1969. So, all these people are sitting around with antique nickel indeed. I'll make them like new, and many years after you are dead, it'll look like what you have now.

    Some of this rant may or may not have been triggered by a combo of a really fussy 2 year old and the first "research marketing call" I have gotten on my cell phone.

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    Default Summary of my personal experience

    I am resurrecting this decade old thread to add some general information for anyone reading it in the future. The following statements are based on my personal experience and research. Please note, i have engineering B.Sc. and M.Sc. in physics, so when i say personal protection is required or that something is a mess,That means personal protection is required or that something is a mess even if you dot all the "i"s and cross all the "t"s like a scientist would.

    Chrome plating - Don't even try to do it in your garage. It is a very dirty process. Any drop on any material will stain it. The anodes need to be passivated lead. The air agitation is required and may spray the chromic acid droplets all over. Anodes cannot be left in the plating tank permanently. Current density of 1.4A/in"2 is required... means expansive power source. Take my word for it, don't mess with it in your garage. I no longer do this; too much hassle even for me!

    Electroless nickel plating - Doable, but expansive. Be prepared to make new solution for every plate job. Dull finish will be obtained without proper brighteners (usually proprietary). I do this when i need to nickel plate odd geometries. This is expansive hobby but doable at home.

    Zinc electro plating. Easy, fun, dull finish is likely, bright finish is possible if you do your research. Low current density produces good results, you do not need expansive power supply.

    Zinc nickel electro plating - I am playing with it now and so far I like it. I am using acidic bath, because I had chemicals for it, but if you are starting from scratch I’d suggest alkaline bath. Current density of abut 0.1A/in2 is usable, hence low power power supply is OK.

    Caustic Black Oxide - I use it occasionally and this is the only process (that i still do... not doing chrome any longer) that i wear full protective gear for Rubber aprinn, shoulder high gloves and full face shield with respirator equipped with correct cartridges). 2lb of sodium nitrate and 5lb of sodium hydroxide per gallon of water. Keep solution boiling between 270 and 290 deg F to get good black coating. This is a very thin coat and will not offer wear resistance. This is a preferred to parkerizing only if true black colour is required or if dimensional accuracy of the components is of utmost importance... meaning phosphate coating will make it out of tolerance. Also this coating is food safe, unlike parkrrizing.

    Parkerizing - AKA Manganese phosphate. This is my favorite process. Operates at 90 deg C and solution is reusable. Solution will generate waste and needs to be filtered. Do not use Mn oxide as source of Mn, way too slow dissolution. Use Mn containing salts. Mn nitrate is best choice but can be expansive. Dissolution of elemental Mn in phosphoric acid is better than Mn oxide but still slow. Operating pH is 2.75. Nitrate salts function as accelerators allowing faster coating. Zinc phosphate is another option, but does not offer the same wear resistance as Mn phosphate.

    In case of all porous coatings (black oxide and phosphate) the corrosion resistance is attained by adding oil to the surface of the part. I fund much better results when I oil parts by submersion in oil in a vacuum chamber. Way better penetration than even leaving part sitting in oil for a week. I tested this.

    In case of all acidic baths heat treatment within 2 hours of the plating is required for all high strength parts to prevent hydrogen embrittlement. This is why caustic zinc nickel bath is better. No baking required. Bake the part at 170F to couple hours as a minimum. This heat treatment cannot be done next day or week later, because hydrogen will combine to H2 and will not diffuse back out from metal, causing hydrogen embrittlement. For low carbon still, ductile iron or other low strength, low hardness materials hydrogen embrittlement is "usually" not as issue.

    Enjoy! Keep learning...

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    I used a caswell kit once, bought it as alternative for a customer who insisted on standard pricing on their parts. standard order was 20, but soon became 10, then 5. my excellent plater in Lowell MA had a reasonable but firm lot charge. so when I got the next order for 5 I bought and tried the kit. coloration (irridence?) in the parts. they accepted the parts but said this time only, had to be better next time. this was not the 1st of issues I had with a hard squeezing head buyer with this company. I told them pricing would now be based on setup & outside work amortized into the pc price. they dumped me. I was not sad about it.

    I saw a "like" on this, thought id comment I also used a do it yourself kit (maybe caswell maybe not) for black oxide, and got the same results, acceptable but marginally. makes me think of this forum vs hobby machining and cnc? if you want professional results go to a professional. are there folk out there who can be meticulous and know the tricks to get the best out of the home brew kits? likely. but caveat emptor, I have had even pros fuck up my parts, and if youre thinking, strip and redo if you don't like the results, my experience is 100% once they are plated or coated subpar, they will be noticeably worse on any redo. jmho, ymmv.
    Last edited by metlcutr55; 08-22-2019 at 12:35 PM.

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