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Picture of High Quality (and Safe) Nickel Plating
Just like my very popular copper plating instructable, the aim of this is to do high quality, low cost, and safe electroplating.  We will also be making our own electrolyte from scratch instead of buying chemicals online.

If you've looked at my copper plating instructable, note that the process here is different. The nickel will not dissolve very well if at all in the vinegar without special help and adding hydrogen peroxide will destroy your electrolyte.

Nickel plating can be used for a variety of different things.
- It creates a corrosion resistant coating that will protect the base metal from oxidizing and rusting. It is frequently used in food processing to prevent contamination with iron.
- It can increase the hardness and thus the durability of mechanical parts and tools.
- It can allow you to solder to difficult metals.
- It can create a variety of beautiful decorative finishes that range from a chrome-like gleam, to brushed stainless steel color, to a metallic black. It just so happens that black nickel plating is used frequently in aerospace applications
- In thicker platings, it can make the object magnetic.


Note that to get different finishes and properties, you may need to add other chemicals and metals to your plating solution (see the Post Prep stage).  These chemicals will change the way the atoms arrange themselves and/or add other metals to your plating.  If you are looking for corrosion-resistance, do not add any other chemicals to your electrolyte as they may cause the end plating to stain or tarnish.

For a copper plated finish, be sure to check out my copper plating instructable :)
http://www.instructables.com/id/High-Quality-Copper-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 - nickel acetate, the chemical we will be making, is poisonous. The title "High Quality (and Safe) Nickel 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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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
Nearly all of the supplies can be found at your local supermarket.  Finding a pure source of nickel is a little trickier, but should not cost more than a couple dollars. To keep from draining your battery in later steps, I very highly suggest finding an AC/DC power supply around the house.

Materials you can find at your local supermarket:
>Distilled Vinegar - 5% acidity or higher  (grocery)
>Salt  (grocery)
>Mason jar (canning)
>6V Lantern Battery (camping)
>Alligator Leads (electrical)
>Nitrile gloves (pharmacy or DIY)
>Paper towels (paper products)
>Cameo Stainless Steel and Aluminum Cleaner (cleaning supplies)

Materials you will likely need to buy online, at a good hardware/welding supply store, or a music shop.
Pure Nickel - You can get this a few different ways. I bought my nickel in the form of two 4oz plates on eBay for ~$5.  A good hardware store should carry nickel welding rods. Most music shops will carry Ernie Ball "Pure Nickel" guitar strings.

You can also try to remove the nickel windings from old guitar strings if you are strapped for cash. It takes a bit of time, wire cutters, and pliers, but it can be done. Note that most nickel-wound strings contain a steel core that will pollute your electrolyte later on (Ernie Ball "Pure Nickel" strings should be pure nickel).

You can also try to use solid nickel door knobs and the like.  I would warn you to be careful when trying this because a good chunk of "nickel" decorative items are plated themselves.

Optional, but highly recommended materials (also at the supermarket or a local electronics store):
A higher voltage, DC power supply - I am using an old 13.5V laptop charger. You can use "wall warts" (the ugly black AC/DC power supplies that come with some consumer electronics) or an old ATX (computer) power supply. Just make sure that it does in fact output DC.
A fuse holder
A fuse that is rated slightly less than the max current rating on your power supply.

Step 2: Preparing Your DC Power Supply (Optional)

Picture of Preparing Your DC Power Supply (Optional)
In the next step, we will make our electrolyte. In order to do this, we will need a significant amount of electricity.  Instead of wasting a moderately expensive batteries, it is much cheaper to use an old wall wart, laptop charger, or computer supply (assuming they aren't already being used).

My version is rather crude, but effective. You could (and probably should) make a little project box with a DC barrel jack, internal fuse, and two terminals poking out to clip the alligator leads to.

Wall Warts (the ugly black things that come with some electronics)
Cut the barrel jack off of the end of your DC power supply.  Pull the two wires apart and cut one of the wires two or three inches shorter than the other - this will help prevent you from accidentally shorting wires together later. Strip about a quarter inch from each wire.  Solder in your fuse holder and pop in the fuse! You are done! (see polarity notes below).

Laptop Charger
Cut the barrel jack off of the end of the DC power supply.  Use a razor blade with light pressure to remove the outer jacket - you do not want to cut through to the inner core. Most chargers will have one insulated wire that is wrapped in many other bare copper wires.  Twist the bare copper wires together to form a single wire.  This should be your negative. Solder your fuse holder here.  Strip about a quarter inch from the insulated wire and tie it back with a zip tie or electrical tape so it cannot short with your bare wire.  Pop in a fuse. You are done! (see polarity notes below)

ATX/Computer Power Supply
These are a tad bit more complicated to turn into a useable benchtop power supply.  Google or search here on instructables for "DIY benchtop power supply" or "ATX benchtop power supply". You should find a few different tutorials that will explain everything well :)

Lab Benchtop Power Supply
If you are super fancy and have the money, a standard adjustable power supply (which is what you would find in a lab) will work just as well.  Just make sure you set aside your banana plugs for electroplating only.

Notes on Polarity
You will need to know which wire is positive, and which side is negative.  If you are a pro with a multimeter, this should be pretty easy.  If you don't know how to use a multimeter or don't have one, you can do this:  Mix a pinch of salt into a little bit of water in your jar.  Connect one alligator lead to the fuse and drop it into the water. Connect the other alligator lead to the non-fused wire and drop that in the water.  The alligator lead that starts to bubble like mad is your negative.


Step 3: Make Your Electrolyte

Picture of Make Your Electrolyte
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Photo Nov 02, 7 57 54 AM.jpg
It is definitely possible to buy different nickel salts online, but what is the fun in that? Here, I'll show you to make your own nickel acetate solution for a lot cheaper than buying chemicals online.

Fill your mason jar with distilled vinegar leaving about an inch from the top. Dissolve a pinch or so of salt into the vinegar.  The amount of salt is not all that important as long as you don't go crazy with it. The purpose of the salt is to increase the electrical conductivity of the vinegar. The more current that flows through it, the faster we can dissolve the nickel. However, too much current will lead to poor plating results.  Use sparingly.

Unlike in the copper plating instructable I've done, the nickel will not dissolve into the solution just by letting it sit for a while.  We need to electro-dissolve the nickel.

Place two pieces of pure nickel into the vinegar and salt solution such that part of both stick out and into the air and that they don't touch.  Clip one alligator lead to one piece of nickel and then to the positive terminal of the battery or the DC power supply we made in the last step.  Clip the other alligator lead to the other piece of nickel and to the negative lead of your battery or DC power supply. Make sure that the alligator clips don't touch the vinegar as they will dissolve as well and ruin your chemical.  

The nickel source connected to the negative lead should start to create hydrogen bubbles and the positive lead should make oxygen bubbles.  Truth be told, a very minute amount of chlorine gas (from the salt which is sodium chloride) will also form on the positive lead, but unless you put in huge amount of salt or are using a lot of voltage, the chlorine will just dissolve into the water like what you find in a swimming pool. The minute amounts excess sodium, in case you are wondering, will react with the water to create sodium hydroxide.

For this step, I very highly suggest using a DC power supply that plugs into the wall (see the previous step).  Dissolving the nickel will take a while and you don't want to drain your battery more than you need to - DC power supplies are reusable, most batteries are not.

After a little while (mine took about two hours), you'll notice the solution has turned a light green.  This is nickel acetate. If you get blues, reds, yellows, or any other color, it means that your nickel source wasn't pure. You also should also get a clear (though green) solution - if it was cloudy, your have an impure nickel source. The solution and nickel sources may become warm during this process - this is normal. If they get hot to the touch, you should disconnect your circuit, let it cool for an hour, and then reconnect it (repeat as necessary). It is possible that you added too much salt, which increases the current, which increases the power dissipated as heat.

Step 4: Preparing Your Object to be Plated

Picture of Preparing Your Object to be Plated
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NOTE: Some materials, such as stainless steel, will not accept direct nickel plating. You will need to copper plate them first. See my copper plating instructable to learn how to copper plate: http://www.instructables.com/id/High-Quality-Copper-Plating/

The above being said, the cleaner your conductive object, the better it will plate.  You don't want any grease, oxidation (rust, tarnish, patina, ect), or general grime on your surface.  Even if your surface looks good, you should clean it anyways.

Remove general grime and dirt with a little bit of dish soap and elbow grease.  

Remove the oxidation and tougher grime with an acid-based abrasive such as Cameo. Don nitritle gloves and just mix the powder with a few drops of water on your glove and go to town!

You can further clean your object by reverse electroplating (ie "electrocleaning") it for a few seconds.  Hook your object up to a negative voltage, a wire to the positive voltage, and drop them both in a vinegar salt solution for 10-30 seconds.  This will remove any left over oxidation.

For larger surfaces, try scrubbing them with fine steel wool and vinegar.

Step 5: Time to Electroplate!

Picture of Time to Electroplate!
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For this step, you want to use your 6V battery.  Even lower voltages (down to around 1V) will give you a better, shinier, smoother finish.  You can use a higher voltage DC power supply for electroplating, but you won't get good results.

Place a nickel source into your green nickel acetate solution and connect it to the positive lead of your battery with an alligator clip.  Clip the other alligator clip to the object to be plated and connect it to the negative lead of your battery.

Drop the object to be plated into the solution and wait for around 30 seconds.  Take it out, rotate 180 degrees, and drop it back into the solution for another 30 seconds. Repeat as necessary. You should move the alligator clip a new location after a couple dips so that the entire surface gets plated.  Unlike in copper plating, the alligator clip shouldn't leave "burn" marks.

The object being plated should bubble.  There should be enough bubbles being created that you won't need to agitate or swirl your object in the electroplating solution. For larger objects and containers, you may want to include a small aquarium pump (~$15) to circulate the solution.

Step 6: Post Prep

Picture of Post Prep
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Now for post prep....Generally speaking, NONE!  Nickel doesn't oxidize at room temperature and shouldn't tarnish.  You can polish your end product with a light polish to get a bright gleam.

If your nickel plating is not as shiny as you'd like, polish it up with a light polish that doesn't leave waxes or oils behind, and then electroplate it again.

Adding small amounts of other metals such as tin during the initial electroplating will change the color of the plating (tin will give you a white colored metal like silver).  Many metals can be electrically dissolved into vinegar just like nickel.  The two main metals that cannot be electrically dissolved into vinegar are gold and silver (trust me, I've tried).  Since I had some copper plating solution left, I mixed in a little bit of it with my nickel plating solution.  The result is a matte, dark grey, very hard finish that feels like a chalk board (it squeaks like one too if you scratch it <evil laugh>). See the picture.

Unless you are an experienced chemist or have a friend who is, I would be very careful when adding random chemicals to your electroplating bath - you may just end up creating some toxic gas that isn't good for you, kids, or fido.

Step 7: Common Questions

Picture of Common Questions
Can I plate [insert your metal here] with nickel?
It depends.  Certain metals play nice together, others do not.  The ones that do not are called "dissimilar metals".  In the picture, you'll find a table I borrowed from RFI.  The table is designed to let you know when a galvanic reaction might occur causing corrosion.  For our purposes, it also tells us which metals are compatible and which are not.  The lower the magnitude of the number (aka the absolute value), the more compatible (ie similar) the metals will be.  If you are trying to plate a metal that is not compatible, you may need to plate with copper or another metal first.  You can find my copper plating instructable here: http://www.instructables.com/id/High-Quality-Copper-Plating/

How do I plate non-conductive objects?
First, you need to make them conductive.  You can do this with conductive paints, conductive glues, and even metal leaf (think gold leaf) as long as whatever you are coating your surface with is not water soluble. I haven't experimented much with this myself which means you will have to.  Send me a message with your results and I'll post them here for others to reference.

How much voltage/current do I need?
As little as possible.  The lower the voltage and current, the better results you will get.  You need a minimum of 0.5V DC to plate with copper. A C or D cell battery will give you pretty decent results.  If you don't have access to lower voltages, you can put the electrolyte into a big container and move your electrodes as far away from another as you can - the increase in distance will also increase the resistance of the circuit and decrease the current.

Can I use other acids other than acetic acid (vinegar)?
Yes.....but be careful...  This instructable was written for average Joes and Jolenes, not chemists.  Other acids can be significantly dangerous as well as release some very nasty, very toxic chemicals into the air. Unless you are an experience chemist (ie you have an actual degree, not just AP Chem in high school or Chem 111 in college), I would not recommend playing with other chemicals.

Is plating coins illegal?
The first thing I want to point out is that I'm only using coins because they are everywhere and cheap by definition. The copper and nickel content make them ideal for small experiments. This isn't a "how to plate coins" instructable, they are just handy and recognizable. For those of you who took high school chem lab, you probably used quarters, dimes, and pennies for a couple different classroom experiments.

As far as the legality of plating coins, to my understanding, it is legal as long as you 1) Aren't removing metal from the coins with intent to sell that metal, 2) Are not trying to pass them as something they are not (ie a copper plated dime is worth 10 cents, nothing more), and 3) Aren't defacing the coins for malicious intent. As a personal disclaimer, this is MY understanding - take it with a grain of salt.  If this is incorrect, I would welcome a friendly email or message from the US Treasury or other qualified persons.

Can I plate Aluminum?
I would avoid it.  Aluminum is just one of those metals that don't plate well.  If you are looking for a corrosion-resistant finish, you can anodize the aluminum to create a clear oxide layer that is extremely corrosion resistant. If you are looking for a colored finish, you can get dyes that absorb into the oxide layer and stain it whatever color you want (this is actually what Apple and other companies do to make different colored iPods).
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Thanks for posting,,, for those persons looking for low cost power supply's the "wall wart" ( love that term) transformers are readily available at virtually all second hand stores, usually in a balled up mess, the phone chargers have a pretty clean current and it's well regulated.
A_Steingrube (author)  longwinters1 year ago
One note to this - the larger the voltage (to a degree), the faster you can dissolve your nickel. I would recommend somewhere between 10 and 15 volts. The output voltage should be listed on the power supply (ie wall wart).

If you want to use your DC power supply for plating, look for lower voltages (the phone chargers would work great for this).
A_Steingrube (author)  A_Steingrube1 year ago
I'm not entirely sure how this comment made its way here....I usually respond to comments using the comments tab on my "You" page....
ok ppeople 4 those who want thier metals try this company out. http://www.mcmaster.com/# . they should have every thing u may want / need . or dont want / need
I like the "For Science!" label on the vinegar :-D
When dissolving nickel to make the acetate solution, is there such a thing as a saturation point when no more nickel will dissolve and you are ready to plate? How deep of a green color albeit clear should one try to achieve to have a bright nickel plate?
Thanks,
Jim B.
RobertR321 month ago
I am about to begin this process, i bought a set of Cast Iron Nickel 99 welding electrodes. Is it ok to use these to make the electrolyte?
Tysci1 month ago
Is it possible to use electrolyte method with copper?
DannyS7 made it!1 month 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
DavidH471 month ago

For a piece of jewelry, I'd like to etch a copper plate using a photoresist, then electroplate with nickel before removing the resist (I've done this much already, following your tutorial). I was hoping to apply a blue patina to the copper (not affecting the nickel), but have discovered that blue copper patinas are extremely tricky and unpredictable. So my next thought is to anodize, but for that I think I would have to first plate the copper with zinc. Would zinc plate onto the nickel as well?

WalterL41 month ago
jeandr3 months ago

I am sure going to try this, my question is: can ordinary nickel coins be used as a source of nickel?

American nickels have only a small amout of nickel in them. Canadian nickels are also not pure enough to use.

Thanks, I tried the whole setup and it works great. I got a couple of nickel "lumps" for free from a local chrome plating shop. I plated a few small steel pieces on a motorcycle I am rebuilding. The plated pieces look good, not as shiny as cadmium plate but much better than raw steel, I would say the look is closer to stainless steel.

Great article. I want to nickel plate a thin peice of steel - I realize I will have to copper plate it first. I want a mirror smooth finish. My question is: Do I need to polish the steel to a mirror smooth surface, or can I buff it out once the final nickel plating is done? The steel has a mild, smooth and shiny finish right now. Thank you

John L.

What cain of containers can I use for a bigger project
DeeDublyu4 months ago

I saw in the "Nickel Electroplating Wiki" that Zn added to a Watts solution will add to the brightness of the deposited nickel layer. Can you produce Zn acetate in a similar fashion as you did for Nickel acetate to then add a pinch of Zn Acetate to the Nickel electrolysis solution?

auAlan5 months ago

I have made a couple of batches of nickel acetate that start off green however after a short period they change to a black/green shade! I think that I have found the cause; my nickel anodes & cathodes are suspended on stainless steel wire and the stainless steel wire is in the vinegar & salt mixture which is attacking the stainless steel wire, so much so that after a couple of hours at say 10VDC & >2amps the wire gives way at the surface of the liquid and the nickel anodes fall in. Funny thing is I can still nickel plate with the brew although the surface is a little dull but comes up fair with a polish. When do you actually decide that the nickel acetate is ready or green enough to stop the process?

dtpit5 months ago
is nickel plating is toxic ?
if I plating it on my copper bracelet will it harms me
mark.muusse5 months ago

Can you tell me how to plate drum hardware that was chrome plated in black nickel? Is that even possible?

JonathanM126 months ago

Hello sir, I am wanting to plate something kind of unusual, I want to nickle plate some Rifle Brass, id be using some that have never been fired and am trying to think how could i do it far them, i cant figure out how to hook them up for the process, any advice? or could you help me figure out and plan say a larger setup with a battery warmer? i have one that has a 2 Amp and another higher setting and a engine 75 Amp setting

drew.darrough6 months ago

How can you create a matte or brushed finish on nickel?

A_Steingrube (author)  drew.darrough6 months ago
To get brushed nickel, you brush it with a wire brush.
praveenraaj7 months ago
Can plate it with nickel sulfate , which one will have better coating. We are doing a mini project on electroplating of nickel on mild steel. What can do for high quality coating(pre treatment procedures)
Waiting for your answer , thanks in advance
A_Steingrube (author)  praveenraaj7 months ago
​I don't know if nickel sulfate will work or not. You'll have to try it and find out. The main requirement is simply that it dissolves in water. Unfortunately, I am an electrical engineer and not a chemist. I figured this instructable out by a lot of trial and error and a bit of research.

As far as the quality of the finish, I would think they would be the same. All you are doing is stripping the metal ion from the chemical salt and attaching it to a metal object. Where that ion comes from shouldn't matter unless the byproducts of stripping off that metal ion are highly corrosive.

As far as pretreatment, I cover that in my instructable.
I tried both the copper and the nickel homemade solutions. The copper plating only came out so-so but the nickel plating came out fantastic. So my conclusion is that copper plating is a little more difficult.
dawknick8 months ago

You list that you plated at 6 volts but how many amps did you use?

lanthanoi8 months ago

I know this may sound crazy, but what if a person wanted to put an inexpensive metal coating over an expensive metal. For example, nickel/copper over gold? Would this process work for gold as the base metal? Then how would one best remove that plating later with the least loss of the base metal?

Ok, now that I've studied the chart at the end, I understand it can be done, but there is a risk of corrosion due to Galvanic effect. So, let's skip to the second part... you said that gold is not affected by vinegar so is it possible to simply dissolve the nickle (or copper, or combination) off the gold with a vinegar bath?

nr0x8 months ago
Im grateful for this and your other plating lesson. This is something im juat getting into, and ive been struggling. But I wonder if you can help me. I need to plate aluminum qith sometuing I can solder to, and I havent had any luck with the methods you have provided. I know you said that aluminum just doesnt plate very well. Is there something to make it easier? Again, thank you for your lessons on here.
xchcui1 year ago

I made the nickel plating on a copper object with nice results,i gived a good polish between the electroplating and now it is pretty shine.I used 99.7% battery weld strip for making the electrolyte.the solution turns light green but with alot of dark particles on the bottom.Before i dipped the object into the electrolye i made electro cleaning with a fresh vinegar+salt solution(as you recommended)while i connected my object to the positive voltage-12v.(and to the negative i connected the nickel strip)i did it for 30 seconds.The copper object turn white-grey.

In your article(step 4)you wrote to connect the object to be cleaning on the negative voltage so it make me confused.shouldn't it be write to be connected to the positive voltage?As you explained that the object should be dissolved a bit.and i understand that it should happens at the positive voltage?

And was it ok. to make the electro-cleaning on 12v or it should be on 6v?

Hi, I made my solution using Canadian 5 cent coins 99.9%, I had very small particles in the bottom as well, I got them out using a Magnet on the out side of the Jar as the were magnetic, just collected them all up ,pulled them up the side of the glass jar and onto the magnet, Now its 100% clear.

xchcui splodgie9 months ago

The little black particles were not magnetic,so i could not collect them out of the jar.It might be,as palombo5050 said,carbon particles from the nickel strip?

Anyway,it didn't disturb to the process.

splodgie xchcui9 months ago

Hi, When using the 99.9% % cent coins I do NOT get any problems in removing the little black particles as the are all 100% magnetic, I ordered some 99.9% Pure Nickel strips of EBay for Nickel plating and they give me the same problem as you have, in the particles NOT being magnetic, it's because they are NOT 99.9 pure as they claimed.

The little black particles is the carbon added to the metal for strength.

lxrubin9 months ago

I found some 99.96% 0.1x4x100mm nickel plates on ebay. Are these pure enough? thick enough?

fupersly9 months ago

Hi Thank you so much for the tutorials. They are really excellent and clear. I have one question: Durability of the finish. You indicated that you could rub it off easily. I often see an old door knob or faucet handle slowly loose it's plating over time but it can take a few years. Assuming you do everything correctly, will the strength of the finish be as durable? If not are there parameters to the setup you can tweak to get a tougher finish?

Thanks!

nutley9 months ago

I just plated a bit of steel. I notice that there are tiny spots in the plating that look like shadows of where bubbles formed. Will I be able to buff these out?

digitaus10 months ago

Hi A_Steingrube, Firstly, thank you for this instructable. I did notice a jewellery item in there that had been plated... just wanted to point out to people that Nickel is rarely used in jewellery as there are so many people who are allergic to it, and where it is against the skin it can do some gruesome things. That being said, what I would like to try is partially plating copper with tin or pewter. Besides the problem of the "partial" which I will have to experiment with tape or blue-tak or paint etc, will tin electroplate with this system? Tin adheres to copper quite easily but can it be used as the sacrificial metal?

My wife and I make mixed metal jewellery and when it comes to copper, it looks great but blackens or greens the skin, I am truing to find a way around that.

Anyone? anyone?...

anw165211 months ago

I made a power supply using the L200C variable voltage/current chip. There is a datasheet & a design guide, but you probably need a bit of electronics expertise. I needed a 3-channel variable power supply w/ current limit anyway for some other electronics projects, but I'm easily distracted, and the idea came from ferrous metal restoration at this link:

http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/andyspatch/rust.htm

At this link, the author uses a set of fixed amperages with a switch over a resistance network, but if you look at the L200C data sheet, you'll find a app circuit that implements variable voltage and current with pots. I replicated the datasheet circuit in parallel on a single card so I have three independently adjustable voltage/ current sources.

I have it set up right now doing steel de-rusting (per the above link, and that's working very well), and have both a volt meter & ammeter in the circuit. As soon as that's done, I'm going to nickel plate, as a strike on the steel, then copper plate over that.

Note that with a bit of chemistry, you can compute the required amperage for a given plating rate and run it for an appropriate time to get the thickness you want. I'm going to try to put something like a .5 mil plate of nickel, then try a few copper thicknesses over that.

If there's any interest (I think there were a couple of
questions in this regard), I can post voltage/ current values and the
results.

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