The next feature to be considered in electrolysis is a most interesting and useful one, because a cheap or inferior metal may be coated by a more expensive metal. Silver and nickel plating are brought about by this action of a current passing through metals, which are immersed in an electrolyte.
We have room in this chapter for only one concrete example of this work, which, with suitable modifications, is an example of the art as practiced commercially. Iron, to a considerable extent, is now being coated with copper to preserve it from rust. To carry out this work, however, an electroplating dynamo, of large amperage, is required, the amperage, of course, depending upon the surface to be treated at one time. The pressure should not exceed 5 volts
The iron surface to be treated should first be thoroughly cleansed, and then immediately put into a tank containing a cyanide of copper solution. Two forms of copper solution are used, namely, the cyanide, which is a salt solution of copper, and the sulphate, which is an acid solution of copper. Cyanide is first used because it does not attack the iron, as would be the case if the sulphate solution should first come into contact with the iron.
A sheet of copper, termed the anode, is then placed within the tank, parallel with the surface to be plated, known as the cathode, and so mounted that it may be adjusted to or from the iron surface, or cathode. A direct current of electricity is then caused to flow through the copper plate and into the iron plate or surface, and the plating proceeded with until the iron surface has a thin film of copper deposited thereon. This is a slow process with the cyanide solution, so it is discontinued as soon as possible, after the iron surface has been completely covered with copper. This copper surface is thoroughly cleaned off to remove therefrom the saline or alkaline solution, and it is then immersed within a bath, containing a solution of sulphate of copper. The current is then thrown on and allowed so to remain until it has deposited the proper thickness of copper.
If a copper and an iron plate are put into a copper solution and connected up in circuit with each other, a primary battery is thereby formed, which will generate electricity. In this case, the iron will be positive and the copper negative, so that the current within such a cell would flow from the iron (in this instance, the anode) to the negative, or cathode.
The action of electroplating reverses this process and causes the current to flow from the copper to the iron (in this instance, the cathode).