Zinc Electroplating

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If you want to dress up your ride and protect your parts, but do not have a lot of money to spend having all your bits-n-pieces chrome plated, this might just be the solution you have been looking for..  For about $70 bucks, you can spend all the time you want putting a shine on every bracket, nut, bolt and washer.  Or, you can use it as a rust resistant coating surface prep and apply your paint finish over it.

The zinc electroplating kit from Eastwood will give you everything you need to become completely operational.  All you have to add is the parts to be plated.

While discussing this process with friends the other night, we referred to it as Old School and knew we hit the nail on the head.  Old School really fits the end look and feel of the finish. When comparing zinc plating to chrome plating the best I can do is define typical chrome as a blue mirror shine, where as the zinc plating is a white, rather aluminium like shine or luster, depending on the polishing done.  The fact is, you all see examples of zinc plating every day.  Just check out the finish on the tin can you open to get your soup, dog food or what ever from.  That is zinc plating, and that is the colour.  When it comes to the shine and finish, this is very much something you define with your prep work, and the polishing you perform at the end of the plating process.  There is nothing dictating you must perform either step if you do not wish to as long as you thoroughly clean items before plating.

As you may be familiar, I like to use reseal able snap lid plastic containers for these dipping processes.  This way you maximize the mileage you are going to get from your solution by minimizing the evaporation.  Also, if you have a dedicated tank you wont have to pour the solution back and forth to the container eliminating spilling and splashing.
Electroplate Tank

Being that I do a lot of small items, I have set up hardware to go with the tank to make the process similar to a professional plating operation, all be it a much smaller scale.  I have taken a couple lengths of copper tubing, flattened the ends, and bent them so they hook over the ends of the tank.  These tubes will be connected to the negative side of the system.

Get hold of some solid copper wire and cut it into roughly 3 or 4 inch lengths dependant on your tank configuration.  I had a few lengths of old house hold 14/2 wire kicking around, which fits the need perfectly if you strip off the insulation.  Bend one end so that it can hang over the tubes, the other end you bend into hooks to go through holes in the items you want to hang into the solution, or, with some extra length, you can wrap, twist or otherwise connect to the items you want to plate so that when hanging from the tubes, they are completely immersed in the solution.

If you read the review on Rust Dissolver, you will be familiar with the rusted headlight adjusters.  So, I will use these as an example of the results with out any preparation polishing.  Here is an adjustor, freshly cleaned, but no other prep work.

Before Plating

The length of time you leave items in the solution depends on the size of the item or the combined surface area of the items being plated.  DO NOT WORRY, it is not complicated, and it is very forgiving.  In fact, just put it in for a minute or two, then take a look.  The longer you leave items in, the more transfer material builds up on the surface.  The larger the item, the more time required. If you get a little carried away, the surface starts to become course looking for lack of a better term.  If this happens, simply reverse the +/- polarity, and the system will remove material. How much simpler can that get.

When you remove the items from the tank, they rather look like a grey primer finish.  You can actually stop at this point, and use the item right away without polishing at all.

With these brackets, I tossed them in the tumbler with some hardwood polishing media, to bring up the shine a bit.
After Tumbler
Here are a few other items done, again with no preparation of the material other than cleaning, but, I have done some polishing to impart a more chrome like finish.  It’s difficult to photograph chrome like finishes, so these images don’t do the results justice.  Once I have a chance, I’ll do up a few items to show you just how good things can be with minimal effort.
Polished x 3

While the Eastwood kit comes set up for a couple D cell batteries, once you get going, temptation gets the better of you and you want to try bigger items.  The batteries can only handle so much.. Nuts bolts, small brackets.  Past that, you might want to consider a power supply.  An adjustible power supply can be found for anywhere from $60 and up, depending on output.  It can be a little confusing as when refering to these in relation to electroplating, they are caqlled rectifiers.  Same darn thing, different name.  None the less, this power supply will shorten the plating time, and allow for larger items (surface area).  Here’s one I grabbed for about $100.

Last Update: April 23, 2012


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  1. TMR says:

    Hi Rob.
    The kit comes with a 64 oz container. These are 1 gallon tubs. Naturally, you get some displacement, depending on the size/mass of the item immersed, so a little ‘free space’ is a good thing. I’d suggest ordering a second jug of juice to bring the level up to allow for larger items, as well as for topping up as some loss is inevitable with each item..

  2. Rob says:

    That solution you have in the plastic bin looks like alot more than the kit comes with did you find another solution to use?

  3. Rex Ryan says:

    I am often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information.

  4. Hayden says:

    Can you paint over the zinc plating? Any issues related to that?

    • TMR says:

      Hi Hayden..
      While I haven’t tried this, I believe it would be very similar to painting over chrome. Perhaps a little easier as Zinc is a little softer than chrome. I would think paint would stick very well if you DID NOT polish the finish before applying the paint as it tends to be very ‘primer’ like when freshly painted. Also worth noting is that some of the epoxy type paints, will stick even to polished surfaces. So, if you wanted some areas exposed and shiney, and other areas of the same piece covered with paint, and epoxy paint would likely provide that. Or, a VERY gentle fine grit scuffing to the areas you want to paint. A self etching primer would likely solve the adhesion situation if you don’t want to get into epoxy paints..

      Another possability is products like Eastwoods ‘Fast Etch’ on the metal if you want to end up covering it with paint anyway. Kind of depends what all you are up against, and what all you need to accomplish.

      My last thought..
      I’ve been working with a chemical company. We’ve got a ‘Professional Level’ prototype blended solution that provides rust REMOVAL with the wipe of a rag, or a soaking, and leaves a zinc phosphate coating, which can be directly painted over with no surface prep other than being clean and dry. It does NOT require rust be present. Leaves the zinc coating even on clean metal. Does a pretty good job of removing both light paint as well as mill scale.. Not done testing yet, but getting awful close..

      PROFESSIONAL: Stronger, use protective gloves and eye protection, cuz it will sting ya!

      Hope this helps a bit, or at least gives you a few thoughts, or ideas for more questions.

      I did a few samples of platting a while back. If I get a chance, I’ll throw a little paint at them to see how the adheasion is..

  5. daryl says:

    Hi, I love the results, and have been toying with buying this for a while, how bad are the fumes, it is winter her, and I am locked in the garage so to speak. do you wear a respirator or are the fumes not bad. I am assuming that if a media blast the part, is using a spray down with prep-all a sufficient prerinse?

    • TMR says:

      Hi Daryl..
      Well, not that my sense of smell is the greatest. But, I would say there is no discernable odor, or minimal at worst..
      Certainly not an issue, especially when considering the amount of time involved for small components..
      I’ve played around with various ‘preparations’ Media blasting is certainly an option. I’ve tried various grits of flapper wheels, grinding discs, emery cloth, and polishing using compounds etc. They all work, and produce variations in results. It very much becomes a personal preference..
      I HAVE found that I could prep the metal to a mirror finish, and after plating, it has less of a shine. Primarily because the zinc is only capable of retaining a certain shine. I’ve got a few samples I did ranging from 180 grit up. I’ll see what I can do about getting them online to help out..

  6. Daniel says:

    great post, thanks for sharing

  7. admin says:

    Hi Gunnar.
    That’s great info.
    I was doing a few larger pieces for someone the other day and found a few things..
    I’m playing with an acid bath to ensure a nice clean surface as the degreaser I had used on these pieces may have left a little contamination which caused a slight blotchieness in the finish. As well as doing the larger pieces pushed the batteries resulting in a longer process with less thickness accumulation. So, you’ve saved me and everyone else some digging to find an appropriate power source and control..
    I tried some 320 emery and found it gave a pretty decent shine. When this particular fella and I were discussing how to prep the material, I said it’s sort of like doing a show finish paint job in reverse. You have to do all the polishing first, rather than after. I plated the castor legs on the engine stand just for the helluvit.. I had hit them with an 80 grit disk. Actually doesn’t look that bad.. Nice shiny scratches 🙂 Rather like what you find on some chrome finishes out of China etc.

    WAAY back, I worked at a plating shop. Didn’t stick it out long enough to learn all that much, but as you’ve stated and proven, the more polishing you do, the better the end result. I’m hoping to find some 400 or 600 emery flapper wheels to make a fairly decent shine, fairly easy to obtain and reserve he really fine stuff for special pieces.

    I also recently tried glazing compound to do the grunt work of the initial polishing, then finished it off with the white autosol. Worked pretty well.

    Thanks again for the tips..

  8. DaGunster says:

    I’m using this to plate engine brackets, carburetor parts and the lug nuts on my motorhome.

    I broke down and bought a 3amp plating rectifier at Frys ($80).

    Thoroughly degreased (water soluble degreaser) and derusted (Evapo Rust at Harbor Freight 1gal for $20).

    Sanded down to 1,000 grit, then put on a buffing wheel (tripoli).

    The lug nuts took 6 minutes.

    They come out almost pure white (typical of zinc) and they polished with white compound quite nicely.

    Kinda goes through anodes – but it works great – looks great.

  9. Ed Moran says:

    Hi Tom,
    What are using for a power source? A battery charger? Eastwood’s site looks like they just hook up a couple of D-cells. Do you have some sort way of regulating the flow of current or do you just hang a good size batch and flip the switch? Also it looks quite a bit of solution in that container (maybe the container is smaller then it looks), is that all from 1 purchase &/or have you diluted it (distilled water?) Lot of questions – thanks for the pics & info.

    • admin says:

      Hi Ed
      I have planned on using a transformer eventually. But, the batteries are working so well, for the size of batches I’m doing, I haven’t worried about it. And yes, your dead right. The ‘kit’ comes with a couple ‘D’s providing 3vdc. You could increase voltage and amperage a bit and would speed the process. But frankly, it happens so fast anyway, that again, I just didn’t panic. I’ll probably use a wall transformer when the batteries die. When I decide to build a tank to dip larger items like valve covers and such, then I’ll boost the power, perhaps with a reostat/pot to push things a bit to maintain a fast turn around time. The basic kit comes with a 64 fl oz container of solution. It is about perfect for the snap lid containers I have been using, which are 2 qt in size. This leaves a little room for level rise due to displacement when submerging a few larger items. The solution loss/consumption is virtually nothing except for loss to wetting of items, and evaporation. The ‘consumable’ is the sacraficial zinc strip which is immersed in the solution

  10. admin says:

    There you have hit it on the head. It’s hard to get good reliable accurate information from day-to-day users.. I’ve added about an ounce each time I run a batch through. I’m using the Eastwood ‘Heavy Duty’ tumbler. It isn’t rated by the pound, but has a 12″ opening. I’d probably call it a 20 pound based on the measurements and capacities I see on other machines.
    The 1 ounce certainly isn’t overkill. But, I believe that due to the gradual build up absorbed by the media it’s a workable amount. On the other end, it’s not like a little too much will cause any problem either. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying some rubbing compound to see how that performed..

    I do plan on eventually doing a review on the tumbler as well as building a large unit capable of handling items like valve covers, and perhaps rims etc. I see a few people have had early failures on tumblers, but this one has been going strong. I’ve actually forgotten and left it running in the shop a couple times where it ended up running for nearly a week. No harm, no foul..

  11. Ed Andrews says:

    Well Howdy from Texas Tom..

    I’ll send some pictures of what I’m working on….
    So on the same subject, something I can’t find anywhere… When you add the polish to a vibrator…
    HOW MUCH polish?… 1 oz per lb?…. one tube per 5lbs?….. I read ( hey we can read here in Texas) all the info on Eastwoods, Caswells and others sites, but not one seems to have a discussion going or info on using vibrators.

    Currently have the 18lb. Harbor Freight vibrator, using rocks for major deburring and heavy parts…. the green plastic triangles for cleaning and walnuts for final cleaning and polishing.
    I had one the smaller 5lb HF units, but it failed fairly quickly… ( but I probably overloaded it, lesson learned) Been using the Eastwood Black dye it for hardware… works pretty well, but want to zinc plate some other brackets, so I’ll probably buy one of the eastwood kits….

    Thanks for your help.
    Rebuilding a 59 Harley Hummer motorcycle.

  12. Admin says:

    Hi Ed.
    Great to hear from you..
    Yep.. They can hit the tumbler before and after the plating. Just change the media being used. In my case, the ‘after’ I use either corncob media or hardwood cubes to polish the finish up. I used some Autosol polish with the media to help things along. I have also played around with cotton polishing wheels in the drill press, again with polish, to bring the finish up further still, all depending on what I want for a finish..

    On the ‘before’ side, something a little more aggressive like a rust cutter media to debur and smooth the surface can be a great solution depending what the surface is like on the items you’re prepping..

    In short, if I can find an automatic method to save me the time and effort (fingers and boredom), so much the better..

    ALSO, how about some pictures and the story of your ‘project’ I know it would get attention, and sounds like it fits perfectly with what the site is about..

    Thanks again for the email..


  13. Ed Andrews says:

    Hi Tom.. great web site.. if you have time, I’ve got a question from a new DYI in Texas?

    On your electroplating page, you plate the brackets, THEN throw them into a tumbler… is this correct?..

    Is this to polish the parts so you don’t need to hand polish them?

    if so, What media are you using in your tumbler? Are you adding any wet
    polishing compounds to the tumbler?

    I’m working on a 1960 Harley, so lots of nuts, spacers, and brackets that I would like to zinc plate.

    Thanks again..
    BTW, great info on the eastwood rust dissolver also. It’s on my “to
    order” list.

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