Mitch Hull sent his Boxer Camponneur to Franklin Frames of Newark, Ohio. The owner and sole employee is Jack Trumbull, who has been building, repairing and refinishing bicycle frames since 1976. I called him to get a few insights into the chroming process.
What makes chrome different than paint?
Triple-plated chrome is electrically applied. The current is negative on the frame and positive on the anode. You dip the frame in copper, then nickel, then chrome.
I specify double-plated chrome, which is a layer of nickel, then chrome. I prefer double plating, reason being the more layers you add, you lose definition, those crisp edges around the lugs. The nickel is the primer. The frame stays in there 40, 50 minutes. The chrome is the hard part. It goes in for 15, 20 minutes.
So you don’t use copper?
When you do a restore of a 1960s, 1970s frame and it’s really rusty, you can’t just polish it out. Then I go to copper, just in the pits, to bring them even to the surface of the tube.
How do you prep a painted frame for chrome?
When I send a frame to the plater, it looks exactly like when I get it back. It takes hours and hours of polishing. It has to be perfectly clean. No residual paint, no anything. The plating will only adhere where the electrical current flows.
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The bare frame has to look just like chrome because if there’s a bump, it will show up in the chrome. I use air tools and cartridge sanding rolls. I use different grits to get the scratches out and finish with jewelers rouge to get the high finish.
If the frame has any stainless steel parts, you have to seal them. The Boxer has a stainless steel chain hanger, and the internal cable routing is also stainless.
What can go wrong with chroming?
I’ve seen plenty of botched jobs. Somebody takes a frame to a bumper shop, they add a 16th of an inch of copper—too much plating—it’s just a mess. I weighed one frame at seven pounds. [Ed.: Good quality steel frames weigh between 3 and 5 lbs.]
If you just want to chrome the head lugs, you dip the front half of the frame. But sometimes you can see the edge of the chrome through the paint. My plater uses an oscillator to move the piece up and down in the bath to avoid that transition.
I guess it’s harder to chrome in tight spots, too.
The hardest part to plate is behind the bottom bracket and between the seat stays. The current makes a halo effect around the bridge. To get around that, you use an auxiliary anode. You fit rubber bushings into the bottom bracket and a little finger with the auxiliary anode that goes into the tight spot.
What if somebody comes to you with a chrome frame? How do you remove the old chrome?
The plater runs the current in reverse to remove the chrome and nickel. If it’s triple-plated, he sends it to a secondary plater to remove the copper.
You have to dip the frame in a cyanide bath to remove the copper. There aren’t a lot of platers who can do the work. Every year, there are fewer and fewer of them. Prices are going up and a lot of platers are going under because of regulations.
How much weight does your chroming process add to a frame?
Oh, I don’t know, couple of ounces maybe. Reynolds 531 tubing used to have a tiny embossing on one end of the tube. After chroming, you could still read it.
How do people find about you?
I don’t do the trade show circuit. Been there, done that. I’ve got the website, and I get a fair amount of return business—and from Classic Rendezvous. I build more bikes for other brands than my own. And I do more painting than frame building. Last year I did 300 repaints.