Introduction: Nickel Plating Copper Without Electricity or Activator

Picture of Nickel Plating Copper Without Electricity or Activator

Copper can be coated with Nickel using electrolysis(electro plating) or by an electroless process(autocatalytic phosphorus nickel), while the electroless process seems to be quite simple and inexpensive, the fact is that there are many metals like copper that are not catalytic to the process and can not be coated without using an expensive palladium chloride activator solution(palladium is quite expensive).

Enter Contact Plating discovered by Henry Bessemer in 1831 (Graham's Electroplating Engineering Handbook) it fell into obscurity shortly after electroplating became practical, but I still believe the process has merits especially for small/medium copper pieces like jewelr.

What is contact plating?

In Contact Plating we place a noble metal(Copper with a positive standard reduction potential) in contact with a more reactive metal like Aluminum(negative standard reduction potential), in an electrolyte solution of the metal we want to deposit, in this case Nickel Chloride, Nickel Chloride reacts with aluminum creating aluminum chloride and nickel metal(2 Al(s) + 3 NiCl2(aq) = 2 AlCl3(aq) + 3 Ni ) and while Copper is kept in contact with aluminum it's temporarily charged with Aluminums negative reduction potential charge and is electrically coated with Nickel.

Standard Reduction Potentials in Aqueous Solution.

Step 1: Equipment and Chemicals Need It

Picture of Equipment and Chemicals Need It

1. Heat source to keep electrolytic solution at 80/90 celsius(I used an electric hot plate).

2. Source of Aluminum container(I used a cast aluminum skillet).

3. Nickel Chloride(Saturated solution, one litter).

4. Safety Gear.

5. Pieces to be coated with Nickel(I cut some Copper piping to simulate Copper articles/Jewelry).

Step 2: Nickel Coating

Just heat the skillet and the Nickel Solution and placed the Copper articles(previously polished and properly cleaned and degreased), move/turn the pieces from time to time so they get coated evenly, about 5 minutes for a thin coat, you can leave it longer for a thicker coat of Nickel.


SHOE0007 made it! (author)2017-09-18

YES, I made it work and give this type of color. First thick aluminum foil sheets 2-3 mm thick are added to a beaker. Then the beaker is boiling in water and 5 g of Nickel chloride 6 hydrate is added to the boiling solution. Stirring is necessary. It is collected the copper after 30-40 minutes and allowed to air dry. Then it I heat with a propane stove to prevent the nickel from coming off.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-07-21

Here the Label for NIckel chloride 6 hydrate. Be very careful with it!!

SHOE0007 (author)2017-07-21

Don't forget Nickel waste too is very toxic and dangerous for the enivorment too.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-07-21

Too ANYONE WHO want to try this. Be aware of Nickel chloride reacting towards aluminum in copper pipes. You need something stronger than aluminum foil Yes I have tried this for aluminum foil and it is too REACTIVE. The aluminum reacts very quickly with the hydrochloric acid in Nickel chloride. Does anyone have ANY SUGGESTIONS of what material besides aluminum foil could be used with Nickel chloride?

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-27

Diluting Phosphoric acid 85.5% with DISTILLED WATER to make a half and half mixture. Concentrated Phosphoric acid if Hot will eat through glass even Pyrex. This type has very low concentration of heavy metals as well.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-27

I am thinking manganese dioxide in 40% Phosphoric acid with steel wool heated to 90-100 degrees C.

You can buy 85.5% Phosphoric acid and Manganese dioxide on e-bay.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-27

Have you tried sodium dichromate with steel and aluminum foil I wonder if that would work? The pH of sodium dichromate is 6.0-6.5 when both chromates and dichromates are in a equilibrium. The low acidity of the sodium dichromate may work to plate steel bars. Normally at 5 g Sodium dichromate per 500 ml tap water in aluminum foil may work. I may try it to see if it works.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-26

You have tried Cobalt Chloride hmmm. I have tried adding very carefully Cobalt chloride or equil salt to it with Lye and hydrogen peroxide. Then I add copper pipes through electroylsis and this coats the copper with the coblat (III) hydroxide. It has been proven to be safe for normal diposal (lot of water washes the lye and it becomes Insoluble).

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-25

Good job here. You should indicate that all Nickel salts especially Nickel chloride salts are class 1A (Proven to cause cancer in Humans). Also I have a question does the aluminum act as a catylist or is this a reversible equalbrium?

nicamarvin (author)SHOE00072017-05-25

That is correct, I forgot about that, I have also tried with Cobalt Chloride, it gives a true chrome appearance, the aluminum works as a power source of sorts, like a electrolytic cell battery, it provides the negative charge(cathode) and the positive charge comes from the nickel electrolyte this will be true for most metal electrolytes like copper, cobalt, nickel and maybe their mixture to form alloy but I have not tested that yet.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-25

Is it possible with this method of creating Cupric nickel alloy with a propane stove 400-800 degrees C?

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-17

I meant Nickel Chloride monohydrate 100 g for 21 dollars.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-17

Hey I checked Nickel Chloride salt on and I got nothing. You may be able to BUY it over the Border but what about the border tax and the fact that it is a dangerous chemical? I bought 100 g Nickel Chloride with water 100% for 21 dollars and Sodium acetate 3 hydrate 100 g for 50 dollars CAN at Prolab Scientific. Much purer and cleaner than what they offer on e-bay, Prolab has a min order of 25 dollars so it was fairly expensive. However in general most of there chemicals at a price are purer. If anybody is from Quebec or Ontario check them out (Not advertisemt) just saying anybody can get chemicals expect Nitric acid or Nitrate salts.

conradrmc (author)2017-05-16

What liquid do you saturate in nickel chloride?

nicamarvin (author)conradrmc2017-05-17

Tap Water and at least 50 mg per litter is need it

conradrmc (author)conradrmc2017-05-16

Also would a 10% solution be sufficient?

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-15

Hi would Nickel(II) sulfate be used instead of Nickel (II) chloride or do you need Nickel (II) chloride?

nicamarvin (author)SHOE00072017-05-15

Nickel Sulfate will have no effect on activating the aluminum base.. Chloride ions from the nickel chloride will and that is why this works.

SHOE0007 (author)nicamarvin2017-05-15

Thank you for the quick reply. It good to know that only Nickel (II) chloride will work for this. Even if it can cost 80 dollars for 30 g 99.98% purity. I know that Nickel electrodes are very SENSITIVE TO ANY CONTAMINATION. Limited sucess but some sucess with electroplating of Nickel.

nicamarvin (author)SHOE00072017-05-16

Nickel Chloride is not that expensive and you dont really need to be that pure 98% and up is enough, here from amazon B00T3OTRNU for about $11 on 100 grams.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-08

Hi If i used a glass beaker and placed in Nickel chloride with aluminum foil with copper pipes with some Hydrochloric acid would this work?? I mean would this plate?

nicamarvin (author)SHOE00072017-05-15

Hydrochloric acid will eat up the aluminum foil so fast it will not allow any good plate.

SHOE0007 (author)2017-05-09

Here what happens if you use normal electroylsis with zinc nickel plate (Positive) and copper pipes for negative at 10-11 volts 1 amp. It coat the alloy to the metal copper!

CharlesE58 (author)2017-04-27

I have an old clarinet of my daughters and plan on making a lamp out of it. I wanted to dress up the plated keys and tabs. Would this work if I don't expect to play it anymore?

nicamarvin (author)CharlesE582017-05-01

Yes, of course, even if you plan on playing again, it may have a different tone but playable.

SHOE0007 made it! (author)2017-04-24

Here a 30 minute exposure to brass to a Nickel 10% concentrated solution in 30% Hydrochloric acid. It turned the brass a silver color. It came from a gold solution.

I also tried taking stainless steel washers which are exposed to Gold-Nickel-copper acid solution and heating tin (solder) until it melts.

nicamarvin (author)SHOE00072017-04-24

Nice thanks for posting your research and results on the old but not forgotten "Contact Plating" method.. much appreciated.

SHOE0007 (author)nicamarvin2017-04-25

Thank you.

This method can be dangerous adding concentrated Hydrochloric acid with tin and nickel salts dissolved in acid from the cellphone. There is a mixture of gold, nickel, copper, etc and tin reacting with stainless steel.

The vapors are done outside with good ventilation even a small amount of gold phone HCl solution is irritating if small amounts get near you. 99% of the vapors goes outside too.

frolen13 (author)2017-04-16

This is fantastic! Will it work on any other metals besides copper?

nicamarvin (author)frolen132017-04-16

Yes, same principle, I have done it on brass, copper, iron, silver and pewter

Pygar (author)2017-04-10

I have a couple of WWI soldier's tins for holding bacon, salt, coffee etc. to keep poison gas out. They're sheet iron or steel, the tin is long gone. What they really need is hot tin dipping but no place local does it, and net places charge fortunes and only want to do kitchen pots. Is there a way to do a process like yours? How would I strip the gray metal down to plate-able metal- acid, maybe?

nicamarvin (author)Pygar2017-04-13

Yes, you can tin plate using the contact plating process, you may want to check my tin plating instructable using the same process

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