So recently I decided to take up electroplating. While I was completely prepared to start handling highly acidic substances like sulfuric acid which is commonly used for copper electroplating, I found that it can be a lot easier. In fact, its rather easy and safe to get that perfect look on even your waco fittings for a steampunk build, or any pieces of metal. Sure, you can send out for it to be professionally done. But that just costs a lot of money. You can do a great electroplating job in your home, for almost no money.
What will you need for this?
1) Some plastic or glass containers you dont plan on ever using for anything again ( I just use deli salad or Chinese food soup containers)
2) Vinegar (just white cooking vinegar is perfect)
3) Hydrogen Peroxide (standard pharmacy stuff)
4) A microwave, wont get dirty. Actually, might shine it up a bit :P
5) Copper pipe (or anything made of copper you dont mind losing)
6) A few feet of copper wire
7) Baking soda
8) 2 D-cell batteries
you may also want some disposable rubber gloves. I also recommend some alligator clips for attaching your wires.
Ready? Lets begin!
Start by mixing together equal parts vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in a microwave safe container. When it starts boiling, take it out.
Take this solution and pour it into one of your plastic/glass containers. Then, drop a piece of copper in, I used copper pipe for mine.
(You may want to do this outside, it does release hydrogen gas. Not enough to light fire to anything, but some people dont like it in their houses)
Chemical equation: 2 C2H4O2 + H2O2 + Cu -> Cu(C2H3O2)2 + 2 H2 + O2
I would take the large amount of time you have before it finishes to clean up the piece you want to plate. This is done simply by polishing off the outside coating if you are using a black-nickel plated piece or anything with a clear coat, if you leave these on your plating will not be too pretty. This can be done with some sandpaper or a dremel with a polishing bit. Now, I suggest using dish soap to clean the piece first, scrub it down well and rinse/dry it. After this, I like to submerge it in vinegar, then a baking soda solution. I do that a few times just to make sure the imperfections are of.
In a few hours, when the bubbling completely stops, you can take the piece of copper out. I suggest straining it with a coffee filter, but it isnt necessary.
At this point, you have a copper acetate solution!
Now you have your chemical. Time for wiring. Take your two D-Cell batteries and connect them in parallel (+ to +, - to -) I find that parallel is better than series as you want a high amperage system here. You can go pick up a cradle for D-Cells like I recently did and mod it yourself with a piece of wire, or you can just connect them with wires and tape like my old setup.
Connect your + and - wires to the corresponding battery positions. Attach the piece you wish to plate to the - lead and wrap a piece of copper pipe or other piece of copper with the + lead. During electroplating, the copper taken off of the positive piece of copper goes into the solution, while the copper in the solution will be bound to the - lead.
Submerge both your + and - objects in the solution. Make sure they do not touch. After about 10-15 minutes, you can take it out and examine your work! If it is not as thick as you would like, you can submerge it for longer. If it is not evenly plated, you didn't clean it enough. Any impurities on the surface may cause a bad plate.
After you are done, just rinse it and let it dry! You now have an electroplated fitting, ready to add that last bit of detail to your build.
Thanks for reading, have fun and be careful! Remember, the solution is acidic. You should wash your hands if you get it on yourself. But it is not extremely harmful. Just stay on the safe side!
An additional note, do not worry about getting any of the solution in your loop if you are plating fittings. Copper acetate is also used as an antimicrobial, so all it may do is keep your loop from growing algae.
Thanks again! TCC