Got chrome?

We tell you all about CHROME PLATING!

 

Please note:  over the years, we at New England Biker / Boston Biker get a few phone calls asking us to do some plating.  We DO NOT do plating, we visited a plating shop (that has since gone out of business) to find out the steps in having parts plated.   Please check the Chrome Plating pages on the website to find a list of Chrome Plating shops.

We decided that at one time or another, most motorcyclists want to either add or replace some chrome parts on their bike.  What is chrome plating?  How is it done?  What can a good plating shop work with?  We decided to find out.  

We went to a local plating shop with these questions.  We were met by the owner who took us on a brief tour of his facility and explained the chroming process.  During our walk around we could hear the pride in his voice as he explained the equipment (some that he designed), the process, and the quality of the work that his shop does.  We were listening to a real artist talk about his passion.

So, what is triple chrome plating anyway?  The term "triple chrome plating" comes from the fact that the part gets plated 3 times.  First, the part is plated with copper.  A nickel plating is next.  And the final plating is the chrome.  It sounds easy but believe me it isn't.

(click on pictures for larger, more detailed view)

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Parts arrive in every conceivable condition.  Some are already chrome plated but are pitted, rusted, scratched or faded.  Some are parts that have never been plated (like these wheels on the left. 

Before any part can be plated it needs to be stripped of any coating.  If the piece has been previously chrome plated, off it comes.  Paint, anodize, power coating, or any other material has to be removed.  Each one has a different process.

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After the parts are chemically stripped, they are then bead blasted.  Here is the smaller blasting cabinet.  Some shops also have a HUGE walk-in bead blasting room that can handle ANY size object.

Then the part is examined carefully.  Any physical defects will be repaired.  This might involve brazing, welding (gas, arc, MIG, TIG, etc.), or soldering.  Of course if you add metal with any of these processes you need to grind the repair smooth and polish the piece. Some pieces may arrive with large cracks, scrapes, or even holes.  (before they leave they are in perfect - better than new - condition).

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When most of us hear "polishing" we think of using a soft cloth and gently rubbing an object to a mirror shine.  In the plating trade, polishing involves the use of an abrasive belt like the one pictured here.  The belt is wrapped around a soft cloth wheel to provide some "give" and allow the worker to polish complex shapes.  The belts are changed to increasingly finer grits to provide a very nice finish to the piece for the plating to adhere to.

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This series of three tanks are for cleaning parts prior to plating.  The first tank is a mild alkaline cleaner.  Next is the reverse current cleaning.  The final tank is a tank of hydrochloric acid.

The first of the plating steps is the application of a bright acid copper plate.  This foundation will determine the quality of the finished piece.  The copper plating tank was designed by the owner to hold any size part that he was likely to encounter.  This tank is a whopping 11 ft long  x 4.5 ft wide  x 4.5 ft deep.  It isn't unusual for parts to be submerged in the copper plating tank for 3 -5 hours.  This is what gives the chrome its "depth" and longevity.

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After the copper plating, the parts are buffed and "colored" on various machines.  The wheel material and buffing compounds vary depending on the material that the part is made of and what type of plating it is receiving.  Very small or intricate parts might be polished with a "Dremel" tool and take quite a bit of time.  The "coloring" is the final step to remove any of the buffing compound from the piece and to ensure that the piece has a fine surface.

The Nickel plating tank is larger than the copper tank.  Its dimensions are 12 ft long x 4 ft wide x 4.5 ft deep.  The parts are plated for 30 - 45 minutes before moving to the Chrome tank.

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4,000 Amp rectifiers!  These monster regulators were designed into the processes.  The electro-plating process uses DC current to pull the metal out of the solutions and bond it onto the part being plated.  We were told that a large capacity rectifier is needed to pull the plating into the intricate sections and fine details of the parts being plated.

The time in the chrome tank is the shortest of all three plating steps.  Typically the parts spend only 1 - 4 minutes in the chrome tank.

And then .... voila!

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These beautifully chromed parts are for the restoration of a 1955 Harley Panhead owned by a client from Reading.

When we visited, there were various plating jobs in process.  Here are just a few that we took a picture of.

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A railing for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

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The owner's project bike.  It won't be long before you see this 120 c.i. beauty.

And there you have it.  This is the VERY SHORT version of what it takes to get something plated.  

(Editor's note:  The shop that we visited to write this article has since gone out of business.  We decided to keep the article as a general tutorial on what is involved in the chrome plating process. Check out our chrome plating page to find chrome plating shops in New England.)

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