Copper Electroplating the Cheap and Safe Way

copper plating

[A_Steingrube] has posted a guide to his favorite method of copper electroplating. Plating copper onto other metals is popular with the steampunk crowd, but it does have other uses. Copper plate is often used as a prep step for plating other metals, such as nickel and silver. It also (usually) increases the conductivity of the metal to be plated. [A_Steingrube] is using the copper acetate method of plating. What is somewhat novel about his method is that he chose to make his own electrolyte solution from household chemicals. The copper acetate is created by mixing distilled vinegar and household hydrogen peroxide in a 50/50 ratio. The mixture is heated and then a piece of copper scouring pad is placed in. The scouring pad is partially dissolved, providing copper ions, and turning the solution blue.

The next step is to clean the material to be plated. [A_Steingrube] uses Cameo Aluminum and Stainless cleaner for this, though we think any good degreaser will work. The actual electroplating process consists of connecting a piece of copper to the positive terminal of a 6 volt battery. Copper scouring pad is again used for its high surface area. The material to be plated is connected to the negative side of the battery. He warns to keep the solution and the material being plated in constant motion to avoid heavy “burn spots”, which can flake off after the plating process. The results speak for themselves. As with any bare copper material, the electroplated layer will quickly oxidize if not protected.

Copper kettle just for the hipster coffee scene

04-copper-kettle

Handmade coffee is a feature we need to write. But for now we present this copper kettle which is designed to pour out the boiling water very slowly in order to achieve the perfect cup of slow-drip java.

[CHS] made the kettle for his friend [Nate]. The entire process starts off with an arc of flat copper sheet which makes a slightly conical cylinder when curved until the two ends meet. Getting a water tight seal on this seam is imperative and it took four or five tries to reach perfection.

To get the kettle in shape [CHS] improvised a mandrel out of a thin slice of railroad track. After polishing it smooth it goes on the inside of the copper and gives him something to hammer against. We think this step is magic… It’s kind of like the old sculpting adage that you remove everything that isn’t what you’re trying to end up with. The beauty of the piece really pops out as the final curves are hammered into the work.

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Etching brass and copper with The Etchinator

If you’re in to making your own PCBs at home, you know the trials of etching copper clad boards. It’s slow, even if you’re gently rocking your etch tank or even using an aquarium pump to agitate your etching solution. [cunning_fellow] over on Instructables has the solution to your etching problems, and can even produce printmaking plates, jewelry, photochemically machine small parts, and make small brass logos of your second favorite website.

The Etchinator is a spray etcher, so instead of submerging a copper clad board into a vat of ferric or cupric chloride, etching solution is sprayed onto the board. We’ve seen this technique before, but previous builds use pumps to spray the etching solution and cost a bundle. [cunning_fellow]‘s Etchinator doesn’t used pumps; it’s driven by two cordless drill motors sucking up etching solution through a hollow tube.

The basic idea behind the build is sticking a vertical PVC pipe in a box with etching solution. Mount an impeller in the bottom of the tube, drill many small holes in the side of the tube, and spin it with a motor up top. The solution is sucked up the tube, sprayed out the sides, and falls back down into the reservoir. Put a masked off copper board in the tank and Bob’s your uncle.

Not only did [cunning_fellow] come up with an awesome PCB etching solution, but the same machine can be used for etching brass plate for printmaking, and even photoetching brass sheets for model planes, trains, and automobiles. The quality is really amazing; the Instructables robot above was etched out of 0.7 mm thick brass, with an etch depth of 0.35 mm with only 0.05 mm of undercut. A very awesome build that is already on our ‘to build’ project list.

Passion Fruit acquire laser defenses

Apparently being overrun by ripe Passion Fruit is a problem if you live in Hawaii. [Ryan K's] solution to the situation was to use his extra fruit to power a laser. In an experiment that would make [Walter White] proud, [Ryan] gathered everyday supplies to form a battery based on the fruit.

He used some galvanized bolts as the source of zinc. It forms one pole of each cell, with a thin copper tube as the other pole. Each cell is rather weak, but when combined with others it makes a respectable battery. We’ve seen acidic fruit used to power LEDs, but [Ryan] wanted to do a little more. He built a circuit that would store electricity until he had enough potential to power an LED diode. After the break you can see a four second clip of the fruit wielding its new laser defense system.

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Conductive ink circuit experiments

This glowing LED is proof that the experiments [Nvermeer] is doing with conductive ink are working. We’re filing this one as a chemistry hack because  you need to hit the lab ahead of time in order to get the conductivity necessary for success. He reports that this technique uses a copper powder suspended in an epoxy intended for spray painting. Before mixing the two he etched the powder in ammonium persulfate, then washed it in deionized water which made it a much better conductor.

We gather that the ink was applied with the brush seen in the photo. But since this uses that spray paint friendly solution to host the copper powder we wonder about stenciling with something like masking tape in order to spray the circuit paths onto the substrate.

There’s not too much info up yet, but [Nvermeer] does link to one of our other favorite conductive ink projects.

Putting QR codes in copper

Former Hackaday contributor [mikeysklar] has been trying to etch a QR code into a sheet of copper. Although his phone can’t read the CuR codes he’s made so far, he’s still made an impressive piece of milled copper.

The biggest problem [mikey] ran into is getting Inkscape to generate proper cnc tool paths instead of just tracing a bitmap image. He’s got the CNC part of his build under control, but he still can’t find a QR code reader that will register his work.

We’re no stranger to QR codes here at Hack a Day, and it’s very possible the only thing that could be stopping [mikey]‘s QR code from being read by a phone is the contrast of the image. We’re thinking a little bit of printer’s ink forced into the non-copper part of the PCB would make the QR code register. Since [mikey] already has a very nice negative etching of his QR code, he could easily use his new board as a printing plate, making infinite paper copies of his copper-based QR code.

If you’ve got any ideas on how [mikey] can get his QR code working, post them in the comments.

Etching PCBs with vinegar

When we hear about etching PCBs at home we assume that either Ferric Chloride or Cupric Chloride were used to eat away unmasked copper from the boards. But [Quinn Dunki] just wrote up her PCB etching guide and she doesn’t use either of those. Instead, she combines vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and salt. It’s easier to find vinegar than muriatic acid (Cupric Chloride is made using this, peroxide, and adding the copper) so this is something to keep in mind if you’re in a pinch (or a Macgyver situation).

The rest of the process is what we’re used to. She’s using photoresistant boards which can be masked with a sheet of transparency instead of using the toner-transfer method. Once they take a bath in the developer solution she puts them in a shallow dish of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide along with a teaspoon of salt. She wipes the surface with a foam brush every minute or so, and inspects them every ten minutes to see if they’re done.

She does discuss disposal. Seems that she throws the solution in the garbage after each use. The liquid will contain copper salts which are bad for wildlife. We’ve heard that you should neutralize the acid and make a block of concrete using the liquid, then throw it in the garbage. Does anyone have a well-researched, ethical, and environmentally friendly way of getting rid of this stuff?