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Painting a Fiberglass Body

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Just something to note if you’re buying or building a car – the paint is pricey. On a T-Bucket, Roadster, or any other ‘small’ car – budget for paint anywhere from $3,500-$6,000 depending on what exactly you’re looking for.

When you’re painting a car, where exactly do you start? Let me tell you, it’s definitely not like painting a wall, or a house, or even anything crafty. To start off, you go over the entire body, fenders, etc. with a 220-grit sand paper. You have to watch the gloss of the gel coat of the body to make sure it’s smooth and if there’s any question anywhere, especially on the corners, you can build it up with Bondo. After you make sure it’s smooth, you can hit it with a couple of heavy coats of primer. Let it sit overnight and come back at it with 220-grit again, and then maybe a 400-grit if needed. The 400 is done wet- if that comes out well, then you’re ready to paint. (This sanding process may take upwards of two hours total. The prep work here is no joke.)

And then its spray time right? Wrong. Before spraying the color, get everything cleaned up and then ‘jigged’ up, which is basically creating a system for yourself where you hang/lay out/position everything to paint. All the parts have to be painted at the same time, have the same paint, and the same painter or else all the pieces aren’t going to match. Why’s it important to ‘jig’ up the pieces?  If they’re painted flat, the metallic won’t lay down right and they’ll come out a different color. You can bolt the parts together so they lay at an angle like they’re going to be on the car, or you can hang them from the ceiling, etc.

After getting the pieces cleaned up with alcohol and decontaminated, you’re ready to come back with the mixture of your base color. You’ll want to work the whole panel- Hold the gun back a bit so it lays the color down drier, which will make the metallic stand up and get more of a glisten to it out in the sun. If you get the gun too close, it’ll get a tiger stripe look to it. Aim for a little over a foot away.

Note: Although the paint is expensive – it’s worth it to use a little extra when laying down the base coat to really help make it shine. Once that first layer is down – let it sit about an hour and a half. Clean it once again. Come back and start hosing it with a clear coat – the first layer of clear will act as a tack coat and will make it somewhat of an anchor. If you hit it too hard with clear coat at the beginning, gravity will kick in and it will run towards the floor. If you do it lightly, it will be more of a ‘tack’ or sticky coat/finish and it’s easier to work with. Go light! It will help the next clear coat(s) stay on better. Keep working the clear up until you get a pretty decent gloss to it, but know, the ‘color sand and rub’ is what will create the really nice detail. It seems odd that you would need to ‘sand’ new paint, but color sanding is necessary to make the surface smoother. When using a wet 800-grit paper and water, the paint’s texture will slowly rub away- The smoother the paint, the bigger the shine!

Since some fiberglass parts aren’t 100% straight, it may be necessary to prime and detail around the edges. Another reason to ‘jig’ up the parts in the air: Paint guns won’t spray upside down and you’ll need to get under there and spray all of the edges. When they’re done, you can take a paint brush to finish detailing the edge – you don’t want to leave any spot untouched!

Last step: Any underside (fenders, running boards, etc), you’ll need to create somewhat of a safety ‘skin.’ If a rock were to come up and hit underneath the fenders, it could leave a star on the paint side. The kicker: Trying to get stuff to stick to fiberglass is really tough. I recommend using something like POR-15 because it sticks to everything. Plus, it’s black so it matches anything. When you’re ready to apply, you mask off the top side of the fender, running board, etc. so the POR-15 doesn’t get on the paint side. For application, you can use little foam pads that you use for detail painting on a house. The nice thing is, the foam pads don’t really hold a lot of paint so you won’t waste much- the stuff is pretty expensive! You’ll brush it on, let it sit a couple of hours and it’s done. It’s solid and rocks on the road will bounce right off, leaving the paint on the other side completely undisturbed.

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