London Chroming Company, which has been in operation since 1979, is one of the best in the country and has chrome plated everything from motorbikes, cars, suits of armour to ceremonial Kalashnikovs.
Humans invent interviewed founding partner Mike Chamberlain in order to get a better understanding of the plating process.
Chamberlain has been in the business since the age of 16. He says, “I’ve been in it since I left school. I became a metal polisher first (a process that is required before the electroplating) and I worked for another company polishing for 15-20 years. Then I was approached by (Phillip Lefelle), this place came on the market and we bought it.”
As well as health and safety legislation, Chamberlain also points to the lack of young blood coming into the trade in explaining why the craft is in decline. He says, “You are dealing with lots of chemicals and there is a lot of legislation that you have to keep up with. But also, young people don’t want to get dirty, they all want to go into IT.”
Before chrome was invented you only coppered and nickeled things
It is a labour intensive process that starts with dismantling all the component parts of the particular object that is going to be chromed. Chamberlain says, “We book it in and itemize all the jobs, right down to the last nut and bolt. We are very careful about losing things.”
The next step is to remove all the paint and rust by placing the part in a vat of acid before it goes on to be polished. Chamberlain says, “We deal with high end stuff so the metal needs to be polished to a mirror finish before it can go down for plating otherwise it just comes out as a commercial finish.”
Once it has been finely polished it is cleaned again with various chemicals before it is plated with a layer of copper and nickel. Interestingly, it is only a very thin veneer of chrome that goes on top of the nickel. “You can’t measure chrome, it is very thin and it acts like a seal. When people say chrome is peeling off, it is not really the chrome that is peeling off, it’s the nickel and the copper underneath. The copper and the nickel are the ones that protect the item. Before chrome was invented you only coppered and nickeled things anyway.”
It took a serious amount of elbow grease to buff nickel to a shiny finish which is why, when Chrome started being used in the 1930s, the practice spread worldwide exceptionally quickly.
Along with chrome plating the whole of David Bowie’s Mini, Chamberlain’s favourite job over the years has been the chroming they did for a Volvo advert. He says, “We chromed some Volvos when they launched the S40. We did the whole car: two saloons and two estates. They were all taken apart and then we chromed all the panels and everything and they were reassembled. That was a big, big job.”