Metal Finishing

Aircraft parts are almost always given some type of surface finish by the manufacturer. The main purpose is to provide corrosion resistance; however, surface finishes may also be applied to increase wear resistance or to provide a suitable base for paint.

In most instances the original finishes cannot be restored in the field due to nonavailability of equipment or other limitations. However, an understanding of the various types of metal finishes is necessary if they are to be properly maintained in the field and if the partial restoration techniques used in corrosion control are to be effective.

Surface Preparation

Original surface treatments for steel parts usually include a cleaning treatment to remove all traces of dirt, oil, grease, oxides, and moisture. This is necessary to provide an effective bond between the metal surface and the final finish. The cleaning process may be either mechanical or chemical. In mechanical cleaning the following methods are employed: wire brush, steel wool, emery cloth, sandblasting, or vapor blasting.

Chemical cleaning is preferred over mechanical since none of the base metal is removed by cleaning. There are various chemical processes now in use, and the type used will depend on the material being cleaned and the type of foreign matter being removed.

Steel parts are pickled to remove scale, rust, or other foreign matter, particularly before plating. The pickling solution can be either muriatic (hydrochloric) or sulfuric acid. Cost wise, sulfuric acid is preferable, but muriatic acid is more effective in removing certain types of scale.

The pickling solution is kept in a stoneware tank and is usually heated by means of a steam coil. Parts not to be electroplated after pickling are immersed in a lime bath to neutralize the acid from the pickling solution.

Electrocleaning is another type of chemical cleaning used to remove grease, oil, or organic matter. In this cleaning process, the metal is suspended in a hot alkaline solution containing special wetting agents, inhibitors, and materials to provide the necessary electrical conductivity. An electric current is then passed through the solution in a manner similar to that used in electroplating.

Aluminum and magnesium parts are also cleaned by using some of the foregoing methods. Blast cleaning is not applicable to thin aluminum sheets, particularly alclad. Steel grits are not used on aluminum or corrosion resistant metals.

Polishing, buffing, and coloring of metal surfaces play a very important part in the finishing of metal surfaces. Polishing and buffing operations are sometimes used when preparing a metal surface for electroplating, and all three operations are used when the metal surface requires a high luster finish.


Electroplating is the process of transferring metal from one object to another by chemical and electrical means. Several reasons for applying plated coatings are:

1. To protect the base metal (metal being plated) against corrosion. Tin, zinc, nickel, and cadmium are some of the metals used to form a protective coating on another metal by electrolytic action.

2. To protect the base metal against wear, caused by abrasion or fretting corrosion. Chromium plating is extensively used for wear resistance on gauges, dies, oleo pistons, and cylinder barrels. Nickel plating can also be used for this purpose.

3. To produce and retain a desired appearance (color and luster), as well as improve resistance to tarnish. Gold, nickel, or chromium plating can be used in this application.

4. To protect a base metal against some special chemical reaction; for example, copper plating is sometimes used to prevent certain parts of a component manufactured of steel from absorbing carbon during casehardening.

5. To increase the dimensions of a part. This process, known as "building up," may be applied to parts accidentally made undersize, or to worn parts. Nickel or chromium plating is commonly used for this purpose.

6. To serve as a base for further plating operations, reduce buffing costs, and ensure bright deposits of nickel or nickel and chromium. Copper is commonly used for this purpose.

All electroplating processes are basically similar. The equipment used consists of a tank or bath containing a liquid solution called an electrolyte, a control panel, and a source of direct current.

When a current is passed through the circuit, the plating material is the positive electrode or anode of the circuit. The part on which the plating is deposited is the negative electrode or cathode of the circuit. The source of power anode, cathode, and electrolyte form the plating electrical circuit and cause tiny particles of the plating material to be deposited on the surface of the part being plated. The process is continued until a plating of the required thickness is obtained. The electrolyte, anode, cathode, and current setting will vary with the type of plating material being used.

Some plating operations do not use anodes of the metal being deposited but obtain the metal from the electrolyte alone. Chromium plating is an example of this type plating. Lead anodes, instead of chromium anodes, which are unsatisfactory, are employed to complete the electrical circuit. The chromium for the plating comes from the chromic acid in the electrolyte.

Metal Spraying

Metal spraying, or metallizing, is the surface application of molten metal on any solid base material. It is possible to spray aluminum, cadmium, copper, nickel, steel, or any of several metals using this process. In aircraft work the process is used primarily to spray a coat of pure aluminum on steel parts to improve their corrosion resistance.

The base material must be roughened (usually by sandblasting) and perfectly clean in order for the sprayed metal to adhere to the surface of the base material. Metal spraying equipment consists of a supply of oxygen and acetylene piped to the spray gun, which ends in a nozzle. At this point they can be ignited as in a welding torch. A supply of compressed air is also piped to the spray gun. This compressed air operates a feeding mechanism that draws the wire through the spray gun. The wire is melted by the hot oxyacetylene flame and is thrown against the surface being metallized by the compressed air.