Electroplating bus-bar

fhorst

making mistakes so you don't have to...
Hi all,

I want to share with you my electroplating process.

Warning!!!!
I use strong hydrochloric acid!!
Only in a well ventilated place (outside) and use protection gloves band glasses.

First step is to clean the copper.
OCD type of clean.
IMG_20210422_145600_copy_750x1000.jpg

Next step is to create the electroplating solution.

That's easy.
Cut small pieces of the metal you want to use for plating. Nickel today, last time I used Tin.
While both work, nickel is supposed to be longer shiny :)

For me per glass 25ml of Hydrochloric acid.

Leave the parts alone for 4 hours or more.

Next:
We need to make electrodes for positive (+)
I had nickel stays ribbon, 0.2 mm often used to make LiFePO4 cells from 13650.
Screenshot_20210422_151230.jpg

I hang them on the side of the glass, and wrapped copper wire on the outside for power.
4 strips in each glass.

After 4 hours it's time to add water, mix is 1:10, total 250ml
IMG_20210422_145455_copy_1000x750.jpg

IMG_20210422_145443_copy_750x1000.jpg

I made copper wire above the glasses, and copper hooks to hang the bus-bar in the solution.
The copper wire goes to the negatief (-)

Do not touch the busbars with bare hands after cleaning.
Fingerprints will give ugly results.

Last cleaning for me is dipping in acetone.
After that, in the acid!!

Quite a fast reaction!
I see a lot of gass bubbles.
Probably not healthy to breathe them!

After 10-15 minutes the bars go out, and are finished.

IMG_20210422_145550_copy_750x1000.jpgIMG_20210422_145614_copy_1000x750.jpg

Put them in a bucket with water.
If you want, add some baking soda (base) to neutralise the hydrochloric acid.

End result is "ok"
I probably need to give then an other round.
IMG_20210422_150429_copy_1000x750.jpg

I did ran into trouble quickly.

My 0.2mm nickel desolved quickly in the acid, good for start, but continuous use...
Not so.

Buying things in Thailand is often a challenge, the nickel I had came from China.

It took me a while....
Zinc carbon battery!!
images (36).jpeg

The can is Zinc :)
I love obtainium!!

Back in process.
I do have to say that the zinc from the Battery is less shiny.

It's not for the looks but to prevent galvanic corrosion.

Perhaps tin rods (widely available here) weren't a bad start.
The zinc lasted just a short time...

Due several mounts and remounts, cleaning with sandpaper in between, the tin got too much damage (I could see copper)

So decided to redo.

If I known the nickel would last such a short time....
I would not have used it.

The bars will now get a nickel /zinc / tin coating :) :)
As it has desolved nickel and tin.

I should have some magnesium.
Perhaps put that in the mix also.

All about equally electricity conductive, and all used in electroplating to prevent galvanic corrosion.

The Tin being most noble, desolving more slowly.

Amount of desolved nickel should be enough to plate all my Bus-bars...
 
Last edited:

fhorst

making mistakes so you don't have to...
Happy to read that worked also!!
How did you get the starting solution?
Some tin / zinc or nickel needs to be desolved in the solution before it can work.

I guess vinegar can be strong enough if you reduce it (reduce water content)
That can be as easy as leaving vinegar in a glass for a few days in a warm place.
Don't try your bare finger!

We used to have a really great large stainless steel pot.

At my first attempts for removing oxidation from the copper was with water, lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda.
That worked great!
Especially when it's boiling a few minutes.

Afterwards I put the pot aside, and forgot about it.
My wife cleaned the stove, placed the pot somewhere else.
Thailand is warm enough to let the water vaporise enough to make the acid strong enough to eat stainless steel..
When the pot started leaking on the floor... Oeps.
I knew what was wrong 🤣🤣
 

Nillerk

Solar Enthusiast
Happy to read that worked also!!
How did you get the starting solution?
Some tin / zinc or nickel needs to be desolved in the solution before it can work.

I guess vinegar can be strong enough if you reduce it (reduce water content)
That can be as easy as leaving vinegar in a glass for a few days in a warm place.
Don't try your bare finger!

We used to have a really great large stainless steel pot.

At my first attempts for removing oxidation from the copper was with water, lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda.
That worked great!
Especially when it's boiling a few minutes.

Afterwards I put the pot aside, and forgot about it.
My wife cleaned the stove, placed the pot somewhere else.
Thailand is warm enough to let the water vaporise enough to make the acid strong enough to eat stainless steel..
When the pot started leaking on the floor... Oeps.
I knew what was wrong 🤣🤣
I followed this:

The only change was I used about 5v for the plating.
 

upnorthandpersonal

Administrator
I used vinegar to make my electroplating solution

I did the same thing:

The result:

20210422_130857-jpg.46200
 

Keith C

Ahhh, the sharks have him.

Hi fhorst. In my experience the plating rate is critical to a solid, tough plating job. The faster the process the less the quality and more importantly the durability. It's almost a linear inverse result. I believe you should be aiming for something like 8 to 12 hours - not minutes.

Consider the laying down of the plating material on a microscopic level, it happens sort of like Tetris with the molecules looking for a 'match' in the landing spot. If you run the process fast they can't lay down shoulder to shoulder but randomly pile up with areas of the substrate actually being blinded-off by the molecules piling up on neighbors, ultimately making it impossible for molecules to land on every square nanometer of the base metal. You want all the plating to line up like neat brick lays not like a bunch of bricks dumped out of a dump-truck. Slower allows this orderly lay.
 

fhorst

making mistakes so you don't have to...

Hi fhorst. In my experience the plating rate is critical to a solid, tough plating job. The faster the process the less the quality and more importantly the durability. It's almost a linear inverse result. I believe you should be aiming for something like 8 to 12 hours - not minutes.

Consider the laying down of the plating material on a microscopic level, it happens sort of like Tetris with the molecules looking for a 'match' in the landing spot. If you run the process fast they can't lay down shoulder to shoulder but randomly pile up with areas of the substrate actually being blinded-off by the molecules piling up on neighbors, ultimately making it impossible for molecules to land on every square nanometer of the base metal. You want all the plating to line up like neat brick lays not like a bunch of bricks dumped out of a dump-truck. Slower allows this orderly lay.
I absolutely need to disagree with you on this!

Plating tin/zinc/ nickel for electric usage is a fast process. It doesn't need to be strong, it just needs to be there, attached to the copper.
It's not for looks or to protect against rust, it's applying a sacrefice metal to the copper that has less galvanic corrosion activity then copper on aluminium.

You can't really believe that the plated copper lugs you buy have a plating bath for 8 hours??

Chroming parts for a car.
That's a totally different story.
It also need a much thicker layer then for our purpose.

I'm not sure if you have ever plated Bus-bars, over 150 bars in my setup.
80 cells parallel.

That would need a massive tub for one time use, and a whole mesh setup to get them in.

We don't need to be professional electroplaters for daily job.
Just a thin layer (no visable copper, even after cleaning it up with fine sand paper) is enough for us.

Perhaps if you have a few weeks spare time...
You could plate 8 hours each bar :)

I did leave several times bars in for longer time, even the whole night.

Funny thing, it doesn't get much ticker!!
After 1, 1.5 hours the plating in the bar is equilibrium.
New doesn't grip, or the old gets desolved. I don't know, not chemist for this.

Plating for 5-10 minutes, in base bath, cleaning, and plating a few times more does get thicker layer.

How I know?
Sand paper. Thinner layer shows quicker copper then thicker layer :)

12 hours doesn't make the plating any thicker then 10 minutes.

It does give the thick layer of black "goop", that's easy being cleaned.

It can be that in a more mild solution the plating needs longer time.

For me, it's low pH, and the 3.4v 280Ah LiFePO4 provide enough juice.

@upnorthandpersonal and @Nillerk , what are your experiences with the time needed to have sufficient layer of sacrefice metal on the copper?
 

Nillerk

Solar Enthusiast
I absolutely need to disagree with you on this!

Plating tin/zinc/ nickel for electric usage is a fast process. It doesn't need to be strong, it just needs to be there, attached to the copper.
It's not for looks or to protect against rust, it's applying a sacrefice metal to the copper that has less galvanic corrosion activity then copper on aluminium.

You can't really believe that the plated copper lugs you buy have a plating bath for 8 hours??

Chroming parts for a car.
That's a totally different story.
It also need a much thicker layer then for our purpose.

I'm not sure if you have ever plated Bus-bars, over 150 bars in my setup.
80 cells parallel.

That would need a massive tub for one time use, and a whole mesh setup to get them in.

We don't need to be professional electroplaters for daily job.
Just a thin layer (no visable copper, even after cleaning it up with fine sand paper) is enough for us.

Perhaps if you have a few weeks spare time...
You could plate 8 hours each bar :)

I did leave several times bars in for longer time, even the whole night.

Funny thing, it doesn't get much ticker!!
After 1, 1.5 hours the plating in the bar is equilibrium.
New doesn't grip, or the old gets desolved. I don't know, not chemist for this.

Plating for 5-10 minutes, in base bath, cleaning, and plating a few times more does get thicker layer.

How I know?
Sand paper. Thinner layer shows quicker copper then thicker layer :)

12 hours doesn't make the plating any thicker then 10 minutes.

It does give the thick layer of black "goop", that's easy being cleaned.

It can be that in a more mild solution the plating needs longer time.

For me, it's low pH, and the 3.4v 280Ah LiFePO4 provide enough juice.

@upnorthandpersonal and @Nillerk , what are your experiences with the time needed to have sufficient layer of sacrefice metal on the copper?
I do 5v ~1A for 30 mins then flip and another 30 mins
 

curiouscarbon

Science Penguin

timestamp 2 minutes 0 seconds

that person seems to leave the copper in while working on another set, so maybe an hour or so or less maybe?

not trying to be authoritative! i’ve never electroplated either and this thread helps me learn too. every example helps 📝
 

Nillerk

Solar Enthusiast

timestamp 2 minutes 0 seconds

that person seems to leave the copper in while working on another set, so maybe an hour or so or less maybe?

not trying to be authoritative! i’ve never electroplated either and this thread helps me learn too. every example helps 📝
I don't think that was electroplating. I think he was just using an acid to clean the copper before rebuilding.
 

Zwy

Solar Addict
Hi all,

I want to share with you my electroplating process.

Warning!!!!
I use strong hydrochloric acid!!
Only in a well ventilated place (outside) and use protection gloves band glasses.

First step is to clean the copper.
OCD type of clean.
View attachment 46187

Next step is to create the electroplating solution.

That's easy.
Cut small pieces of the metal you want to use for plating. Nickel today, last time I used Tin.
While both work, nickel is supposed to be longer shiny :)

For me per glass 25ml of Hydrochloric acid.

Leave the parts alone for 4 hours or more.

Next:
We need to make electrodes for positive (+)
I had nickel stays ribbon, 0.2 mm often used to make LiFePO4 cells from 13650.
View attachment 46188

I hang them on the side of the glass, and wrapped copper wire on the outside for power.
4 strips in each glass.

After 4 hours it's time to add water, mix is 1:10, total 250ml
View attachment 46189

View attachment 46190

I made copper wire above the glasses, and copper hooks to hang the bus-bar in the solution.
The copper wire goes to the negatief (-)

Do not touch the busbars with bare hands after cleaning.
Fingerprints will give ugly results.

Last cleaning for me is dipping in acetone.
After that, in the acid!!

Quite a fast reaction!
I see a lot of gass bubbles.
Probably not healthy to breathe them!

After 10-15 minutes the bars go out, and are finished.

View attachment 46191View attachment 46192

Put them in a bucket with water.
If you want, add some baking soda (base) to neutralise the hydrochloric acid.

End result is "ok"
I probably need to give then an other round.
View attachment 46193

I did ran into trouble quickly.

My 0.2mm nickel desolved quickly in the acid, good for start, but continuous use...
Not so.

Buying things in Thailand is often a challenge, the nickel I had came from China.

It took me a while....
Zinc carbon battery!!
View attachment 46194

The can is Zinc :)
I love obtainium!!

Back in process.
I do have to say that the zinc from the Battery is less shiny.

It's not for the looks but to prevent galvanic corrosion.

Perhaps tin rods (widely available here) weren't a bad start.
The zinc lasted just a short time...

Due several mounts and remounts, cleaning with sandpaper in between, the tin got too much damage (I could see copper)

So decided to redo.

If I known the nickel would last such a short time....
I would not have used it.

The bars will now get a nickel /zinc / tin coating :) :)
As it has desolved nickel and tin.

I should have some magnesium.
Perhaps put that in the mix also.

All about equally electricity conductive, and all used in electroplating to prevent galvanic corrosion.

The Tin being most noble, desolving more slowly.

Amount of desolved nickel should be enough to plate all my Bus-bars...
Safer and easier to simply use vineger and 2 nickel rods, I didn't even add anything to the vinegar, just cranked the volts up a little on my power supply.

As for length of time, I know an engineer at a local factory that does chrome plating, some even for Harley. It doesn't remain in the bath long. I do 30 second intervals for each side, times 2.
 

Micky

New Member
I have been electroplating home-made copper bus bars with tin, trying both the vinegar and HCL methods using both pure tin soldering wire and a stannous chloride solution. While I did get a layer of tin on the bars, even after prolonged immersion and rotation of the parts it could be easily scrubbed off to expose copper with just a kitchen scouring pad. I'm guessing that this is not the desired thickness or quality.... I have a couple of commercially plated bus bars and that coating is hard, shiny and resistant to vigorous and prolonged scrubbing with a kitchen scouring pad. (Incidentally my results were no different in appearance than others I have seen here and on other DIY instructions, but I'm concerned about the softness and the ease of removal of the tin plating). This is for a sailboat and the bus bars will be subjected to almost continuous vibration as well as a salty corrosive environment. I also found I was getting a build up of a grey, spongy sludge on the bars with the speed and quantity of build up determined by increasing voltage or current, as noted by others.

I might be overthinking this but I don't want to find myself with corrosion issues 6 months down the line in a place where I can't do anything about it. So I went to the web for some ideas of what was going wrong.

The recommended (https://www.finishing.com/home/about.shtml) current density I found for tinning copper was far higher than I was able to achieve without massive off-gassing and sludge build up. If I tried to increase voltage to the often recommended 4 volts all I got was bubbles and almost instantaneous sludge formation. Removing the bars, brushing the sludge off and re-immersing didn't increase the thickness or the quality of the plating.

Turns out that this might be a much more complex process than is suggested by the few DIY instructions I could find online. The 'sludge' that forms on the anode is apparently stannate, an undesirable and ineffective form of Sn for plating. This can be returned to solution by adding small quantities of H203 and stirring BTW. But that doesn't stop the subsequent formation of more of it when you go back to plating with the solution. What limited chemistry study I have is more than 3 decades old so I barely remember the words, let alone the mechanisms of action, but what is needed for effective plating is the stannous ion. The preferential conversion of the soldering wire or the Sn solution to the the stannous ion is apparently determined by the ratio of anode to cathode surface area as well as by passivating the wire with an initial high amperage current, leaving a light green coating on the wire. There are also multiple additives that the commercial platers use to control the various parameters.

Having got my teeth into this process I'm reluctant to hand it over to the pro's but sometimes reality and common sense overrules my predilection for doing every damned thing myself. My feeling at this point is that rather than add a few metal plating and chemistry texts to my already long To-Do list, I'm going to take them to the commercial place around the corner and have them do it. But perhaps someone who has done DIY tin plating and subsequently exposed them to a salty environment or has successfully been able to create a hard and durable tin coating can chip in with some experience?
 

Micky

New Member
Thanks all.

Nickel was the unmentioned alternative to the plating shop but I did want to make sure there were some good DIY experiences with it.

I'm not tied to tin, especially after my experience with it. I'd be happy with any kind of protective layer that provides the requisite level of protection. I did try the solder plating method first, with flux and my old propane plumbing torch but found I couldn't really get any sort of consistent thickness with the cloth wiping method and it seemed to use a lot of quite expensive (99.x% tin) solder wire.

Now I either have to wire brush the old tin off or perhaps just flip the electrode polarity and see if I can clean the copper that way.
 

fhorst

making mistakes so you don't have to...
I've done it several times, and the gassings is normal step, as is the sludge.

It should gass!!
I noticed that when I have too much tin desolved in the solution I have more sludge.

Continuing plating reduced the sludge buildup, but a half cm (in the liquid) visual sludge layer is normal.

After 15 minutes I place it in a bucket of water with some base material (Epson salt) and start the next bar (half)

It makes tremendous difference with the amount of plating material!
I used a 3.2v LiFePO4 cell (152 and 280Ah, no difference) and can plate 2 whole Bus-bars in one time (4 X half)

Submerged all 4, plating time is longer, result less good

Turning them around during plating, doesn't really work.
Plate one side and the other does get some plating, in the base water, clean with soft metal sponge, and do the other side.

Too much material gave me the same result you have, just slight plating and loads of sludge.

Also...
The copper needs to be clean, OCD like clean.
Iron sponge, some citrus acid and baking soda (no copper polish or anything like that, it leaves protective residue) untill you have shiny copper.

Rise it off with clean water.
Put on your latex gloves, clean it with alcohol or acetone.
And don't touch it with bare hands!!
It will leave a mark on the place where you touched it, and won't stick good

I don't know how long the bars can lay out in the air (air is oxidation) before you need to clean again, I never tried longer then one hour.

Tin is really beautiful shiny at start.
In a few weeks it will get more gray and dull.

Why not use a flame torch and flux / tin?
That's an easy one.
Obviously you never tried.

We do electroplating on a flat surface to make protective layer and keep it just as flat.

Tinning with heat will give uneven surface, not as flat as we would like for our bus-bar.
More flat is more contact area.
And you don't want (or better can't ) apply enough force to squash the solder flat.

Your cell threads and terminal aren't strong enough.

Perhaps between two thick iron plates and enough pressure, you can make it flat enough.

That's why simply heating and tinning isn't going to work.

You could melt tin, make a tin bath,
Heat the copper to the tin temperature (little higher) and dip it in, with providing enough co2 to prevent oxidation of the copper before it's dipped.

Usually those co2 ovens aren't available at home.

If you have, you also might have laser welding system...
 
Top