Follow a Part From the Start: Chrome Plating Aluminum Trim

November 13, 2014 by Josh - No Comments

One of the more common questions we receive here at Advanced Plating is “do you restore aluminum trim?”  While the answer is a resounding yes, it is a tricky question that is not so black and white.  While we cannot re-anodize the trim to the factory correct look, we can straighten and polish it to better than new condition.  The only problem that occurs with this is that no matter how bright we polish the aluminum it will eventually have a dull look once again.  So you will either need to clear coat it or find someone who can anodize it for you after the prep work has been done.

While shooting a clear coat on it may sound like a breeze, adhesion can be an issue as well as getting a smooth finish that doesn’t appear to have been sprayed.  This may lead you to determine that “ok having it re-anodized is the way to go.”  Nevertheless, therein lies yet another issue.  Aluminum is a naturally porous material.  Once you strip the old anodizing, straighten it, sand it down, and buff it out bright, you have enlarged or opened the pores of the metal and helped expose dead metal.  Although this will be virtually unnoticeable once it has been buffed out bright, it will stand out like a sore thumb after it has been anodized.  The simplest way to describe it is, when you look at the trim you will see white spots or areas that look speckled.  You will almost be lead to believe that something must have got on it during the anodizing process, but the simple fact remains that you are looking at the pores or even worse dead metal.

So what option does this really leave you?  CHROME!  “You mean you can chrome plate aluminum trim?” You bet we can.  The advantages to chrome plating old aluminum trim far outweighs the other options.  Granted, if you want an OEM  correct look this will not be the way to go, but if you’re looking to upgrade or just improve the car you are building or restoring this is the perfect solution.

Besides the obvious advantage of not having that dull anodized look, when you choose to chrome plate aluminum trim this allows us to make the trim even more wave free and straighter than if we were just polishing it out or prepping it for a coating.  Plus, if you have chrome plated bumpers and various pot metal pieces on the car, this can tie the whole look together with the unified look of chrome.  We can even chrome plate any stainless steel trim that your car has on it too. Here is a look at how this whole process is done on aluminum trim.

aluminum trim for chrome

Here is our subject for this process. This is the aluminum trim from a mid-1960’s muscle car. The anodizing is faded and the trim has its fair share of road rash, dents, dings, and imperfections.

aluminum trim for chrome

This close up shows the condition of the aluminum trim prior to the work beginning.

aluminum trim for chrome

Before the repair and plating process, all of the trim pieces are chemically stripped to remove any existing anodizing or coating.

aluminum trim for chrome

Once the trim has been stripped to raw aluminum, all of the trim is ready for a polisher to work their magic on them.

aluminum trim for chrome

Here is a close up view of the raw aluminum finish.

aluminum trim for chrome

Due to the contour of the trim, a number of tools will be used to straighten and remove dents from the various surfaces. Here a thin strip of hard steel is used to remove dents from the fine center line.

aluminum trim for chrome

After some of the major dents are removed, each surface is blocked to reveal any low spots or less visible dents. This polisher starts by blocking the recessed fine surfaces first.

aluminum trim for chrome

Next the polisher hard blocks the wide top surface to find any dents, dings, or imperfections.

aluminum trim for chrome

Once sanded, the shiny spots reveal areas that need straightened and repaired.

aluminum trim for chrome

More straightening is performed using various tools after spots were revealed by sanding.

aluminum trim for chrome

If necessary, a polisher will need to lift up bent over flaps to access hard to straighten spots. The polisher will of course fold back over these sections to factory specifications before plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

Once additional dent removal was complete, more block sanding is performed.

aluminum trim for chrome

Now that everything has blocked out dent free, a light grind is performed to remove any deep pits, scratches, or gouges to smooth out the surface.

aluminum trim for chrome

The same angle grinder is used to redefine edges and smooth the edges of recessed areas.

aluminum trim for chrome

After all surfaces have received a light grind, the trim is DA sanded to remove any deep sanding marks.

aluminum trim for chrome

Once the surfaces have been DA sanded, now main surface is blocked one last time. It may seem like a lot of repetition, but the majority of the work is done on the front end so the trim does not end up being thick with plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

Here is a shot of all the trim after it has been prepped for plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

This close up images shows the surface after the prep work is complete. These pieces of trim are now ready for plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

Depending on the severity of the repairs that need to be made, a piece of trim may take multiple trips through the plating process. Ideally, as few times is possible is desired to keep thickness down. Here the trim is in final copper.

aluminum trim for chrome

The trim is completely DA sanded in preparation of buffing out bright for chrome plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

The DA finish is done in a 320-grit, which will buff out nice and bright on the buffing wheel.

aluminum trim for chrome

At this point all the trim is buffed out to a bright mirror finish for the final steps in plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

Once buffed bright, you can imagine exactly what it will look like chrome plated. This will also reveal any flaws that may need addressed.

aluminum trim for chrome

The trim is flawless and ready for plating. Now it will receive nickel plating followed by hexavalent chrome plating.

aluminum trim for chrome

The finished product is a major improvement from the original anodizing that would have been found on the trim from the factory. This trim chrome plated will add a nice amount of pop to the car it is going on.

aluminum trim for chrome

As you can see the finish is flawless and retains all of the original factory lines and details.

Nova-Rocker-Trim-1

Here is the trim plated and mounted on the car with the recessed detail painted black. A fantastic new look.