Picture of simple Copper plating
CAUTION: this instructable involves the dismantlement of old batteries which will expose you to hazardous substances. 
I f you must do this.. follow utmost caution, and wear protective eye gear

A simple rig for electroplating small objects.. like keys, jewelry etc..
Using easily available objects.. except for one chemical which should be available at a chemist/drugstore/hardware shop.

Brief history of when i did this-

Why don't they teach this stuff in school?

My best memory from school was when i was in class 7 or 8 in a school in Shillong(north east India). There was a chemistry assignment that had to be done. The teacher told us to do one of the handful of exercises that were in the textbook. Most of it was ridiculously inane stuff like the "graphite conducts electricity" one.. or the "make your own electric bell" one. Me and a friend decided to do something a bit more challenging..

so we picked the last one - "copper plating".

This was more of a paragraph in the chapter text than an actual exercise.. it just had a bare description of the copper plating process and the chemical reactions involved.

No wonder our teacher was skeptical about it and told us that we would probably flunk if we didn't do one of the more "reliable" exercises(the graphite one and the stupid electric bell)

Anyway dday arrived and after a really long hour during which each kid showed off their ridiculously identical and lame graphite conduction and electric bell projects it was our turn.

unfortunately we had only managed to secure one of the key ingredients(copper sulphate) that very day.. so we hadn't even tested the rig yet! but we didn't tell the teacher that. we confidently set up the rig on the floor next to her desk(i guess she was a bit concerned about the "toxicity" of the shimmering blue compound.

 i dumped a key that i wanted plated, and a volunteer from the audience(we sort of felt like magicians doing a show) gave us some small metal thing(think it was a earring or something) and we flipped the switch.

in a few minutes the metal objects turned a flakey orange-yellow... APPLAUSE!

Why don't they teach this stuff in school?

matroska1 year ago
Do note that not every battery have a carbon rod inside. Only zinc-carbon battery do. They are usually labelled as "Heavy Duty" even though they are terrible batteries.
MartinB411 months ago

I'm using copper sulfate to plate with.I'm following all the prosedures for prepping the metal to be plated and for some reason the copper will not stick.Please help me.

chaitanyak (author)  MartinB411 months ago
Talk to a chemistry teacher!!

If that's not possible..

Try distilled water.. Sometimes hard water makes the process slower

see if bubbles are generated at the electrodes... If not then your batteries are too weak... Switch polarity..see what that does(probably a useless exercise)

I can't think of any other advice to give you on this
PKM5 years ago
I think you'd have better success if you attached the key to the negative electrode- this Wikipedia article explains why. You can actually do without the carbon electrode completely if you just attach the negative electrode wire straight to the key or metal object.  I suspect that your experiment was doing a simple substitution reaction: iron in the key reacts with copper sulphate in solution to give iron sulphate and copper metal. 

Still, kudos for going above the basic level your school expected and actually finding something out for yourselves.  I did a similar thing in my first year- we were meant to measure the amount of carbon dioxide given off by yeast by counting the bubbles, but my friend and I figured this would be more accurate and less boring if we captured the gas in an inverted measuring cylinder and found the actual volume.  

The science teachers listed possible flaws with the experiment, and we gave solutions to them until they just let us do it our way to shut us up :)
alexis_4315 PKM11 months ago

you talk too much.

it's too common.

yea...i think u goto hang whatever u wanted plated to the negative so the copper is attracted the object. at the very least...hang the said object for a good even coat
chaitanyak (author)  HeWantsRevenge5 years ago
hmm, excellent idea actually, thanks :)
I know this is a little late in the game but it's easier to open a battery with a tubing cutter theones used for cutting copper tubing you can cut the top and bottom off and peel the oiutside skin off real easily no hammer required !
chaitanyak (author)  fretted2 years ago
good that helps.. will add it to the instructions.
Arano PKM4 years ago
your suspection is totaly right... it is all about the standard potential of the elements/ions used ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_electrode_potential_%28data_page%29 ) the reaction works without electrodes and there is one similar reaction you really should try out. with this you reaction you can make 'gold' (well it's brass but looks similar) just throw a piece of zinc into the copper sulfate solution. (learned that at school when i was 14 i think)
chaitanyak (author)  PKM5 years ago
thanks for the feedback, truely constructive. will try it without the carbon rod and see how it goes.
johngomm1 year ago

You should have the key attached to the negative electrode, not sitting in the middle. You don't need the carbon electrode, just the metal thing to be plated attached to the negative wire. I recommend alligator clips to attach to the electrodes. The copper solution can be made using your copper electrode and vinegar or lemon juice as your electrolyte liquid - after attaching the batteries, the copper ions will be pulled off the electrode and into solution. when there are enough of them, they will start to plate the key.

You shouldn't put large amounts of copper solutions down the drain - it needs proper chemical disposal. Check with your local university's Environmental Health & Safety dept for how to do this properly. Or you can throw in a wad of steel wool to precipitate the copper back as a solid.

Here's one I made using sharpie to stop it plating in places.


you talk too much.

it's too common.

alexis_431511 months ago

you the best.
i like it.

you spelt "earring" wrong. you spelt it with only one "R". Lol sorry i had to point that out.
And you spelled spelled wrong!!! Nitpicker....
bat159 imajem1 year ago

per merriam webster online dictionary:

Definition of SPELT

chiefly British past and past participle of spell
chaitanyak (author)  silencekilla5 years ago
good spotting :) will change it!
Elektromag1 year ago

Will the lead from a graphite pencil work as a carbon electrode?

Lead from pencil is not as pure as battery carbon rod :)

chaitanyak (author)  Elektromag1 year ago

it might, but will work very slowly.

i found that using a fatter electrode greatly speeds up the process.. hence instead of AA i tried a fat torch battery("C" cell) and it suddenly started happening faster. the larger the electrode the better

chaitanyak (author) 1 year ago
thanks @matroska , have added it to the instructable
chaitanyak (author) 1 year ago
thanks @matroska , have added it to the instructable
Dr.Bill2 years ago
Is this Ionic transfer?
chaitanyak (author)  Dr.Bill2 years ago
yes i believe it is.
chaitanyak (author)  chaitanyak2 years ago
you could use it in your Antique Crank Phone Hack instructable you know :) to create a steampunk look for some of the metal parts
That was more of ah contract job and the lady wanted it as original as possible considering what was being done to it.

I use baking soda in boiling water and an aluminum baking pan to remove tarnish from silverware. Ionic Transfer. All is needed after that is ah light polishing to make 'em beautiful. Takes all the real time work out of the deal.
chaitanyak (author)  Dr.Bill2 years ago
good to know!
Dumchicken4 years ago
does vinegar work?
chaitanyak (author)  Dumchicken4 years ago
no clue, never tried
also well i want to say to every one ho read this


sorry but this is not safe

p.s. use penneys insted they work just as well(with vinegar)
squirting?? otherwise YEP .!!!
chaitanyak (author)  Dumchicken4 years ago
yup i should have mentioned that earlier.. will add the warning now.
.. though have never seen a battery "squirt" anything in all the times i've dismantelled them.. still i guess it could happen. warning duly noted
well if your yousing a hammer to open it...
youper05 years ago
..How does this work with the key just siting in the liquid????
chaitanyak (author)  youper05 years ago
as the electrons transfer from the copper to the carbon electrode, it also latches on to any conductive metals in the liquid.
chaitanyak (author)  chaitanyak4 years ago
would probably work faster if its connected to the carbon rod.. but works fine this way too.
yes-thats the way its done
Nirgal384 years ago
The sort of battery from which you'd get a carbon rod is the old style dry cell, not one of the newer alkaline batteries. The black powder surrounding the rod is manganese dioxide, a useful chemical but it should be handled with caution. It's also messy as all get out so do it outside.

These batteries (actually, they are cells... Batteries are made of several cells in a series) shouldn't contain any liquids to "squirt" into your eyes. Nevertheless, anyone working with chemicals without proper eye protection is asking for trouble.
chaitanyak (author)  Nirgal384 years ago
thanks for that highly informative comment.
i appreciate it.