Custom Design Studio: on cleanliness

I’m Kirk Taylor and my shop, Custom Design Studios, has been in business since 1988. We started by satisfying the needs of the motorcycle community because there weren’t many good, reliable painters in this area. Now, by way of background, I grew up in a machine shop where Pops was making Springer and Girder front ends back in the 70’s – so to dispel a common myth… I’m not just a bike painter. I do complete custom fabrication work, ground up customs and just about everything in between, including service – to pay the landlord.

My pal, and your Editor, SteveB, asked me to share some tips with you about paint and finishes, so I came up with a lesson plan and some tips that I thought would be relevant so the guy at home can turn out a good looking paint job.

If you had nothing but time on your hands, some capability, and are too cheap to pay a pro, you could do it yourself. If you don’t have the desire, then support your local talent! Please don’t be shocked when you hear the cash register sound “Cha Ching!!” cause the materials aren’t cheap and the skills needed to give you the job you want, are earned the hard way, at the school of hard knocks – there are no short cuts.

You’ve all heard the saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, well, that is pretty much the mantra for paint work. Most of you have opened up a box with a brand new raw gas tank inside and when you pull the bag off, you see a gummy, oily film all over it. That’s contamination (oil). They put it on the bare metal to prevent rusting from moisture. A lot of guys will wipe it down with a wax and grease remover. Personally, I like to start with lacquer thinner or acetone. Take a look at what a blue shop towel looks after a quick wipe down. That crap is not good for paint. Paint and grease don’t mix.

After you’re done cleaning and cleaning some more, then you can start scuffing up the metal. The steps so far: clean first, sand second. If you sand first, all you are doing is grinding the contaminants into the metal, not good. If you’re the kind of guy that is lucky enough to have access to a media blast cabinet, all the better. Can you see black areas around your weld seams? That’s slag, and discoloration from heat. Paint wont stick well to that kind of contamination, so sand /scuff till you see the shiny fresh metal. Paint likes shiny, fresh, clean metal to stick to.

A Tig welded joint/seam is always cleaner than a Mig welded one, but it still has oxidants and crud that make it tough to paint over (that subject is a whole other article for us to talk about). These might seem like two separate subjects, welding and painting, but there is a whole lot of welding knowledge and metal working knowledge that goes into turning out a great finished product. That’s why some guys (like myself) are proficient at both skill sets, we have to be, to do a good job.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the body work side of things. You can scratch it up real good and put your bondo over the raw metal, or you can shoot a quality epoxy primer down first and then do your body work on top. When shooting direct to metal epoxy primer sealer first, you’re covering the exposed metal with a non- porous barrier that prevents surface rust from forming.

That’s a real good idea if you happen to live on the coast or where there is a lot of humidity, especially if your not going to be finishing the job in a timely manner. Often, I’ll do my bondo work first over the raw metal and then shoot a polyester primer filler over that. The polyester sprayable fillers are like spraying a thin coat of bondo over everything. It sands like filler and it prevents shrinkage. When you put your epoxy over, it – it locks it all down. Remember, epoxy is like glue, so it sticks real good. If it has a sealer feature you can spray over it. If you are shooting aluminum, you must shoot an etch primer like Chroma Premier low VOC Etch Primer first. If it all sounds confusing, well that’s because it can be. You have to be part sculptor, chemist and artist to pull off professional paint jobs consistently.

You might notice on the helmet pictured that’s in primer, that it has lots of black spray spots. That’s what’s called guide coat and when you sand this back it will leave a dark spot where it’s low, or if there are deep sand scratches that need to be worked out. I generally will do my bodywork sanding with 80 grit dry paper, spray my primer and guide coat again, sand with 180, prime again, then final sand with 500 grit wet/dry paper.

As you can see, there are many mind numbing, repetitive procedures involved to get a good job out of your investment in materials. The idea is to keep getting progressively finer and finer with sanding and priming. This is what it takes to achieve good results. Patience is important, knowledge of the materials and safety is critical, and the plain fact is, you can’t rush any of these steps. Paint and bondo only dry as fast as they’re going to go. Till next time. K.T.

Waterborne Systems
Something that is relatively new to the painting and finishing scene are waterborne (as opposed to solvent) systems. Here in California, the laws in our area have just been implemented to start using Low VOC compliant products like Dupont 72100 Clear. The laws don’t apply to some areas yet, but they will be coming to your neighborhood soon. Stay on top of what’s going on in your district. Out here, they wanted everyone to dispose of their old solvent systems and buy brand new compliant product. That is a huge out of pocket expense for anyone, big shop or small hobbyist. Talk to your local automotive paint store and find out what you need to know before you make an investment in materials that could be illegal shortly after you purchase them.

Spraying a waterborne base coat is slightly different than solvent base color coats. You drop down what is referred to as two coverage coats followed by a third coat , that is your control coat. The gun pressure varies between these procedures but a good rule is: Coverage Coat 27-29 PSI/ Control Coat-17-19 PSI. There are charts with various ratings for different guns. One thing with waterborne systems is the way it sprays out is not what it looks like when its dry. Don’t freak out. Let it do its thing. It will look all blotchy and milky, but when dry its fine. Air movement is critical, more so than heat, and each coat has to be completely free of water moisture before the next coat can be sprayed. Be patient, you’ll get the results your looking for.

Kirk Taylor
Custom Design Studios
Novato, Ca. 94949
(415) 382-6662

Words Kirk Taylor/ Custom Design Studios
Images Kirk Taylor & Stephen Berner

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