Common mistakes made during plating and electroforming.
On this page I will try to answer questions on subjects that some people seem to have problems with. Always check this page as some processes change over time and the updates are printed here. It is impossible to change your book or DVD's each time something new comes up.
Tank Plating and Electroforming:
The most common mistake in electroforming (the plating of non-metallics) is not adjusting the rectifier to the proper setting when plating on the copper. The rectifier should be set at 1/10 of an amp. per square inch of the size of the work piece or pieces in the tank. If the copper plating is pinkish or shrimp color then you know that you have the setting too low. If the plating looks like a new penny then you know that you have it set right. If the color is dark brown and bumpy you are set too high. When your power is too high it crystallizes the copper as it plates and the bumpy effect is actually the crystals that are growing. This will also happen when plating over metal. If the crystals are just on the lead copper wire that is attached to the work pieces, then you have a bad connection from the wire to the work piece. Repaint the conductive coating at the point that the wire and the finding come together. Glue is an insulator so make sure you have covered it with conductive coating. Wrapping copper wire around the work piece when electroforming will generally give you a bad connection or become part of the piece. It is better to glue a piece of copper wire somewhere that doesn't show or use a finding when making jewelry. After the copper is electroformed on the work piece when gluing the wire to the piece you can cut it off and file it smooth at that point and wrap a wire around the piece for your next step or metal that you are applying. Too dark of a color with any plating shows that your rectifier is set too high for the size of the work piece or pieces.
Using anodes that are too small for the pieces or pieces that they are plating. The anodes must be equal or larger than the total area that you are plating. They should be 3" to 4" away from the work piece. Also if you are plating on a large piece or a piece that is quite long, it is better to use multiple anodes spread out across from the work piece. Remember that the power of the machine comes off of the face of the anodes and spreading out your anodes will give you a more even build-up. If you are plating on a piece that only needs to be plated on one side then you should have the anodes on that side. If you are plating on both sides of a piece, then you should have anodes on both sides to get a even build-up. You can use a jumper wire ( a wire with alligator clips at both ends to attach multiple anodes ). A Bus bar can also be used to attach multiple anodes or multiple work pieces in the tank. A Bus bar can be made of any conductive material.
If after using your Copper or Nickel tank plating solutions for a period of time and you find that your solutions will no longer plate out shinny it is more than likely that your brighteners are worn out and must be added to your solutions. The solutions contain the brighteners when they are sold. The brighteners in the Copper electroforming solution wear out in 40 amp hours.
In most areas of the world, the water has too many minerals in it to use as a rinse especially for your final rinse. It is better to use distilled water or de-ionized water. The results from poor water can be spotting of the work piece after it is plated.
Using the wrong type of solution on certain metals. You cannot plate over steel, pot metal, (zinc diecast) or aluminum with an acid based solution. An acid based solution will attack the work piece and generally fizz and turn black. On steel and pot metal use an alkaline solution. Click above on the tab plating aluminum for instructions on this type of metal.
When tank plating over a metal surface, make sure that you are using the proper solution and that the work piece is clean. When rinsing off a work piece, make sure that the water flows smoothly over the piece. If the water beads up it is a sure sign that the piece is dirty.
Not cleaning the piece properly or thoroughly. You can use Dalmar electro-cleaner or if you have a piece that is really greasy you can use detergent of the type that you wash dishes with. A commercial degreaser sold at grocery stores or hardware stores also is a fine finishing step. Spray it on the piece, let it stand for 15 seconds and then rinse it off. Watch the piece when you rinse it, if the water flows smoothly off of the piece then it is clean, if the water beads up looking like the surface of a waxed car then you know it still has something on it.
Not performing a step enough or sufficiently. Make sure that you get in all of the corners and edges as most people have a tendency to concentrate on just the large areas.
When a preparatory or plating solution is swabbed on the area to be be plated without electrical, it is referred to as "pre-wetting". It is normally done with the wand and solution with the rectifier off or the lead is disconnected. If the brush plating solution calls for pre-wetting make sure that you follow the instructions. These Pre-wetting steps make a significant difference in the etching, activating or plating step that immediately follows. If no specific pre-wetting instructions are given, pre-wetting is an option.
Not rinsing thoroughly. This is a common mistake even among experienced operators. In most areas of the world, the water has too many minerals in it to use as a rinse especially for your final rinse. It is better to use distilled water or deionized water. The results from poor water can be spotting of the work piece after it is plated.
Rinsing after an activation step. This usually results in a passivation of the surface and poor plating adhesion. Do not rinse after most activation steps.
Taking too much time between steps. These are wet processes; move quickly and carefully between steps.