Tuesday, June 25, 2013

DIY: How to Give Your Frame a New Paint Job

Many of us have inherited, found, or otherwise come across a used frame that could use an upgrade or, at the very least, a minor touch up. Refinishing a frame may seem like a daunting and involved task that eats up more time than you'd like it to, but depending on the project it may not be as taxing as you'd think and the steps are pretty basic so don't sweat it.

The steps below will outline the steps needed to prep your frame and then you can choose one of two options: while finishing the paint job yourself is rewarding, getting the bike professionally powder coated is never a bad idea for a truly professional look.

Here's what our bike looks like before...

...and after...

What You'll Need
Protective gloves
Drop cloths
Paint stripper
"Throw away" grade paint brush to apply the paint stripper
Steel wool and/or wire brush and/or sandpaper and spray bottle (for wet sanding)
Clean shop rags or towels
Rope and/or coat hanger
Masking tape
Paint (automotive lacquer or professional powder coating)
Clear, protective top coat (or have this step done professionally)

#1: Start Fresh
To begin, you need to strip down your bike to the bare essentials, which basically means just the frame. No cables, brakes, etc. Things like the bottom bracket and cranks can be left on if you don't have the tools to remove them but you just want to be very careful later so they don't get in the way. Also, you can remove any head badges at this step if you plan on replacing them or swapping them out during the rebuild.

After using masking tape to cover up things like the bottom bracket cavity, applying a strong, high quality paint stripper from your local home improvement store will usually take the majority of the paint off pretty easily. Be sure to create a clean, ventilated work area with enough space to move around. A drop cloth is never a bad idea either. Neither are gloves.

Follow the instructions on the paint stripper, but usually it will start working within a few minutes and you can start to see the paint bubbling up. Feel free to go at it with some steel wool or a wire brush to get the tough spots because you want to get it absolutely clean; no paint and primer left anywhere, especially around any welded joints, etc.

After some quality elbow grease it should start to look like this:

And then after the scrubbing:

Eventually you'll start to see something like this:

Old frames may require some additional work like using some naval jelly to work out any pitted or surface rust spots:

#2: Prep For Paint
At this point, you can either take your bike to get it professionally powder coated at an auto shop or you can go it alone. To continue working on it yourself, you'll need to prep the frame for primer and then paint.

A good degreaser (not the same kind used on your drivetrain) will go a long way to clean and prep the frame for primer. This step is important because if the primer doesn't adhere properly then every paint layer after that will suffer.

Follow the instructions on the degreaser and be sure to use clean towels and don't touch the frame with your bare hands afterwards so that the oils from your hands don't contaminate it. Again, gloves are your friend.

#3: Apply the Primer
The can will instruct you how to best apply the primer. You will want to be sure to apply in light even coats to get the best results. Rather than using a bike stand which requires you to clamp part of the frame to the stand, rigging up a coat hanger or rope looped through the head tube can allow you to suspend the frame. This way, the whole frame is accessible at once and you can easily move around it as you apply the primer.

Be sure to use masking tape again to cover up any metal lugs or components that are still exposed. You only want to get primer on the frame.

#4: Paint Time
Now comes the fun part. Paint and top coat. I used automotive lacquer from Advance Auto Parts and it comes in a rattle can very similar to spray paint. It's a little more serious than spray paint, but it operates in much the same way.

If you're feeling creative you can use some more masking tape and stencils to section off the frame into different colored areas. If you're working with big sections of the frame at once, you can use masking tape and newspaper to cover up the part of the frame that you don't want errant paint spray to reach.

Get creative with it. After all, one of the perks (and one of the reasons why you're probably doing this) is that you get the chance to create a fully custom frame unlike anything that's available in your local bike shop, online, or...anywhere.

Keeping with the "original" theme, why not throw in some special design features that only you know about? Things like your signature or a defining logo in hidden spots on the frame will make it that much more of a truly custom job. I hid a little design on the top portion of the fork, for example. Once this is greased up and the bike is assembled, no one will ever see this again unless it's taken apart so this little feature is just between you and the bike.

Once all of your paint coats are finished, it is time to add a clear protective top coat in the same way. There's different ones out there so try to find the most durable one that you can. When you buy the automotive-grade lacquer you will most likely see cans of clear top coat nearby. You can apply this in a few coats, according to the manufacturer's instructions. I ended up applying about 3 coats of this stuff just to be safe, but keep in mind that a bike with no scratches has no character and isn't really any fun. After all, who wants to be worried all of the time about leaning his bike against a bike rack, riding in the rain, or beating the frame up a bit over the years?

#5: Put the Frame Together and Hit the Road!
Whether you do this step yourself or take it to a shop, make sure that it's done right by a mechanic that you trust. An improperly built bike doesn't do any favors for you as well as fellow riders, drivers, and pedestrians who share the road with you. Do it right the first time because, after all, you already spent so much time to work on the frame.

A few little tips include using a product like Frame Saver for steel frames before you begin assembly (tip courtesy of Evan, Aero Tech Designs' Creative Director). They say products like this go a long way to preserve your frame and what's the risk in spending a couple bucks now to save yourself a lot more in the future? That is, assuming that you plan on riding this setup for a while.

Another little trick to keep water, crud, and other undesirables away from the moving parts of your bottom bracket involves a small piece of cut plastic from your recycle bin. Once you get the sizing down to allow enough horizontal room between the fixed and removable cups of your bottom bracket, you can roll the plastic piece into a tube a place it inside before assembling the bottom bracket. This will help to keep unwanted elements from finding their way into the seat tube, down tube, chainstays, etc. and making their way down to the bottom bracket, bearings, and lubrication.

Also, simple organizational things like this box that I use help you to store spare parts that you plan on reusing during assembly. This especially comes in handy if the timeline from dismantling to rebuilding is longer than a week or so. Cell phone pictures of the process doesn't hurt either.

Thanks for reading and drop us a line if you have any questions.

Ride safe and often.

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