Bronze Plating

Applications of bronze plating are varied. Alloys containing from 10 to 15% Sn are attractive and are used for decorative wares. These alloys have gold color that is browner than true gold; equivalent copper-zinc alloys are pinker in color.

Bronze plating is used on builders hardware, locks, and hinges to provide an attractive appearance and excellent corrosion resistance. Bronze-plated steel or cast iron bushings replace solid bronze bushings for many uses. Bronze plating is used where improved lubricity and wear resistance against steel are desired. Its good corrosion resistance makes it desirable as an undercoat on steel for bright nickel and chromium plate. Speculum alloys (45Sn-65Cu) are similar in appearance to silver and are used almost entirely for decorative purposes.

Solution Composition and Operating Conditions. Copper-tin alloys are plated from a simple system containing copper as a cyanide complex and tin as a stannate complex. A typical formula is given in Table 3. Because there are no interrelated complexes in the bronze plating solution, the alloy composition is controlled by the relative amounts of copper and tin in the solution (i.e., raising the tin content of the solution produces a higher tin content in the bronze plate). Alloys with very high tin contents, such as speculum, can be produced by simply increasing the tin content of the solution. Additives can be used to produce a bright plate. These additives usually contain lead, which acts as a brightener in bronze plating solutions.

Table 3 Composition and operating conditions for a typical bronze plating solution

Composition of plated deposit, 88Cu-12Sn

Constituent or condition



Potassium cyanide, g/L (oz/gal)

64 (8.6)

Copper cyanide, g/L (oz/gal)

29 (3.9)

Potassium stannate, g/L (oz/gal)

35 (4.7)

Potassium hydroxide, g/L (oz/gal)

10 (1.3)

Rochelle salt, g/L (oz/gal)

4.5 (6.0)


"Free cyanide," g/L (oz/gal)

22 (2.9)

Copper (as metal), g/L (oz/gal)

20 (2.7)

Tin (as metal), g/L (oz/gal)

14 (1.9)

Hydroxide, g/L (oz/gal)

10 (1.3)

Operating conditions

Temperature, °C (°F)

65 (149)

The temperature of the solution is an important plating variable. Temperatures below 40 °C (105 °F) generally produce poor deposits that are almost always higher in copper content. Higher temperatures create higher efficiencies and allow the use of a wide range of current densities. Normal temperatures are from 60 to 80 °C (140 to 175 °F). Barrel plating solutions usually use lower temperatures.

Equipment requirements for bronze plating are similar to those for brass plating; however, the tanks should be built to withstand the higher temperatures that are generally used for bronze plating.

Anodes. The choice of anodes for bronze plating is complicated by a number of factors. The tin in bronze plating solutions is present as stannate, and when bronze alloy anodes are used, the tin dissolves as stannite; thus bronze anodes are not suitable for use. Dual anodes of copper and tin, where each type of anode has a separate current source, have been used. To eliminate the need for separate current sources, it is customary to use oxygen-free copper anodes and to add stannate tin as stannic oxide, potassium stannate, or a slurry of stannate oxide to replace the tin being plated. The presence of stannite is indicated by a dark color in the solution. The stannite is oxidized to stannate by the use of hydrogen peroxide, which must be added slowly and with constant stirring to prevent reaction with cyanide. Other impurities are not of major concern in bronze plating solutions.

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