DIY Titanium Anodizing at a Glance
The post will cover:
- Getting Started — Basic Supplies
- How to Anodize Titanium the Basic Way
- What Colors Can You Make?
- Attempting a Fade
- Lessons Learned
When I bought a titanium mountain bike frame, I had a long list of reasons why I wanted one:
- Well-built titanium can last a long time.
- Titanium also has a reputation for excellent ride quality (though tire volume and pressure are also a huge factor, along with good old-fashioned fit.
- It’s resistant to corrosion.
- It can be pretty light.
- It’s just cool!
The particular frame I chose was also designed from the ground up to use a belt drive rather than a conventional chain. Unfortunately, most of the frame was also painted with only a tiny bit of the frame showing that beautiful, magical titanium.
My plan all along was to ride the hell out of it for a few years, let it accumulate scratches and scars, and then have someone do something cool to it.
There’s no shortage of decoration you can add to a titanium frame, from anodizing to cerakote. There are some people out there getting super-fancy.
Well, the time to strip my bike of its components came as the hot weather arrived. And I somehow found out that DIY titanium anodizing is not only possible, but it’s pretty easy. Also, it doesn’t involve any dangerous chemicals or processes.
This post summarizes what I learned from doing some DIY titanium anodizing. I’m still learning and experimenting, so corrections, advice and feedback are welcome!
There are some great YouTube tutorials out there, and I’ll embed them in this post. The best ones, though, are intended for knives. While the process is the same, there are some things that I learned that will probably be very handy for those of you working with bike frames instead of knives.
This video shows the process, which I list out step-by-step a little later. It also gives some hints on doing patterns.
DIY Titanium Anodizing – What You Need to Know
Getting Started — Basic Supplies
The good news here is that you don’t need much to get started:
- 20-gauge titanium wire
- At least two alligator clips — it’s best to use black and red for negative and positive just to keep things straight.
- A bunch of 9-volt batteries.
- A few gallons of distilled water.
- Baking soda.
- Cotton balls.
- Possibly some sort of one-time-use adhesive stencil.
- A bit of titanium scrap or some aluminum foil. Either will work well.
- A few differently sized receptacles to dunk your titanium stuff into.
If you try this with 9-volt batteries and totally get hooked and want to anodize literally every titanium bit you can find, you can look into getting some sort of DC power variable supply. More on this later — I’m hoping this post winds up in front of someone who knows more about these things.
How to Anodize Titanium the Basic Way
The process for anodizing titanium depends a bit on the size of the piece. If you’re doing some small bits that can be fully immersed, the process is like this:
- Mix up some distilled water and baking soda. Stir until dissolved. (Use enough to immerse whatever you’re anodizing. The water/baking soda doesn’t seem that important, but I’ve heard 1 part baking soda to 8 parts water is pretty good. Might be a bit much from what I’ve seen.
- Take your battery or batteries. Connect the black alligator clip to the negative terminal of the battery. Connect the other side of that alligator clip to some of the 20-gauge titanium wire, and then connect that wire to your scrap titanium. Submerge the scrap ti/aluminum into the distilled water solution.
- Connect your red alligator clip to the positive terminal of the 9v battery. Connect the other end of the red alligator clip to a length of your 20-gauge ti wire. Attach that titanium wire to the item you’re going to anodize.
- Give the item a nice wipedown with window cleaner to get any oils off. Some people insist this makes the colors more vibrant. I remain unconvinced of that.
- Submerge your item and watch the magic happen!
If you see bubbles around the scrap titanium and wire on the negative side, things are working. But you’ll probably notice the color change first, especially if the item is smaller.
This is perfect for DIY titanium anodizing for small parts like titanium headset spacers, seatpost clamps, bolts and stem caps.
Now, here’s the process for spot anodizing!
OK, I won’t repeat the parts about mixing up the distilled water. You’ve got that down.
For this example, let’s pretend you have your bike frame clamped (preferable by the seatpost) into a workstand.
- Connect your red alligator clip to the positive terminal of a 9-volt battery and then directly to the frame.
- Dip a cotton ball into your distilled water solution. I typically just made it moist rather than soaking … and I profoundly apologize to those of you who cringe at the word “moist.”
- Attach your black alligator clip to the cotton ball and attach the other end of it to the negative terminal of the 9v battery.
- Touch the cotton ball to the part of the frame you want to anodize.
- Keep in mind that this method is only for spot decoration using some sort of stencil. More on that soon!
Something else to remember: While spot anodizing, I accidentally touched the frame with my body and got shocked for my trouble. When I was using 10 9v batteries together, that packed a minor wallop. Watch out for that!
Another thing to keep in mind is that the cotton ball doesn’t always apply electricity evenly to the surface of the frame. This is mostly an issue at higher voltages and may result in inconsistent colors.
What Colors Can You Make?
At this point, you’re probably wondering what colors you can create. Let’s just say that red is out of the question, and a really good green is going to involve some serious voltage.
Here is my own little color chart. One of them involved the dipping method, the other is from the sponge-spot anodize method. That will give you a good idea of what to expect. I did this using some cheap titanium scrap I grabbed from eBay — I may wind up using it for more experiments.
I found the blue using 3 9-volt batteries came out absolutely beautiful using the cotton ball.
Attempting a Fade
If you use the dunking method for DIY titanium anodizing, you can have colors fade into each other. It’s a bit tricky and requires practice. Essentially, you dunk your item in, pulling it out, then dunking a little less of it and pulling it out, and repeating. So you’ll want to use the number of batteries that will get you the color you want.
That’s what I did with my water bottle cage, which produced a blue/purple/copper fade using three 9-volt batteries.
Lessons Learned from DIY Titanium Anodizing
A Full Dunk Didn’t Work
My original plan was to dunk the front of my frame into the distilled water solution and watch that beautiful bad boy turn color with a nice fade.
Apparently, if you’re dunking, the item you have submerged in the solution via the negative wire needs to have about the same surface area as the item you’re anodizing.
I was only able to get a little bit of color on some of the head tube, and even that took forever and also fried the shit out of the 9v batteries to the point where they were smoking.
If there’s a more-knowledgeable person reading this, please let me know if there’s a good way to make this work. I wonder if one of those DC power supplies I mentioned earlier could be the route to success for this type of DIY titanium anodizing.
Using a Stencil to Spot Anodize
I could write a full post about what I went through to get an adhesive, single-use stencil. But those are some painful memories that I don’t wish to relive — I will say, though, that if you have a crafty friend with something called a Cricut machine, it’s time to take them out for their adult beverage of choice and learn how to beg. They will be a huge asset to you.
I also want you to picture me walking dejectedly around the aisles of a Michael’s craft store looking forlorn. A nice couple there clued me into the Cricut idea, which was a huge help in my DIY titanium anodizing journey.
Ultimately, here’s what I did:
- Looked online for patterns that would be workable for me.
- Found a jpeg of one that was basically a bunch of circles of various sizes.
- Added more circles using GIMP image editor because why not?
- Uploaded the image to a company called CraftCuts.
- Got my stencil 7 days later.
- Prepped my frame with a quick wipedown using window cleaner.
- Applied one side to the frame, then peeled the other side off and went to town with a cotton ball!
This video shows you all about creating a stencil. It’s pretty in-depth. Even if you plan to use a service to create the stencil, this is all helpful to know.
I also wonder whether there’s something that might work better than a cotton ball. I tried a sponge, but the results weren’t much different.
Don’t Like the Results?
If you don’t like the results, just hit the anodized areas with red Scotch-Brite pads (be sure to wear a dust mask to keep ti dust out of you snout).
This video covers some handy tips for prepping your frame BEFORE you get started if it’s a little beat up. But it also shows you how to use the Scotch-Brite pads for a reset if you’re not happy with your DIY titanium anodizing job.
Whatever you do, though. resist the temptation of the easy path …. which is using Whink Rust Remover. That stuff is dag-nasty evil. Look up a few stories about it and you’ll see what I mean.
The Results of DIY Titanium Anodizing
Is the DIY titanium anodizing on my bike as beautiful as the pros? No.
But I had fun and learned some interesting stuff along the way. It also makes me appreciate the pros’ skills even more.
I also added something purely individual to my bike. You won’t see another like that, which is kind of nice among the sea of carbon-fiber Trekalized bikes out there.
Also, the learning process and trying to execute was just fun. That counts for something!
I’m still trying to discover the secret to some of the more-vibrant colors. If I happen to stumble upon that and it’s nothing too caustic or nasty, I’ll update this post with the info!
This post just might contain affiliate links. Fear not, they’re non-spammy and benign. Hey, I have to keep this thing running somehow!