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Electroforming organic materials


#1

Hello, I am new to orchid. I am an enamelist living in Seattle. My
interest at the moment is electroforming organic stuff like seeds,
nuts and woven baskets. Is there anyone out there with on
electrforming and the construction of a system? I also could use info
on toxicity, disposal of chemicals and any regulations about having
an electroforming setup in ones home. Hannah


#2

Hannah,

The Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle has an electroforming setup
that is now being re-vamped to have a bigger bath for large vessels.
It is well-ventilated and there are instructions posted on usage. It
may be worthwhile for you to rent studio time and learn about their
setup before embarking on your own venture.

I took an electroforming workshop there in July and was delighted to
learn more about the process, safety procedures, etc. However, I’m
still not sure that the investment in the equipment and the safety
issues outweigh the occasional cost I’d personally incur to use the
Pratt studio.

You can call Pratt to find out more at (206) 328-2200.


#3

Hi Jim, I’m a relative neighbor of yours, up near Bellingham. My
experience is with gold on copper with a mid layer of nickel; copper
sulphate and sulfuric acid with distilled water make the solution,
and a pixie dusting of thiourea to brighten, using metallic conductive
silver paint. There’s a lot to it. Here’s the quick rundown:

(The book to get is - Electroplating and Electroforming for Artists
and Craftsmen, by Lee Scott Newman and Jay Hartley Newman, Crown
Publishers Inc., New York, 1979, or by General Publishing Co. Ltd. in
Canada.)

The general proportions for an electrolyte for copper electroforming
deposit aRe: copper sulphate (clean, not agricultural grade) 150-250
grams/liter of distilled water, concentrated sulfuric acid 45-75
grams/liter of distilled water, and thiourea .005 grams/liter (This
is given in error as .05 in the book. A friend called this “pixie
dust” - it should be added in very very very tiny amounts until the
plating responds with a brighter look -then stop adding it). The
reason for a range of proportions is that variables like the object
size to anode size, voltage, current density (amperage/area),
temperature, and agitation will all affect the resulting surface and
rate of deposition. That’s why it will take practice and
experimentation. Keep track of your actual proportions and When you
get a good result measure the specific gravity of the electrolyte with
a hydrometer (available cheaply at aquarium supplies or automotive
battery type) and the Ph (acidity) with wide range testing paper from
a good chemistry supply, or if you are more careful than I, for total
accuracy - titration. My bath is at Ph 6.1 - maintain the solution by
adding acid or water. Water will evaporate. If you do production you
will need to eliminate sludge with a filtration method or microporous
bags around the anodes (a hassle). Except for the anodes and the
objects to be plated, all the materials in contact with the solution
should be non-conductive and acid resistant - plastic, wax, glass.
Avoid other metals than copper to prevent contamination. The DC power
source may be a dry cell, car battery, battery charger, or transformer
with a rectifying bridge added. You’ll need a reostat or length of
resistance wire to control the amps and wide range ammeter (0-10 A)
to measure it in series from the negative pole. A current tester is
useful. Suspend the objects on thin copper wires because they will
quickly become thick with plating. If the objects are to be held on
hooks as with loop bails you will need to motorize and move the
assembly back and forth to keep the parts from attaching (plating on)
to the suspension wires. other stuff: rubber gloves, alligator clips,
fuse box to save the rheostat, 1/8"-1/4" dia. copper wire for “bus
bars” (to suspend the objects from, and carry the current to the
suspension wires), and to attach the copper sheet for anodes. The
anode suspension wires dissolve fast, so use thick wire and shield
them with plastic tubing and/or wax. Keep baking soda/water solution
handy to neutralize acid spills. Still interested? Copyright Alan
Heugh 1998


#4

Hi Alan, Perhaps it’s a typo but this electroforming solution cannot
possibly have a pH of 6.1 With 45-75 grams/liter of concentrated
sulfuric acid, the pH should be somewhat less than 1.0 Recall that pH
7.0 is neutral. Even soft drinks are around pH 3.0 Regards…Bob
Williams


#5

Maybe it was supposed to be .6 – or maybe it was a case of
unmitigated stupidity; I originally wrote that two years ago. . .
.and now I have to fix it on my web site. Thank you Bob


#6

I am a student and just did electroplating copper on a small flower,
bud, and leaves from my garden. I first sprayed them with a clear
spray before painting on the typical solution. I let all of that dry
for a couple of hours. The level of electricity I used was a
surprise. We expected, because of the delicacy of the flowers, that
we would need to start out low and I started out at 1. Despite 1
hours, I had only a small coverage. I gradually increased it and it
was not until I got up to 3 that I got a good coverage. I don’t know
what would have happened if I had started out this high if it would
have damaged the flowers and I needed this light coating of copper to
give it strength to withstand the higher temperatures. Has anyone
else had any experience with this?


#7

Hi, About your plating blower buds and leaves,did you use something
like a polyurethane spray or what, and what do you paint onto them to
make them electricaly conductive? Do you have to copper plate before
any oyher plating can be done, such as nickel, silver or gold?
Thanks for any help.


#8

Hi Harold. I am not the one who sent the message about electroforming
flower petals but I have done some electroforming of organic objects
so I can answer some of your questions. An organic object must be
coated to protect it from the acid of the electrolyte solution,
provided you are using an acid electrolyte and not a cyanide one. The
coating also keeps the solution clean. I have used acrylic medium,
automotive spray lacquer and spray coatings of various sorts. All have
worked equally well. The object must then be coated with an electro
conductive coating. I use a copper base one because I electroform
copper. The paint is called electrodag and can be had using various
bases. What I use is non toxic and water base and therefore water
soluable when wet which means, among other things, that I can clean
the brushes with water. Various electrodags are available from the
suppliers of electroforming and electroplating chemicals including
Riogrand. It is my understanding that copper plating generally
preceeds the plating of other metals. Hope this helps. Hannah in
Seattle