Now That I've Got Your Attention A place to work and spray is another consideration that I'm sure you're thinking of about now, as well. Most folks have at least a one-car garage these days, and that's fine. I spent many a winter with one side of my car pushed up against the wall while I worked on the other side. And just between you and me, I've painted quite a few in a plain old home garage (or out in the driveway) over the years, as well (though that was well before the days of environmental correctness and nosy neighbors).
Before we get too far, though, I feel it's my duty to inform you that along the way, you're more than likely to make a mess or two or three (this is where the extremely affordable Summit Paint System really helps protect the wallet), but don't let it get you down. Lord knows I've made more than my share of screw-ups. But I've learned valuable lessons from each and every one of 'em, and if you're willing to "learn by doing," you really will be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Tools, Equipment, And Materials Using the correct tool for the job is half the battle. There are some specialized pieces that are pretty much necessities (like a DA sander, hammers and dollies, and spray equipment), but as I've said earlier, between Summit Racing Equipment and others, you can get what you need to start for a surprisingly small amount of cash. So let's start out by putting together a little list of what you'll need to get started: The first thing (and something that I've almost taken for granted) is an air compressor. Now, if you don't already have one, this may well be one of the largest investments that you'll have to make, but it'll become (by far) one of your most prized workshop possessions (along with a MIG welder, that is). Compressors can be had for anywhere from $300-$2,000, depending on size and quality. My personal compressor is a 6.5hp, 60-gal, 10.2cfm-@-90-psi, 220-volt Campbell Hausfeld unit (from Summit Racing, of course). This baby is an extremeduty compressor (meaning it's rated for constant use) that's been way more than adequate for my needs and, as a bonus, it retailed for under $600 - a great price for a good reliable compressor!
At this point it's important that whatever compressor you have, or choose to purchase, make sure it produces enough air volume. That's volume, mind you-not pressure. Most air-powered body tools (grinders and spray guns especially) will use about 8-9 CFM (cubic feet per minute), so make sure the compressor you're considering produces at least 9 CFM. If you don't, you'll be spending a lot of time waiting for your compressor to catch up, as the tools will use more air volume than the compressor can produce! Another thing to consider is voltage. Compressors that operate on 110 volts work fine, but they burn a ton of electricity! A 220/240-volt unit ends up being a heck of a lot cheaper to run, and that's really something to consider in this day of high energy costs.
The next thing (we might as well get the initial big-dollar investments out of the way) is a MIG welder. There are literally dozens of makes and models (as well as price ranges) to choose from, and they're priced anywhere from under $300 to well over $1,000. I use a Miller 180 with Autoset (that I'm extremely pleased with) for everything from welding patch panels to chassis fabrication (as an aside, I just picked up a new Diversion 165 TIG welder, another Miller of course, and I'm excited about learning to TIG-weld-but that'll be another story). Again, though the compressor and welder will add up to a substantial sum, due to the myriad of things they'll be used for, and their extended working life, they're two of the most indispensable items any car guy can have in his or her garage.