Instructables
There are a few copper electroplating methods on here, but they are either dangerous, provide very low quality results, or cost an arm and a leg.  Your plated object should be a brilliant, shiny red and not blackened and your pocket book shouldn't be hit hard by chemical costs or hospital bills.  

The method I am writing about here is the copper acetate method.  Rather than buying copper acetate pre-made, we will make it ourselves.


I wanted this instructable to be as easy as possible, safe as possible, and as cheap as possible.

Copper plating has a variety of uses.  Aesthetically, it can be used to create a steampunk look on otherwise ill-fitting metals. Anodizing the object after plating can create brilliant, multicolored objects. Electrically, it creates a highly conductive surface for soldering or use in AC circuits (for the skin effect). It is also frequently used to prepare stubborn materials for other platings such as nickel and silver down the road.

If you like this instructable, but want a silvery finish instead of a copper finish, check out my nickel plating instructable!
http://www.instructables.com/id/High-Quality-and-safe-Nickel-Plating/

On another note, I LOVE your questions!  I have noticed that a few folks are asking the same questions, so I've added a "Common Questions" step/slide/section/whatchamacallit at the end of this instructable.  Take a look there to get quick answers to most of the questions you might have. If you have a new one, comment below and I'll be happy to answer it and add it to my step/slide/section/whatchamacallit :D

A quick disclaimer - copper acetate, the chemical we will be making, is poisonous. The title "High Quality (and Safe) Copper Plating" is referring more to the fact that you don't need to play with insanely powerful acids that will burn your skin or ask you to open batteries. In the concentrations we will be working with, the process is fairly safe.  However, do NOT drink the solution and be sure to wash your hands after plating and properly wipe down any surfaces that come near or into contact with your plating solution. Always supervise kids. That said, enjoy!
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
1-40 of 161Next »
ipfeffer4 months ago

This was a lot of fun experiment with, I certainly have the plating technique down and I'm incredibly amazed about the quality of plating it produces!

Had a hell of a good time working on this project with my Mother.

TSJWang9 months ago
Hey, I have a couple containers of old etchant that turned blue from use. Could I just use those to electroplate? This is the etchant.
Thanks, this is awesome! I'm hoping to do this with some aluminum foil so I can solder to it.
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang9 months ago
I wouldn't imagine that the used etchant would make a good electrolyte. The most common etchant used by hobbyists is Ferric Chloride. By using it as an etchant, you may end up contaminating your surface with iron deposits and you may end up creating a lot of chlorine gas. It doesn't hurt to try - just make sure you do this outside a few times and stand up-breeze.

As far as soldering to aluminum foil, you should try using silver solder. It usually has around 6% silver in it which allows it to adhere to just about any metal. I use it frequently when I need to solder a lead to stainless steel.
Hi,
I contacted Kinsten to ask them about the etchant I was using.
"EB-750 etchant is Sodium Persulphate, and it reacts with copper to become Copper Sulphate."

So that verifies that you can use other electrolytes.
I'm going to continue trying this so that I can make PCBs from aluminum foil.
I'm probably going to have to etch aluminum with another chemical first, then electroplate it with nickel or copper (or use silver solder).
Thank you so much for this information!
TSJWang TSJWang7 months ago

Just as a follow up...

I tried this and it failed for my purposes, but maybe it might work for someone else's purposes. Check out the documentation!

http://tsjwang.blogspot.com/2013/12/aluminum-pcb-attempt-1.html

hi, instead of etching, try using conductive pen this can ease your task unless you really want to make complex pcb.
http://www.bareconductive.com/bare-paint-pen
Thanks, subodh1368

My budget isn't that flexible, though... thanks for the input.

TSJWang TSJWang9 months ago
SOLVED
So I'm not sure if it IS copper acetate but I'm pretty sure that it serves the purpose for electroplating!
I moved a decent amount of copper from a coil of wire to some aluminum foil with 15VDC.

The only problem is is that it's not sticking. I'll clean it better next time.
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang9 months ago
There are other electrolytes besides copper acetate that work well. Super kudos for experimenting. To get the copper to stick to the aluminum foil might be a bit tricky. They are very dissimilar metals and don't play nicely. HOWEVER, nickel plays nicely with aluminum and copper plays nicely with nickel. SO, if you nickel plate first, you may be able to get a nice copper plating. Nickel also plays nicely with lead which will allow for easy soldering.

Take a look at this link. Any potentials above +- 0.3V will not play nicely.
Wow, thanks for the information!
I haven't taken chemistry in school yet, so I still have much to learn.
I will try coating the aluminum with nickel then coating it with copper.

And since you say that nickel plays nicely with lead, does that mean that a copper coating will not be necessary for my purposes?
Thanks
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang9 months ago
If you can get a good nickel plating, you should be able to solder to it with no problem. You will likely need to add a bit of flux (besides the rosin in rosin-core), but it should solder pretty easily.

(I still stick to using silver solder for tough metals though. It is a lot easier and more predictable than putting on a plated coating just for soldering. It is a little pricey, but a little goes a long way and there is no mess like with electroplating.)
Wow, thanks for the information!
I haven't taken chemistry in school yet, so I still have much to learn.
I will try coating the aluminum with nickel then coating it with copper.

And since you say that nickel plays nicely with lead, does that mean that a copper coating will not be necessary for my purposes?
Thanks
OLDYANKEE19569 months ago
I DID A PLATING EXPERIMENT IN SCHOOL AND TOOK 3 PLACE IN THE SCIENCE FAIR FOR OUR SCHOOL. GREAT INSTRUCTABLE ! THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES ALMOST 40 YEARS AGO.
A_Steingrube (author)  OLDYANKEE19569 months ago
This is my favorite comment so far :) I'm glad I could help bring back happy memories.
Matt2 Silver9 months ago
Love this Instructable (my brain is churning with the idea of copper plated Leatherman tools :D ) Thanks for the information and I really appreciate that you made it accessible for everyone via your materials. you have my vote ;)
silverbyte9 months ago
FOR SCIENCE!!!
do not use for food or cleaning!!! ;)
love it!
I love this too.
hambo859 months ago
Great job! I've tried several ways to DIY copper plate and this one is the best so far. Thanks!
killbox9 months ago
yeah, found the pads i bought (just said copper) had a steel core. test with a strong magnet first!

I have some copper sulphate mordant, could I just use that to make the electrolyte?

trainermb23 days ago

My first try at making the electrolyte was a mess thanks to my ....ah....thriftiness. Dollar store "copper" scrubbing pads may not be copper. I'm now the proud owner of a gallon of rusty vinegar. Ah, well, now I know to test with a magnet first.

satorarepo24 days ago

Hi Steingrube, thanks for your post. honestly I cant believe I didnt pay attention in chemistry class. I suppose I looked too close at the sender of the information instead at the matter at hand. Now all I do is marvel. Anyway we all grow up, sooner or later. I need to copper plate acrylic surfaces. I thought to use conducting paint and then using your method. Is there any merit in thinking this direction? Cheers from Germany

johngomm made it!1 month ago

6 Volts is pretty aggressive for plating copper and will produce a thick, crumbly coat that comes off easily. 1.5V will do a slow, even plate, or if you are impatient, 3V works well. i have a double AA battery holder that I use with good results.

Here's a picture of one I made using sharpie to stop it plating in some places. I even over-plated the skull with zinc and heated it to make brass, then finished with fine steel wool to bring it up to a shine.

IMG_20140716_154804_085~01.jpg
A_Steingrube (author)  johngomm1 month ago
I appreciate the comment, but I do make mention of why I chose to use the 6V battery and that lower voltages are preferable in various places of the instructable and in the last "step". I have not run into any flaking issues using the 6V provided I never put the electrodes closer than an inch from one another. The further the electrodes are from one another, the greater the resistance between them, and as such the lower the current. It is the low current that leads to preferable results. The 6V battery will give you just as stellar results as lower voltages if used correctly.

Congrats on your results. They look great :)
starrgratt1 month ago

Just curious before I start why is the last jar full of red fluid? does it change color as it is used? or is this some other fluid not described in the text?

A_Steingrube (author)  starrgratt1 month ago
If you read the hover text, it was a misplaced attempt to make a nickel solution. Assuming you do things correctly, you can essentially use the same electrolyte indefinitely.

thanks for the timely reply. I'm new to Instructables and was unaware of hover information. Well with that out of the way I think I will round up all this stuff for next weekends project thank you again.

Gary.

thanks for the timely reply. I'm new to Instructables and was unaware of hover information. Well with that out of the way I think I will round up all this stuff for next weekends project thank you again.

Gary.

Dekosx1 month ago
I'm trying to plate on lead cast bullets but as soon as the bullet goes in the electrolyte it turns very dark after 5 it's black. What am I doing wrong?
A_Steingrube (author)  Dekosx1 month ago
I have four theories:
1) Copper may not stick to lead well. Try a layer of nickel and then copper.
2) You are using way too high of a voltage and/or your electrodes are too close together.
3) Your leads connecting to your battery are backwards.
4) You have just discovered the famous (and very toxic) drink loved and known by the Romans as Sugar of Lead. I.E. The lead may be engaging in a replacement reaction with the copper acetate as well as a reaction with the acetic acid itself to create a lead acetate solution and insanely fine copper particals that appear black on the lead. If you can easily wipe off the black, this is likely the case.

i used 6v from a lantern battery, i was going to try to use lower voltage tonight to see how that worked, using the same setup i was able to plate a quarter i had but it was much much slower, but did get some of the same black plating near where the clip was attached. It almost seems like it is just oxidizing very very fast when adhering to the lead, as after i wiped some of it off there was a small amount of reddish copper in the grooves.

djs_specs2 months ago

While you say you can't electroplate alloys in the comments, is it possible to plate over existing plate? I've got some zinc alloy charms that are supposedly silver plated that I'd love to copper plate.

A_Steingrube (author)  djs_specs2 months ago
You can plate OVER alloys, but not WITH alloys. For example, you can plate over brass which is an alloy of copper and tin. But, you could not plate something with stainless steel which is an alloy of chromium and iron. If you tried to plate WITH an alloy, you would end up with one of the metals plating first in its pure form and then once those particular metal ions are exausted below a reasonable concentration, the second metal would start to plate. This property is used in the electropurification of some metals from an ore or recycled mess. For example, you can dissolve copper ore in hydrochloric acid and then use electric current to pull the copper ions onto a copper electrode to get a 100% (or close to) pure copper ingot.
arduinoversusevil made it!2 months ago

Thanks! Simple and easy way to copper plate prior to gold plating.

53a448159d29c9baeb000460.jpg
townsend12122 months ago

I work in stone. I have buffed stone with both brass and steel brushes. This leaves a nice antique smooth finish. Since the metal adheres to the stone why can't I plate this very thin coating? The results may be very interesting and maybe different. I tried to silver solder to the puffed and fluxed stone but I could not get it to flow. I got the stone red at the site but the solder just beaded up and ran off the surface. Suggestions or just forget it?

A_Steingrube (author)  townsend12122 months ago
You would be better off using copper leaf - you won't get enough, if any, conductivity from a few metal particles from brushing.
Msquared944 months ago
I love this instructable! It is simple and very effective.
I was wondering though, is there any way I can prep a plastic part for metal plating?
I am well aware that for cheap jewelry, they take a plastic piece and then plate it in a variety of metals to get a finished product, but I'm not quite sure what that first step is to get the metal to adhere to the plastic.
aophaug4 months ago

Hi, Just wanted to get your thoughts on bronze plating, I've read your posts thoroughly and see alloyed metals are tough to do but how about Silicon bronze it is 98% copper and the remaining 2% silicon. Do you think this would take at all to making a plating solution? Or if I try it should I look out for anything terrible happening? Thanks very much for all the great information! Adam

A_Steingrube (author)  aophaug4 months ago
Hi Adam,

1) Unfortunately, you cannot electroplate alloys. To start with, the compounds in the electrolyte would have different electropotentials which would lead to uneven distribution levels. An alloy gets its strentgh because you can have a homogeneous distribution of two or more materials - you wouldn't be able to guarantee this distribution of materials. Truth be told, electroplating is often used to purify a metal.

2) Silicon is basically glass. As a result, the you will not be able to get it to dissolve in high enough concentrations in any acid (and most won't even touch it).
cutshopguy9 months ago
This is an absolutely brilliant and VERY useful Instructable. Well done, sir. I've been looking for something like this for ages. I shall now proceed to download your nickle-plating instructable too :)
One question occures. I have a wall wart with a variable output switch capability, ranging from 3V to 12V. I presume I could just use this as my power supply?
1-40 of 161Next »