Rotary tool for engraving & pen plating aluminum?

I went out of town and came back with more projects to add to the list… Im attempting pen plating aluminum (nickel first then copper). I need to sand it too since its got a little bit of stubborn gunk and would need to be clean before plating and preferably polish it as well. I also want to try engraving but not sure what we have in terms of dremels or “rotary tools”.

Anyone know if we have these tools and where they might be located?

You didn’t tell us if this is a flat plate or an intricately detailed sculpture; a big part or a small part … so I’ll take a shot at this.

If it’s a big part, more than a few inches perhaps, then all the sanding and cleaning, etc. should be done in the main workshop using the general purpose dremels that Logistics provides.

If it’s a small or intricate part, there are some resources in Jewelry that are suitable, and some that would be suitable if you provide your own consumables. Please bear in mind that aluminum is not a jewelry metal so the suggestions I make below will be focused on not contaminating some of the jewelry-specific tools so we don’t inadvertently destroy someone’s gold or silver piece later.

Stubborn Gunk

Start with the vapor hone in the Metal Shop. Regardless of your part shape that should help a lot - it will probably remove most of the gunk.

Please do not use any of the jewelry vibratory or pin tumblers without checking with @nausser915 first. IDK if the aluminum residue will later contaminate someone’s gold or silver piece and don’t want to take that chance.

You could use Jewelry’s pressurized steam cleaner because you will just be holding your part under the pressurized stream of steam and not contaminating a container.

Rotary Tool/Engraving

We have two Foredom rotary tools hanging on stands at the Jewelry benches (higher end version of “dremels”). You should provide your own burs. IDK if we have any but if we do I wouldn’t count on the quality given that they are community resources. If it’s a flat piece, or a piece with a flat surface, you can engrave it on either of the Shapeoko’s.


If it’s a flat plate that’s fairly easy - sand by hand - but IIWM I’d get some jeweler’s emery cloth in varying grits. That will give you a pretty decent surface.

You could sand with the Foredom if you provide your own consumables and make sure you clean up the workbench thoroughly. If it’s a lot of removal, then you should use one of the general purpose dremels in the main workshop areas.

If it’s an intricately detailed surface, then in addition to the emery cloth you’re going to want to get some silicon polishing disks from Rio Grande to use with the Foredom tools (also usable on Dremel). Depending on the detail of your part, you will want some combination of wheels, cones, or radial bristle disks.

There may or may not be a few disks in the jewelry area but please do not use these because they will definitely contaminate the next piece of jewelry that someone uses these on.


Definitely check with the science folks for this. IIRC aluminum is prepared for plating with nitric acid or combined nitric/hydrofluoric acid soak. Handling, fumes, and disposal are all tricky for those. You will get some cleaning from vinegar or lemon juice - or probably even citric acid “pickle” - but it may not be adequate for your desired surface finish.

Obviously you should not use the jewelry pickle pots for this.

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