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Electro cleaner for pen plating


#1

I have started doing some pen plating using a 24k solution. The
elecro cleaner I purchased from Rio works just fine. Unfortunately,
I dropped and broke the entire container of electro cleaner. My first
question is… Is electo cleaning really necessary if I do all of
the other cleaning steps (ultra sonic, steam, and acid dip)? I
noticed
that the electo cleaner from Rio contains sodium hydroxide (lye). My
second question is… can I pick up some drain cleaner at my local
hardware store and use that?

Thanks


#2

Doug, there’s a recipe for an electo-cleaner on Ganoksin here

My own research on the web brought up another recipe which I use
permanently without problems so far. Credits go to Ted Edwards

Electrolytic Cleaner

  • Sodium Carbonate (washing soda) 75 grams/liter 10 0unces/U.S. gal.
  • Sodium Hydroxide (lye) 12.5 1.7
  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) 25 3.3
  • Sodium Silicate (water-glass) 12.5 1.7

Store in a polyethylene bottle. Alkaline solutions attack glass.


#3
I have started doing some pen plating using a 24k solution. The
elecro cleaner I purchased from Rio works just fine.
Unfortunately, I dropped and broke the entire container of electro
cleaner. 

I hope you cleaned it up carefully. It’s a pretty caustic
solution…

My first question is... Is electo cleaning really necessary if I do
all of the other cleaning steps (ultra sonic, steam, and acid dip)? 

Yes. Both ultrasonics and steam cleaners are useful for the larger
scale tasks of removing dirt, polishing compound, etc, and leave
things visually clean and bright. But both can leave surface films
that will interfere with good plating adhesion. The water in a steam
cleaner can build up impurities and even though the steam aught to
be pure water, some impurities can get carried over and leave
deposits on the metal. Likewise, some cleaning solutions you might
use in the ultrasonic can actually contain things like lanolin, so
they’re easier on the hands of the people using it. So those too can
leave a slight chemical film on the metal. The acid dip does not
actually “clean”. it’s task is to remove any surface oxidation, which
may be an invisible surface film on some metals, which also can
interfere with good adhesion of the plating. It removes any passive
oxide films, leaving a surface that is chemically receptive to the
plating. In a pinch, ordinary pickle solution works for this too.
Commonly, the acid dip is based on phosphoric acid, which is a bit
more effective, especially on alloys containing nickle, which
without it forms an invisible passive oxide. You can actually skip
the ultrasonic and steam if the item looks clean, but the acid dip is
important with some metals you might be plating on, and the
electroclean is important since, unlike the ultrasonic and steam,
it’s capable of leaving the surface chemically clean, not just
visually clean.

I noticed that the electo cleaner from Rio contains sodium
hydroxide (lye). My second question is... can I pick up some drain
cleaner at my local hardware store and use that? 

If the local drain cleaner were also just lye, that would work. Some
drain cleaners are just lye. But others contain other agents, or even
no lye at all. And, then you don’t know the concentration, so you
might not get the electroclean mixed to an effective bath. Better, if
you don’t want to buy the commercial electroclean, to buy sodium
hydroxide (lye) as a chemical from a chemical supply house, and
follow a published recipe for electrocleaning solution, if you wish
to mix your own instead of buying the mix. That would give equal
results.

However, frankly, the commercial electrocleaning mixes are cheap.
What’s the problem with just buying more?

And next time, be more careful. None of the baths used in
electroplating are things you should be spilling on the floor. In
fact, of them all (depending on the type of gold plating solution
you’re using), the caustic lye solution may be one of the safer
ones…

Pen plating, by the way, while useful and interesting, is in my
experience, less forgiving of sloppy procedure. The small anode area
(in the pen), and restricted current path (the pen) means you really
have to be doing it right regarding cleaning, voltage, pen use, etc,
if you want the best results. Cut too many steps and you’ll find
plating that isn’t the right color, or that rubs off with a fingertip
instead of adhering properly to the metal. Immersion baths are
somewhat more forgiving, but still rely on proper cleaning before
hand. The electroclean step is perhaps the most important of those
processes. Not all metals really need the acid dip, but everything
benefits from the electrocleaning step.

Hope that helps.
Peter


#4

First, I never had particularly good results with a pen, I found
build up real slow and therefor of no benefit to me, but that was
just me, sometimes I don’t click with a process.

But generally, gold plating is somewhat forgiving, rhodium much less
so and silver plating…if you’re not spot on its a recipe for
anxiety and double work.

I’ve seen people go from steamer to plating and they seem to do OK.
My thought would be what about where your dirty steamostats are
touching the object? It takes about 45 seconds to electroclean a
small item and (if properly done) it almost guarantees a successful
plate so I personally don’t understand taking the risk not to
electroclean. The electroclean gets into the pores of the metal,
removing gunk (oils mostly) the ultrasonic can’t. The acid dip
neutralizes the electrocleaner, so I don’t believe acid dip without
the electrocleaner is of any value, just conjecture on my part. Steam
clean an object with a broad smooth area and you might notice that
sometimes you’ll see ‘vacant spots’ as you play the steam jet around.
Is that just an optical anomaly or is there some gook trapped in the
metal that effects the way the steam bounces off the surface?

For any fellow gear heads out there…its like engine
rebuilding…yes you could just slap your new bearing shells in
place but if you don’t resize your connecting rods you are taking a
big chance, “May his '56 Hemi rest in peace”. That one still hurts.
(apologies to the non gear heads).

Experiment if you want but faithfully following procedure is more
time efficient in the long run.