Author Topic: WECo Watts Nickel Plating  (Read 9674 times)

Offline dencins

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WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« on: April 17, 2010, 04:46:54 PM »
After reading a couple of posts regarding plated surfaces, I decided to investigate WECo nickel plating.  Since my interest is WECo phones from mid-1950’s and earlier (candlesticks, wall, 302, 354, 5302), I limited my research to pre-1950. 

Nickel plating was first patented in Germany in 1842 using nickel ammonium sulfate.   Different formulas were patented in the U.S. starting in 1869 for a nickel ammonium chloride solution.  Different variations to the formula took place until 1916 when O.P. Watts developed a widely accepted rapid plating solution.  The Watts bath is made of nickel sulfate, nickel chloride, boric acid and distilled water.

The Watts bath process was clean, polish, plate and polish again.  In 1945 brighteners were introduced to reduce the amount of polishing after plating to lower labor costs.  Bright nickel plating accounts for about 95% of decorative nickel plating today.

Checking various sources, WECo used both nickel and precious metal plating on telephones.  Based on history, it is safe to conclude most WECo nickel plating was the Watts formula so I focused on that method.  When looking at the nickel plate components in telephones of that time, the base metal was brass and steel.  Steel received a coat of copper (called a copper flash) before the nickel.  My experiments have been limited to brass (solid back transmitter faceplates / cups, screws, dial finger stops).  While brush plating is available today, I decided to use tank plating to replicate the WECo process but on a small scale.

First issue was removing the nickel from the existing parts.  Sanding is effective on flat surfaces but becomes difficult on smaller parts and irregular surfaces.  I purchased MetalX B-929 to strip the old nickel.  This is a sulphur base powder that is mixed with distilled water.  I used a 2 gallon stainless stock pot with an aquarium air pump and air stone to keep the mixture agitated.  A hot plate keeps the temperature at 140 degrees F.  The parts are hung in the bath for about an hour.  After the nickel is removed the parts are rinsed, dried and polished using standard buffing techniques.  It is recommended to have a “mirror” finish before plating.

The above technique works to remove nickel but not chrome.  I was told one way to tell nickel from chrome is the color tint.  Nickel will have a yellow tone while chrome has a blue tone.

Cleaning is very important before plating.  I used an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner.  The first wash was in TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and dish washing liquid.  Rinse and the second wash was sodium bisulfate (swimming pool pH increase).  After the second use distilled water to rinse.   

The plating tank is a 2000 mL glass beaker.  A mixture of nickel sulfate (35 oz/gal), nickel chloride (10 oz/gal) and boric acid (6 oz/gal) mixed in distilled water makes the Watts bath.  A pure nickel strip was used for the anode.  Power source is an old Creative Zen battery charger (5 vdc/2.4 amps).  Positive is attached to the anode and negative is attached to the part.  Same hot plate was used to keep the bath at 130 degrees F.  The part is put in the bath and power turned on.  Remove after four minutes then rinse, dry and polish.  Result is a nicely plated part.

I continue to play around with the process and will take some pictures when complete.     

Dennis   

Offline JorgeAmely

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2010, 05:01:22 PM »
Dennis:

Very impressive. From leather expert to chemistry wizard! What's next?

Jorge

Online stub

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2010, 11:12:11 PM »
Dennis ,
             I would like to try my hand at plating also. Please let us know how it works out and let us know where to get all the ingredients . Thanks      stub
Kenneth Stubblefield        
  CRPF
   TCI

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2010, 01:46:03 PM »
Several things have not gone well so I will try some other ideas.

After stripping the nickel off more parts and the original test part, I noticed the air stone used to agitate the solution had dissolved.  I will switch to 1/2" PVC pipe with small holes to agitate the solution.  Air stone is not a good idea for a stripping solution.  Not a big issue and stripping solution worked well.  The stripping solution is MetalX B-929 and was purchased from Caswell Plating.

http://www.caswellplating.com/kits/metalx.html

After putting glass beaker and plating solution on the hot plate then turning on the hot plate, the beaker cracked around the bottom and broke - probably thermal shock.  I will change to a plastic bucket and internal aquarium heater to avoid this in the future.  Fortunately I was doing this outside so cleaning up was no problem.

Since I lost the plating solution, rather than getting more chemicals to make another plating solution, I found a Watts solution at a local jewelry making supply company.  This solution is sold in quarts ($15.75 / qt at Contenti Jewelry Making Supplies) and contains brighteners so it should reduce polishing.  It is not listed on their web site but it is Krohn Bright Nickel Plating Solution item number 350-950.  You can order it by calling them.

http://www.contenti.com/

Dennis

Offline JorgeAmely

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2010, 03:17:30 PM »
Dennis:

I remember from many years ago a device called a laboratory agitator, which consisted of a base with a motor, big enough to support a beaker and a magnet connected to a shaft close to where the beaker sits. Inside the beaker, you deposit a magnet covered with Teflon and with the speed control, you can adjust how fast the magnet in the solution turns, thus mixing the chemicals in the mixer.

Check out this auction: 140400255787

Jorge

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2010, 12:35:38 AM »
I bought Krohn Nickel Plating Solution from Contenti rather than making my own and made changes to the plating process.  At the same time, I bought a 1500 ml beaker which is large enough for a solid back transmitter faceplate or cup if you plate one at a time.  Krohn's seems to work best at room temperature and lower voltage.  I am using 3 vdc (2 D cells batteries in parallel) and no aeration.  I put the part in the solution at the lower voltage for one hour.  I am getting no odor from the plating.

People at Contenti told me a cleaner (Tivaclean) works very well and removes any wax left from polishing.  One pound for $8.35 makes 2 gallons.  Cleaning solution is heated to 160 degrees F to be most effective.  I'll try it out later this week.

I will not spend much time polishing the parts until after I am comfortable with the plating process since I will strip the nickel off again anyway.  I have been told to polish the part to a mirror finish before plating for best results.  The following pictures are:

1.  250W faceplate as received.  I started to sand the nickel but decided to use the stripping solution instead.

2.  250W after stripping off the nickel and washing.  Dark spot is where I sanded.

3.  250W after plating.  With more time spent polishing before plating I expect to get it to look like the tag on the bottom.  Nickel plate is even.   

Dennis

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2010, 09:46:31 PM »
First pass at basket plating.  I used the brass screws used to hold the cup to the transmitter faceplate as a test.  The basket was made from a stainless steel sink drain screen.  I plated them for 15 minutes.  The results were good as seen on the pictures.  Next time I will plate 30 minutes to increase thickness of nickel.

Dennis

Offline Dan/Panther

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2010, 12:58:08 AM »
Dennis;
Very, Very Impressive.
How much do you figure you've paid to set up the system.
How long will chemicals last unused ?
D/P

The More People I meet, The More I Love, and MISS My Dog.  Dan Robinson

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2010, 06:30:11 AM »
Thanks.

Most of what I used for equipment I already had so that cost will vary depending on what someone already has available.  The chemicals cost me about $85 plus shipping.  Since I live near a supplier I avoided the shipping for everything but the stripping solution (MetalX).

There is nothing about how long chemicals will last.  Anodes are not an issue.  The plating solution is sulfate and chloride salts so I do not see aging issue with it.  After things have cooled I store the chemicals in plastic bottles so they will not evaporate. 

Since I am using an anode system, the plating solution does not get consumed just the anodes.  I am using a 1/2" x 6"' anode and so far it shows little wear.

The stripping solution may have a useful life but it says if it is kept at room temperature it lasts longer but there is nothing written how long that is.  Also sulfur can be added to revitalize it.

Dennis

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2010, 02:27:12 PM »
Here is a full before and after picture of the nickle plated 2-56 x 3/16" screws that hold the transmitter face plate to the cup on WECo candlesticks and wood wall phones.  I have not seen this type of phone mentioned on this board but if someone is interested I am selling these.  This price is 4 for $1.00 plus postage.

D/P - a person told me this morning that this size screw is also used on some model trains.  He told me he has only been able to find unplated brass or stainless steel in this size.

Dennis     

Offline Dan/Panther

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2010, 04:01:51 PM »
Your anode is pure nickel, if so, where did you find that?
D/P

The More People I meet, The More I Love, and MISS My Dog.  Dan Robinson

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2010, 04:18:15 PM »
Your anode is pure nickel, if so, where did you find that?
D/P

D/P

Contenti - same place as the chemicals except for the MetalX which I got from Caswell.  I would think most jewelry making suppliers would carry them.  The nickel anodes are 1/2" x 6" even though the web site says 1/2" x 2".  Contenti lists them here:

http://www.contenti.com/products/plating/350-792.html

Dennis 

Offline JorgeAmely

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2010, 04:40:08 PM »
Do the screws still fit properly, even though they were plated?
Jorge

Offline dencins

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2010, 07:14:25 PM »
Do the screws still fit properly, even though they were plated?
Jorge

The screws fit fine.  This type of nickel plate is thin (0.0003" - 0.0005") so it does not interfere with the threads.  The main reason for this type of nickel plate is a "decorative appearance with corrosion protection and wearability".

Dennis 

Offline Dan/Panther

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Re: WECo Watts Nickel Plating
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2010, 01:08:47 AM »
When you get it set up and working, would you mind taking a photo so we can see how much room you need to do this. I was thin king of setting something on a permanent basis, but want to make sure it doesn't require half my shop.
D/P

The More People I meet, The More I Love, and MISS My Dog.  Dan Robinson