I'm searching for a recipe for making electroless nickel plating .
So far googling shows that someone perhaps wrote an article on
the subject for Live Steam Magazine in 1977 and supposedly
it went into the FAQ but I cannot find it there. As I understand
it the process is not new nor propietary.
I'm aware that Caswell sells a reasonably priced kit, but cheapness
is not my sole motivator. I really would like to try it DIY and
its not imposible nor impractical.
Any help is thanked in advance
To add to my other message, the Material Safety Data Sheet is required to be
provided by US Law. So if you decide to buy some of the stuff from Caswell
or Brownell's or any other chemical manufacturer, make sure to ask that they
include the MSDS. Don't just ask, "What is in it?" because the usual answer
is "It's proprietary". But if you ask for the MSDS they can't refuse.
Perhaps someone here who knows this subject well can chime in, but I believe
that if they are classified as hazardous (hell, even sand is now classified
as hazardous) , the manufacturer doesn't have a choice. I've never really
understood the "proprietary" issue. If I really wanted to know what is in
something I can take to a chem lab and have it analyzed. Something every
one of their competitors is capable of doing.
I didn't find anything useful there.
There was a lot of research on this in the 1960's. If you have access
to the Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards during
that time period you will find recipes.
I have been there and done that but unfortunately it was back in the
60's and the elapsed time has taken its toll on the memory banks. But
AFAIR we had a 2 liter beaker, NiSO4 dissolved in a basic tartrate
solution, with hypophosphite near the boiling point. Dip the part in
and let it plate. Now the plate is not pure nickel. It is a nickel-
phosphorus compound about 93% nickel. We also did this with borate
instead of phosphorus which yields a nickle-boron plate.
Can you do this at home? No problem if you can get the chemicals.
Tartrate is a bit unusual for electroless nickel with hypophosphite, citrate
or acetate is more usual. Try (all ingredients are in grams per litre):
Nickel Sulphate NiSO4.6H2O - 25 g
Sodium hypophosphite NaH2PO2.H20 - 23 g
Sodium acetate NaC2H3O2 - 9 g
a touch of lead helps (dip a small bit of lead in the solution for 60
seconds, that's plenty)
ITYM sodium borohydride.
Nickel sulphate 12 or nickel chloride 9
sodium potassium tartrate (rochelle salt) 65
sodium hydroxide 40
sodium borohydride 1
a bit of lead again.
Can all be bought online in the UK, except maybe the lead (I haven't tried).
I don't know about elsewhere.
The pros "sensitise and catalyse" or "catalyze and activate" the surface
first, which is a whole other story, usually involving palladium chloride. I
don't know whether Caswell kits do, but I doubt it.
The Metals Handbook, Vol 2, 8th edition contains a number of recipes and
devotes several pages to the process. The subject is complicated and no
doubt expensive to experiment with provided you can find the rather unusual
That is a displacement method, the copper replaces some of the iron. You can
do something similar with tin replacing copper, useful for electronic
Electroless nickel is not a displacement process however, it is an
autocatalytic process - the solution wants to deposit the nickel, but it
needs a catalyst (a catalyst is a substance that changes the rate of a
reaction without itself being changed in the reaction) to do so at any
The surface of a layer of freshly deposited nickel will act as a catalyst,
which means a layer will grow thicker, hence the "auto" part of
"autocatalytic" - but to start a layer growing requires some catalytic
activity on the material to be plated.
Some material surfaces already have enough catalytic property, and some do
not. That's why:
and you may have to address that issue to get reliably good results.
There are also additives that can improve the deposit, maintain the
solution, and/or make the process work better, but that again is another
story, and you'll need to read a book or two for that. And practice too,
it's an art as well as a science.
"Modern Electroplating" 4th edition by M Schlesinger ISBN 0-471-16824-6 is a
good place to start. See Chapter 18.
Use a glass or ceramic container. Use deionised water. Dissolve the
hypophosphite seperately in a bit of water and add it last, after the other
stuff has dissolved, shortly before use. The mixed solution does not have an
indefinite life - it's life can be quite short, depending on the impurities
in the chemicals, the surface of the container, etc.
Use gloves goggles respirator.
Nickel, especially nickel salts, is a bit toxic to humans as in drinking it
or splashing it around, and some people are allergic to it. People can
become sensitised to it too.
Nickel salts are also a known human carcinogen targetting mostly the lungs,
especially the dust or fumes. Avoid. It's one reason smoking tobacco causes
lung cancer BTW.
Nickel salts aren't too good for the environment either. In the US you have
to report the disposal of more than one pound of nickel compounds per year.
To dispose of small quantities of unwanted or used solution, add 10% sodium
sulphide solution until no more black precipitate forms, filter or decant,
put the precipitate in the bin for landfill, and pour the remaining liquid
down the drain with a bit of bleach. A recycler may take larger quantities.
Sodium hypophosphite is a strong reducing agent and dangerous mostly for
that reason - it "burns". Can also give off dangerous fumes when hot, and
I'm told it can explode if heated and confined.
Sodium acetate is mildly irritating, but otherwise mostly harmless.
Don't mix any chemicals if you don't know what will happen.