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Electroplating Garden Tractor Parts in Your Own Garage
I'm sure you can't drink the plating solution, but just touching it, or even dipping your hands into it will not make you sick or even have any sort of ill effect. Anyway, when I bought this, I had intended on using it right away, but as things go, time got away from me & my wife got tired of the box sitting in her way & tucked it out of sight. I finally decided to dig it out & give it a go. I wanted to share it with you guys, as others may find it valuable to be able to re-plate garden tractor parts, lawn tractor parts, or just any metals other than pot metal (pot metal doesn't plate well).
The "Copy Chrome" kit I bought came with an aquarium water heater for the plating solution, the plating solution crystals, a sheet of nickel anode, de-greasing solution powder, small plastic pail, and thorough instructions. Bad thing is, I have lost my instructions, but remember the basics from reading it way back then.
When I took these pics, I had already mixed the plating solution crystals, so the bag is empty.
I also bought a quart of "Zincate" solution which you need for treating aluminum to be plated.
I also had to purchase an aquarium air pump for agitation, but the kit today is more complete than when I bought years ago, and it now comes with an agitation filter/pump, and TWO ceramic water heaters w/thermostats. Just a more complete system than I have.
Pretty much all you will need to add in order to start plating is some copper wire to suspend parts in plating tank, a couple gallons of distilled water, and tools to prepare the metal, plus either battery acid, or muriatic acid to remove old coatings.
As with painting, preparing the metal for plating is EVERYTHING to getting a satisfactory plating job.
My 1st garden tractor part is an implement lift handle "locking arm" that holds the lift handle button in the unlocked position to allow implement to float. I forgot to take a before pic, but it was very dull with rust where the zinc finish had worn off. I put this into a solution of 3 parts muriatic acid to one part water & it ate the remaining zinc finish off in less than a minute. When the foaming action stops, you are ready to rinse the part. Then comes smoothing the metal part.
I used a high speed "biscuit" or "polishing cookie" to smooth the finish. These are to be used on a die grinder. I used an angled air powered die grinder. If rough, you would start with a coarse biscuit, then work your way to a fine biscuit until a smooth finish is achieved. This is my part after finishing with the biscuits.
It looks pretty good as-is, but would rust/tarnish in short order without being plated.
Here is the biscuit or "cookie" I used. 3M makes these & are available at any tool/hardware/department store.
Once the part has been smoothed down to the point of plating, it must be de-greased. You mix up whatever amount needed of the SP Degreaser powder to the appropriate amount of distilled water. After dissolving into solution, heat the solution just short of boiling. Immerse the part for 5 minutes to remove all traces of grease.
You want to have enough copper wire for suspending part in plating tank already attached to the part before soaking in the degreaser so as NOT to touch the part again until AFTER complete plating is finished. In my case there wasn't a need as my part has a dipped rubber handle formed over the end, so I lifted it out by the rubber end. Once soaked in degreaser, it must pass a water test. Rinse part with distilled water, then watch to see if the water "sheets" off rather than pulling back. If it sheets off, the next step is plating.
The day or evening before plating, mix the "Copy Chrome Crystals" into the appropriate amount of distilled water. Allow to dissolve several hours before using.
Once ready to begin plating, you will need to cut the nickel anode plate into at least 2 parts, and 3 might be even better. This action is "line of sight", so the 3 pieces should give better results. Before thinking of this, I cut mine into 2 pieces, but results were good anyway. Once anode sheet is cut, you need to hang the pieces into the solution with copper wire, but leave the copper wire just above the solution line. I drilled tiny holes in the top edge of the anode pieces to hook the copper wire into. I simply used a piece of copper wire bent over the top to suspend the anode plates, The single wire goes around the bucket to the other anode plate.
Place your water heater into the solution & let heat until water is warm to the touch. Once warm, you start agitation, in my case, simply an air hose from an aquarium air pump with an air tube running to bottom of the plating bucket, then you are ready to plate.
To suspend my part, I used a piece of pvc pipe, wrapped copper wire around it, hanging down far enough to totally immerse the part to be plated.
Negative goes to the part (cathode), with positive going to the nickel anode plates. I used a small 4 amp battery charger set to 6V to limit the charger to 2 amps output which is more than enough for what area I am plating. Caswell's instructions give breakdowns on amperage required for different size plating jobs & ways to power & to control the amperage.
I allowed my part to plate for 35 minutes, and it came out very nice, especially compared to how it looked on the tractor. This pic is straight out of the plating tank before polishing. The slicker you work down the metal, the shinier it is when freshly pulled from the plating process. I'm tempted to leave as it is, as it looks much like zinc plating, like this part came from factory.
Here is after polishing for 3 to 5 minutes on a buffing wheel, using "Never Dull" as a polish. wiping it on the part, buffing, then again until satisfied:
Here is a second part I plated. It is the implement lift level lock plate. I got a before pic of this part.
Here it is in the muriatic acid bath. Notice the boiling. When it stops boiling, the part is stripped of zinc or other coatings.
My brother borrowed my die grinder last night, and per usual, he didn't return it yet. So I didn't get to smooth up this part like I would have liked, but it was in pretty good shape, so I just hit it with a wire wheel, then soaked in hot degreaser solution for the 5 minutes, then began plating.
When I lifted up during plating to check it, I seen some dark areas in the bends & thought I wasn't getting plating on those areas. But I was wrong. After 30 minutes I pulled the part, then went to the shop to my super soft wire wheel. The dark spots disappeared & shiny as could be underneath. It polished up just fine. You be the judge.......
Here are what my hood latches & choke cable looked like. These are not the ones I plated, but look exactly like the plated ones did before I cleaned them. I had cleaned these plated ones up months ago & failed to take pics of them. I also plated the headlight mount bases. They were painted, but rusty.
The quality of the finish very much depends upon how well you smooth the part to be plated. The latch handles I sanded on a small vertical belt sander until the pits were gone, then used the high speed cookies to polish smooth. The round clip wires I took off the latch handles, but were hard to smooth due to the shape, so they are a bit rough textured, but still have a good layer of plating.
No, none of these plated parts are professional quality, but they look great to me & will last. No way I could have afforded them plated at a pro plating shop.
I am EXTREMELY happy with this Caswell "Copy Chrome" nickel plating kit. Not hard at all to do & sure makes my garden tractor parts look like new! Caswell has other plating kits as well, including "Copy Cad" (cadium look), and zinc plating kits, among others.
This whole process turned out to be farm simpler & easier than I anticipated. Over time you will lose some solution simply by some coming out on the part, etc., but I'll tell you one thing for sure....I'll buy more supplies when I need them! This stuff is awesome to say the least!
Also, this plating is darned hard! I accidentally hit the surface against the nut holding my polishing bonnet to the shaft....3 times! NEVER left so much as a mark at all!
There are of course more tips & instructions to this plating, but a very detailed instruction book comes with their kits.
I hope you enjoyed this article...7 years in the making!
Now I gotta go find another parts to plate!!
- marlboro180, ltcpaul and larryd have said thanks