Plating aluminium lights with various metals: Tutorials, and discoveries

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BlueSwordM
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Plating aluminium lights with various metals: Tutorials, and discoveries

Hello again.

As you may know, I’ve been trying to make metal plated flashlights for a while now, and I would like to document my findings, research, learning, R&D, and the like.

Let’s start with deanodizing.

Most of our flashlights are made of aluminium with a oxide layer called anodized aluminium, giving it a diverse set of colors, like the most common black, green, blue, and the hardest one, white.

However, some of us want bare aluminium since it looks quite nice, and hides scuff marks easier than anodized aluminium.

Therefore, I devised a well known process to deanodize aluminium, as well as cleaning it.

Let’s start with saying, you should wear glasses when doing this.

1.0 DEANODIZING ALUMINIUM

Materials needed:
- Sodium hydroxide, or NaOH. May be found as lye or caustic soda. You can easily find sodium hydroxide in soap making shops, which sell it for good prices in small quantities(1kg+)
- Water to dissolve the sodium hydroxide.
- Scale. Needed to measure the amount of sodium hydroxide needed, and the quantity of water put in a container.
- Plastic container. Glass can be used, but is more expensive, and over time, can develop leaks. Very unlikely to happen.
- Spoon, preferably plastic. Used to mix up the solution and dissolve the sodium hydroxide.

Optional:
- Hotplate. This is not needed, but recommended to speed up the deanodizing process.
- Beaker. This is not needed, but can be used to measure specific volumes of water.
- Magnetic stirrer with stir bar. This is recommended, but not needed. Used to mix contents more efficiently.

PROTOCOL
1. Measure 500mL/500g of water, and transfer it to the plastic container.
2. Weigh 75g of sodium hydroxide. Note the mass used.
3. Transfer the sodium hydroxide to the plastic container.
4. Stir the solution until the sodium hydroxide is completely dissolved.
5. If you have a hotplate, put it on the lowest setting or around 40C, and transfer the container with the solution on it. Otherwise, skip to step 6.
6. Prepare the part you want to deanodize. For a flashlight, remove the cell, grease the threads, and close it completely. For a part, just make sure there is no debris/dust on it.
7. Put in slowly the part/flashlight in the solution. After 15-30 seconds, you should see bubbling occurring. This is aluminium being dissolved by the sodium hydroxide.
8. Let the solution dissolve the anodized aluminium, and you should see the solution turn to the color of the anodizing. Leave it alone for a maximum of 2 minutes at a time until completely deanodized, or check on it every minute.
9. After the light has been deanodized, clean it under water, or in a water bath. You should now have a deanodized light.

Here are the results:

Deanodized tailcaps, bodies, etc. Haven’t done a full light yet.

2. EASY AND SAFE COPPER ACETATE PLATING
Material needed :
- Adjustable DC-DC Power Supply to create copper acetate the copper solution - 5V DC Power Supply if the above is not available
- 1,0V-3,3V DC Power Supply for electroplating. Closer to 1,0V for all parts, and closer to 3,3V for very large parts.
- Alligator clips (1 red and 1 black for positive and negative)
- Any source of copper. Scrap copper wire, or a copper sheet will work well.
- 5-8% acetic acid. Vinegar is a good substitute.
- 30% Hydrochloric acid(muriactic acid)
- High grit sand paper (500+)
- Liquid soap.
- Glass jar or beaker that fits your part
- Small glass or plastic tray.
- Heater or hotplate

PROTOCOL 1 (PREPARING THE ELECTRODES)
1. Prepare the copper electrodes by cleaning them mechanically with 500+ grit sandpaper.
2. Wash the copper electrodes under water with soap.
3. Fill the small tray with hydrochloric acid, and the electrodes in it for 60 seconds to clean them completely. Rinse with water to get rid of the hydrochloric acid. Keep it for later.
4. Repeat the first 3 steps for cleaning the positive electrode for electroplating.

PROTOCOL 2 (MAKING THE COPPER ACETATE SOLUTION)
1. Fill the jar with vinegar or 5/8% acetic acid.
2. Connect the alligator clips to the cleaned copper electrodes. Note the polarity of each.
3. Put the copper electrodes in the acetic acid jar.
4. Connect your 5V power supply to the AC receptable, or set your power supply to a voltage of 4,2-5V, 4,2V for slightly higher copper acetate concentration, 5V for faster creation.
5. Check if there are any small bubbles forming on the negative electrode. If there are small bubbles forming, but not floating up, that means the setup is working.
6. Let the setup run for 8-12 hours, preferably during the night.
7. Check the jar for any copper deposits. If there are any solid deposits on the bottom, filter out the solution via gravity filtering, or just empty the jar slowly into another container without the copper deposits transfering in the other container. Clean the jar. Put the solution back in the original container.
8. Clean the parts/materials you’ve used during the copper acetate solution creation.

PROTOCOL 3 (ELECTROPLATING THE PART)
1. Prepare the part by cleaning it mechanically with 500+ grit sandpaper.
2. Wash the part with soapy water.
3. Put in the part in the hydrochloric acid bath for 1 minute, then clean it in water.
4. Connect the positive copper electrode previously cleaned to the positive alligator clip. Put it in the jar.
5. Connect the negative alligator clip to the part you want to plate. Put it in the jar as far away from the positive electrode as practical.
6. Plug the alligator clips to the preferably 1,2V adjustable power supply, or 3,3V power supply.
7. Leave the setup running for 2 hours at 3,3V, and 4 hours at 1,0-1,2V for optimal results.
8. Unplug or deactivate the power supply.
9. Get the part out of the copper acetate solution.
10. Clean it with water, and let it dry. You should have the copper plated part.
11. Polish it with steel wool.
12. Put the copper acetate jar somewhere safe, and label it as Copper Acetate Solution.

Final note : The jar can be placed on a temperature adjustable hotplate to 50C for faster and more durable plating due to the lower resistance solution and less hydrogen formation.

Will post additional tutorials on how to make electroplating solutions to plate a wide variety of metals, electrolysis of metals to form solutions, and the like.

See you guys and gals later!

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

Edited by: BlueSwordM on 06/29/2019 - 13:22
DavidEF
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Okay… watching… waiting for the electroplating part! Big Smile

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jon_slider
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thanks for sharing
there is backstory here
budgetlightforum.com/node/66091

I look forward to your success!:-)

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UPDATE 1

This is for making a copper acetate solution.

This is fine for large objects at low currents, but not suitable for much else.

2. EASY AND SAFE COPPER ACETATE PLATING
Material needed :
- Adjustable DC-DC Power Supply to create copper acetate the copper solution - 5V DC Power Supply if the above is not available
- 1,0V-3,3V DC Power Supply for electroplating. Closer to 1,0V for all parts, and closer to 3,3V for very large parts.
- Alligator clips (1 red and 1 black for positive and negative)
- Any source of copper. Scrap copper wire, or a copper sheet will work well.
- 5-8% acetic acid. Vinegar is a good substitute.
- 30% Hydrochloric acid(muriactic acid)
- High grit sand paper (500+)
- Liquid soap.
- Glass jar or beaker that fits your part
- Small glass or plastic tray.
- Heater or hotplate

PROTOCOL 1 (PREPARING THE ELECTRODES)
1. Prepare the copper electrodes by cleaning them mechanically with 500+ grit sandpaper.
2. Wash the copper electrodes under water with soap.
3. Fill the small tray with hydrochloric acid, and the electrodes in it for 60 seconds to clean them completely. Rinse with water to get rid of the hydrochloric acid. Keep it for later.
4. Repeat the first 3 steps for cleaning the positive electrode for electroplating.

PROTOCOL 2 (MAKING THE COPPER ACETATE SOLUTION)
1. Fill the jar with vinegar or 5/8% acetic acid.
2. Connect the alligator clips to the cleaned copper electrodes. Note the polarity of each.
3. Put the copper electrodes in the acetic acid jar.
4. Connect your 5V power supply to the AC receptable, or set your power supply to a voltage of 4,2-5V, 4,2V for slightly higher copper acetate concentration, 5V for faster creation.
5. Check if there are any small bubbles forming on the negative electrode. If there are small bubbles forming, but not floating up, that means the setup is working.
6. Let the setup run for 8-12 hours, preferably during the night.
7. Check the jar for any copper deposits. If there are any solid deposits on the bottom, filter out the solution via gravity filtering, or just empty the jar slowly into another container without the copper deposits transfering in the other container. Clean the jar. Put the solution back in the original container.
8. Clean the parts/materials you’ve used during the copper acetate solution creation.

PROTOCOL 3 (ELECTROPLATING THE PART)
1. Prepare the part by cleaning it mechanically with 500+ grit sandpaper.
2. Wash the part with soapy water.
3. Put in the part in the hydrochloric acid bath for 1 minute, then clean it in water.
4. Connect the positive copper electrode previously cleaned to the positive alligator clip. Put it in the jar.
5. Connect the negative alligator clip to the part you want to plate. Put it in the jar as far away from the positive electrode as practical.
6. Plug the alligator clips to the preferably 1,2V adjustable power supply, or 3,3V power supply.
7. Leave the setup running for 2 hours at 3,3V, and 4 hours at 1,0-1,2V for optimal results.
8. Unplug or deactivate the power supply.
9. Get the part out of the copper acetate solution.
10. Clean it with water, and let it dry. You should have the copper plated part.
11. Polish it with steel wool.
12. Put the copper acetate jar somewhere safe, and label it as Copper Acetate Solution.

Final note : The jar can be placed on a temperature adjustable hotplate to 50C for faster and more durable plating due to the lower resistance solution and less hydrogen formation.

After this, I’m going to be making a copper sulfate solution for more serious plating using a more complicated galvanic cell setup, or just plain copper sulfate with some additives for shininess of the plating.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

BlueSwordM
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3. COPPER SULFATE PLATING, PREPARATION AND APPLYING.

This is mainly for thick copper plating onto nickel, copper alloys, and properly cleaned and prepared non-stainless steel.

Unlike the other solutions, this is a simpler preparation that doesn’t involve anything complicated.

This is also the easiest way to copper plate, and get a THICK COPPER PLATE on something like a flash copper plated flashlight. Smile

For reference, this is for making a 1L solution.

MATERIALS NEEDED
- Adjustable DC-DC Power Supply to create copper acetate the copper solution
If you have this, it will make everything much easier.

- 1,0V-3,3V DC Power Supply for electroplating. Closer to 1,0V for all parts, and closer to 3,3V for very large parts.
- Alligator clips (1 red and 1 black for positive and negative)
- 24AWG wire, or 22AWG.
- Any source of copper. Scrap copper wire, or a copper sheet will work well. Don’t use anything else.
- 150g of copper sulfate. Can be found as Root Kill, or from potting supply companies – Serves as the main source of copper and with electrolyte. You can use 75-100g/L if you have a copper anode(positive electrode)
- Dilute 15% sulfuric acid. Main source of electrolyte for conductivity. Can be found as 30% sulfuric acid that you have to dilute.
- 1mL of 30% HCL. Uses a small etchant for a better fixed plating. Can be found as muriatic acid.
- 1-2g of Polyethylene glycol. Basically, a laxative that acts as a surfactant, and prevents metallic copper crystal growth.
Makes for a smoother finish.
- 1g of saccharin, or even 5g for a super bright finish. A nice brightener to produce a nice copper plated. Lowers plating speed, so be careful with the concentration, as too high current with a high saccharin concentration might end up with burn spots.
- 1L glass container.
- 1L glass bottle or HDPE container.

PROTOCOL FOR PREPATION
1. Measure all the necessary materials as specified to their measurements before.
2. Put in 150g copper sulfate, 1g of polyethylene glycol, and 1g of saccharin inside of the glass container. Mix the contents well.
3. Put in approximately 1L of dilute 15% sulfuric acid solution. Mix the contents again.
4. You have the copper sulfate solution. Store it in a glass bottle preferably, or an HDPE container.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

Relampago
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Cool, breaking bad over here. More pics please.

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This is a dope thread and crazy fun science project idea. The best part is the potential amazing transformation at the end.

1- can you please, please, please post some pics of your completed parts
2- what did you do for the electrodes? Just a tiny half inch copper wire or a like 1 inch spiral of copper? I know sheets work but I don’t have those and have lots of copper wire

BlueSwordM
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1. No, no. The 1st light I finally managed to copper plate will stay secret until I manage to copper plate an FW3A, and I’ll be posting everything when I’ll be ready, including protocol, materials, procedure, research, sources, and everything. I’m keeping it as a surprise.
2. As I’ve said before, you can use copper wire. However, try to get as much wire as possible for the electrodes. You want as much surface area as possible to be able to make an efficient plating setup at high currents.

If you want, I can send you links for people in Canada from which I got my supplies from.

Some links.

Copper sulfate: https://www.soundingstone.com/collections/chemicals-dry/products/chemica...
Zinc oxide(for zinc electroless plating for something special): https://www.soundingstone.com/collections/chemicals-dry/products/chemica...
Sulfuric acid(purified and diluted by me): https://www.rona.ca/en/super-drain-liquid-drain-opener-7666031
Hydrochloric acid: https://www.rona.ca/en/muriatic-acid-4-l-37425089?catalogId=10051&langId...
Polyethylene glycol: https://www.amazon.ca/RestoraLAX-Powder-Laxative-Effective-Relief/dp/B00...
Sacharrin: https://www.amazon.ca/Necta-Sweet-Saccharin-Substitute-Tablets/dp/B00125...

If you can find alternatives, I’ll let you know.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

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Subscribed. Looking forward to seeing some shiny stuff Blue. Big Smile

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No worries.

You’ll really like it.

Here’s my plan:
1. Zinc electroless plating(2nd step to copper plating)
2. Nickel sulfate+chloride plating.
3. Flash copper plating. Basically, the one we are all after. Smile
Plating aluminium with copper is a science, so, if I manage to actually do it on at least 2 lights successfully, I might start a flashlight shop of my own. Smile

Why?

Because:
1. You can get a copper plated light without all the downsides of having copper’s volumetric density.
2. You can:
- Nickel plate a light.
- Zinc plate a light.
- Chrome plate a light. Jk, I don’t want to die of cancer.
- Silver plate a light.
- Other metals.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

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BlueSwordM wrote:
However, try to get as much wire as possible for the electrodes. You want as much surface area as possible to be able to make an efficient plating setup at high currents.

I wonder if I’m going to be short on copper. Silly


(From a dismantle 6 months ago)

BlueSwordM
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Well, that would work optimally.

I mean, you could make some super concentrated copper sulfate that way.

Depending on what kind of plating you want, you either want more copper in the solution, or more sulfuric acid.

More copper sulfate: Lower speed plating, but higher thickness.

Less copper sulfate, and more sulfuric acid: Higher speed plating, but lower thickness overall.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

mattadores
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Thanks Bluesword

I’ll check out those links. I really like the idea of doing this to multiple metal objects, not just flashlights!

BlueSwordM
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And don’t forget that copper sulfate plating works with these materials:
- Copper
- Copper alloys
- Nickel
- Extremely well cleaned steel with electrolytic plating(with electricity) to be activated before you put in the part. Preferably plate with nickel before hand.

Also, copper sulfate plating DOES NOT WORK WITH ALUMINIUM OR STAINLESS STEEL.

If it did work, I’d have a lot of money already. Smile

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

BlueSwordM
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If you want to copper plate a light, here’s what you need to do.

1.0 Deanodize it.
1.1 Zincate it.
1.2 Flash copper plate it.

We are going to do number 2 today.

1.1 ELECTROLESS ZINC PLATING ON ALUMINIUM FOR COPPER PLATING PREPARATION.

Materials
- Sodium hydroxide, NaOH, drain cleaner.
- Zinc oxide. Can be found at pottery supply companies, or soap making suppliers.
- Distilled water. Can be either purchased, or made yourself by distillation or just boiling water into another container.
- Plastic container.

Protocol
1. Fill the plastic container with 500mL of water.
2. Put in 60g of sodium hydroxide.
3. Put in 20g of zinc oxide. Doesn’t matter if not everything dissolved instantly. Thoroughly mix it.
4. Clean the deanodized aluminium first to get rid of all oils.
5. Put in your deanodized aluminium in the plastic container.
Check if it bubbles violently. If it does, put in your light for time intervals.
If not, let it sit for 1-2 mins.

You’ve got your zincate aluminium prepared for plating now!
Will post the 2 methods for copper plating aluminium lights soon enough.
By soon, I mean when I’ll have the time.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

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Does everyone know that caustic soda is highly dangerous, and that lovely soapy feeling it gives your skin is due to it being dissolved? You really should have added at least a short safety warning.

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BlueSwordM
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Which is why I’m only making a 150g/L for deanodization, and 120g/L for electroless zinc plating on aluminium.

At these concentration, sodium hydroxide isn’t very caustic, and I’ve had it on my hands multiple times with no problems. Just washed my hands when needed, or used nitrile gloves. I’ve even drenched my hand with it, although at only 20C. Just had to clean it and dry it. Nothing yet.
There’s a good reason I’m not recommending going past 40C when deanodizing the light.

Also, at low concentrations(max of 4M), it can’t really dissolve skin without being very hot or very concentrated.

I would wear glasses though. Added this to the original post.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

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Thanks. Smile

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So, I’ve discovered 2 methods for plating copper on aluminium.

The 1st one uses a copper pyrophosphate setup. The pyrophosphate is quite hard to acquire, but I finally managed to get about 1kg of the stuff from a Chinese supplier.

The 2nd method, that I’ve tested already, uses a neutral solution of copper sulfate+something else that I’m not ready to tell yet.

The main reason for aluminium being so hard to plate on is because aluminium forms an aluminium oxide in minutes, which makes plating hard.

You first have to remove the oxide by putting the light in a sodium hydroxide solution to remove the oxide, or any anodization. Also, you can also reuse the anodization in other anodization experiments, so stay tuned for that. Smile

Then, you need to protect the aluminium from further oxidation before plating. So, you need to make a dilute solution of lye with zinc oxide to electrolessly plate the aluminium with zinc. You can also plate with zinc that way, so that is a good thing.

Finally, you need a neutral copper solution so you can plate the aluminium. Why? Because aluminium is quite the reactive aluminium in terms of acidic and basic solutions. Can’t plate with sulfuric acid, reacts with muriatic acid, reacts with sodium hydroxide, and forms an oxide layer in sodium carbonate.

So, in the coming days/weeks, I may show pictures of how to make the solution, or even a video. Smile

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

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OOH! Nice! But I’m still wondering, other than aesthetic, what is the advantage of copper plating Aluminum?

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BlueSwordM
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Well, not much honestly.

You may get slightly better heat handling, but that’s about it.

It’s mainly for the looks, for the looks of copper without the weight.

It’s also easy to solder onto a copper surface vs aluminium, which is another stupid idea that I have…

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

BlueSwordM
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Ok then.

Let’s finish this project once and for all.

To plate aluminium, you need to:

1. Prep the surface by cleaning it and making sure there is no grease.

2. Put it in a lye/sodium hydroxide bath to deanodize it/clean it further.

3. Make a zinc electroless plating bath by placing zinc oxide in a dilute solution of sodium hydroxide.

4. Make a flash copper solution with concentrated ammonium hydroxide, copper sulfate, a bit of sulfuric acid, and water.

Details will be coming soon…

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547