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Paint That Project

After spending hours in the shop cutting and welding, you’ve finished another project. But it really isn’t finished unit it has a little colour on it. The bland, grey appearance of unpainted metal eventually turns to a rusty brown without it. And things that look shiny and new somehow seem to work better. So here are a few tips from a variety of sources on how to best spruce up the look of workshop creations.

First, make sure there is no more cutting and welding to do. Assemble the project to confirm everything fits and works, then pull it apart for painting — if it can come apart. There is nothing more frustrating than having to spoil a perfect paint job by cutting and re-welding a component.

Once it’s apart, prepping for paint is the next step. Anyone who has handled raw steel knows it has a pretty grimy coating, and paint won’t adhere properly to metal covered with dirt and grease. There are several metal cleaning products on the market specifically for this job, but brake cleaner works well, too. It is a powerful solvent and doesn’t leave a residue to interfere with paint adhesion. It’s also relatively inexpensive.

The grey mill scale covering has to come off, too. Use 80-grit sandpaper to scuff the grey coating off, leaving only shiny silver steel. The sandpaper will also create grooves in the metal that will give the paint some “tooth,” which helps it stick.

Be sure to lay out plastic to keep overspray off the floor and anything nearby you don’t want misted with overspray. This, of course, assumes spraying is your method of choice. Undoubtedly, spray painting is the best method for steel. I doesn’t leave brush marks. And, if done right, produces a nice even coat.

Don’t worry about not having an expensive and elaborate air system in your shop, just head out to the local hardware store and buy a few aerosol spray cans. Once you get the hang of using them, it’s easy to lay down a pretty nice coat. It just takes a little practice.

But before you start blowing colour, applying a good primer is the next step, and that is available in spray cans, too. But give the metal a final wipe with a tack cloth before you start, which removes any dust or contaminants that may have settled on your project. Places like Canadian Tire sell tack cloths in individual packages for about a dollar each. Just rub them lightly over the surface.

Keep the spray can moving as you mist the primer on. Typically, spray cans should be held about eight to 10 inches from the surface. Several light coats are far better than one heavy one and will avoid causing runs to form. Give each coat a few minutes to “flash” (dry) before adding the next. If you have a heat gun, blowing warm air over the surface can shorten wait times between coats. Just be careful not to blow a lot of dust around, which can settle and stick on the wet surface. Sprinkling water on the floor around the painting area can help avoid kicking up dust as you work.

After applying a suitable coat of primer and allowing for the recommended drying time, give the project another wipe with a tack cloth and start spraying colour. Use the same misting technique, applying several light coats until you have complete and even coverage.

If you have to paint a project on several sides, start with it upside down. Then if you mar the new paint when turning it upright to paint the top, the blemish isn’t in a spot easily seen.

A word about safety. Always wear a respirator with a fresh filter to avoid inhaling paint if you are spraying it, and work in a well-ventilated area. Ideally, having a fan draw filtered air over the project and way from you — like an automotive paint booth does — is the best situation, but it isn’t something most of us have access to. So wear the right safety gear. Long sleeves and gloves avoid skin contact with airborne paint and solvent. And wear eye protection. It may not seem like there is any paint in the air as you work, but I’ve found my eye glasses coated with a fine mist after an hour of painting in the shop.

The pictures show how much difference a little paint makes to an ordinary project.


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Do you have any tips you’d like to share withGrainewsreaders? Or have you built something you’d like to showcase? If so, let me know what you’ve doing in the shop. Send me an email at scott. [email protected]

About the author


Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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