The Jawa Perak (image from 1952 brochure)  



by Bill English, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
Click for Part 1          Click for Part 2        Click for Part 4


Long before I started this restoration I had talked to a chroming company within about 200 kilometers of my home. The word on them was quite positive and the stuff they had done is first rate. What I wasn't quite prepared for, though, was how much it was going to cost to get the pieces chromed I needed to. It was at that point I decided to seriously look at doing the chroming myself with the Caswell kits. Besides, it fit more into my goal to do as much of this restoration as I possibly could by myself.

By New Years I had the chroming kit and was set up to give it a shot. Chroming is an electro-plating process so it's kind of handy to have an electrical power source. Caswell's instructions are quite ingenious. First, you need a 6 volt battery - just happened to have some for my Jawas. How much current you need for the plating is determined by the surface area of the piece being plated. So you need some way of regulating amperage. Caswell's answer is a simple system of 6-volt bulbs varying in amperage up to 1 amp. I used 1 bulb of amp and 3 of 1 amp and that gave me amp outputs from to 3 amps total. At no time did I need as much as 3 amps. Besides, when you're plating something the bulbs also tell you the system is working - no bulbs on means no juice, which means no plating.

The kit I used is "Copy Chrome" which is a nickel cobalt alloy. It's possible to use the Copy Chrome as a one-step finishing process but it's recommended by Caswell to use their copper plating process as a base to Copy Chrome onto. Sounds simple enough.

The copper, however, won't plate directly onto steel. It requires a "strike coat" to be plated on first. The Copy Chrome can be that strike coat. Copy Chrome won't plate to old chrome and the metal surface has to be properly prepared. So, basically, the actual plating process is fairly simple. First, you clean off and prepare the piece you're going to plate. Then you plate on Copy Chrome, then plate on the copper and buff to a high copper shine. Then you plate the finishing Copy Chrome onto the buffed copper and buff that until the shine knocks your eyes out. It does work as advertised.

Before and after, wow!

Before and after. Many hours of prep time here.

There's always, however, a "however." Caswell is quite clear in their instructions that PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING! And therein lies pretty well all the work and 98% of the frustration. There was really nothing I was chroming that wasn't pitted from rust - some pieces fairly badly. So the challenge was to make sure I got each piece super smooth before I actually plated it. That was, indeed, a challenge.

There's basically two ways to go with getting it "super smooth." One is to grind/sand stuff down to a nice smooth surface. The other is to fill in the pitting with lead-free solders (available from Caswell) and then sand to a nice smooth surface. Grinding down is infinitely easier - but it means getting rid of a lot of metal thickness (although in the process it does get rid of the old chrome). My concern with doing that was either grinding right through the piece or compromising metal strength. So, with rare exception, I opted to fill the pitting.

Well, the lead-free solder won't adhere to steel directly - but it will to copper plating. To do that meant first the Copy Chrome strike coat and then the copper plating. However, before the Copy Chrome can be plated onto it, the piece has to be prepared - old chrome off, absolutely all rust gone and totally degreased. That's mostly accomplished with hydrochloric acid pickles, electrical current and a heated degreaser supplied in the Caswell kits.

Generally, I lightly sanded and buffed each piece to prepare it. After that they were put into the acid pickles and degreaser. Then they went into the Copy Chrome plating and then into the copper plating. After that I'd do the soldering to fill the pitting and sand it back down. If pitting was still visible, I'd solder again and sand that down. I kept up with the soldering-sanding routine until I had as much of the pitting filled as I was apparently capable of. When the soldering and sanding was done, I buffed the piece to quite a high shine and put it back into the degreaser to clean it. From there it was into the Copy Chrome for another strike coat because copper won't plate directly onto the soldering. Then it went into the copper plating and when it came out I had a good idea of how good the piece was going to look. If I thought I might be able to get it a bit better I'd go right back to the soldering again and start over. Good copper plating buffs up very nicely to a very satisfying sheen. The Copy Chrome on that sheen plates quite nicely and buffs up to a brilliance that makes it all worthwhile.

The soldering and filling pits routine is quite laborious and, I must admit, sometimes a bit tedious and frustrating. What frustrated me was not being able to get all the pitting filled to my satisfaction - particularly areas that were badly pitted. Try as I might, I wasn't able to get all the pitting filled. That meant having to accept some compromises.

What kept me going with it was seeing a pretty ratty pitted piece evolve into a drastically improved chromed part even though it might still have some pitted areas. I got a lot of satisfaction with the buffing part of the process. Good thing because the buffing is a large part of the time commitment. It really was a lot of fun bringing up a brilliant final shine on what I had done.

When I started the chroming process I began with the small pieces that were the least pitted. Eventually I got down to both wheel hubs and the gas tank. The wheel hubs seemed to take me forever trying to fill the pitting. The front hub was a real bear and I had to eventually accept that I couldn't get all the pitting filled. Ultimately, it ended up being decently plated but there is still some visible pitting that I'll have to live with - unless, of course, I can find another front hub that isn't pitted.

Chroming at home, Bill proves it can be done!

The sides of the gas tank are supposed to be chromed and I left that till the last knowing it would be the biggest challenge. Challenge is an understatement. I was able to fill in the dints and pitting with the solder although that in itself was a major challenge. It didn't matter what I did, though, in terms of plating - I could not get it plated properly. I tried everything the Caswell system suggested but eventually I had to admit defeat with it. There was just no way I was going to get the plating to adhere to the tank properly.

So I decided I would take the tank to the professional I had talked to before. He wouldn't even consider it! Turns out what they do is grind down to good metal and then plate that. They don't fill dents or pitting and, in fact, he told me the tank couldn't be done. To fix the dents a specialist would have to split the tank and pound out the dints - they wouldn't use solder. Their only solution for the pitting was to grind it down.

With the marvelous benefit of hindsight, I now know what questions I should have asked. If I'd been more specific about filling pitting and dents I would have found out at the get-go that doing the chroming myself wasn't as much a choice as I had thought. Of all the pieces I wanted chromed there were very few the chroming company would have been prepared to do. "Geeze," I thought, "maybe I didn't do all that bad after all."

So what about the gas tank? With not being able to chrome the sides like I wanted to, my only option is paint. So I've accepted that I'll have to go that route with this tank and keep my eye open for a better tank that either has decent chrome already or can reasonably be sanded down and chromed. Not a compromise I'm particularly happy with and I'm still looking for a better alternative.

Would I tackle doing my own chroming again? Absolutely no question. Drove me crazy a few times but I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. Even more so, I really enjoy knowing that I took a bunch of pieces the chroming company wouldn't do and turned them into reasonably decent looking bits for my Perak. I'll also be the first to tell you I'm happy to be through it too!

After finishing with the chroming, I decided to do something different - like lace the shiny finished hubs with the shiny new spokes to the shiny new rims. Lacing wheels from scratch was a completely new adventure for me. Replacing the odd spoke and periodically tightening them hardly qualified as "lacing."

The jigs and diagrams I made for each wheel during disassembly, plus lots of pictures, were invaluable. Actually, they rendered the whole process fairly easy and really enjoyable.

Basically, I set up each hub and a rim in their respective jig. The jig set-up lay flat so I threaded all the spokes for the "bottom" side into the hub with the spokes laying in the direction they were supposed to go. Then I worked my way around the rim putting the nipples on loosely. With the "top" side I threaded and nippled each spoke loosely one at a time working my way around the rim. By this time, any spoke location mistakes would have been quite obvious but I kept checking anyway. Then, with the wheel still in the jig, I worked my way around the rim finger-tightening all the nipples.

Front wheel assy, all ready to go.

At that point I took the wheel out of the jig - even just finger tight it was surprisingly rigid. Then, of course, I had to stand back and just look at it. It looked great!

To true it up I clamped the axle into my bench vise with the wheel rotating vertically adjacent to the side of my workbench. I could put a marker on the bench right up to the rim so even the slightest wobble could be detected when the rim rotated. Then it was a process of tweaking appropriate spokes to get it all lined up nice and true. It really wasn't that hard to figure out which spoke to adjust. After the wheel was trued, I tapped my way around the spokes making sure each spoke sounded reasonably close to the same tension. Actually, it didn't take much to get them uniform and the wheel stayed true.

Up until now, all my effort has been disassembly, cleaning, chroming and starting preparations for painting. I had no idea what to expect lacing wheels. Turned out to be great fun. And, it was the first step down the road to actual reassembly. It feels wonderful!

Click for part 4 of "Bill's Perak Project"