Chroming the Boxer: Jack Trumbull makes it shine

The area behind the bottom bracket requires extra attention to ensure the layers of nickel and chrome adhere.

The area behind the bottom bracket takes extra attention to ensure the layers of nickel and chrome adhere. Photo by Mitch Hull.

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.

The Compass tail light is a new addition to the Boxer. Photo by Mitch Hull.

The Compass tail light is a new addition to the Boxer. Photo by Mitch Hull.

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.

There may be no better protected position for a tail light
than between the seat tube and the seat stays.
Jan Heine talks about the Compass tail light.

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?

BoxerChainHanger1

Photo by Mitch Hull.

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.

 

20130726_1413

Photo by Mitch Hull.

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.

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About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
This entry was posted in Becoming a bicycle, Equipment, Other bicycles and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Chroming the Boxer: Jack Trumbull makes it shine

  1. Leaving off the copper is like not using primer. My dad chrome plated a lot of Toastmaster toasters ( 1955 through 1975 ), and he told me that chroming is like a candy apple paint job. The copper is like the primer, the nickel is the shiny base, and the chrome is almost like a clear coat.. Each one is important and serves a purpose. My dad was funny, we’d be at a stop light in the car and he would bitch about the poor chrome job on the bumper of the car in front.

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