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Nickel and chrome plating at home.


It would have cost half the expense, let alone the work what went into it, to have chrome plating done by a shop.

I had two reasons to do it myself. One, which was at least 75% of the reason, was the fear that they might lose a piece which is not replaceable for a 68 year old machine. The other part of it was that I did not know anything about plating and did not even think that it was possible to do it at home, until a friend of mine mentioned that he did nickel plating in his garage and I wanted to learn about it too.


I did experiment with some primitive plating which was tin-plate, using solutions I bought from The Eastwood Co.; the power supply was a couple of 1.5 volt batteries. There was very little control over the whole process and luck had a part in it. The tin-plate is a bit yellowish and loses its shine fairly quickly.


The same friend lent me a plating manual of Caswell Plating, a company which assembles kits for just about all forms of plating, kits for amateurs like me. In the beginning I ordered a kit for nickel plating only. This kit consisted of a "flash-copper", a nickel and a degreaser part. Each of these chemicals came with a 1.5 gallon plastic bucket, copper and nickel anodes, heaters, circulating pumps (where required) and a comprehensive manual. The manual explains plating principals and detailed procedure. This information was very different from my initial trial of tin-plating. Here I had to have adjustable power-supply, monitored temperatures, agitation of the solution, calculating surface areas of pieces to be plated, etc. The procedure also called for buffing equipment.


For a year I did nothing but read the manual approximately three times and extract parts I would need to remember.  The parts of my vintage bikes were pitted by rust. I bought some soldering paste to fill these small voids, but later I came to the conclusion that if I was doing that much, I should have copper plating too, to fill pitted areas. So I ordered the "acid-copper" set-up too.


Being very busy with the house, cars and with bike-trips, another year went by and I was still not plating. Again, I read the manual and I came to the conclusion that if I am doing that much I should have chrome plating too, after all it's only one more step. So I ordered the chrome plating set-up too.


Another year went by without plating. First I had to build a whole set-up, find place for it, build shelves and electrical installation. I was lucky because another friend was just selling the very power-supply I needed, which I bought for a fair price. I had everything to build the set-up. It was a Christmas-New Year holiday when I emptied a corner of the garage and completed the plating set-up. That was not enough.


Some buffing equipment was also needed. I rigged up a buffing machine from steel angles, 5/8" shaft, pulleys and a 3/4 HP motor, all which I had at home; even the bearings I had had for a long time. In addition to that contraption I bought an 8" grinder which I equipped with buffing wheels.


Finally, after about four years I got to it. Now I understand why chroming costs so much. The preparation which takes a long time and hard work is the greater part of the cost. After copper coating a pitted part had to be sanded off leaving only as much copper to fill the voids--if it filled the voids; if not, it had to be re-coated again and again, until the last copper plating could be buffed up to mirror finish. Then 30-60 minutes nickel plateing, which is the real, rust protector and a 3-4 minute chrome bath for the "show-like" finish. Then, final buffing followed.


Buffing is a mess. Cleaning up afterwards is a major job. Of course a professional plating shop would have done a nicer job, but they might have sanded off a lot more from the parts than I did. For some pieces I had more patience than for others, but all in all I am glad that I did it "my way".