Mopar Muscle magazine is constantly on the lookout for new products and services that will make your Mopar go faster and/or look better. That's why when we got wind of the work coming out of Paul's Chrome Plating in Evans City, Pennsylvania, we decided to check it out for ourselves. Our rationale, besides wanting to get out from behind our desks, is that no matter how good your paint or how detailed your engine compartment is, if the bright work isn't up to par, you're going to lose some of that hard-earned respect. Even wheelstanding horsepower can only overcome so much before fingers start pointing at the details.
Owner Fred Hespenheide was really cool about taking us on a full-blown tour of his operation while explaining some of the secrets to show-quality trim restoration. We have to say this is not your average chrome shop. Show-quality work is all they do, and they do it all in-house. If you call to check on your order, they can tell you where each part is in the restoration process. While these guys can plate practically anything, including steel, brass, aluminum, stainless, pot metal, and even plastic and magnesium (perhaps the only shop anywhere that can show plate this highly reactive metal), we wanted to focus our attention on the sometimes seemingly impossible job of making pitted pot metal look like new again.
Pot metal cannot simply be buffed out or polished because corrosion has gotten under the chrome finish and eaten away at the base metal.To restore pot metal, all of the plating must be removed from the part before the corrosion can be removed from all the little pits. Then, the pits can be filled, and the part replated to look like new. It would be helpful to understand that chrome plating is actually a three-part process. (this is where the term "triple chrome plated" comes from.) First, the part is copper plated because copper sticks to most anything, and the second part, nickel, which is the metal that gives plated parts their silver-like look, adheres well to a copper base. The third step is the actual chrome layer that is really more like a clearcoat that keeps the nickel from tarnishing. The real advantage that Paul's Plating has is, if a flaw is found anywhere during the restoration process, they can strip everything off and start over again.
The outline of the basic process goes like this. First, the part is chemically cleaned and reverse plated to remove the old chrome and nickel layers. Since the copper layer cannot be electro-chemically removed, it has to be physically removed by hand. Fortunately, the factory coating isn't very thick. Now each pit has to be drilled out by hand to remove all of the corrosion. The tiniest speck of corrosion left behind can produce a flaw in the final finish. The part is now fine sanded to ensure all the critical surfaces are clean and smooth.
A layer of copper then needs to be applied before any pit repair can begin. Each pit is filled with solder much like plumbing pipes are sweat-fitted together. By heating the part in the area of damage, solder is drawn to the bottom of each pit ensuring complete filling and a solid bond. Once all the damage is repaired, the part is sanded smooth to remove any excess solder and is again dipped in the copper tank. This copper layer is then polished to a mirror-like finish. This is a critical step, as any flaw left in the surface will only be magnified by the next steps.
Next comes the nickel tank. Nickel plating is really what gives a chrome-plated part its silvery color. When a part comes out of the nickel tank, it looks like it has already been chromed. It's bright and shiny, and it looks great. The problem with nickel is it tarnishes very quickly, so that's why the chrome is necessary. The chrome layer is actually very thin, but also very hard and nearly clear.