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Tinned Copper VS Bare Copper

Posted by Danielle Shields on

Tinned Copper VS Bare Copper

The Advantages of Tinned Copper are Impossible to Deny. Follow Along as we Show Just How Important it is.

What is Tinned Copper?

Well, the short answer is that tinned copper is copper coated by a base alloy such as solder better known as tin. Sounds simple but there’s more to it than that. Copper itself has many beneficial characteristics making it highly desirable however it does have short comings. This is where tinning comes into play. Tinning is done for several reasons. Primarily, it strengthens the copper’s natural properties, making it better equipped to resist humidity, high temperatures and wet environments which is why it is found in high quality  marine wire.

When it comes to dealing with wire and cable, the shear variety of sizes and styles can be staggering. One of the most important aspects of choosing the correct wire for your project is longevity. This is especially true when dealing with  marine wire. How long will the wire last? How often and how difficult will it be to replace? It is questions like these that led to the development of tinning copper. What are the benefits of tinned copper verses bare copper?

Benefits of Tinned Copper

Copper Resists Humidity  handles high temperatures copper handles wet environments

Resists Handles High Handles Wet Humidity Temperatures Environments

Using Tinned Copper is an easy and effective way of preventing a copper conductor from tarnishing or becoming oxidized. You probably have seen copper when it is oxidized, it turns green. The Statue of Liberty is a famous example of copper oxidation. What causes this to happen? It is a chemical reaction of the metal surface with the oxygen present in the air that causes some of the metal to corrode, or oxidize, and form the respective metal oxide on the surface.

Did you know that 12-gauge tin coated copper wire can last up to ten times longer than a similar 12-gauge bare copper wire? As tin resists corrosion and doesn’t oxidize the plating helps to protect the copper underneath. This wards off additional wear and tear that would detract years off the life off a bare copper cable. This is especially important where the operating temperatures of the wire exceed 100 degrees Celsius. At higher temperatures, the corrosion resistance of copper declines, making a tin coating valuable for protecting the wire in this state. Tinned copper is also highly desirable for any marine electronics. This is why it is chosen when manufacturing  marine wire.

Why is Copper Tinned?

Tinned Copper Resists Oxidization

Copper offers great conductivity and is fairly resistant to corrosion. These facts coupled with its durability make it ideal for electrical applications. The issue arises when copper is used in a wet environment or an area with high humidity. In these conditions, copper will corrode and weaken much faster. Is there a way to prevent this? Yes. By tinning the copper. Can I tin my own copper wire? Yes and no. The ends of the wire can be stripped back with a wire stripping tool and can easily be tinned. Only a few tools and steps are needed for this process. However, it does not act as much of a protectant like the entire wire coated in tin would. Copper wire is tinned using a process known as electroplating.

Without Tinning, Copper Oxidizes & Turns Green.

How is Tinned Copper Produced? The Tin Plating Process

Why is tin the most common choice for electroplating? The biggest reason may be the fact that tin plating or “tinning” is an extremely cost-effective process. Because tin is so readily available its cost is much less than gold, platinum, or palladium. Tin provides excellent solderability, as well as excellent protection against corrosion. It is factors such as these that make tinned copper the ideal choice for  marine wire.

There are three basic types of tin plating; barrel, rack and vibratory; each of which rely on the deposition of an electrolytic tin solution onto the surface of a metal object.

Types of Tin Plating

Barrel plating copper Barrel plating is normally used for plating a high volume of smaller parts.

Rack Plating copper Rack plating is the preferred method for tinning large, complex or fragile items.

Vibratory plating for tinned copper Vibratory plating can also be used for delicate parts.

  • Barrel plating is normally used for plating a high volume of smaller parts and involves placing the objects into a barrel that slowly rotates the objects while they are immersed in the electrolyte solution. This tin plating process is extremely cost-effective, but takes a relatively long time to complete.

  • Rack plating is the preferred method for tinning large, complex or fragile items. The items are hung on a rack and then submerged in the tin plating solution. This process is more labor-intense, therefor making it more expensive than the barrel plating method. The advantage to this process over barrel plating is that it offers greater control over the plating thickness and may even be more effective in reaching those deep cavities within the object. To achieve a more uniform look for multiple objects, a custom rack may be required or other process solution tools such as auxiliary anodes and robbers.

  • Vibratory plating can also be used for delicate parts. This process involves placing the parts in a basket that is equipped with metal buttons and contains the electrolytic solution. So how do they get the name vibratory?  A generator is used to produce vibrating action causing the parts to move and make contact with the metal buttons. This is typically the most expensive tin plating process, not just because of the tinning process itself, but because it requires a special drying process. The drying process even requires extra care when handling the parts since they are more apt to bend during this phase.

Tin Plating Process Elements

One would think that tin plating would be a very complex process that involves mixing many different chemicals and making temperature adjustments. It is actually much simpler than that. There are really only four steps, however some may be more complex than others.

  1. The first and probably most important step of an effective tin plating process is cleaning. Not only is this step very vital to the entire process, but it is the most complex as it includes four different sub steps. Purifying the substrate is vital to the whole tinning process. Basically, what is come down to is, if not completed to a certain degree, the effectiveness of the tinning process can be reduced. So, make sure all the oil, grease and any other surface contaminants are completely removed.

    Cleaning and Prepping the Surface

    • Grit blasting: This part of the process prepares the surface for high performance coatings by using pressurized air to remove any contaminates.

    • Boiling: The effective method of removing any grease or oil without having to use any chemical additives.

    • Electrolytic degreasing: Submerging the product in an electrolytic solution will remove any grease and oil that may have seeped into the crevices.

    • Rinsing: Doing a final rinse in water will remove any remaining cleaning solution and surface debris.

  2. The second step is to prepare the plating bath. Electrolytic tin plating baths can include acid tin, alkaline tin or methyl sulphonic acid solutions.

  3. Once the product has been cleaned and submerged in the electrolyte bath, it is ready for the electrodeposition of tin coating. Maybe you are familiar with the term electroplating; the application that uses an electrical current to coat a thin layer of metal (tin) over the substrate to enhance the surface properties. A perfect example of this is the end result of tinned copper. Which as explained earlier, provides a superior protection against corrosion.

  4. The Post Electroplating Process is not required after tinning. However, adding a light coating of protective material can be used to provide additional corrosion protection. This is known as passivation.

Whether considering marine applications or not, the advantages using tinned copper easily outweigh the cost. By utilizing this simple method, the longevity and reliability of copper wire can be increased. This results in less need for maintenance, upkeep or even replacement of parts. Since it is more durable, it is used when manufacturing  marine wire to handle the harsh environments. No matter how you look at it, using tinned copper is the way to go.


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