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Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Refinishing Electroplated Parts Refinishing Electroplated Parts Hot

Many pinball games include metal parts that have been electroplated to increase rust resistance.  Image 1 shows three electroplated assemblies from a Data East Hook pinball.  These parts were originally electroplated using zinc yellow (zinc plating with a yellow chromate coating) and although it's a little difficult to see in the photo the result is a mottled gold color with hints of red, green and occasionally blue.

While in most cases the parts are not visible until the machine is opened up, I always clean them when doing a full restoration.  Normally chemical cleaners are sufficient, but if there is any corrosion, sanding will be required to prevent further degradation of the appearance.  Once the zinc yellow finish is removed, and bare steel exposed, we need to either have the parts electroplated or try to match the original finish using paint.

Image 2 shows the lock down lever assembly (the mechanism the bottom of the playfield rests on) from a Data East Hook pinball with black corrosion on the right side.  I've already removed the corrosion on the left side of the assembly using 100 grit sandpaper and a finishing sander.  This grit is fine for both cleaning up the assembly and providing a good finish.

While electroplating is the best option, it will cost around $50 to have a 5 gallon bucket of parts done.  The price is the same whether you have one part or a bucket full.  Since I only have one part that needs refinishing at the moment I decided to go with the painting method to restore the yellow zinc finish.

Eastwood makes a Golden Cad Kit that you can purchase direct from them or through Amazon for slightly less than $50.  I've used this product in the past and depending on your artistic ability you can get a pretty good replication of the original finish.  There's a video on the product page that shows how to use it.  Note: Depending on the game you are working on bronze paint may be a better choice than gold paint.

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Refinishing Electroplated Parts
Refinishing Electroplated Parts
Refinishing Electroplated Parts
Refinishing Electroplated Parts
Refinishing Electroplated Parts

In this case though I decided to look for a technique that was less expensive and less dependent on artistic ability.  Thanks to Mary at Michaels Arts & Crafts I came up with the following approach using Adirondock Brights (transparent) Alochol Inks.  You can buy the inks in a three-pack with red, green and blue colors at Michaels.  For five bucks you'll get enough ink to last years.

Once you've sanded down the assembly, tape off any portions you don't want to paint with blue painter's tape.  Then apply two or three thin coats of Rustoleum Primer and then two or three thin coats of Rustoleum Bronze Metallic (in this case bronze was a better choice) spray paint (see image 3).  You don't need to sand between coats.

Once the paint has dried, take a folded over paper towel and place one drop of the red ink on the towel and then rub the ink on the lock down lever assembly.  Add another drop of ink and repeat for the next spot.  After you've done a few spots change to a clean portion of the paper towel and continue.  Repeat the procedure using the green ink and the blue if necessary (in my case the assembly did not have any blue hues) and you will get something that looks like image 3.

After ten minutes put a few drops of denatured alcohol on a fresh paper towel and again using your index finger rub lightly across the painted areas.  As you rub, excess ink will be absorbed into the towel and the colors will lighten and blend into the surrounding areas.  If too much of the ink is being removed just wait a few more minutes before doing this step.

I generally rubbed with the grain (along the length of the assembly), but you can also go against the grain or rub in circles, or a combination of all three.  I found this technique to be very forgiving and was very happy with the final result (see image 5).  If you're not happy with your result just use the alcohol to remove all of the ink and start over.  Once satisfied, I finished off with three coats of clear finish.

TIP: It's a good idea to have another electroplated part available or sand only one side of the part you're working on so you have a comparison as your are blending in the inks.