Wheel Plating, Step-by-Step

At Classic Components, every chrome plating job is show quality. In fact, their projects are frequently seen in car and motorcycle shows from coast to coast. One of their specialties is wheels – re-plating customers’ wheels, and operating a wheel replacement service. Here’s a step-by-step view of a cast aluminum motorcycle wheel being given a shiny new look.

1a. This cast aluminum motorcycle wheel is going to get a shiny new look. The original wheel was partially painted and part natural aluminum finish. Motorcycle wheel painted aluminum
1. In preparation for plating, each wheel is stripped of its paint using a proprietary stripping agent. The wheel is dipped in the paint stripper for 15 to 30 minutes to thoroughly remove the factory finish. Paint removal
2. Next, each wheel is wire-brushed clean and rinsed. This helps prepare the surface for a quality finish. Wheel cleaned and rinsed
3. The raised ribs around the perimeter of the wheel are removed, and the wheel surface is ground and polished to an ultra-smooth finish. This step is critical to the final chrome appearance. Grind and polish
4. The electroplating process involves placing the wheel into an electrolyte solution as the cathode. The donor metal (nickel, copper, or chromium) is attached to the wheel on a special insulated fixture as the anode. The anode electrically charges the wheel to attract the plating metal to the wheel surface. Upon application of current, the plating material is dissolved into the electrolyte and travels from the anode (donor material) to the cathode (the part to be plated). Anode attached to wheel
5. The anode is attached, supplying current and activating the plating process. Current applied at anode
6. Here, an initial “strike” layer of nickel has been applied to the wheel to form a high-quality, compatible base with optimum adhesion for subsequent plating. Strike layer of nickel plating
7. The wheels are electroplated with copper and polished again. The copper fills small imperfections remaining in the surface. Copper plate layer
8. Another layer of nickel plating is applied, giving the wheel a deep shine, as well as an additional protection for longevity. Another nickel plate layer
9. Wheels are turned every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure consistent coverage. Wheels turned during plating for even coverage
10. The parts are electroplated in chromium and then rinsed. Final chrome plating
11. After rinsing, the wheel begins to show its final shine and color. Chrome is actually just a protective coating over the nickel to prevent it from tarnishing. The wheel is cleaned with water and buffed. Final cleaning and buffing
12. The new look! The wheels are ready to be shipped back to the customer. Finished plating

Source: Curt Lout, American Bagger Magazine:

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