Chrome Plating of Car Headlights and Parts

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Introduction: Chrome Plating of Car Headlights and Parts

About: I work offshore in Norway in the oil sector. Employed by Oceaneering as an ROV Supervisor. Education : Skilled Industrial Mechanic, Skilled Aircraft Mechanic (Boeing737) ,and a degree as a Mechanical Technic...
I want to share my experience with Electroplating parts with, Copper,Nickel, and Chrome.


If there's anyone interested out there, I will help out as good as I can.
Sorry about the lack of pictures and video from the buffing and polishing. I was so focused, that i completely forgot to use the camera :)

An IMPORTANT thing, is to check out with your country's regulations regarding these chemicals. And NEVER EVER dispose them out in the nature. Some of them are harmful to the environment, and poisonous to yourself.

The gases from the plating are odorless, but extremely corrosive. I was just slightly unaware a moment, and got some nose bleeding after this. NOT recommended..! Show respect for the chemicals, and always read the datasheet before start. Use goggles and gloves.

Step 1: Before Dismantling.

Here you can see the old chrome of the headlamp. Its really worn out. And the door handles are in poor condition. Heavily infected with Zinc Pest. Had to clean out all the pitting with my dremel drill.

Step 2: Equipment You Need / the Chemicals

The easiest way to get a good result, is to buy the ready made kits from companies that supply these.

The kit I ordered, I purchased from http://www.gaterosplating.co.uk/ .

I`m sure that you can get these ingredients some other places, but the prizes are ok, and the service and support are exellent.. :)

I started with :

Bright Copper plating KIT

Nickel Plating KIT

R
eplica Chrome Plating KIT

GP Alcaline Cleaner

Acid Picle

Chrome Stripper


Step 3: Tank Setup !

I have no pictures from the mixing. It is really important to use all the safety equipment recommended..! Use goggles,and
proper gloves. Remember to have plenty of water nearby. And make sure to remove any spills.

The Chemicals :


Replica chrome 5 ltr
4 litres distilled water
1 kg nickel sulphate
125 g cobalt sulphate
220 g nickel chloride
160 g boric acid
230 ml nickel brightener

Copper 5 ltr
4 litres distilled water
560ml of 36% sulphuric acid
900g copper sulphate
100 g sodium chloride
50ml cupracid ultra make up
3ml cupracid part A
3ml curpacid part B

Nickel strike 5 ltr
4 litres distilled water
380 g nickel sulphate
380 g sodium sulphate
115 g ammonium chloride


Heating

When the ambient temerature drops and the plating tanks are unheated then it is time to consider some form of tank heating. All plating electrolytes will benifit from tank heating of some form. Easy ways to heat the tanks are as follows:

For small tanks
1) simply place them in a bowl of boiling water and wait for them to warm up.
2) Fill a plastic bottle with near boiling water and place inside the tank taking care not to overflow the tank.
3) Place the tank on a heat mat normally for lower plating temperatures but will still raise the temperature.
4) Thermostatic tank heaters are the easiest method as you can preset a temperature and leave it to warm up. Remember to give it several hours from cold to get to the correct temperature.

For larger tanks
1) Thermostatic tank heaters are the best method for larger tanks.
2) Heated air agitation is sometimes used in very large tanks.
3) Combined heat and filtration systems are also used.
4) Heated tank jackets.

Once up to temperature the process of plating will keep the tank warm or if continuous plating is done then it may be a case of cooling the tank if it gets too hot!

Temperature ranges for our plating electrolytes.

Metal Range Ideal

Zinc 15°c - 40°c 25°c - 30°c

Copper 15°c - 50°c 25°c - 40°c

Nickel 30°c - 50°c 30°c - 40°c

Rep Chrome 30°c - 50°c 30°c - 40°c

Brass 20°c - 40°c 25°c - 35°c

Cobalt 30°c - 50°c 35°c - 45°c

Step 4: Cleaning..!

Cleaning  (Copy/past from Gateros Plating Home Page)

After seeing one or two customers of late with contamination problems (most of which we have been able to solve with having to replace the electrolyte) I want to stress again just how important cleaning is to both good quality plating and to ensure that the electrolyte is kept in prime condition.

It is vital that cleaning is carried out carefully and that the items to be plated are ultra clean.

First step is a good de-grease. This can be done with a solvent type degreaser or a hot alkaline degreaser such as our GP1 alkaline cleaner.

The next step is to remove any traces of rust, paint or dirt. This can be done by electro-cleaning, bead blasting or even buffing on a wire may be sufficient. Remember once you have started the cleaning process you must always wear gloves as even the grease off your fingers will cause the plating to blister at a later date!

Once you have completed the first part of the cleaning process, I would now advise a water break test. Just dip in clean water and see if the item is covered with a water film or if it beads. If it has a good water film all over it with no beading then it can go to the pickle stage. If you can see the water beading then you need to wash in detergent and water, rinse well and repeat the water break test again until it passes.

Now onto the pickle. Some people try to skip this part but it is very important not to as it will ensure a good bond between the surface of the metal and the following plate.
Our dry acid pickle is specially formulated for use as a plating pickle or as a metal activator. You can also use HCL ideally at concentrations of about 20%. Some people use sulphuric acid but I find it a bit smutty on some metals. We have had customers use vinegar but this is just not strong enough for the job! Pickling time varies according to the type of metal and the strength of the pickle used. It is normally between 1 minute to 20 minutes and remember always rinse well after pickling.

Once pickled and rinsed, you need to plate straight away. This way you will not give the metal any time to form an oxide layer on the surface.

The better you can prepare a surface the better the results will be so spend time flatting, buffing and polishing if needed. This is essential when brush plating as you are only putting a very thin plate on the base metal so the more polished you can get the base metal the better. If buffing or polishing remember to remove the polish film with a solvent cleaner if needed and wash in detergent and water again after. Always check with the water break test before pickling.

Think about investing on a bench buffer/grinder. You should be able to buy one for as little as £35 for a 3/4 HP 220v one.  The amount of time and effort it will save you will make it well worth the cost.

Remember cleanliness is next to godliness so if you want to be a plating god then clean, clean and clean again!

Step 5: Prepairing the Parts...

The plan is to strip the parts from old chrome. Then smooth the surface and fix dents.
 The first Plating will be a relative thick layer with copper. Then a layer of Nickel, and finally a thin layer of chrome.
 I had no sandblaster at the moment, so I had to sand down the surface first. One of the headlights were badly bumped and had a crack. Had to weld it first with a silver soldering rod.  I made a mistake, and used to coarse paper . So I had to put on a thicker coating of copper first.
 The doorhandles were badly pitted(Zink pest) , and had to be sandblasted first, and then I used a Dremel tool to grind out all of the cracks.
 For circular objects like the headlight and rim, it is a good solution to make a jig. Then you can mount it in a handheld drill in a wise. 
 
 I even used this method during buffing. Just put the felt polisher in another drill ,and counter rotate.


  

Step 6: Next Step, the Doorhandles...aargh

The Doorhandles is made ofPOT Metal.  This is an alloy of : zinc, lead, copper, tin, magnesium, aluminium, iron, and cadmium.( Also known as ZAMAK, and Monkey Metal )
 To plate the handles with copper, you first have to Strike Nickel plate the handle. This is to seal the surface. Other-vice the copper will kind of react with the pot metal, and peal off.
 

The handles is best sandblasted. You can not use chrome stripper like you use on other metals. Othervice you have to sand it down by hand. The old chrome have to be completely removed. Remember to use gloves to not contaminate the part with oil/grease. Then, the part is dipped in the Acid Picle solution for about 20 seconds. The part will now appear to be boiling! Then in to the Neutral Nickel Strike bath. The low acidity makes the nickel bind to the POT metal. When a dull even light gray surface is achieved, the part is rinsed and goes in to the copper bath. After a uniform build up by copper, the part is rinsed and dried. Then you cover the part with soldering flux. Be extremely consentrated while soldering to prevent disaster..! The temperature range between the solder and the parts melting point is quite narrow. Start with the thickest part first, and work the solder towards the thinnest part.
 
Then, sand down, strike plate with Nickel again. Then a thicker coat copper. Sand down to a smooth surface using finer and finer sandpaper. Wet or dry sanding .. THEN its time to start buffing. I used a Felt wheel on a bench grinder for the job. The compound used is BLACK compound.  HERE : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polishing_(metalworking)     it is explained on Wikipedia about polishing and buffing.

Step 7: Headlights..!

The Headlights was quite easy compared to the door handles actually. I will list up the events from start to finish:

 Strip off the old chrome. (Sandblast if possible)

Get a smooth surface using coarse-fine sandpaper.

Plate a layer of copper.

Solder dents/cracks.

Sand down the soldering .

Plate it with another copper layer.

Start buffing, and get the surface MIRROR like,using right compounds and right felt disks. 

Clean and rinse (see previous step)

Then strike plate with Nickel. 

Buff the Nickel to a mirror like surface. (What you see is what you get finally after the chrome)

Clean and rinse

Plate with Chrome.

Buff and Polish ...

Finished...!





 
 
 


 

Step 8: Rust Removal

I had to put in some rust removal tips here. There are many ways to remove rust.You must find a way that works for you. My way is to mix Baking soda and water. Just a couple of spoons to a gallon of hot water. I also use Caustic Soda (Sodium hydroxide) and water. REMEMBER..this is very harmful to your skin, and can cause severe burns. So, baking soda work just fine. 
 You will need 12V dc from a powersupply or battery. The negative lead on the part you want to remove rust from (cathode) . As a anode(positive+), you can use whatever of scrap iron you have.  I use Lead strips also, as you only need to get the electrons to flow through the solution. Lead wont deteriorate itself. On the video here, I use steel wire for concrete armoring as an anode. They completely dissolve in this process. Just connect, and leave over night.Remember to treat the parts quickly after this. Otherwise it will rust again. For my tools, I used a steel wire brush on my bench grinder. Then sandpaper, cleaning, and a layer of nickel. A good buff, and the part is ready for many years service..!




Step 9: Finally... Some Results, and My Car !

I am very pleased and exited with the result myself. It was much more work that I could even imagine. But the reward afterwards were huge. Now it is easy for me to plate almost anything, and get a predictably result. I have all of the equipment ready for the next job now. This is absolutely recommended. But you should start with simple things first, and not with the main thing first, as I did..!!

 

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    57 Discussions

    Hi
    I got a few questions to ask on this project.
    I live in south africa and not sure if i cannget these kits locally here. Is it possible to list items that i can source from local chemical supply companies

    I have brand new downliggts some of which are made of metal and some are supposed to be die cast (perhaps Aluminium. Not usre though )
    They are in polished brass finish. I want to cat them to something like satin chrome. What all steps do i need to do. These still unused in its originsl packaging.
    Would i still need to do all the steps that you did or can i just wipe them clean and put it in the tank to coat it in satin chrome finish.
    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful instructable.

    Far out to see some do this at their home shop, and document the process. I'm sure their ar way to either nuetraling plating fluids or otherwise safely disposing of them. Here in the US we a still able to change the engine oilYears ago My uncle and I where getting set up to do small scale " chrome" plating. We did metal polishing set up. I had a stroke at young and he had several health issues, and didn't get any further. My understanding the bright chrome plating is triple chrome plating, where other chrome plating isn't In bright chrome plating the metal is polished as smooth it can, Then copper plate is put on the help the nickel to adhere to t part as well fill imperfections in the metal. The copper is polished before the nickel is applied, and it the nickle that provides the silver color not the chrome color. My understanding is the chrome plate is nearly clear and is what give the part a bluish hue, also the main reasonfor the chrome is to protect the nickle layer. We read of metal parts being chrome plated but it's not the triple plating process.. The chrome is used on metal to provide wear resistance

    Magic, I was really concerned about taking some of my rare parts to the plater here, they regularly loose bits, you wait forever and they charge a fortune. I'm deffo going to do it. I'll start with other things and perfect it before i do the rare bits for my cars. I have two 1925 Austin 12/4's a Clifton and Windsor, two Austin Healey's a Froggy and a BJ8, and five Jaguars to do all the plating for so I'm sure I'm going to save a bundle. The Early Austin’s were all Nickel plated but it wasn’t shinny finish, it was a bright finish though.

    3 replies


    Hello...! Wow...you are really in to old classics..I would loved to have a tour in your garage..! I can absolutely recommend the nickel and copper plating for your cars. But you have to know that it is something you have to do over and over again to get the hang of it. The plating is actually easy compared to the blasting,welding,machining,cleaning, and buffing of the various parts. But as soon you get the hang of it ,it`s all worth it. Especially for all the parts that DONT have to have a mirror finish. The satisfaction that you actually done this yourself, and that the result is a part that will last forever. And you never know what kind of people handles your precious and one of a kind parts. In my opinion, the old Austin`s should not have a mirror like finish like you say, but have a bright finish that mirrors the tools and equipment for that time in history. I think that there is something odd with a 1936 car with most of the visual parts brand new..!
    I can recommend that you contact Dan at Gateroes Plating, and order a starter kit from him. Do not do like I did, and start straight with the headlight..! It went well, but was a scary thing to do..! Start with a copper kit and a neutral nickel kit. The difference between the neutral nickel kit and the bright nickel kit, is the finish straight away. (This is my opinion/experience) The headlights on my Austin were plated with neutral nickel. Witch I buffed to the shiny finish. The neutral nickel finish is also more coarse, so it is a good surface for POT metal for example before copper plate. And you need the neutral nickel to even think of plating POT metal.
    The Bright nickel kit, I would recommend for parts that are hard to buff, but that you still want a shiny surface to. It can be buffed to a mirror like surface, but also looks good untouched.
    The other KIT I would recommend for you is the nickel/zink combination. This is a really easy easy way to get a really corrosion resistant and good looking surface at the same time. I use it often just on rusted and unprotected bolts and nuts I use. After a proper rust removal of course. AND... get yourself use to rustremoval using electrolysis. This is much easier than you think, and give great results.

    Ok... Do not hesitate to ask if you need help with the start of the art of home plating..! I can guarantee that you will have fun doing it.

    Thank you I will, yes the Early Austin’s had no shinny bits, they were the British VW of the day. The head lamps were painted and the plating they did have was all matt type of finish. The Jags and Healey were on the other hand full of shinny bits

    4175887.jpg



    Hello again Andrea, and thank you...;)

    I was lucky to get my hands on this car to "care" for.,, It have had most of its time in Belgium i believe. It is small enough to have inside my workshop. I would like to get some more space, but that will be in 2014. I need space for all my future projects.

    Do you have any coming projects Andrea..? I follow you in here, but have spend most of the summer at work, or trekking in the Norwegian mountains. So now it is time to work inside again. I am lucky to have a job offshore that I can combine my interest for electronics, hydraulics, and mechanics. And, we have a LOT of waiting, and fast internet connection...!

    i made myself a bad copy of your pcb drill stand. I bought myself a laser printer, and started to produce some pcb`s. It worked fine, but I need a better motor with a regulated powersupply, or just a cheap dremel like drill to fit to it.

    My ongoing project now is to make myself a sort of visual wave generator. The one with clear acrylic glass, blue coloured water, and clear mineral oil.

    The other ongoing projects is :

    A laser cutter/CNC drill/ router/ engraver

    Plate and practice on more metals. And expand/ adapt to plate longer and odd parts.

    A remote/wifi controlled rover car with live view transfer.

    Make a small cutter for acrylic plates.

    Make a pan/tilt camera stand for my sony camcorder from a cheap pan/tilt camera.

    Explore the RGB leds, and make a RGB led cube.

    Explore the new powerful led`s, and be able to focus the beam.

    Make myself a Pixie tube clock.

    Combine my acrylic paintings with arduino and fiber optics.

    And MANY more..... Most of them just to learn how they work... For many of them, I will use Arduino I think. I got myself a bunch of cards, and enjoy to explore their potentials.


    Ok...have to pressure test my acrylic tube ;)

    Have a nice day...!

    Regards,

    Kjetil

    Hello again Kjegelan
    I have several parts of zamak in bad conditions, these parts needed be filled with solder, but I am confused, I understand that the first step is clean the metal with sandblast, what type of abrasive you use to get out the chrome ?.
    Then the part is ready to first bath and here is my doubt between the following options:
    a) The first bath is dipped in the Acid Picle solution and then in to the neutral nickel strike bath and then nickel and cupper or
    b) The first bath is nickel to seal the pot metal and then the cupper bath to apply the solder ?.

    After the solder what is the next bath to apply ??
    Could you tell me exactly the steps I should follow ?
    Thanks in a advance

    Nice for the you but what if many others take this up?

    What did you do with the remaining solutions? You didn't dump them down the sewer!

    It's bad enough that a business does this, but that case, the waste can be localized, rather than in everyones garage, and disposed of in an ecological way (hopefully).

    But we don't want any more government control. We want to do what we want. Pollute how we want...

    Yes, as a kid, it bothered me when my dad, as an auto mechanic, would dump waste materials on the ground right outside our garage and close to the house.

    The car is cool though and your work looks good.

    3 replies

    I`m sorry if you feel that way. I tried to emphasize this in the beginning,of the importance to handle these chemical the right way. These solutions mainly contains relatively mild hazardous chemicals, but could harm the environment if spilled in nature. In my area, and in my country of Norway ,we got strict rules about this. And is by law forced to deliver all of the spills to the local waste company. And I,myself know that these chemicals do get the right treatment/destruction. I earlier had a job there myself, and have collected all imaginable waste materials and chemicals from both industry, hospital, and private households. Even radioactive waste..!
    Another thing. If you keep doing this plating, there will never be any waste. You will mainly just add chemicals like salts, acids, and alkaline solutions. The "spills" will be the drops from when you dip the parts from a bath to another. Most of the chemicals will therefore neutralize themselves.
    I live in a very clean country, and would like to keep it that way. It is all our responsibility to keep it like this. But I cant control what everybody else is doing. I would like to think that everybody cares about this planet after all. And I will continue to experiment with both plating, and other chemicals.
    I will encourage you to see the possibilities with this techniques, and not the so called negative sides with it. But I see your point, and I agree in some of it.

    Have a nice evening , and thanks for the input :)

    Kjetil

    I'm sorry for being too strong with my comments. I didn't mean to attack you personally. I do, however feel we need to control our waste products, whatever they may be.

    I do fear that if too many people try this and are not as environmentally cautious as you that would indeed be a bad situation.

    Again, I am sorry for attacking you personally.

    That is OK my friend. I understands your concern, and I agree with you in the Environment issue. Many of these chemicals are "just" concentrated salts witch is found naturally in the nature. Like Natrium Chloride.(NaCl) This is just normal salt used in food. But, like I cant made clear enough : Despite that the quantities of these chemicals are low, It is still hazardous to the enviroment and to yourself.!
    Said that, I am more concerned about other projects in here, that often make use of electronic equipment that contains far more hazardous chemicals and heavy metals..! These components are often sealed to make sure that nobody can come in contact with them.
    I do not want to make a joke about this, but I will also say that all the Bacon and cupcake projects also have a bad effect on the human body..!

    Hello again, and thanks for your answers !!
    I see that you use a 12V battery to process but in some pictures I see a some like a rheostat ( half reed with winding wire ); is this to limit the current in some baths and how to do this part ???
    Thank's in advance

    1 reply

    Hello....!

    The current control is made by a spiralling wire provided in thew kits. This is ok to use, but if you want a more controlled current, you must use a adjustable power supply. I use now a self made thing that uses a series of 12Volt /10 watt halogen bulbs. 10 of them makes about 10 ohms. Same as the provided current controller. I will try to show this in a video soon. Feel free to ask questions :)

    Hello again, and thanks for your answers !!
    I see that you use a 12V battery to process but in some pictures I see a some like a rheostat ( half reed with winding wire ); is this to limit the current in some baths and how to do this part ???
    Thank's in advance