What you need to know on metal plating.

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Jul 10, 2011
Blackpool -UK
While i have some time spare i thought i would type up a post about metal plating. This is not a guide on how to do it, but i wanted to educate some about it, before these tutorials begin to emerge

I would imagine many advanced pen turners have considered doing their own chrome or gold plating, but i wanted to take some time to explain to you what the script is with a few of the more popular ones, so everyone know what the risks are and what is entailed. Make no mistake, if your careless it can kill you.

Gold plating
Predominantly, i wanted to discuss Gildaura 22Y electrolyte, which is what we use for gold plating. among other things, the active ingredient in Gildaura is potassium cyanide. other ingredients include cyanate, cadmium salts and disodiums, and while cyanate is also toxic i would like to focus on the potassium cyanide.
No doubt you know of Potassium cyanide, popularised by spy movies biting down on their capsule. What you may not know, is that its not actually this what kills you. When potassium cyanide enters the stomach, it mixes with the hydrochloric acid in your stomach and makes hydrogen cyanide. its these gasses which are lethal and take no time at all in aiding you to meet your maker, leaving the scent of almonds in the air. I wanted to explain this crucial bit of information with you so you understand how important it is to keep a clean shop. If you are experimenting with metal finishes theres a good chance you have played with anodising or other finishes which involve the use of acids. If you have acid laying around on your workbench, and you accidentally contaminate your cyanide with it, you will begin to gas yourself and you are unlikely to get a second chance.

I wear a chemically rated full face gas mask, gloves which come up to my elbows, and an apron. I do not eat, drink, or smoke (i've now quit smoking by the way!) or go to the toilet. There can be no occasion whatsoever that you touch your skin. dont think your hands are fine because they have been inside gloves. a good trick for this was to spray someones gloves in uv reactant ink, and then ask them to take the gloves off without contaminating themselves... you would be suprised how many of them had the uv ink on them somewhere from doing so.. and they were shocked to see it themselves.

When you are done in the shop, you go take a shower and put the clothes you were wearing into the wash.

Potassium cyanide is toxic through breathing, by contact with your skin/eyes, and obviously - ingesting.

Generally it is brush plated onto pieces, simply due to the cost associated to creating an electrolyte bath. for the chemicals alone for a bath would be around £200.00. in an ideal world this is the way to go seeing as you will get a better finish and you are handling it less. however compared to a cost of around £25.00 for a gold plating brush kit you can see the appeal of sticking to brush plating, despite the extra work and risks.

Chrome plating
Well, what you may be dissapointed to read is that all of the kits you will see online for this, are not really chrome the good news is however, it looks pretty damn close to it- just dont go treating your show car / motorbike in it and then go entering it into a vintage car collection show etc :biggrin: the judges will spot it a mile off, as it has a slight bluey tint to it which the untrained eye is likely to overlook. but i want real chrome! not cheap replica stuff i want to do it for real!" I can almost hear those words echoing from some of you. I know this because i had the same thoughts... ive never been someone to want to settle for second best of the end user, idiot proof consumer products... ive always gone for the commercial grade route.. but not this one. You see, to make Chrome, you need Chromium. Hexevalent chromium to be precise. Have you seen the film Erin brochvich where the towns people keep dieing of cancer? well thats because their water supplies were being contaminated by chromium. This stuff is nasty. So nasty infact that if a drop of it were to get into the sewer systems, alarm bells would be triggered at your local waterworks and yes they will investigate it harshly. if you are found to have contaminated the waterworks with hexevalent, you are in deep, deep trouble. The commercial places which use chromium have some very sophisticated water filtering systems which ALL their waste water has to pass through. and with all that in mind, and even if you are still considering exposing yourself to something which could give you cancer over time, or are confident you can safely use it and not contaminate the water works with it, when someone living in your neighbourhood is diagnosed with cancer, or even any other serious illness.... god help you if anyone knows you are doing plating in your garage. I keep MSDS (material safety data sheets) on ALL chemicals i keep in my shop, and i have quite a collection. They are kept under lock and key.

Work with ventilation, extractor fans or if you can find one cheap, a fume hood for a cooker works wonders mounted above your bench.

While the replica chromes are still toxic, they are not a scratch on chromium.. and the results are still rgeat so stick to them. Brush plating is ok, though with it being so shiny any imperfections will stand out like a sore thumb. Tank plating is best and not too expensive too! you can get a 5 litre tank complete with everything you will need minus the power supply for £90.00 this ank will last you years if maintained and kept clean too.

Plate onto what?
ive just made a wood pen can i plate it gold or chrome? No
ok then, how about out of stainless steel? No
Er.. aluminium? Nope...

Well, what then?

In short, all of the things above, including wood or plastic CAN be gold or chrome plated, but we need to revert back to an order which determines what metal will plate onto what. Chrome wont stick to steel, or aluminium, infact when you touch your positive brush against the piece it will begin to dissolve your workpiece! not good seeing as you had just polished that now mottled messy surface... So what you do is plate your piece in something which will stick to it, and then plate that plating with something else until you actually get to the finish you are after.

First off, you have to nickel plate it.
Then you can copper plate it
Then you can either gold plate it, or chrome plate it.

Copper, brass, bronze
no need to nickel plate it or copper plate it, because it is copper! so you can skip the first two and go straight onto gold or chrome plating

substantially lighter and ideal for pens though more tricky.
First you have to Zincate it
Then nickel plate it
Then copper plate it
Then either chrome or gold plate it.

Wood plastic and everyting else not metal
you can buy conductive paint, and paint your piece in it. this will then allow you to:
nickel plate
Copper plate
Chrome or gold plate

(this is how they gold plate golf balls etc)

Note that chrome is a final coat, nothing will stick to it.
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IAP Activities Manager
Staff member
Jul 5, 2009
Fort Myers FL
There are alternatives to plating with cyanide here in the states. I used to use Dalmar plating solutions which use citric acid. They work very well I just hadnt plated in years and sold off my equipment.

oops forgot the link http://www.dalmarplating.com/


Feb 28, 2008
Potomac, MD, USA.
Thanks Brad, very informative. I only have 1 cyanide based gold plating solution in my shop, and I do the same protective things you do when using it...it scares the crap out of me everytime I use it. The rest of my gold solutions and others are acid based, which I am accustomed to.
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