Sunday, November 9, 2014

Triple Chrome

    I am a very curious guy. I  am always very curious about how the other craftsman I use on my projects do their work. Every now and then I get to go and see their process. This is something I actually relish. I write this blog in hopes that others might learn as I am. It is often good to see how things are done. It helps learn how much really is involved.

Dennis at Metro Plating was kind enough to allow me in to see the entire process on a batch of items I needed redone. I should first point out that electro plating is a business that is quickly disappearing in our country. At a time, everything metal was plated in nickel, copper, or chrome. The development of stainless steal and plastics has reduced the need for a large portion of plating work. The EPA has also been pivotal in making it so difficult for the plating companies to comply with their regulation, that today very few shops exist. Those that do are only open because the volume of chemicals used and improved material handling keep them compliant. The demand for plating on the other hand is growing since no one is around to do it any longer. Metro Plating is just about the only place left that does it in Maryland. They do plating of copper, brass, silver, gold, platinum, nickel, and chrome. I was in for a process called triple chrome. I will describe the entire process in this post.

Dennis turned me over to Tony. Tony is a frickin genius to put it in as few a words as I can. I learned more from Tony in three hours than I have in the last half of my life. Tony has a hands on knowledge of atomic theory, metallurgy, physics, and alchemy like no one I have ever met. This knowledge is not the kind you get from school or books, this knowledge comes from years of doing it. This knowledge comes from taking great pride in your work and striving to make each job better than the last. I was honored to spend the afternoon with him. I did not realize it but Dennis was so gracious to my request to see the process that he gave me one on one time with Tony and just my items.

The first step of the process is in the polish room. The items are put through various polishes and abrasives to remove all the oxides and corrosion.

This part of the process is done by a crew who get everything ready for Tony. Since it was Saturday they were not there. I think you can fill in the blanks...

Shelves of items are prepped then wait for Tony and his magic. On the shelf was everything under sun. I saw grandma's flatware and Bobbies air filter cover for his GTO. There was service ware next to Harley forks. Coffee urns were next to necklaces.

Here are some of my items all prepped up. In all honesty they were so shiny I thought they were done already. Each item is wired in copper to a copper hook. 

I should point out that I have been taking all my photos in black and white for awhile now. When I walked into Tony's world however, I had to switch back to full color. I wish they still made Kodachrome.

The item has been wired to a copper hook so electricity can pass from the hook down the wire to the item. Remember, this is called electro plating. So here is what happens first...

The item is cleaned very well in a four step bath. A dip into a tank of detergent is first. It is scrubbed with a brush to remove all traces of oil, rogue, and things that will resist the plating.

Next it goes into another bath that removes the things a brush did not take off. From here it goes into two clear water baths. The item is now totally free of anything but the base metal. Each step takes about 30 seconds.

In this tank it gets it's first coating. Tony called this the primer coat. This is done with copper that is dissolve in a cyanide creating a solution. The copper is inside of that bag you see in the back. The cyanide dissolves the copper and creates a solution.  When electricity is passed through the bar you see the item hanging from, the atoms of copper are bonded to the base metal. As metal is dissolved, more metal dissolves into the solution. This is where hands on learning pays off. Each base metal requires just a little more or little less electricity to make it build to the proper thickness. On the pot metal it took about 6 minutes to build the base of copper. On the steel items it took much less time.

And there you have your base coat in the electro plating process. Hanging off the bottom are the two hinge bolts. The yellow electrical tape keeps the copper cyanide from making contact with the base metal so the layers will not effect it's diameter. The item is then washed again as described earlier to neutralize all of the chemicals used. All electro plating is begun this way.

The next step is to copper plate the item. Tony explained that this step is the most important. If the copper it too thin, it will not be durable outside. If it is too thick, the rest of the metals will not bond properly and it will begin to flake off over time. My items took about 45 minutes in this step. 

This step of plating is done in a solution of copper dissolved into solution by an acid.

After yet another cleaning it goes into the tank that has nickel in solution. Same process of metal dissolved into an acid. You can see the bar the item hangs from in the center of the tank. The power actually goes into the tank through the bars at the side of the tank and out of the bar the item hangs on. As the electricity passes through the solution, it carries the metal atoms with it and they bond onto the item. Hands on knowledge is how Tony knows exactly how long he has to build the surface, nickel atom by nickel atom. All the items required about 20 minutes.

The item is then, yes, again, washed. Then it goes into the chrome tank. 2 minutes and it was done.

And then you end up with this. Triple chrome is not three platings of chrome as many (myself included until Tony learned me) think. It is actually chrome on top of nickel, onto of copper. 

I really want to thank Dennis for allowing me into his business like he did. Most people would just say no. Not only did he allow me in but he made it a tremendous one on one experience for me.
I also want to thank Tony for teaching me so much and actually allowing me to participate in the plating. You are a genius my friend. 

Metro Plating is the type of small business I support and want to promote. I hope if you have the need to get anything plated you will not hesitate and send it to them. They do work for people all over the country and UPS stops there everyday. 


  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing, Frank.

  2. That is very cool. Thank you for sharing also. the patina on his sink or vat is accidentally beautiful. And the whole process just sounds like alchemy. I can also see how the whole process is fraught with caution from the chemicals to the electricity.

  3. Great description of the process.
    I will be using them in the future.

  4. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing :)