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Step by Step home anodizing of aluminium The exact steps any home anodizer is going to take are dictated by time, available resources, attention to detail and various other factors. Here is my quick guide to home aluminium anodizing - but don't blame me if it doesn't work. • Mix up 10 to 20% Sulphuric Acid solution with pure distilled water. Enough to fill whatever container you are going to use about 2/3 full. Leave to cool. This mixture can be used many hundreds of times for anodizing runs. It will eventually pick up impurities any become less effective. Remember, never add water to acid, always add acid to water so it doesn't fizz and bite back! Do not let any extra water, caustic soda, sodium bicarbonate or similiar near the acid bath. Prepare your aluminium piece. Finish is everything - anodizing does not hide a poor finish. Clean it up with 1200 paper and maybe polish. Cover your working area in something disposable. Putting the anodizing bath on a big sheet of glass is a good idea - keeps any splashed acid off the worktop. Make sure the bucket of sodium barcarbonate solution is handy for dipping things in. I suggest getting a big (ie several kilos) carton of bicarbonate from a catering suppler or cash and carry. If you do spill a serious amount of acid, its nice to have some alkali handy to neutralise it. Fizz the aluminium in caustic soda solution until it looks a nice grey colour. If the aluminium is already anodized, it is possible to remove the anodized layer by leaving it in the caustic soda bath for longer. I've not read of the correct strength of the caustic soda bath for preparing the metal. An eggcup or two of caustic soda granules in a pint of warm water works for me. If you have some desmut in nitric acid to clean of the other metals, then wash off the part once more with lots of water. Without nitric acid, just try to clean up the part as best you can with hot soapy water and then rinse. Suspend the aluminium part in the acid so it is completely immersed using some kind of aluminium wire or aluminium strut. The only metals allowed in the bath are aluminium and lead. Make sure you get a good electrical connection. Bear in mind that any parts where the suspending wire touches the part it will not be anodized, and will not take up the dye. Twist a bit of wire into a tapped hole or something. Make sure that you don't touch the part. Grease from finger prints can • • • • • leave a mark on the finished item. Get some good gloves. • • • Place a Lead cathode in the bath. This should have a surface area of at least twice that of the aluminium part. Don't let it touch the aluminium part at the anode. Attach the positive connection of your power supply to the aluminium anode and the negative connection to the lead cathode. Run the power at 12 volts for about 45 minutes. The cathode will fizz a lot, the anode will also show some small bubbles. The acid will heat up. If you are not sure its working, use an ammeter to see whats going on. You should not allow the acid to become warm - ideally it wants to stay at 20C. Let the acid cool between anodizing runs, or rig up a cooler. Remember only lead or aluminium in the tank. Even a fan blowing on the tank helps. If you think about it, 12v at, say 2 amps, acts like a 24 watt header, and thats before the heat created by the reaction. There is a lot of words written about what current to anodize with. Apparently you are supposed to anodize at between 4 and 12 amps per square foot of anode surface area. With most parts its almost impossible to estimate the surface area. After etching in the caustic soda, you'll throw your calculations out even further. For my purposes I just run the whole thing at 12 volts and let it draw as much current. Remove aluminium part from the acid and wash in distilled water. Try not to drip acid from the part over the kitchen whilst moving to the water. If you must walk around the house with bits of aluminium covered in acid, hold a bowl of bicarbonate underneath. Dip the part in the chosen dye for between 1 and 15 minutes depending on how much colour you want. Heating the dye will increase the speed of colour uptake, however no hotter than 50C or you will start to seal the layer. Experiment is the key! With the Dylon dyes I normally mix them up with about a litre of warm water and use that. The dye mix can be used over and over again. Keep the dye mix out of sunlight. Boil the part in distilled water for 30 minutes to seal the surface. Some of the dye will leak out into the water before the surface is sealed, but its not too much of a problem. You might want to hold the part in hot steam for a while before you put it in the water. Start the water at about 95C and bring it to a simmering boil over the course of a few minutes. You can buy anodizing sealers to add to the water, but I've not needed this. I have an unconfirmed suspicion that commerical anodizing dyes need a special sealer. Give it a good rub with a very soft white cloth. Sometimes a get a bit of colour coming off the sealed part, but this stops after a few moments rubbing. I find a good long boil reduces this problem. • • • • • Nitric Acid: The Chemical for Preparing and Desmutting Aluminium The Chemical formula for Nitric Acid Nitric Acid is HNO3. About Nitric Acid Nitric Acid is really horrible stuff. In my opinion it is much nastier than sulfuric acid. The bottles I get are a sort of light yellow wee colour. You unscrew the cap, and a visible fume of white vapour comes out the top. Nasty. The yellow colour is due to the oxides of nitrogen forming over time. Really strong nitric acid (over 86%) is known as fuming nitric acid. This can either be white fuming or red fuming depending on how much nitrogen dioxide is present. Nitric acid is used as a lab reagent, and more famously in the making of exposives like TNT. It is also popular in making fertiliser, but that is far to dull to go into. I'm always careful with this acid, and keep a lot of alkaline nearby for emergencies. Where to buy Nitric Acid Nitric acid is not easy to buy. I use an online shop in the uk to buy bottles of 70% solution. They send this stuff through the post? Madness, but I love it! Nitric acid and aluminium anodising: Desmutting The purpose of nitric acid in the aluminium anodising process is not immediately aparent. Nitric acid is used to prepare the surface of the aluminium prior to the anodising itself. The first stage in preparing the aluminium for anodising is to clean off the existing oxide layer in a bath of caustic soda. This is very exciting and smelly: lots of frothing and steaming etc. Proper chemistry. Not of this mucking about with pathetic bits of litmus paper. After the caustic soda bath, the aluminium is washed. At this point, depending on the alloy of aluminium used, the surface appears to be covered in smut. Aluminium is not normally used in the pure form. It is an alloy of many different metals. Although the caustic soda removes the aluminium and aluminium oxide, it does not remove the other metals, and these remain on the surface. Enter the Nitric acid. All these other metals will be dissolved by nitric acid.. but not the aluminium. Therefore, after the caustic soda stage, the part is soaked in a bath of made of half water and half 70% nitric acid. This cleans up the part lovely. Again, the part is washed in water, and it is ready for anodising. Some hints and tips on home aluminium anodising Dye This pages contains some small comments to help you on your path to home anodising just some small remarks that I've noticed during my anodizing aluminium experiments. • The caustic soda phase is very critical. A minute or so in the bath is required. Leaving it a bit longer gives a very matt finish to the final aluminium part: Which is a Good Thing (TM) if you are anodising an aluminium optical part. The thing to remember with the caustic soda bath is that it is dissolving the aluminium. Leave it too long and it the part gets smaller. This is generally noticed when two closely fitting parts no longer closely fit. Also, after 10 minutes in the bath, tapped holes will no longer hold their correct sized screws. You can remove anodising with a few extra minutes in the caustic soda bath. I find that a mug of caustic soda granules in 2 litres of hot water will strip off the anodising in about 5 minutes. The caustic soda solution ends up looking very yucky. Also see the point above. After the caustic soda bath phase, it is very important to clean the part. Because aluminium is normally in an alloy with lots of other metals, these metals will smut the surface. You can buy de-smutting solution if you like. However, I find a good wash works wonders. After the caustic soda bath, fill the sink with hot water with lots of washing up liquid. With rubber gloves on, scrub the part with a toothbrush until it is an nice even finish. Don't use a "green scrubby thing" or a Brilo pad this will scratch the surface (which you might want, so hey!). This scrubbing is VERY important to the final finish. Getting a good electrical connection is vital. It is worth spending some time making something out of aluminium that has a threaded section to screw into tapped holes in your aluminium part. If you are anodising several things at once, you'll find the one with the poorest connection doesn't anodise well Don't use steel screws to hold the part in the acid - steel in the acid will dissolve!!! Don't use those pretty coloured aluminium bolts sold for bicycles either. These are anodised... I supposed you could caustic soda them in the bath first and then use them... I haven't tried. Anodised aluminium does not conduct electricity well. If you have used a bit of • • • • • • • scrap aluminium to hold a part in the acid bath, clean off the anodising with a file before you use it again. • • I find about 1 hour in the acid bath gives a good anodized layer. Be very very careful not to touch a freshly anodised part with your fingers. The grease will ruin the final part. You end up with a nice anodised fingerprint on the part. If you use steel bulldog/alligator clips to attach the power to the acid bath, be sure to dip them in the bicarb solution before you put them away, other wise they will slowly dissolve. Boil mercilessly. Boiling for 45 minutes is not going to harm the part. This ensures a good seal on the anodising. It doesn't matter if the part being anodised touchs the plastic sides of the acid bath. It does matter if it touchs the lead cathode. Make the cathode as big as you reasonably can. Fold the lead around on itself several times to get a good surface area. After a few sessions the acid bath will have a lot of muck at the bottom. This doesn't effect the anodising qualities. If you snap a hardened steel tap off in your job, anodise it anyway. When the anodising is finished, you will find the broken end of the tap that was embedded in the aluminium part has dissolved. Don't do this too often otherwise you'll end up with very mucky acid. With larger parts, the acid bath will fizz lots. It is best to do the anodising outside. You are going to use a lot of distilled water. Battery topup water can be purchased in Halfords in gallon containers, but it is about 3 quid. This gets expensive. I've yet to figure out a way of getting hold of lots cheaply. I suppose I could make my own water distiller. Don't keep the caustic soda in the same box/drawer/cupboard as the acid bath. Do put a warning label on the box to say it contains nasty stuff. Don't leave lead cathodes where animals are going to lick them. Shutting your pet cat in the living room during anodising sessions is a)A really good idea b)Really pisses the cat off. This also applies to small children. • • • • • • • • • • • • • Anodizing aluminium manual 2 Some three years ago I took to wondering if it would not be practical for the home workshop enthusiast to renew those faded or damaged anodised parts which contribute so much to the good looks of a completed project and or new parts. Since practical advice seems to be rather difficult to come by, I read a few books, followed some experimentation, achieved much discovery of an artful process, and Success !!! The process itself, though chemically complex, is rather simple. First it involves the transformation of the surface aluminium oxide to aluminium hydroxide (anodise), then to a hydroxide monohydrate. An interesting property of hydroxide is its ability to absorb dyes into the microscopic porosity's of its surface. After impregnating, or dyed with a colour medium, the surface is then "sealed" into a monohydrate and the surface becomes very hard and resistant to wear. Method And Materials The process requires the use of either chromic or sulphuric acid in the anodising electrolysis bath. I have limited my use to the sulphuric process because of the ready availability of battery acid and the ability of the process to absorb a wide variety of dye .The acid used is "1270 SElead acid(, battery electrolyte obtainable wherever you buy new car batteries. Cut this 50/50 with distilled water to obtain the anodising solution. NOTE Always wear eye protection and rubber gloves when working with acid. CAUTION Always add the acid to the water never the reverse. Distilled water is recommended because the use of ordinary tap water invariably contains some minerals which will cause smutty deposits on the work and generally not contribute to consistent results. The acid anodising solution needs to be stored and used in a suitably sized plastic, or glass, open ended container. A lead strip cathode plate(s) is required. The lead plate(s) should be about twice the surface area of the largest workpiece (anode) to be anodised. I use a variable DC power supply (2 to 30 V surplus unit) which I find ideal but any charged car battery will do the job. I find that most small parts require around 10 V to maintain the required current density through the bath; so 12 V should suffice for most work. An ammeter reading from 0 to 3 AMPS (for 20 square inch, maximum) Is a must, as well as a heavy duty rheostat in series with the supply and the anodising tank. The resistance of the rheostat will, of course, vary with the size of the work contemplated, but it can be calculated from the required current density of 145 to 175 milliamperes (ma) per square inch of the anode workpiece. The workpiece surface area must be calculated In order to set the anodising current. And, a surplus wirewound rheostat (variable resistor) of a few hundred ohms will do. Let's assume that we want to anodise a propeller spinner, or flywheel, the surface of which, is calculated to be 2.5 sq. inches . The anodising current density required will be: Minimum: 0.145 X 2.5 = 0.362 Amps Maximum: 0.175 X 2.5 = 0.437 Amps So, the current must be between 362 and 437 ma. In anodising this part I would maintain my adjustment at 4oo ma. The part to be anodised must be chemically clean. No effort must be spared buffing and cleaning prior to complete degreasing in hot water using a strong detergent. At this stage handle the part with rubber gloves or not at all. Use only the aluminium contact strip fixed to the part. Rinse well and you're ready to anodise. The anodising tank is set up as follows: Process Notes A good anodised coating thickness will be built up after 40 minutes at the calculated current density. Keep a running check on the current reading as this will tend to vary during the process. Too low a current setting will result in a surface that will have difficulty absorbing the colour dye. Too high a current setting will result in overheating the tank solution and a porous finish which will leach out the dye during fixing. A good anodised surface will have a slightly milky appearance when ready for fixing; or colour dyed and fixed. Copper , brass. or iron will contaminate the tank and degrade the process. Use only lead or aluminium contact strips. I use wooden clothes pegs to set my workpiece height in the tank. Few, if any, parts you make will be made from pure aluminium. Most will be made from aluminium alloys which contain varying proportions of copper, manganese, silicon, and sometimes, other elements in the mix. These alloys have an effect on the ultimate colour shade obtainable with a given dye and process. If colour shade repeatability is required, the same alloy, process times, and temperatures must be carefully duplicated. Previously anodised parts must first be strip-cleaned in a strong Akali to remove all traces of prior anodising oxides. COLOUR DYES Organic dyes are usually used because of their great variety and depth of colours. Industrial dyes can be obtained, but only in too large a quantity for our purposes. Coloured artist Inks are generally suitable, as are food colour Dyes with varying results. A yellow dye gives the "gold" anodised look because of the translucence of the anodic coating and the metallic reflection. Some writing Inks are also suitable such as Skip or Carter, which gives a great "black". The trick is to find a colour with a pigment size small enough to enter the microscopic anodic oxide coating and be sealed there. Experimentation and patience are both recommended. COLOUR PROCESS Dyes may be used hot, usually 150 F, or at room temperature. The dye and the effect required will determine the choice. I usually use mine at room temperature and an immersion time of between one minute to 15 minutes, depending on the depth of shade required. Agitation is required. A "coarse" dye will just accumulate on the surface and will wash off during fixing. FIXING PROCESS Fixing is done in plain old H2O (near boiling) for about 20 minutes. Preferably, use distilled water to avoid those nasty mineral deposits on our nice parts - temperature: 200 F. A certain amount of dye will leach out into the water before the surface seals. It is best to avoid actively boiling water since this agitation will accelerate the colour loss. Chemical additives for the fixing bath are available, but I haven't found any to recommend. To keep colour loss at a minimum I have found that rotating the part in steam for ten minutes before total immersion does a considerable job in reducing leaching probably by closing the pores and sealing the dye before washing it out. The finished part is buffed with a clean cloth to remove any smutty deposits. A little wax brings out the colour. Reproduced from an article by Ed Cox in Strictly IC Aug/Sept 1988....USA Publication (No Copyright infringement intended)