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Reflecting on Chrome Plating

Don’t let our company name fool you. Here at Progressive Bronze, we deal with brass, aluminum, and in this case, chrome! Recently a local customer found us on yelp, while looking for someone to refinish a set of door handles. While we were working on those with him, he asked if we also dealt in re-plating chrome bathroom hardware to which we replied, “Of course!”

Our customer showed up the next day with a cardboard box full of chrome-plated early 20th century bathroom hardware. They had seen better days, but the classically styled toothbrush and soap holders, towel bars, hooks, and even toilet tissue holders were very cool, and definitely worth saving. There were a set number of each type he needed, so we picked through and pulled the pieces that were in the best shape.

The procedure for plating, whether chrome, nickel, silver, or gold, differs significantly from bronze and brass refinishing. First, if the item is already plated, it has to be stripped to reveal the underlying structural metal. Stripping is a sort of reverse electroplate process in which the item is placed in a bath with chemicals that, when a current is applied, will react with and remove the plated metal. In this case, the underlying metal was brass, which gave us a good foundation to lay the aesthetic metal on to. When the stripping of the existing chrome was complete, we polished the base brass to give a smooth, clean surface for replating.

At that point, the pieces were ready for plating, so the next step was a layer of nickel. Like stripping, electroplating involves placing an item in a bath, this time with compounds that include the metal you want to form the plate, and applying a current which pulls that metal out of the compounds and lays it on to the base metal. Nickel is typically applied first in decorative chrome plating, and provides most of the final smoothness and reflectivity. A very thin layer of chrome is applied to give the finished product a slightly blue tint and provide additional hardness and corrosion resistance. We do a fair amount of straight nickel plating as well. In practice nickel is still very durable and corrosion resistant even without the chrome on top – the main difference is a slightly different tint, more of a red-brown.

In this case though, we wanted to be true to the original hardware and give it the chrome. Plus, since it’s going in to a wet environment, we like to give it all the corrosion protection we can get. We don’t lacquer chrome like we do other metals, as it has natural resistance to oxidation and also because it just doesn’t lacquer well. So it’s on its own.

As you can see, they turned out very nicely (click to enlarge).

They are now back with our customer and ready to be installed. The new plating will keep these beautiful and useful for decades.

As always, if you have any questions, or a project we could help with let us know!

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