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Is it Really Possible to Improve Something on the Cheap?

Or, The Saga of the Driveway Rattle-Can Paint Job

In October of last year, my venerable Buick decided to die.

On the highway.

On my way to work.

Fortuitously, Brenda’s niece and her husband had a Honda Accord wagon that they wanted to sell. It had been their fill-in while her Jeep was in a state of repair. It’s a few years older than the Buick, but it’s in good mechanical condition and the body was pretty straight.

All except for its hood . . .

Honda as purchased

This was before a Winter of daily commutes . . .

So, when Summer finally arrived, it was time to get out the random-orbit sander . . .

Image Honda Hood Sanded Right Side

Honda hood after sanding from the front & right

And, go buy a half-dozen rattle-cans of Rustoleum & Krylon.  I guess I should mention that the term “rattle-can” refers to the cans of spray paint that you can pick up at any hardware or department store — beloved to taggers and shade tree craftspeople everywhere.

Also had to dig around and find an old shower curtain and a used poly drop cloth for masking the areas where we didn’t want paint to go.  You’ll notice that I’m painting with the hood open in the photos.  This made masking a snap! I just put a 6′ 2×4″ across the fenders, draped the old poly drop cloth over the engine and fenders, then lowered the hood on top of the 2×4.  No mess, no fuss! Then it was time to prime!

Honda Hood - First Primer Coat

Honda Hood – First Primer Coat

Honda Hood Second Primer Coat

Honda Hood Second Primer Coat

Have to let it dry for an hour.

Then, it’s time for a very light sanding with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper before applying the second coat of primer.  Both primer coats were Rustoleum, due to the amount of rust that was involved.  Unfortunately, the local Wal-Mart doesn’t stock Rustoleum’s high-loft primer, which would have done a better job of filling in my lame attempts at feathering the edges of the spots where I had to grind my way to bare metal.  If I had it to do over again, I would spend much more time on feathering those edges.  Should have feathered each one to the full (5″) width of the sander disk, then spent a lot more time on them with the sanding block and 400-grit wet/dry.  (Of course, looking at the photos, if I feather sanded all the down-to-metal spots out to 5″ from each edge, it probably would have made more sense to just take the whole surface to bare metal . . . )  Coulda/woulda/shoulda . . .

Another hour of drying needed . . .  But, by now, I’m running out of daylight, so it’s time to take a break and get some rest.  Then, it’s on to the first color coat!

Honda Hood First Color Coat

Honda hood, first color coat

The day was pretty breezy, so getting the color to actually go onto the hood instead of into the air was definitely a challenge. That is why the first coat looks so thin in some places with a lot of over-spray in others.

Should be a photo of the second color coat here, but I forgot to take one . . .

When I ran out paint in my first color can, (Unnamed medium-dark blue from Rustoleum.), I let it dry for 30 minutes, then applied a coat of Krylon Global Blue on top of it to lighten the color value.

The second coat was followed by another coat of the Rustoleum unnamed medium-dark blue.  The intermediate coat of Krylon Global Blue brought the color pretty close to the shade of the metallic medium blue that came on it from the factory.  And people think I just waste my time when I’m messing about with water colors with the Boy-Os! “Hah,” I say!

Of course, with that said, it’s still not metallic blue . . . But, c’mon people!  This is a commuter! It’s not a show car, for pity’s sake!  My goal here was to stop the rust and automotive psoriasis that had taken hold of the hood of my car.  It’s not a bad little car, it just had some cosmetic issues . . .

Final color coat on the Honda Hood

Finished! (For now . . . )

The paint job just needs to cure for a couple weeks, then I can wet sand it to try to take care of some of the worst problems with it.

And, problems it has! Yesss, hmmm . . .

(Please excuse me while I break my Yoda-like pose.)

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I know that wet sanding is supposed to correct a host of sins, but I’ve only worked on one car painting project in the past — that was over 35 years ago, and I was working with a pro. Needless to say, there weren’t nearly the number of issues in that paint job as in this current project. I was going to try wet sanding last weekend, but the temps were in the (High!) 90s, so I thought that would be just a touch on the insane side.

OK, time to evaluate the project to this point:

Pros

  • Inexpensive
    • Paint cost: <$30
    • Tape $7.00
    • Pack of 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper $4.50
    • No paint gun purchase or  compressor rental. These two items alone would have exceeded the paint cost.
  • I was able to do it right in my driveway, where I had access to all my tools & supplies.
  • Due to the Rustoleum primer and primary coats, this should arrest the progress of the rust and prevent it from spreading.
  • Even before wet sanding, the hood looks much better than it did.
    • From a distance, the color difference is barely noticeable.

Cons

  • Pretty poor quality finish at this point.  It displays all the sins of a driveway paint job done on a pair of breezy days:
    • Over spray
    • Thin spots
    • Orange peel
    • Runs
    • About the only thing I didn’t do was create any obvious slumps or drips.
  • I think I really had the neighbors worried . . .

Things I WILL do Differently Next Time:

  • Beg to borrow or rent a garage or shop so I can work indoors out of the wind, dust, bugs & blowing plant material
  • Spend a lot more time on feathering the areas where it’s necessary to grind down to bare metal (or, even through multiple paint layers).
  • Since I’m willing to borrow a shop or garage and spend a lot more time on the prep, it only follows that I should try to get a better end-product:
    • Consider buying a portable air compressor and an air powered random-orbit sander.
      • So I can power wet sand! (Not possible with an electric sander– electricity and water just don’t mix well. Know what I mean, Vern?) [UPDATE: Been checking the specs on air sanders.  One of those puppies may be FAR out in my future.  Not because the tools are so expensive, but because the air compressors needed to power  them are!  For the ones I’ve been checking out, the user reviews all say that you want >15 CFM @ 90PSI to get the tool to work right under load.  ARRGH! You don’t get that in your portable 120V single-phase air compressor models.  You need to look at stationary 230V three-phase two-stage or rotary screw compressors or gas or diesel powered trailer-mounted units for that kind of output. <<*Sigh!*>> Once again, reality hits me right between the running lights!  At least you don’t need that kind of raw power for spray guns.  For my purposes, an air sander is probably overkill, anyway.]
    • Buy a couple HVLP spray guns (<$30 each @ Harbor Freight Tools http://www.harborfreight.com/air-tools/paint.html).
      • The post-project research I’ve done suggests that the top reservoir models are easier for novices (Like me!) to use.
      • Get the cleaning & maintenance kit for the spray guns when you get the guns. Might as well take care of them right.
    • Take my nephew Jim’s advice and do up a spray booth out of Viz-Queen so the static charge that’s always present on the Viz-Queen  draws the over spray to it — and away from the surface being painted. (Jim’s close to my age and has done a lot more paint & body work on cars and trucks than I have.)
      • This should be do-able with four pieces of 1″ PVC pipe, some wire (or parachute cord), and some screw eyes:
        • Make a rectangular frame big enough so you have room to move around the vehicle with your spray gun.
          • OK, so it may take more than four pieces of PVC . . .
        • Install enough screw eyes in the overhead so that you can suspend your frame with a wire to each corner and at least one in the middle of each side. (I’d consider two or even three intermediate suspension points on the long sides of the rectangle. We’re talking PVC pipe here — not steel I-beams.)
        • Drape Viz-Queen over the frame so it almost touches the floor.
        • Consider adding a ridge pole and tenting the top with more Viz-queen.
        • Remember to allow for enough air flow so you don’t super-saturate the air with over-spray and run out of oxygen for yourself. (A decidedly less-than-optimal situation. No oxygen means you die, and that makes for a less-than-successful project my friend!)
        • Another alternative is to just attach the Viz-Queen to the exposed collar ties with lath & nails, as in the Car Craft guide photos from the link listed in the Tips section below. (They may have just stapled it up with cardboard tabs or strips, for that matter. Note that they laid down sheets of hardboard on the floor to protect it from paint, as well.)
      • Buy real automotive paint.  NAPA frequently carries it — our local NAPA does — and check for an automotive paint supply. We have a local WESCO outlet in Olympia.  Either WESCO or NAPA should be able to order in the color-match paint for your model/year of vehicle — if you’re wanting to go high-end.

Tips:

  • Do your research BEFORE  you start — not after.
    • There are some excellent resources on the ‘Web:
      • Jim Lyon’s excellent article: How to wet sand and buff out your paint job  Jim’s blog Talking Car Paint has a wealth of information on car paint and painting cars.  Jim has been painting cars since his teens, and he’s in his early sixties now. He was also a professional automotive paint salesman for over twenty years, so he’s knows his way around car paint.
      • Here’s a good article on the types of car paint: Types of Car Paint – by The Coating Store
      • WESCO is an automotive paint & body work equipment supplier in Washington state and NE Oregon. Here is a link to their store locator: WESCO Auto Paint & Body Supply stores
      • Easy Paint Your Car is a DVD e-book on painting cars at home in your garage. It’s $15.95 for the DVD, or $24.95 for the DVD and a printed softcover edition of the manual.  I plan to get a copy before I attack my pickup truck.
      • Of course, you can search Google (or any other good search engine) for a host of other sources of information, such as the migwelding DIY Guide guide to painting a car, or How to Paint a Car in 15 Steps (With pictures) at WikiHow or this excellent guide at Car Craft:  How to Paint Your Car at Home the Car Craft guide will give you a much better handle on what’s involved in a whole-car paint job than the WikiHow article — which is only represented as an overview. (If you do check out the Car Craft  article, take note of the Viz-Queen paint booth they are using — just like my nephew Jim recommended.)
      • You do need to cross-check on Internet how-to articles. I’m not saying that the Poor Man’s Paint Job won’t produce acceptable results . . . but I am thinking about some of the paintbrush car paint jobs I’ve seen in the past . . . But, I do have to admit that I’m thinking about using his method on my truck. It’s a wood & junk hauler for the most part, and a last-ditch emergency commuter and fishing transporter. I wonder how it would look in Ford blue tractor paint?  (John Deere green just wouldn’t work with the blue interior . . . More’s the pity!)
    • Talk with as many people who have painted cars as you can — before you start.  This is where living in town or the ‘burbs is actually an advantage.  In most neighborhoods, there’s usually at least one gear head hot-rodder. (There’s three in mine.) Not all hot-rodders are painters, but a lot are. You may even be able to find someone that will help you out with shooting your first couple projects.  Not as adventurous as just striking out to do it on your own — but you may learn quite a bit and keep from making some major blunders.
  • Plan more time than you think you’ll need – then double it.
    • I guarantee, once that sander gets through the top coat of paint, you’re going to find more work than you expected.
    • It’s going to take longer than you thought, too.
  • Expect to pay more than you planned, as well.  But, if you’re frugal and think about what you need before you purchase, you can do a reasonable job for a reasonable price.
    • You may want to consider the Maaco $299 sale for your commuter or pickup, if you’re not really into DIY type projects.  If you’re painting your main ride or show car — go find a real “paint guy.” You want an artist, not an Earl Scheib wannabe.
    • You saw my wish list for my next DIY paint job?  The reason I’m willing to lay out over $300 for tools is that I LIKE  DIY projects, so the compressor, air sander and paint gun(s) will get a lot of use — beyond the once-every-few-years auto paint project. (“Hey Honey! What color do you want the dog to be this week??” =;o))
  • Be willing to accept that your first couple efforts are probably not going to make the cover of Hot Rod  magazine.

I will update this post when the wet sanding is done — then again once the clear coat is applied.

Note: Brenda saw another ’91 Accord wagon at Papa Murphy’s tonight. She said it was the same situation as ours. Rest of the body paint looked great, but the hood was almost completely stripped!  Whoever Honda subbed out their hoods to must have had a bunch of 80s primer left over, or something . . .

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