We first became involved with what was originally called "power painting" over 20 years ago. We were performing a Chevy "restification" and we decided to try something new. From that endeavor and experience, we came away convinced that it (now called "powdercoating") is the way-to-go in most automotive rebuilding, modifying and/or restorations-even though it is not deemed "stock" by the purists.
We are talking Chevy vehicles-mostly of the modified variety. We also thought back then that if one was dreaming of opening his own business, a powdercoating shop would be an affordable, zero-emissions, good way to earn a living. We still think the same today.
According to lore, as well as much research, powder painting/powdercoating evolved 50-plus years ago in Sweden. The first patents were said to be applied for in Germany in the early '50s. The process came to America 17 years later in the late '60s.
What is the powder?
It is a mixture of finely ground particles of resin and color pigment. It electrostatically adheres to the grounded surface, then is fused/bonded to the item due to curing in a heated oven. It flows in a complete uniform manner. It is very durable and of high quality. The entire paint process is emissions-free. Any unused powder goes to the floor where it is retrieved via broom or vacuum. Nothing goes airborne.
There are basically five different types of paint. They include polyester, polyurethane, epoxy-polyester, acrylic and polyvinylidene resin. All can be had in regular shades as well as clearcoats and metallics. There are also many gloss levels and textures available too.
How Is Powder Coating Applied?
There are two acceptable processes: First, consider small parts and large parts. All, whether steel, pot metal, aluminum, glass, ceramic, plastic or wood, must be clean. For small parts, the "powder" is put into a canister, then a vacuum hose sucks it into a specially constructed spray gun. The powder comes out of the gun and into the atmosphere in what we can describe as a "floating fog" or "mist." It adheres to the subject part via positive (+) electrolysis connected to a large, metal, rollerized rack. After being powder painted, the rack is wheeled into a huge heat room, which is usually fired by a roof-mounted gas or electric heater.
The second powdercoating method is almost always for large parts, like a vehicle frame, cab section or fencing. The clean frame, cab or fence is first heated then is dipped into a container of fluidized powder. Either can also be run through an electrically-charged "cloud" of powder paint. Just for the record, automotive buildings and shops feature many powdercoated items, including fences, railings, banisters, wrought iron, metal fixtures, as well as aluminum and stainless steel components.
The various powder paints often take a different heat temperature and length of time to fully cure. The air temperature is usually between 250-300 (F) and the overall oven curing time takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes. A timer is set for each batch of parts being cured.
Also, oven-curing temperatures over the years have been lowered so as to not damage temperature-sensitive parts, such as those made from plastic or wood. Cool-down time is usually one hour or less. Cost studies reveal that powdercoating is one-third cheaper than painting.
Masking Tape For Bearing Races, Threads, Etc.
Many types of masking tape are available depending on the job at hand. Naturally, anything with close tolerances cannot be powdercoated. Masking parts also adds labor costs to the bottom line. You may wish to do this prep work yourself.
Because powder paint is baked or bonded to the metal, we believe under normal earthly conditions, it won't crack, peel or fade. Those doing restorations, refurbishments and custom work have to remove the paint from the cab, fenders and bed. Ditto for suspension components. This is true, too, for powdercoating. Surprisingly, many powder paint shops offer paint stripping via sand or particle-blasting as well as through other means. While this prep costs extra, it is worth it. Consider what a few hours of your time is worth.
One could powdercoat most of an entire vehicle, piece by piece but most powdercoat only the frame, rear end, suspension parts, valve covers, intake manifold, engine block and heads, air cleaner, hood hinges, etc. Care to have a multi-colored, ever-lasting engine compartment or chassis? Andrews Powdercoating and other shops nationwide offer as many as 600 colors including candies and clear. Special custom color matches can also be done.
If you live in a humid area where moisture, salt air, as well as winter road salt causes surface rust, paint peeling and bubbling, powder painting eliminates all of that. So then, what "chassis black" paint glosses are available? There are at least four hues: flat black, semi-flat black, semi-gloss black and gloss black.
If something more colorful is in your future, there is a veritable rainbow available-and then some. As just stated, there are at least six hundred colors, including hot fluorescents, trunk spatter paint, antiques and hammertones. With all these colors available, consider if you will a street or show vehicle void of chrome. We have many times seen color-keyed inner fenders, valve covers, intake manifolds, hood underside-you name it.
Imagine an engine compartment with multi shades of red, topped off with a dab of orange or purple. There is no end to what shades might best visually offset each other. We're not just talking metal parts, either. Powder painting has also progressed to plastic parts and wood in recent years.
As far as maintenance goes, generlly speaking, none is required other than owner preference. It goes without saying that you'll want to clean as-necessary, just like you would anything else. The frame we had powdercoated 20 years ago in semi-gloss black looks just as good today. If you wacked the powder painted frame with a hammer hard enough to dent it, the paint will dent too but then pop back out. You could probably crack the powder paint if you really tried, but that's not the point. It has been said that Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company powdercoats all components of its motorcycle drivetrain and uses clear powdercoat on its tanks, frames and fenders. That's pretty convincing.
This story was aimed at both future restorations and those who plan to keep their car/truck/tractor/motorcycle/boat and do not want to continually sand off and repaint rusted, cracked, peeling areas. This story was also written for those planning major vehicle modifications. Powdercoating is for those who do not want to repeat their work ever again. Research reveals there are over 5,000 powdercoating shops presently nationwide. Most are in urban areas. Rural America seems to offer an enterprising person the best chance for self-employment. We also hear that some are doing so in their retirement years. Have at it.
Here is a quick rundown on each type of powder and how it stands up.
Acrylic: Excellent appearance and weatherability. Good impact-resistance. Epoxy: Very tough as well as resistant to chemicals but is said to visually "chalk" in continued exposure sunlight.
Polyester: Very durable with good "edge" coverage. Extra spray/thicker film is no problem.
Polyester Urethane: Very durable, excellent thin film usuage.
Powder Coating At Home
The Eastwood Company's HotCoat powdercoating system has been a top kit for professionals as well as for small shops and home use. Eastwood is celebrating 30 years in 2008 and has offered portable units for at least 20.
For the record, a portable powdercoating spray gun costs about $99 and complete kits begin at around $199, not including powder paint. Eastwood Company also offers portable spray booths, filters plus all the hot colors including a correct shade of chassis black.
Over the last two decades, we have seen many Eastwood portable power coating systems in action. Most recently we witnessed a pot metal molding being powdercoated purple. In this particular owner's case, a portable spray gun and a few different powder colors were purchased. The owner then crafted his own booth and an Eastwood portable heater did the curing. Start-to-finish was way under one hour.
If we were looking for part-time income, powdercoating is what we would do. In time, side work often turns into full-time and a career is born. In all, we think this is fun work that anyone could do. It does not cost a huge investment to get started.