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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!
 
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TSJWang1 year 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.
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.
They said in the main instructable that aluminum won't plate well
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang1 year 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)  TSJWang1 year 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
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang1 year 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!

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

Kenom TSJWang6 months ago

you can purchase copper foil. :D

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.

ipfeffer1 year 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.

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)  OLDYANKEE19561 year ago
This is my favorite comment so far :) I'm glad I could help bring back happy memories.
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 ;)
silverbyte1 year ago
FOR SCIENCE!!!
do not use for food or cleaning!!! ;)
love it!
I love this too.
hambo851 year ago
Great job! I've tried several ways to DIY copper plate and this one is the best so far. Thanks!
killbox1 year ago
yeah, found the pads i bought (just said copper) had a steel core. test with a strong magnet first!

Thank you so much for these instructions! I am new to this website and grateful to have found it. I am a jewelry artist and instead of using commercial acid "pickles" used to remove fire scale after soldering silver and copper, I make my own using a saturated solution of white vinegar and salt. The pickle will turn a beautiful aqua green after awhile which, I'm assuming, is the oxidized copper coming off the sterling silver. Is this copper saturated solution of any use in this process? I am also interested in "electroforming" which involves coating a non conductive material (stone, for example) with a type of conductive paint to make the copper stick to the material. This stuff is VERY expensive and I am looking for an alternative. I do have various sizes and thicknesses of copper foil tape for stained glass style projects that I would love to try with your technique but I don't know if the adhesive will interfere with the process. I have included an example of what I'm wanting to do and thank you in advance for any reply and help. Kelly

il_570xN.768281296_8953[1].jpgil_570xN.775712432_10fs[1].jpg
Kelly, I use a graphite spray (which is expensive, as you were saying), and the only downside is that it comes out a bit rough. it also doesn't seal the piece very well, so depending what you are plating, you might want to spray a primer or sealer of some kind.
I don't have any good photos to share at this time, but works fine on clay!
Experiment71 month ago

I have experimented with copper plating using copper sulfate instead of copper acetate. My results appear similar.

arikii1 year ago
minor correction: 6v lantern batteries do NOT contain AA batteries in any configuration. They actually contain 4x 1.5v F-cell batteries in series. (F-cells are similar to D-cells but longer.) Being larger cells, they provide the 6v with a much higher total current capacity.

Some 6v lantern batteries do include AA sized cells inside. I have seen photos of some 6v batteries torn apart.

epson8002 months ago

Hi, i wanted to know if anyone knew how to do tin-zinc plating?

Ive tried to use this copper guide, and i replaced it with just tin for starting out.

when i get to the point of plating, i used a copper wire, i skipped the chemical suggested for cleaning, but i used soap instead. At any rate, all that happened was the positive side bubbled(tin solder 95/5), and the negative (wire) did nothing except at the water line was a small deposit of green color on the wire which im guessing was copper that oxidized.

So then i looked at a few other guides and seen where someone started out with 2 pieces of metal of the same kind to create the electrolyte, so i did that with tin on each lead, that time the "positive" side developed white crystles on it which doesn't make sense as that should have happened on the negative side i thought or even just on the bottom of the jar? Anyone think something is off for it to be happening on the positive side?

Any idea's on getting this to work? assuming i can get the tin working, my end plan was to 'split' the positive lead into 2 leads, and have tin on one lead, and zinc on the other, to 'tin-zinc' metal parts for corrosion resistance like nuts and bolts ect. I would adjust the size of them to change the percentage that went to plate at least in theory. As i heard tin-zinc was mostly tin, so i would make that piece much larger.

epson8002 months ago
wuj122 months ago

Question: When heating the solution is there a chance of releasing a harmful gas?

Hi, I really like your work, especially that you figured out how to do this with easy to acquire materials. I have a couple questions for you, since you said you like questions :P I want to do this with 3d printed models made up by a variety of plastics such as ABS,PLA,Nylon,TPE and others, I understand that I can paint these materials with a mixture of acetone and conductive graphite powder, and then I can electroplate with various chems, I'm not clear which chems are best. I wanted to check with you if a graphite coated plastic will work with the chemicals you listed above?

DannyS7 made it!2 months ago

This was an excellent article. I found the steps easy to follow and I love the confused look on faces when I show my nickel plated penny and copper plated quarter!

Coins.jpg
Dr The BoB made it!2 months ago

Thanks for the instructable, Amigo!
You made it so easy even I couldn't mess it up! :)
(I didn't have any copper wool, so I used some scrap copper pipe I had tucked away, and it worked like a charm)


DtB

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MechGuyver8 months ago

My first attempt at this did not work. I noticed that my electrolyte did not turn out as blue as shown in the pictures. I took a closer look at the package my copper scrubbers came in and it turns out that they are only copper coated. They stick to a magnet so I am thinking they are steel with a thin electroplating. I assume that this is the reason for my lack of success on the first try. I will have to find some pure copper pads or just use something else.

Thank you so much for posting this, MechGuyver!
You have earned yourself a hi-5, my friend, as you just saved me from a headache.
(The scrubbers I picked up this morning failed the magnet test.)

Cheers, Amigo!
DtB

felixphew3 months ago

Hey, I am trying to make some chrome-plated brass pipe-fittings more steampunk-y (shiny silver isn't the best look). Brass would be fine, but dissolving the chrome plate with acids, bleach, reverse electroplating etc. would produce some very nasty by-products, including hexavalent chromium which is carcinogenic. So as a second plan, would it be possible to plate copper on top of the chrome, using these instructions?

nverba made it!3 months ago

Tried this on a Chrome Batman belt buckle. Worked out quite well.

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BartR4 months ago

warning to other would be doers, scotch brite is just copper coated on steal. Ruined 2 batches. :-(

Thanks for the post.

Trooper5557 months ago

I know its an odd question but i have a cast Aluminium staff my friend made with lost foam casting and i wanted to plate it in copper. I know it would take a lot of matirial but do you think it can be done?

Trooper, I find that the best source for copper is wiring scraps. I keep a plastic 3 gallon water bottle with my solution in it and just feed it more scrap when it gets pale. you don't have to heat the solution.
nro.slm GPa Rich4 months ago

I was thinking of using copper bbs, they're small and round providing a good bit of surface area. Although I'm actually using some fairly heavy gauge bare copper from Home Depot. Think it's used in welding or something, works pretty well so far.

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