How to Change the Color of Metal Using Heat, Chemicals, or Electroplating
Using Heat Chemicals, or Electroplating
In contrast to the alchemists who vainly sought to turn base metal into gold, modern metalworkers perform all sorts of real transformational magic. Using heat, chemicals, and electricity, they can change the colors of many metals or make one metal look like another. Metalworkers use these techniques primarily for decorating and refurbishing small objects such as switch plates and doorknobs, or antiquing copper roof flashing or window boxes.
You can color any metal containing iron, such as steel, with the oven heat of an ordinary kitchen range. Depending on the temperature setting, the steel changes color across a spectrum of shades ranging from pale yellow to dark blue. In addition, literally hundreds of chemicals will change the color of metal surfaces. Some of them are too toxic for amateurs to use. For example, cyanides, nitric acid, chromic acid, mercuric chloride, and lead acetate are hazardous chemicals only professionals should attempt to use. But you can safely use other techniques that are available from hobby shops, pharmacies, and chemical distributors.
Using Chemicals to Change the Color of Metal
There are two ways to color with chemicals. For the most uniform coating, you can dip objects into a chemical bath. However, when objects are too large to dip or move, you can coat them with a brush.
Electroplating metals to color them provides a durable coating. In this process, applicable to all metals, you brush a plating solution containing positively charged metal particles across a negatively charged metal surface, which bonds the particles to itself. You can use a 12-volt car battery to charge both the metal surface and the plating solution. You can also take a carbon core from a flashlight battery and use it as a brush. Plating solutions come in an array of metals. The most common are brass, nickel, silver, and chrome — and in alloys that produce gradations of color.
Electroplating metals to color them provides a durable coating for those interested in metal work. In this metal fabrication process, applicable to all metals including sheet metal, you brush a plating solution containing positively charged metal ions across a negatively charged metal surface, which bonds the ions to itself. You can use a 12-volt car battery to charge both the metal surface and the plating solution. You can also remove the carbon core from a flashlight battery and use it as a brush. Electroplating solutions come in an array of metals. The most common are brass plating, nickel plating, silver plating, and chrome plating, with many alloys to produce gradations of color via electroplating.