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Electroplating copper on stainless

I would expect this topic to have multiple posts by the same person showing us how to do something. If there are pictures, let pint_o_shine know and he can host them for you.

Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby snuffy » Mon May 11, 2009 12:45 pm

This is really Ugly's fault. He mentioned how easy it was to electroplate copper to give solder a good grip on stainless.

Since I used to electroplate everything except the cat when I was a kid, I thought I'd give it a shot and see if it worked.

The basic process is called brush electroplating. You can buy kits to do this, but most everything can be DIY'd from junk most of us are going to have laying around.

I used an old 5 VDC power supply. The + goes to the copper and the - goes to a clip on the work being plated. It took less than ten minutes to put together.

Image

The copper (which serves as a sacrificial electrode) is wrapped with an absorbent non-conductive covering. I used a square of surgical gauze wrapped around the flattened end and held in place with a rubber band. The electrolyte is a saturated solution of copper sulfate. Around here, it's most accessible as a root killer for sewer lines. It helps to heat it in a water bath to get it to dissolve. A few drops of battery acid can be used to improve the conductivity, but I didn't use any. It is a very pretty blue color.

It is very important to have the surface absolutely clean and free of grease or oil. I used phosphoric acid and a scrubbing pad to prep the surface. You know when the metal is clean because the water will not bead up and wets the entire surface.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjkSVKeM1Bs
It is just like magic. (video link)

I brazed washers to the copper pipe to make flanges. I also added a horizontal brace to stiffen the tubes.

You can see from the final job the solder spread across the surface of the stainless around the joints. This was done with a torch heating the copper. One problem was the stainless was so thin that it kept flexing as it cooled off and would mess up the joint while the solder was still liquid. If I had clamped it down, this probably wouldn't have been a problem.

Image

To test how tough the plating was, I scrubbed it with a nylon abrasive pad and phosphoric acid. About a minute of hard scrubbing removed most of the plating.

The copper sulfate solution is corrosive and toxic. To neutralize it, just drop some old steel wool in and it will plate out onto the steel wool and the blue will disappear.

Image
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Mud » Mon May 11, 2009 1:06 pm

Thanks for posting this, Snuffy. What else can be used as the electrolyte? I've seen some stuff recommending vinegar saturated with sugar, or just anti-freeze? Any problem with those approaches?

-intensely interested Mud
You should have plated the cat, too.
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby snuffy » Mon May 11, 2009 1:34 pm

The solutions are usually acid salts of the metal being plated: sulphate, chloride, nitrate, etc. Copper, tin and nickel are easy. Gold, silver and chrome are not.

Here's the wiki article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroplating

and here's some commercial kits http://www.caswellplating.com/kits/plugnplate.htm

Lindsay's usually has some books on it http://www.lindsaybks.com/index.html
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Mud » Mon May 11, 2009 1:51 pm

snuffy wrote:Lindsay's usually has some books on it http://www.lindsaybks.com/index.html


I just requested a catalog from them. That blurb on the bottom of the page about IQ is funny. :D
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Ugly » Mon May 11, 2009 1:59 pm

I'll follow this up, my parcel came in today I'll pick it up at the farm tonight.

Basically, I have a method that requires little power and does a decent job, Snuffy has the fundamentals correct for sure.

You can add a little table salt to assist in the process and maybe add a brightener as well, about 6 teaspoons of auto anti freeze per litre of solution or thereabouts. Anyhow, I haven't forgotten this and anyone with a couple D batteries and some vinegar will be able to do it without buying anything at all.

heads up... that five volts is likely OK in that solution with copper sulfate, but I'd try it slower and you'll get a way thicker layer of copper with less risk of surface oxidization screwing up the process. You can add plating to an existing item by repeating the process until you achieve a desired thickness, depends on the tools at hand your degree of patience.

A little sugar can also be used in weak acid solutions as a brighter and an alternative to acid dipping is using oven cleaner to get the parts perfectly clean. Acid dipping is usually done for large pieces, but it's fairly easy to scrub a small one up nice and shiny with a caustic (wear rubber gloves boys in case there's some on the nails when you go to pee). Large scale items you dip in alkaline base , rinse, dip in acid, rinse and then put hot (meaning charged with voltage) into your electroplating solution (for copper and sometimes other stuff depending).

Great Post Thank you Snuffy.
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby minime » Mon May 11, 2009 9:04 pm

You guys are fucking amazing.........you bring a whole new level of interest to our hobby :8)
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby pintoshine » Mon May 11, 2009 10:28 pm

+1
Distill safe. Make good cuts. Enjoy yourself. Give as much as you take. Have fun doing this incredibly hard work. Be a good example. It's your hobby.
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby myles » Tue May 12, 2009 6:01 am

Outstanding, I just have to try this. :8)
I have just ordered 500g of copper sulphate crystals, and I have concentrated acid based drain cleaner in the shed. Any suggestions on recipies for the solution? Or do you just disolve as much copper sulphate as possible - I remember growing crystals at school from super-saturated solutions.

Also I have two, mains to DC power supplies. One is +15v,0,-15v the other is +24v,0,-24v Will these be Ok or do you need to use a lower voltage?

I wonder if I could copper plate the inside of my 5 gallon brass pot with a thick enough layer to make it safe to use as the base of a boiler. :idea:
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Ugly » Tue May 12, 2009 7:12 am

I think that's too high for small pieces, stick to lower voltages for longer periods and add 6 teaspoons of unmixed (uncut) ethylene glycol per litre of solution.

Try it at 1.5-3v and put a 50-150ohm resistor in series with the power source.
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby snuffy » Tue May 12, 2009 9:01 am

5v was the lowest voltage supply I had. It was current limited to 1000 mA so I didn't use a resistor. Many cell phone chargers use 5v at low amperage. Lower is better, but below 5v is hard to find in junk wall warts.

In the video, I'm moving the brush fast because dark oxide shows up if it stays in one place too long.
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby vb » Tue May 12, 2009 9:19 am

this is very cool. I'd do my entire boiler like this if I could.
read a bnook on eelectroplating, in copper silver and other metals when I was a kid.

think using the same power supply and materials I could do dip plating for smaller items?
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby evilpsych » Tue May 12, 2009 4:03 pm

pretty wild stuff..

We do reverse electroplating to clean some ancient silver coins, never tried the brush on method, but it's definitely a must do instead of welding on stainless. Anyone try this on a beer keg yet? :roflmao:
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Mud » Tue May 12, 2009 6:04 pm

I called Agway to get a price on copper sulfate 5# is $35. 50# is $80. So I made some with a battery charger, some sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide, and a couple chunks of 1/2" copper pipe. It was working great until all the dissolved copper sticking to the positive electrode fell off into the solution. Now the sulfate and crud are all mixed up. :x Dammit.

next time, I'll just buy some. Maybe. Giving up just doesn't sit well.

-Mud
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Ugly » Tue May 12, 2009 6:08 pm

Be patient and I'll tell you how do get a good solution without the hassle factor < I'm actually doing it right now (this very moment). I just don't want to post without the evidence in hand so to speak.
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Re: Electroplating copper on stainless

Postby Adverse Effects » Tue May 12, 2009 7:32 pm

gee where an impatiant bunch arnt we hehe :!: :!: :!: :!: :!:
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