Copper Plating Made Easy




Introduction: Copper Plating Made Easy

I'm currently taking a high school Chem AP class and one of our assignments is to make up our own experiment using stuff that we learned during the class. We decided to electroplate some coins in copper, and as it turns out its fairly easy to plate things in copper. You could even use this technique to make Steam Punk things.

Step 1: Materials

Things that you need:

1 AA Battery
1 AA Battery holder(optional)
1 red stranded core wire
1 black stranded core wire
1 pair of wire strippers
1 Alligator Clip
2 lemons or lemon juice
1 knife for the lemons
1 strainer
1 roll of Scotch Tape
1 small Plastic or glass container Big enough to fit what you are plating
10mm of Solid copper wire(stripped)

If you don't have a battery holder you will need:

1 metal file
Some Solder
1 Soldering Iron

Step 2: Preparing the Battery

The easiest way to set up the battery is to use a Battery holder, but if you don't have one, or are too cheap to go and buy one, there is another way.

the other way is to solder directly on to a battery. heres the link to an instructable about how to solder onto batteries that I have made

For people with the battery holsters attach the stranded core black wire to the black wire of the battery holder, and the red stranded core wire to the red wire of the battery holder.

Now for people with either battery setup, strip the end of the black wire attached to the negative terminal of the battery, and then attach the alligator clip to it.

Take the stripped solid core copper wire and attach it to the red wire using a crimp or just by twisting them together.

Make sure not to let the leads touch, or you will have one hot battery.

Step 3: Setting Up the Container

Cut up the lemons, juice them, and then strain the juice, and pour it into the glass or plastic container.

Bend up the copper wire that is attached to the positive terminal so that it can be totally submerged into the lemon juice, but make sure to leave enough room to fit the item that you are plating and the alligator clip.

The bigger the piece that you want to plate the longer it will take.

Take the metal item that you want to plate and thoroughly wash it with soap and water and then use some steel wool to shine and slightly roughen the surface. wash it with soap again, then attach the metal item that you want to plate onto the alligator clip, that is attached to the negative terminal of the battery, and put it in the solution.

after a few minute you will notice that the solution will start to turn bluish green, and at this point you can tell that the metal item will be covered in a light coat of copper. if its kind of blackened take it out and rub the steel wool on it to remove the tarnish and then clip it back up and put it back in the solution.

After 30 minutes it should have a nice copper coat. use some steel wool to remove any tarnish and thats it your done.

If you want to do plate something else you can reuse the same solution.

Step 4: The Results

Heres a quarter that I have plated compared to a regular one. its like spray tanning for quarters!



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    15 Discussions

    So i did this in my chemistry class and my lab partner was "concerned that the battery would short out" so he wrapped his quarter in a paper towel. we also used a copper 2 nitrate solution and surprisingly it didn't work as well as the lemon juice.

    unfortunately the whole quarter tarnished and turned black. don't leave it too plate for too long with out agitating the solution or it will form crystals.
    make sure not to contaminate the solution, so no paper or any other metal attached to the cathode

    From my research you can use up to 6V. Any higher and the electrons travel over the copper atoms instead of ferrying them. Also it will start generating hydrogen bubbles which prevent plating.

    Thank you very much for this Instructable. Would this by chance work with applying Nickel to Zinc or are the chemicals simply not compatible? Thanks.

    1 reply

    If you use a penny on the positive (instead of a copper wire) the process goes much quicker. Is this because the the penny is just copper plated and more easily gives up its copper?

    1 reply

    you may be on to something with the plating of the penny making it easier, but the issue is that once the top layer of copper is gone from the penny, the other metals inside of the penny (zinc), will start to form ions in the solution and then eventually plate the object with that metal.

    im not sure, because brass is a mix of copper and zinc. it might prefer the copper over the zinc or vice versa. just give it a try and see

    go for it.

    also you can use Cu(no3)2 or copper 2 nitrate solution instead of lemon juice.

    It sure look easy to do. I will try that!
    I have a question, Why does this work? does It bring the copper from the quarter "up"(on top of the nickel, I believe?)
    Would it work for other material / alloy ?

    3 replies

    well without getting too much into the chemistry, the copper on the cathode(positive end) ionizes in the lemon juice and forms copper(II) ions and some other ion that i cant remember. then the anode attracts those copper ions in the solution to the piece of metal that is attached to the anode. i think its just and oxidation-reduction. and as far as other metals i think that they would work as well, but you would need to make a different batch of lemon juice.

    Pretty good explanation. You can use any weak acid to do this (vinegar will work too). Please edit the instructable to clearly show which end of the battery goes tot he copper and which to the coin.

    I think I'm going to add another step to show how to solder directly on to a battery.