Posted in Restoration

Nickel Pen Clip DIY Electroplating…

CYA announcement; do not do this and if you choose to ignore me please don’t do it to anything of value. The process is to improve a bad situation, it will not make the old, new again.

Keep in mind you can buy the acetate solution online but where is the fun in that. As I didn’t need a whole lot of electrolyte solution I decided to make use of a candle jar with a lid. The jar holds about 8-10 oz of liquid, the perfect size as I’m only working with a pen clip. The jar is filled about 80% full (turned out it I should have added more) with vinegar and I gave it a good pinch of salt, stirring until the salt dissolved. The negative feed is important to the electroplating process, I needed to confirm the black wire is the negative feed so I dropped each alligator clip into the vinegar, plugged in the wall wart and turned on the switch. As expected, bubbles instantly appeared on the clip attached to the black wire, indicating I didn’t screw up and the black wire is attached to the negative terminal on the board.

Time to prepare the nickel tape. I’m thinking the nickel should hang from the lip of the jar, that will make it easy to attach the alligator clips but a single strip isn’t going to be adequate. So measured out a length that would hook over the top of the jar down to the bottom, folded it back onto itself then one more time. This way I have one continuous strip that is 3 layers thick. The process is repeated creating a second nickel strip, now there is a set of nickel “bars.” Time to complete the set up, hanging the nickel bars on opposite sides of the jar, then attached the wires….Let the fun begin.

NOTHING HAPPENED – WTH – the negative wire test worked fine just a minute ago…. so I disconnected the wall wart and attached the D cell battery pack, and tried the flashlight test – nothing. Hmmm, I popped out the fuse, looks good so I put it back in, now since I have no patience and no spare fuses, I cut a small piece of 12 gage wire and placed it on top of the fuse. Effectively completing the connection and defeating the purpose of having a fuse, reconnected the wall wart and BAM, the negative wire started bubbling.

After a couple/three hours I noticed the vinegar level was going down, the donor nickel on the red (positive) wire was dissolving and a large piece having broken off and was sitting on the bottom of the jar. Certainly correct in my assumption that a single piece of nickel was going to be inadequate. Turned off the power, fished out the lost piece folded all the pieces together and powered it back up. After 5 hours I was happy with the color, though it seemed cloudy. Being a little disheartened I took the nickel out, the donor piece was nearly gone and the piece on the negative side has nearly double in size. In the morning I noticed the cloudiness has cleared, and a layer of “stuff” having settled to the bottom – cool.

That afternoon I set about cleaning the pen clip, removing 86 years of dirt, grim and tarnish requires some effort. Time to set up the acetate solution for electroplating, I swapped out the wall wart in favor of the D cell battery pack (this is using 3 volts but a single battery would be better, but we’ll see). Inserted the nickel bar that doubled in size during the acetate creation process, into the acetate and connected the red (positive) wire to it. Attached the black (negative) wire to the pen clip in a fashion that any marks etc resulting from the electroplating will be on the top and bottom of the washer thus hidden by the pen cap and blind cap. Inserted the pen clip into the acetate, keeping it out of the sediment and avoiding the donor metal. Power on and – Yeah Baby! It is working the pen clip is covered in bubbles within seconds.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

After 15 minutes, the clip was nicely covered in a new layer of nickel then I got a bright idea, if a little is good, more is better (not). So I let the pen clip electroplate for a full 2 hours. Needless to say it wasn’t bad it just wasn’t good, so I cleaned it up with a light sanding and back into the solution for another hour. This time it was even worse. The clip had all kinds of pits and it just looked bad. I clearly had a new thick layer of nickel but it wasn’t pretty. So I sanded it down as best I could starting with 3,000 grit sand paper and worked up to 7,000 grit so it would be nice and smooth. I just couldn’t get all the rough spots out. One more electrolyte session, this time only 10 minutes and decided it was a keeper, not a good keeper but a keeper. I could have used the Dremel and removed all the rough spots but I was concerned I would damage the pen clip. In short, the process worked and it clearly demonstrates the principle and makes the process an option for restoring heavily brassed pen clips.

I did the same think for the cap band, left it to electroplate way too long and it now has a rough finish but I did prove I could electroplated the cap band while the band is still on the cap without damage to the pen cap.

Lessons learned:

  • Less electroplating is better. I.e. 5-10 minutes is definitely better than 2 hours.
  • A 3 volt battery pack works well, no real reason to consider downsizing.
  • Don’t skimp on the amount of vinegar in the jar.
  • The process dissolves the donor metal.
  • Doesn’t blow up the house.
  • Be prepared (go buy fuses).


I'm a loser as my wife likes to tell me, I enjoy researching dead cousins and playing with fountain pens.

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