How to Copper Plate an Ornament

Copper plate an ornament or other metal object using a redox reaction. (Joanna Kosinska)
Copper plate an ornament or other metal object using a redox reaction. (Joanna Kosinska)

Have you ever tried to plate copper? It’s much less expensive than gold or silver, yet incredibly beautiful. Use simple redox chemistry to make a keepsake copper ornament. Can you think of a better way to remember how much fun you had in chem class?

Copper Plating Materials

  • metal for the ornament – you could use squares of galvanized sheet metal that have a hole drilled at the top for hanging the ornament, or craft metal from a hobby shop, or galvanized wire, or hardware cloth from a hardware store. Be creative!
  • masking tape
  • copper (II) nitrate solution (~0.1 M)
  • pencil
  • utility knife
  • steel wool
  • tin snips (optional)

How To Copper Plate

  • If desired, cut or form your metal into a snowflake or star or other holiday shape. Wire can be wrapped around a sphere to make a glittering ball or you can bend it to conform to a traced shape (like a star or angel).
  • Once you have a shape you like, use sandpaper or steel wool to smooth any rough edges. Tin snips are nice to use with hardware cloth.
  • If you want part of the ornament silver (zinc-colored) and part copper, cover all areas you want to remain silver with masking tape.
  • You can use a utility knife to etch a design into the masking tape or can scratch the tape away with an awl or any sharpened object. This is nice if you have a rigid piece of metal and simply want to decorate it with a shiny copper design.
  • Dip the ornament in the copper nitrate solution until the uncovered areas are coated with the metal. Alternatively, you can use a cotton swab dipped in the solution to paint a design onto the metal.
  • Rinse your ornament with water, remove any masking tape, and allow your decoration to dry.

Tips & Ideas

  • To ‘galvanize’ a metal is to coat it with a layer of zinc metal. Zinc resists corrosion, so in this project, the galvanized metal of the untreated sections remains shiny. However, you can plate copper onto other metals, so if you have a different metal ornament you can make and wish to coat, feel free to experiment with it.
  • If the metal is dirty or you wish to remove its coating, you can dip it in dilute hydrochloric acid (HCl) until the bubbling stops, rinse with water, then treat with the copper nitrate solution.