Gold Plating Guns
Gold plating on guns allows you to add a beautiful look of gold to a firearm. The entire gun can be plated or it can be plated in very specific areas using "Pen Plating." This idea has been around for quite some time, however as of recent it has become a trend that is exploding with popularity. Gun collectors and owners love being able to modify their guns and make them truly unique.
There are 5 main types of material that guns are made of: 1) Steel 2) Stainless Steel 3) Aluminum 4) Zinc Alloys 5) Plastic. Which one you are wanting to plate greatly affects how it needs to be treated.
Steel: Due to the nature of steel, it is always coated with some sort of "bluing" or black colored finish. It can have paint, powder-coat, bluing, cerakote or other finishes. Regardless of what finish it has, for electroplating purposes it must be completely removed before plating. Once you're down to the bare steel, the plating can be a pretty straight forward process if you're bath plating. Brush plating onto steel can be done but has more potential for error. See below for more details. For both plating methods you will follow our process of cleaning, striking, and plating.
Brush plating onto steel can be very complicated and/or problematic. The size, style, and type of steel you are plating onto will factor in to this. Steel is known to oxidize rather quickly. This is a reaction to the bare steel being exposed to oxygen. When this happens the most common result our customers have is rusting on the steel surface. However, as the oxidation begins it may not always be detectable to the naked eye. If the oxidation on the piece is not detected and properly prepared it can result in adhesion issues, haziness, and/or darkening under the plating. With time, these areas can begin to rust underneath the plating. This will affect the quality and durability of the plating. For this reason we STRONGLY suggest to avoid brush plating and bath plate onto steel items when possible. Time is money.
Preparing the surface before plating. As with all electroplating, preparation is critical. If you desire a shiny finish you will need to get the piece shiny before plating. The gold plating will simply cover the finish that is present prior to plating - it will not make the piece more, or less, shiny. Typically when plating steel pieces, the items are highly polished prior to the plating process as most desire a shiny gold plate. Oftentimes customers elect to have their piece nickel plated prior to gold plating in order to provide a "diffusion barrier" between the gold and steel. If gold plating wears too thin the steel can start to corrode underneath the gold plating. Nickel prevents this entirely.
The process that we recommend for plating onto non stainless steel surfaces is: Electro-cleaner, Wood's Nickel Strike (Not always necessary for steel, see paragraph below), Copper Strike, Bright Nickel, and then Gold if desired.
Wood's Nickel Strike is the most cost-effective and industry-accepted method of providing this activation. We strongly recommend Copper Strike Solution as the second or third step on carbon or mild steel surfaces to improve adhesion, prevent the surface from oxidizing, and to build a thin copper layer for adhesion and visual verification of proper activation prior to being nickel or gold plated. In most cases Copper Strike can be used without the Wood's Nickel Strike entirely. However, stainless steel requires Wood's Nickel Strike prior to the Copper Strike Solution due to the chromium. The Bright Nickel Plate following the Copper Strike provides a smooth, hard, beautiful surface for the gold plating to follow.
Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is treated in the same way as steel, as far as electroplating goes. Stainless steel does not usually have any sort of coating and typically has a "polished" or "brushed" finish. If it is highly shiny and silver in color, it is probably a piece of stainless steel. Stainless steel is plated using the same 3 step process as steel: Electro-clean, Wood's Nickel Strike or TriVal Gold Strike (nickel free), and then the Gold.
Aluminum: Aluminum is one of two metals (the other is pure titanium) that cannot be gold plated onto directly using any of the chemicals that we sell. Aluminum must first go through a special process that no other metal requires involving a specialized bath plating setup. This process must be performed by a professional who has the expertise in plating aluminum. When the piece is done with this special process it has a bright nickel finish that can then easily be gold plated or plated with whatever finish is desired.
Zinc Alloys: These types of items are coated in the same way that steel is. The coating must be removed and the piece polished prior to plating. Zinc is unique in that it does not react in a way conducive to plating when exposed to acidic solutions - and many of the chemicals used in plating are acidic. Zinc will quickly turn black if exposed to an acid. In order to plate onto this type of metal you need an alkaline solution. Typically a cyanide copper is used. Once the copper is applied, it is usually nickel plated and then the final layer of the desired metal is applied.
Plastic: In order for electroplating to work, the item needs to be electrically conductive (metal). Plastic cannot be electroplated onto directly. It must first either be coated with a conductive paint/ink or made conductive in some other way. There are certain types of plastic that can be coated with a layer of "electroless" nickel, however we do not offer them or the services of this nature. For all intents and purposes, it is not feasible to plate plastic firearm pieces.
Bath Plating vs Brush Plating
There are two main methods of plating. Read on to determine which is more appropriate for your needs.
Bath Plating: Bath plating allows you to plate an entire item or multiple items at a time, covering the piece(s) with a uniform layer to a predictable thickness. If you want to ensure that an entire piece is coated with .5 micron (20 micro-inches) then bath plating is the way to go. The longer the items stay in the bath, the thicker the gold gets. Our 24K Bright Gold Solution has a very predictable 'deposition rate'. If you follow the guidelines of the solution, you will achieve 1 micron of gold plating in about 5.6 minutes in the gold bath. It "throws" into all the cracks and crevices that are beyond the reach of brush plating. The cons of bath plating are that the entire piece is plated (some only want specific areas plated) and that you are limited to the size of the beaker. If the item is too large for the beaker or if you only want specific areas of it plated then brush plating is the method you should use.
Kit for Bath Plating on Guns: The following bath plating kits are the same kits that gunsmiths and gun enthusiasts choose for their bath plating needs. They are fast, efficient, predictable, and truly one of a kind. We have videos on the product pages linked below showing how to plate using these kits. These kits have the ability to perform brush plating with the purchase of our SideKick.
Our most popular bath plating setup for plating onto firearms is our 5 Station ProLab setup that includes the Electrocleaner, Wood's Nickel Strike, Copper Strike, Bright Nickel and Gold. This is currently our largest bath plating setup that hold 5 liters of solution.
The JewelMaster Pro HD is a smaller 1 liter bath setup that is great for individuals looking to plate onto smaller firearm parts.
Brush Plating: Brush plating is appealing to many for a couple of reasons. It has a lower start-up cost, usually around half as much. Also, it allows you to plate specific areas of an item and to plate items of any size. There are no size constraints with brush plating. For these reasons brush plating is a skill that most platers want to have in their arsenal. If you plate enough gun parts you're eventually going to need the ability to brush plate. The downside to brush plating is that you cannot easily control the thickness, it is much more time-consuming, and it is more 'artistic'. There is more of a learning curve than simply dipping the piece. Once you get a knack for it you can plate quite quickly and can have a pretty good idea of how much gold you put on, however it is not as precise when it comes to determining thickness. You cannot tell visually how thick the gold plating is. It won't look uneven, it just may wear quicker in some spots than others if you don't spend equal time plating everywhere.
Brush plating onto steel can be very complicated and/or problematic. The size, style, and type of steel you are wanting to plate onto will factor in to this. Steel is known to oxidize rather quickly. This is a reaction to the bare steel being exposed to oxygen. When this happens the most common result our customers have is rusting on the steel surface. However, as the oxidation begins it may not always be detectable to the naked eye. If the oxidation on the piece is not detected and properly prepared it can result in adhesion issues, haziness, and/or darkening under the plating. With time these areas can begin to rust underneath the plating. This will affect the quality and durability of the plating. If this happens you will need to polish through any plating down to the base metal and repeat all the steps. For this reason we STRONGLY suggest to avoid brush plating and bath plate onto steel items when possible. Time is money.
Kits for Brush Plating on Guns: The Universal Plater Kit (Option 2) is the best brush plating kit available for plating onto guns. It comes with everything you will need with the exception of Copper Strike Solution. Copper Strike is highly recommended to plate onto steel. It is an inexpensive add-on that allows you to have perfect adhesion and beautiful gold.