Nickel Plating Kits

What do watch repairers, jewelers, model builders, guitar and antique restorers, clock rebuilders, science students and car repair enthusiasts all have in common? They all at one time or another may need to use a nickel plating kit, or plating rectifier,  to restore old parts, increase the size of certain metal pieces, learn about electrons for a test or add a shiny new layer of nickel to items in their own individual areas of interest.

What Exactly is Nickel Plating?

Nickel plating, also known as electroplating, is a fairly simple process that can add glimmer, shine, protection and durability to old, aging or differing metal parts. The plating kits available today can be used and managed by a single person without heavy duty commercial equipment or bulky major appliances. The ease and economy of this procedure means that gun smiths and clock rebuilders don’t need to send their work out to a plating shop but instead can keep a kit on-site for small jobs that literally can be completed in minutes.

How Does Electroplating Work?

Electroplating, or “plating,” is the process of transferring metal ions from the anode, the primary metal object, to another conductive object, or the cathode. This is done by charging the anode with a positive charge while the cathode, or the item that is to be plated, is negatively charged. When both objects connected to the positive and negative charge are placed inside a solution of metal salt the transaction will take place. (Note that brush plating does not require the objects be suspended in a solution). During the process the ions from the primary object (in this case it will be nickel) will be “reduced” onto the object that is being plated to form a metal finish. The resulting metal finish can than be buffed to a beautiful shine.

Note that plating can also be accomplished without the use a battery or power source.  For electroless plating, see the link below.

Ways to charge each end of the transfer line include using a battery or a 12 volt AC plug-in power supply. Since the exchange of metal from the primary piece to the secondary piece must move through the wires that are clipped onto each object the success of this transfer and the amount of material that will be sent from one end to the other depends on the power of either the battery or the 12 volt power supply. It has been noted that the exchange will be directly proportional to the ability of the battery or power pack to create electrons.

Objects that can be nickel plated include copper, brass, steel or iron. Probably the best items to work on as a home plater is copper, brass or steel. One thing to be aware of is that the object that is to be plated must be cleaned thoroughly in order for the plating to be successful. Edges and corners of an object will naturally attract more material during the plating process while recessed, or dented, areas will come up thinner. There is a way to “patch” recessed areas prior to plating and can be researched further if this is of particular interest. If the plater decides to work with die cast or pot metal, first apply a copper base to prevent corrosion.

What items are included in a nickel plating kit?

There are three main types of small, personal kits available for the at home plating enthusiast, hobbyist or small business owner: the brush plating kit, the tank kit and the electroless nickel kit. The brush kit uses a stainless steel handle with a cotton bandage used as the brush to place the nickel onto the new object. The tank kit uses a small tank or bucket, sometimes titanium, to allow both objects to be suspended in a metal salt solution. The electroless kit uses no power source only chemicals mixed in a specially lined tank and brought to a high temperature.

A typical brush nickel plating kit will include:

Nickel plating solution
Alkaline cleaner
Acid activator
12 volt power supply
Plating wand
Plating instruction manual
Cotton bandages for the wand
MSDS safety sheets

Proper Safety Preparedness and Disposal

Some of these materials are considered to be hazardous. In order to ensure safety always follow precautionary procedures. Be safe, wear eye protection and gloves. NEVER ingest any of the solution. Always wash your hands after dealing with an electroplating kit and don’t eat food around the work area.  These chemicals should always be handled with care.

On a larger scale, even the federal government under the regulatory control of the EPA will follow and provide oversight for nickel plating operations.  Apart from commercial and industrial plating which can be very complex and difficult processes, today’s personal and at-home plating kits are fairly safe, affordable and if used correctly can give new life to old parts.

It is important to remember to adjust and choose your kit based on cost, size of material to be plated, area available for plating and your ability to throw away the used chemical solutions.  Dumping chemicals into a public drain is never recommended.  It is your responsibility to be careful with all used solution and find out where they should be disposed of in your particular area.  This doesn’t mean a home plater should be afraid to go about using these chemicals because they aren’t something that needs to be avoided but instead have a plan for what to do with any leftover materials.  If you need more information call your local chemical disposal contact or EPA representative.

A few final notes: nickel and other electroplating kits are available online in large and small sizes.  The most important aspect of purchasing a plating kit is to make sure it’s one that can be used at-home or in a non-professional setting, this will help to make the experience a truly do-it-yourself project.  Manageability and quality of materials should be considered when searching for a kit.  When using a kit at home the outcome is entirely up to the plater, this gives the project a certain personality and specialty that is difficult to find any other way.  An electroplating kit for the at-home plater it a great way to go.