Chrome Q's and A's
By Bobby Baker
Bobby Baker, of Superior Chrome Plating Inc., chrome plating and other services conducted a special forum for us. The Stovebolt Page pulled these questions and answers from there.
Question -- How does the Chrome industry estimate prices?
Bobby -- That's a very good question. There is no set formula for pricing chrome work. At Superior Chrome Plating, we can look at a piece and know how much labor it will require.
The biggest cost of a chroming business in the labor in straightening and polishing a piece. So the price very much depends on the condition of the item.
When I quote a piece I give a price range rather than a set amount. For instance I'll quote a bumper at $250-$300 then set the actual price when I've seen the condition of the bumper. You can price shop to know if your getting a fair deal. Almost all chrome shops will give you a quote for free. We offer a free quote online at www.justchromeit.com.
Question -- Is it cheaper to have a painted grille chromed than to have a chrome one redone?
Bobby -- The acid tank takes off both paint and old chrome. The real work is in the polishing of the part. So there is no difference in pricing for chroming a painted part versus a chromed part (assuming identical condition parts, of course).
Question -- Can pitted/cracked/broken pot metal be repaired?
Bobby -- Pitted/cracked/broken pot metal can be repaired and requires triple chrome (copper/nickel/chrome) since nickel won't stick to pot metal over time. Pot metal is the stuff they scrape off of the top of liquid steel. In the old days it was used to make cheap pots, hence the name. It's basically a very cheap metal that is full of air pockets, which is what causes the pitting. The cost of chroming a pot metal part is determined by two factors: The condition of the core and how good you want the finished piece to look. The more pits, the more trips into the copper tank and additional time by the "Polisher". If you've got a piece of broken pot metal that you're going to have chromed, let the chrome shop repair it rather than repairing it yourself with a "weld" product.
Question -- Can the stainless steel bolts I bought to mount my bumpers be chromed to match the bumpers?
Bobby -- Stainless steel can be plated but it won't hold up and won't look like steel plating (less luster). Best to just purchase new bolts. Purchasing pre-chromed bolts would be your cheapest solution.
Question -- What's the best way to protect chrome?
Bobby -- I would agree with Matt McD who posted, "If it's for storage, a petroleum jelly (vaseline, etc.) is the best bet. If it's for driving, just wax it really good with the rest of the truck."
Question -- I'd like to save money by doing a lot of the prep work myself, specifically in working up pitted areas. How smooth should I try to get it before taking it in for the copper plate? Polished smooth like a mirror or is just kinda smooth good enough? What kind of sand paper works best in this process?
Bobby -- You're right in that getting most of the pits out involves a lot of labor in the polishing. BUT... A plating job is only as good as the polishing, so I would suggest you let a custom chrome shop of your choice do the final polishing and plating. You really want to talk to the chrome shop first to make sure they will work with you on the back and forth.
Question -- I was trying to strip chrome off some parts by media blasting. But there is still a coating of something in spots. Is it safe to epoxy prime and paint over this layer?
Bobby -- You had chrome and nickel on your parts and it sounds like you got all the chrome and most of the nickel off. (Chrome is a clear coating over nickel) The "coating" you mention is the remaining nickel. To get all the nickel off, you would need a chemical bath. But for your application, priming and painting over the nickel will be fine.
Question -- What product, if any, can I use to spray or paint on the back side of a nicely done grille to prevent it from starting to rust or prevent it from rusting at all?
Bobby -- You can use a rust preventative paint like Rust-Oleum or several of my clients have recommended POR-15.
Question -- What's your cost to rechrome the front and rear bumpers from a 1953 Suburban? Is it triple nickel?
Bobby -- "Triple Nickel" -- your probably are referring to "Triple Chrome" which means three metal layers (Copper, Nickel, Chrome). Copper was used in the olden' days because Nickel would not bond well to steel. The modern chroming process no longer requires copper on solid steel. See my post here for a description of the process. The modern process is so reliable that Superior Chrome offers a lifetime warranty on all it's bumpers. The bumpers on a '53 Suburban are going to run you about between $225-250/each, depending on amount of repair work, if any. That doesn't include the five-bar grille. The grille bars would be $75-85 each, again depending on amount of repair needed.
Question -- I bought four new trim rings to go along with the four new wheels at a swap meet about 4 1/2 years ago. They are the Chevrolet Rally type aftermarket wheels with chrome or stainless steel trim rings. I wouldn't be surprised if they are made over seas. The trim is now turning a copper-goldish-color. Is this due to cheap parts? I thought they had brake dust on them, but after a good cleaning and waxing, they still seem to be a little off colored.
Bobby -- Without seeing the rings, I'm guessing that they are probably after market products with very inferior chrome. As the chrome wears off the coloring turns faded gold. We could plate them for $50-60/each but it's cheaper just to buy new ones.
Question -- I have often heard it is cheaper to have a painted grille chromed than to have a chrome one re-done. Would you comment on this please.
Bobby -- Paint vs Chromed cores both have their problems. For instance a painted part may hide bondo which can be used to cover small dents and holes. So it is really tough to say one will be cheaper than the other. It really boils down to the condition of the core under the paint or chrome. That's why I always quote a small price range rather than a specific amount. You just can't be sure of a parts true condition until it has been stripped.
Question -- Are things around the house like shower curtain rods and taps really 'chrome'? Just wondering how they can sell a 'chrome' curtain rod for $9.95? If I painted my 'chrome' curtain rod, will the paint stick?
Bobby -- "All the world's greatest inventions were thought of in the shower." My best guess ...the curtain rod and sink tap are brand new when they are chromed so there is little or no labor in the prep work. They are also "Flash" chrome which is a VERY thin layer of nickel and chrome. If you have no labor and 20 cents worth of materials, you can sell it for $9.95 and make a profit.
Question -- Would brushing the bumper instead of polishing it prior to chroming produce a "satin" brushed look? I like the brushed nickel finish that's popular on faucets and wonder if a grill and bumper could be done that way.
Bobby -- It can be done but on a bumper the finish would not last a long time because you have no chrome on the brushed finish.
Question -- At some point I will need a grill. I want it to be chrome of course. Would it be better to buy the chrome grills for $525 or buy a non-chrome grill for $250 and have you chrome it? What is the cost difference? Would your quality be better? Or is there another option?
Bobby -- "To buy or not to buy ..." Really a good question. Consider the earlier comment from one of the Stovebolters about purchasing "repro chrome grills in the past and have yet to find a decent one that fits without modifications or has good chrome." His suggestion was to "start off with a stock piece and have it chromed. It'll fit and the chrome will last a whole lot longer-if properly done." That comment about the reproduction pieces is right on the mark. Repro's have a very thin layer of nickel and chrome that won't hold up over time. So I would suggest OEM only. The good news is that American Classic Truck Parts sells OEM chrome grilles. I know because we do all of their chrome work. If you can't find one on ACTP, find an original in decent condition and let a good chrome shop refinish it for you. You'll be much happier with the result.
Question -- In my area of California, we use to have several chrome shops within a short distance, and now I have to drive for an hour to find one or I have to ship it out. I talked to the owner of one shop and he said the EPA has run a lot of shops out of business and they keep changing the rules making it tougher and tougher to do business in California. I was wondering if this is a national problem for chrome shops or is this just a CA problem?
Bobby -- Just let me say that the EPA does a great job and we love them. The EPA is federally regulated and empowered but not federally funded. They get their funding from the fines they levy. So they have two major incentives for enforcing the water regulations -- environment and funding. For a chrome shop, the major hazardous material is water used to rinse the pieces after chrome has been applied. The EPA works in combination with the state and local authorities to issue permits and regulate the wastewater making sure it isn't sent down the storm drains. The state water requirements are far more stringent in California than any other state. Superior Chrome operates in Texas and is regulated by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). The TCEQ issues a hazardous disposal storm water permit and the EPA just makes sure we meet the standards. It's very expensive to have hazardous wastewater treated within your own facility. What seems to drive most chrome shops out of business is trying to treat the water themselves. It's far more cost effective to barrel it and have it hauled off by a waste disposal company that is set up to properly treat the water. Mexico has just started regulating plating companies over the past two years. Mexico plating companies currently keep their prices low in two ways. One is the lack of water regulation, but that is changing. The other is by using chemicals well past their prime. It's like frying French fries in new oil vs old oil. Both are fried but they don't taste the same ... and on chrome plating, quality counts.
Have more questions? Email me directly from my web site. Always happy to provide an answer or a quote.
Be sure to check out our extensive Forums discussions -- from General Truck talk, Electrical Bay, Big Bolts, Panels and Burbs, Engine and Driveline, Paint and Body, Interiors, Tool Chest -- The Stovebolt Collective can help in your quest and walk you through the mire and magic of working with old iron. ~~ Editor.
v. Feb 2005
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