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Electro-former- Need plans for building an electro-former. Had 1 in tackle box / plastic garbage can for vat years ago. Answered

I need plans to build a new electro-former. Built 1 years ago as a BFA student at N.I.U. It was so cool. The main unit and rheostat  were in a plastic tackle box and a plastic garbage can was the vat. This was used for heavy plating over sculpted wax. Unfourtanly, it had corroded while in storage. and I had to throw it out. I will be using it to add to me jewelry line. I can also provide step - by - step tutorial to post on this sight. Oh, this is used outside under a covered building.. no need to worry about a scavenger for fumes.                                                            Thanks for your help and ideas!      


Electroforming picture by MaggieJs


There seem to be two schools of thought here, regarding current control.

Joe and Rick seem to be saying, just hook your cell up to a battery or battery charger, and somehow the current is going to "self regulate".

Iceng says current control is "crucial".  Also in the Iris Seed Pod 'ible, in Step 13,
the author suggests keeping voltage and current levels at less than 1 volt and 1 ampere respectively (for an object the size of an iris seed pod).  Notice from the picture, MaggieJs has a nice lab type power supply, with little knobs for to set voltage and current limits.  Presumably, the way by which she is limiting the voltage and current, is by  turning those little knobs .

Also you mentioned that your old electroforming setup included a "rheostat", and presumably that's how you were controlling the current through your electroforming cell, back in '85.  You did not mention if your setup included any meters; i.e an ammeter, or a voltmeter, or both. 

BTW, I have never electroformed anything in my life, not intentionally.  Although I have done a lot other homebrew electrochemistry.

Regarding the control-vs-no-control debate (more-control-vs-less-control), I am going to humbly suggest that some form of current control is a good idea.

If you happen to own one of those nice lab type power supplies,(the ones with digital displays for both voltage and current, and with adjustable set points for both current and voltage limiting)
e.g. like this one:
then you've already got your measurement and your control in one easy package.  I suggest setting it for constant current; i.e set the current limit where you want it, and set the voltage limit much,much higher, and the little "CC" indicator LED turns on, telling you it is regulating in "(C)onstant (C)urrent" mode.

Assuming you do NOT happen to own a nice lab type power supply,and you instead want to build this thing from junk you (probably) already have or can find cheaply, then I suggest you start with the meters.  If you've got two cheap multimeters, like the ubiquitous HarborFreight(r) variety,
then you can put the first one in parallel with the cell, to measure the voltage across it.  The other one you wire, using the plug for to use it as an ammeter, in series with the cell, to measure the current through it.

That way you know how much current is flowing through the cell, and thus how fast metal is being deposited, which is what you are trying to control.

Knowing is half the battle.

An old-school  rheostat (essentially a variable resistor) is not a bad idea for a quick and dirty way to do the current limiting, although I think  a suitable "real" rehoeostat, e.g. the wirewound kind, is going to be not so easy to find.   However since you are already messing around with electrolysis, you could maybe just make a rheostat from another electrochemical cell.  The way that works is you adjust the resistance of the cell by adjusting the distance separating the two electrodes. More distance between the electrodes gives more electrical resistance (and less current).  Less distance gives less resistance (and allows more current to flow).

What I am thinking is that you could build a second cell, wired in series with the cell that has your work piece in it.  The only function of this cell is to act as a rheostat, by way of you moving its electrodes apart or closer together.  While doing this you watch the reading on the ammeter, to adjust it to the current you want.

The power supply itself can be probably any kind of DC wall wart, or black brick type DC adapter, with a rated voltage of maybe 5 or 12 VDC.  That's a guess based the numbers from Maggie's Seed Pod 'ible, and assuming you're going to be using the meter and makeshift cell-rheostat to limit the current to a value around 1 ampere, that's for a little jewelry bobble-sized thing.  For to plate some thing with proportionally larger surface area, I assume you would want proportionally more current, since the rate of depositing metal is proportional to current, but for  little jewelry sized things a current around 1 A will be sufficient. 

Note that the current rating, printed  on the side of, those wall warts and power bricks, is a rating for the maximum current it can comfortably produce.  The actual current is determined by the character of the load, in this case, determined largely by the setting of your rheostat.

:-) A 9 volt pp3 battery won`t push an amp through the electrolyte you can adjust the speed of reaction by moving the electrodes furthet apart.

A pro system has god controle of current and voltsge -at a price

The times I have done this I used a battery charger stainless wire pocket change a Tupperware tub and etchant for my electrolyte.

The battery charger sees the Electro-former as a battery and self regulates.


Thank you for the information. Any particular type of charger? When mine was working, it would take anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks for my projects to complete.


I used a 6 and 12 volt mastercraft with boost capability (High Current)


There isn't much complicated - This picture of the set up comes from Wikipedia electroforming -


You only need low voltages, 9 to 12 volts - You get a better coating with a slow build up than you do fast.

Most organic or non-metalic things are copper coated first - Electroplating onto the copper is relatively easy.

You will need to coat non-conductive objects with something that conducts, Graphite powder, conductive paint or similar.

All you need is a DC power supply, a plastic tank and suitable salts of the metals you want to plate (this may be the hardest part.) Copper sulphate is fairly easy to come by, others much more difficult and much more expensive.

Thank you for the information Rick. I put one together in...1985. Used it continusly for almost a year. I used a base of sheet nickel cut to my design, than used jeweler's wax to build up my design. I was even able to mount stones in the wax, than form a bezel. The sections I wanted metal build up on I coated with a silver paint (cost a fortune back than!). With the rheostat, I was able to control how smooth or grainy the metal would grow. I hung a piece of sheet cooper in my vat. After I was done, I drilled holes in the back of my projects and boiled the wax out. I made a carp fish and used peridot flakes for the fins. I made a number of belt buckles with geod stones and exotic wood.
I started making jewelry again and need to build another electro-former. I had my directions packed with the unit ... neither stored well. My chemicals I was able to get thru the local drug store. Do you have step-by-step instructions on how to put the battery unit together? Mine was a plug in and I had to put the electronic componets together on a board. I than mounted it in a tackle box with a hole in the side for the cord and leaders. Thank you for your help! Becky

These days a lot of electro forming has been over taken by the polymer clays - in particular the precious metal clays that allow you to work in silver gold copper and then burn out the base material leaving the fused precious metal behind. You can utilise all of the things you have done before - setting stones etc.

Cooksongold are the company I deal with for supplies (here in the UK - although I believe they would ship to USA).

The battery is a simple way to have a controlled current - The small square 9 volt battery is a good one as the current supplied is small and you can easily hook 2 or more batteries  together for higher voltages.

However if you intending to do a lot of this then I would suggest you invest in a variable current power supply.

You can of course buy a kit of parts to do exactly what you want to do all ready made (just split the cost over your products over a year so some one else pays for it!)

You technique is what I have done. i was interested in plating natural  objects, seeds, leaves and dried flowers. I even tried a few beetles - suitably dead and dried of course. It's surprising what you can electroplate.

Powered graphite is a lot cheaper than silver paint. You should be able to get it on line easily at a reasonably cost.  A thing I did was to spray  delicate items with hair lacquer and quickly pop in a small plastic bag containing a small amount of graphite powder and the shake (make sure you hold the top tight!)  This gives you a very fine even coating. I still do this today to flour coat meat and fish for cooking.

Have a look at commercial units - Find out from their specifications what current/voltage they use and I am sure we can give you a circuit to build a power supply if you decide to DIY.

Have fun - Be creative!  (Oh and show us what you do - This place is all about sharing.