Nickel Plating Cases (And Other Things) At Home
Nickel plated brass cases are common for high end hunting loads, precision target loads, and service/defensive handgun rounds, due to the improved lubricity and corrosion resistance compared to conventional plain brass cases. The downside to plated cases however, is the cost. Loaded ammo can be upwards of 5 times the price of its uncoated counterpart, and loose cases can be double the price of plain brass. Due to this problem, I began to consider plating them myself as a cost effective way to incorporate higher quality cases into my reloading regiment.
Disclaimer: We are not responsible for any personal injury you may inflict upon yourself during your own nickel plating experiment. If you choose to follow our step by step guide, please practice safety when dealing with potentially harmful tools, fumes, and electricity. Thanks!
What You Will Need
To begin you will need to purchase a nickel electrode. I got mine off Amazon for 9 dollars. As a result of my limited research into plating techniques, you’ll want an electrode with a purity of at least 99.6%, and you’ll also want to avoid nickel strips meant to be used for electrical connections.
Some additional items you’ll need to acquire are vinegar and salt. I used cleaning vinegar and kosher salt.
You will also need a power supply, some miscellaneous wires, and clamps. I used my lawnmower battery charger. This is a 12 volt DC 1.5 amp supply.
To prepare the solution, you should start by pouring enough vinegar in a cup to completely submerge what you plan on coating. Then sprinkle salt into the cup until it stops dissolving. After this, strip a piece of wire at the end and place it into the cup so the case is suspended in the solution and so that the bare wire makes contact with the case. Place the negative clamp on the wire and the positive clamp on your nickel electrode. Now turn the power on and let it run for about 2 hours until the solution turns green, at which point you will be able to begin plating. This process gives off fumes so perform this in a well ventilated area. (Doing this process with a case on the wire will not plate it, but it will create the electrolyte solution quicker)
As you can see above, the green electrolyte solution is ready to begin the plating process.
While you’re waiting on the solution to turn green you can go about preparing your cases. Take some acetone and clean all the oil off the cases. You should wear gloves to prevent yourself from recontaminating the cases after they are clean.
The easiest way for me to degrease the cases was by putting them in a glass bottle with some acetone at the bottom and rolling the bottle over a table.
After the cases come out of the bottle I roll them over a paper towel to help ensure that there’s nothing left on the surface. A quick note: the better the cases are at this stage the better your plate will turn out. A nice polished case now will make a nice, shiny, bright nickel plated case later.
Once the electrolyte solution has had an hour or two to turn green, and the cases are nice and clean, you can place the case on the wire in the solution.
Set the electrode in the left corner of the container and turn the power on. Wait for 30 seconds and move the electrode to the right corner. Wait another 30 seconds and turn the power off. You now have a plated case. It really is that simple!
Nickel plated 5.56 Lake City headstamp brass. Before and After.
Some .32 long and 5.56 cases showing what they looked like before and after the coating process.
I also tried to plate an SKS clip. The results were somewhat below my expectations.
In order to plate this clip I had to strip off the existing protective black oxide finish. This caused the surface to be dirtier than the cases and it didn’t plate quite as well as I would have liked.
Overall this technique works very well with brass cases, and with a little effort can be adapted to other metallic items which could benefit from added lubricity and corrosion resistance. If you enjoyed this content you may like some of my other gunsmithing articles such as this one about rifling a barrel at home.