Nickel plating on early motorcycles Feb 2018

This content is about the type of nickel plating in use on motorcycles from the earliest days, through to about 1928/29. After this point bright parts on motorcycles were generally finished in chrome plate (over the top of nickel).

It's a long time (getting on 10 years) since I last had some plating done, and that was chrome for my '31 New Hudson. In the meantime, both platers I have used over the years have ceased to exist. So I had to do some research to find the correct type of nickel plating, and where I could get it done.

The original nickel process has long been referred to as "Dull Nickel", but I believe the correct term is Nickel Sulfamate. This was the industry standard prior to around 1933. After this, bright nickel came along, and by it's very name gives a different finish. It is also generally applied in a much thinner coating.

Dull nickel is dull as it comes out from the tanks, but can be polished up quite successfully, giving a mellow, slightly golden hue. As it can be applied/built up to greater thicknesses without becoming brittle, it can be used to build up areas of wear/corrosion. I eventually found a plater in Leeds who lists nickel sulfamate plating, so I'm just getting a small batch together to take in and find out how the results turn out.

One thing to be careful of, is the initial buffing process, it is very easy to irreversibly lose engraved or embossed detail due to over-enthusiastic buffing operations. My Enfield prototype came with original Enfield hubs already replated by the previous custodian. They should both be engraved with the words "Enfield Manufacturing Co. Ltd". Annoyingly there is only the barest trace of the tops of the letters left, due to abrasive buffing wheels. Similar problems apply to wheel rims, carburettor components, control levers, petrol and oil tank caps, flip top oilers. Better to give clear WRITTEN instructions over with your parts to minimise the amount of buffing where appropriate.


Useful Information found Feb 2018

Follow the link to download the (fairly) complete catalogue

These early motorcycles use brake blocks, rather than brake shoes, and although they are no longer made, occasionally they pop up at autojumbles and the dreaded ebay.

I've long been looking for a catalogue, that cross references numbers to applications and vice versa. I found this 1924 Fibrax catalogue at

It has information for the earlier years (eg "Enfield up to 1912"), as well as then current models . It really is the bee's knees, complete with 1/2 scale drawings of each motorcycle block type. Unfortunately the original scanner managed to miss out pages 20 and 21 of illustrations, which no doubt will be a bit frustrating for some, but I now know the correct blocks for my Enfields.

A bit more useful info Feb 2018

1920s Amac booklet, with earlier info

One of the links I have on the original site is to They have a wealth of interesting articles and anecdotes on their site, along with scans of all sorts of stuff related to the world of old motorcycles. The info is free to download, but carries a "watermark"-which for personal use, is no hardship at all.

The early Enfield road bike is fitted with a lightweight AMAC carburettor of the 1912 pattern. (I think the discerning feature is 2 screws at the base of the mixing chamber, where the spray block is). Before this, there were taper pegs which are difficult to remove.

A bit later than 1912, probably early '20s, but with info on earlier carbs, jet sizes etc, I found this AMAC booklet. One of my carbs came with a jet size 29 (haven't checked the other yet). According to this booklet, 2 3/4hp twins were generally fitted with size 27, so thats good to know.

You can find it at

Metal spinning Mar 2018

Just had an interesting hour and half down at a local metal spinning firm. I'd contacted them some time back to see if they would make a rear brake rim for the Enfield prototype. Dave with a 1913 3hp and me both need a rim, and another David is also interested, so I went down with Dave's rotted out rim for a chat.

It appears that there are few firms willing to undertake manufacture of belt/brake rims these days, even the VMCC are struggling to find companies to recommend to members.

John (Mr Metal Spinner) took me round the production facility, and introduced me to a couple of his staff. I was reassured to find that ALL products they make are made by SKILLED PEOPLE on MANUAL machines. There isn't a CNC machine in sight! I watched a couple of items being spun, which I found fascinating. One was half of a car alloy wheel (2 piece, inner and outer portions). The levers used to gain sufficient leverage for this aluminium/magnesium alloy item (not the most malleable material to spin) are approx 4ft long with rollers on the business end. These guys don't need to go to the gym to keep fit.

All in all, an interesting time, I have been in one form of engineering or another all my working life, but the last time I recall anything mentioned about metal spinning was when I was at college about the tender age of 17-18.

If you are not familiar with metal spinning, have a look on youtube, there are a number of videos showing the process (but it's better to see it in the flesh, up close and personal).

Laser welding July 2018

For some time now, I've been wondering how to get a few items for the 1912 prototype repaired:

The crankcases need a few cracks welding, and a couple of lugs building up, also a few blow holes that need filling.

One of the cylinder barrels has score marks running down the cylinder bore, and the walls of the barrel are only about 2.5mm thick.

The original 3 position cam block for the 2 speed gear selector has had the middle vane (increase in increments of 0.005") ground down for some reason. I wanted to restore it to original size/shape.

All of these would be tricky jobs for traditional welding processes, mainly due to heat/distortion/slow cooling, not to mention the less than certain composition of aluminium alloy castings made 106 years ago.

Although it has been around for 20+ years, I only learned of laser welding last week. It sounds like the answer to all my prayers - but I don't wish to prejudge.

I shall be taking the 3 components mentioned above to a company in Hampshire during my annual September trip down country to Beaulieu. They have repaired various components for vehicles in excess of 100 years old, so should have adequate experience of the possible pitfalls.

I am led to believe that there is almost no heat build up (and therefore no distortion), and aluminium of uncertain and varying composition can be welded. The tram lines in my cylinder barrel should also be possible to build up, as the minmum weld pool is something as small as 0.2mm! I will report back later, but this process does sound to be tailor made for the rescue of previously unrepairable parts.

Laser welding - part 2 Oct 2018

The welding has come back (and part of it has gone back again, for a bit extra in places).

Mostly, I'm over the moon with the results!

Starting with the crankcases, they needed most work both building up weak areas and porosity, and joining new metal to old (to extend a broken bracket). The weld build up is fantastic, with absolutely no distortion. Cases are back with the welders for a "bit extra", so that I have enough weld to clean up the extension joint.

Next, the barrels - also a raging success. The weld is placed just as I had hoped, and again no distortion. A problem I hadn't envisaged, when I had the welding done, and found out when I later took the barrels to an engine reconditioner, was that the barrels are worn tapered, being 0.003" and 0.006" larger bore at the top of the cylinders than at the base. If I can get someone to clean up the weld without reboring, I will, as I would like to run with the original pistons if possible. If after that, it becomes apparent a rebore is needed, well at least I've tried.

Also had mating parts of the oil pump drive built up to reduce slack, and some hard facing to a cam, which will need grinding down.

Top left-cast iron barrel tramline repair. Top right-strengthening of bush housings and crack repair. Btm left-extension of frame brackets and crack repair. Btm right-inside of same crack repair. NO DISTORTION!

Belt/brake rims Dec 2018

As far as I know, there is no one currently making belt/brake rims in the UK. I could be wrong - if you know of anyone, please let me know.


In the mean time, I needed a brake rim for the 1912 prototype. I investigated a local guy, who used to make them by the original process - metal spinning. Whilst John would consider making one for me, he had passed on his extensive tooling to an outfit in Birmingham. The logistics of getting suitable formers back to him proved insurmountable.



Lex in the Netherlands told me of Hans Pessink, who is producing belt/brake rims by rolling the v shape into a flat strip, and then rolling the strip up into a circle. Hans sent me a couple of photos of rims he'd made, and I decided to go ahead. My new rim has just arrived, and I'm pretty pleased with it. I had a new, old stock Fibrax brake shoe that I sent over, along with an old, slightly distorted rim. The v is perfect, the outer flange has some tooling marks, which may need polishing out if the rim is to be nickel plated, but I'm going for black powder coating. The diameter is about 1/4" less than the original, but as mentioned earlier, it was a bit distorted, so maybe it would have been better to have given a specific dimension. Can't see such a small difference being a problem. One area of concern I had (from a previous bad experience) was the alignment of the welded joint. No problems at all - a very good quality joint well finished off.

Nickel plating update Feb 2019

Delving into the back of the workshop the other day, I came across a nickel plating kit I bought about 20 years ago, but never put together/used. It was retailed by a little company under the trade name of "tec-nic", usually fronted at autojumbles by a Belgian(?) chap. Anyway, no trace of them on the internet, so presumably long defunct.


I stated reading the supplied info, with a view to putting the kit to work, and lo and behold, it turns out the nickel salts are of the type to produce the DULL nickel finish, without brighteners! Just what I've been looking for, and it's right under my nose all the time!!!!


Will have to get the kit up and running soon, then I can plate the few nuts, bolts and chain tensioners needed before the Bamburgh Run, although a few trial runs on plain washers could be a good idea first.