This is a bit tougher than it sounds -- are
you trying to plate mild (0.1% carbon) steel, cast
iron, galvanized steel, tool steel or a variety of
stainless? Very small quantities of zinc or
manganese react with electroplating reagents,
resulting in 'burn' or 'smut'. Another problem is
that many standard plating solutions require
'pickling' of the metal in a weak non-oxidizing
acid and a common acid of choice is phosphoric
acid, which is hard to come by these days as it
reacts to make a number of environmentally
dangerous compounds (Roundup- is essentially a
sugar-phosphoric acid complex).
The biggest problem in most plating
processes is surface preparation. (If you have
a steel with something other than iron in it, you
might need to 'flash' plate a coating on it, to be
covered by the copper -- so that the copper
electrolyte does not react with the metal
substrate. In any case, I'd try pickling in a weak
acid, (Naval jelly is weak phosphoric acid),
followed by a strip cleaning. The classic plating
solution is copper sulfate (acid activated) and
distilled water in stainless or glass vessels.
Please be careful -- and good luck! If you
can't get it to work -- it may well be substrate
problems -- but there are lots of plating shops in
the area, and nickle is very commonly used as a
flashing under copper on iron.
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