Jun 032011

In response to my post about the Red, White, and Blue Racer, several readers have expressed interest in learning how to spray paint. Because I’m still a spray painting novice, I asked my cutie-pie husband to write a guest post about this subject. Before I get to it though, I have to share a very funny story about Cakes.

First, let me just say that I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture!

Last night, I tucked Cakes into bed, got Bee in the bathtub, and went to take a shower myself. When I came out to check on Bee, I noticed that the girls’ bedroom light was on, and the door was open. The girls have a loft bunkbed – Bee sleeps in the loft, and Cakes is underneath – and just as I reached their doorway, a luminous, cartoon-esque bubble floated out from under the loft.

“CAKES!” I yelled. “What’s going on under there?!”

Cakes popped her head out, and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. In one hand was the foaming hand soap bottle from the girls’ bathroom, and in the other was a swirly pile of soap foam. She also had foam all around her nose and mouth, like a fluffy, white, Santa beard, and was blowing soap bubbles.

I feigned extreme indignation, and marched her out to the kitchen to show her father what she’d been doing, when she was supposed to be sleeping. My husband practically hurt himself trying to keep a straight face. I swear he was wheezing and convulsing when he mock-sternly told her to wash off the soap and get her little tushie in bed.

What on earth made her decide to do that? What goes through her mind, I will never know.

Ah, Cakes. Never a dull moment.

And now, this is Heather’s husband responding to your paint questions:

– First, if you’re painting plastic, I recommend using enamel spray paint rather than lacquer paint. Lacquer-based spray paint will “craze” some plastics and result in a dull, textured finish.

– Remove any parts that you want to paint separate colors to achieve neater results, and reduce masking. If there are parts on a tricycle like DJ’s (such as rear wheels or pedals) that use push-nut fasteners, you may want to mask them off. Sometimes the push-nut fasteners will be damaged if you try to remove and re-use them.

– Carefully clean all parts that you wish to paint. I used a final wash product that I got at the free swap shop that Heather refers to. It’s a petroleum distillate solvent cleaner that auto body shops use to clean surfaces before painting. You may also have good success with hot water and soap, or rubbing alcohol (but try a small hidden surface first to be sure it doesn’t damage the material you’re working with).  For additional adhesion and chip resistance you can also scuff up the surfaces with a Scotch-Brite pad to remove the shiny plastic finish and give the paint a rougher surface to grip to. Cleaning before scuffing up the surface will reduce the chance of grinding oils and dirt into the plastic and spoiling your paint job (see fish-eye comments in the next paragraph).  If you do scuff up the surfaces, be sure to clean them again before painting.

– Your parts and work area should be as dust free as possible, for a flawless finish. Regardless, be sure all surfaces are warm, and very dry before beginning your painting. The cleaner the surface, the better the paint will adhere, and cleanliness reduces the chances of “fish-eye” spots in your paint. Fish-eyes are usually the result of silicone or grease contamination. If you experience this, gently wipe over the area of the fish eye with your finger, and let it get tacky. Then apply very light mist coats over the fish-eyes, allowing extra dry time between mists. You can even purchase special primer sealers for plastic parts. They help with paint adhesion and coverage, but I don’t get that carried away when refurbishing inexpensive items.

– Be sure that your parts, your spray can, and your work area are warm when you paint. I prefer 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold parts, cold paint, and/or cold air temperatures increase chances of the paint running. Good ventilation is also very important, so that you don’t inhale toxic paint fumes.

– Try practicing first on a scrap item, using straight motions with your wrist locked, sweeping your upper arm from side to side, and maintaining a 12″ distance from the surface. Start spraying as you reach the beginning of the part and spray over (follow through) past the end for an even application.

– When you’re confident to begin on your clean, dry project parts, begin painting by holding the spray can about 12” from the surface, using your straight (side to side) sweeping motions to apply two light coats. Allow the paint to get finger-slick between coats (a term used to describe a paint surface that you can drag your fingernail against without feeling sticky). Don’t worry about covering well at this point; just try to get light coats on to start. If you try too hard to cover well on the first coat, paint will usually drip, sag, and run. Your final coat should be a wetter coat for a final glossy appearance.

– Now comes the hard part – being patient to let the paint cure for a full day before assembly. Nothing will ruin your project faster than fingerprints, scratches, and dirt in paint that hasn’t properly set up. Waiting until it’s completely dry will give a flawless finish and cause you less stress during re-assembly.

Now, try your hand at a project! Small projects, like renewing old picture frames, are good places to start (Heather’s been very successful with this).

Hope this helps!


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