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I have painted a couple bike frames (think really cheap garage-find rebuilds) with varying degrees of failure. Can you help me correct/fill in the missing pieces of my frame painting process?

  1. Breaking Down the Bike: Remove everything except the Bottom Bracket, which can be masked. (Removing BB is to easy for me to mess up) Fork can be removed and painted separately.
  2. Stripping old paint off a bike frame: Easy enough using scraper, sandpaper, and even super-dangerous paint stripper.
  3. Cleaning off Rust: Rust can be sanded off pretty easily, even using tinfoil on sensitive/chrome areas works really well.
  4. Masking: Mask the BB, the Fork and Seatpost holes, and anything else that shouldn't be painted.
  5. Priming: A few coats of primer is absolutely necessary to fight rust.
  6. Painting: Here's where I am lost. I have heard these options:

    • Spraypaint/Rattle-Can: Worst Method, use Engine-Coat Epoxy paints, many coats, need to cure for weeks before anywhere near scratch-resistant. Even then a strong fingernail seems to be able to strip paint.

    • Powder-Coating at an AutoBody shop: Don't know much about the cost EDIT: Costs around $200, according to wdypdx22 below. or pros and cons. Probably not financially feasible on a garage-find bike build, or am I wrong?

    • Other Options?

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Welcome to SE.Bicycles! –  Neil Fein Jun 10 '11 at 16:00
    
Related: How to prepare a frame for a new paintjob –  Neil Fein Jun 10 '11 at 16:00
    
@Neil - Thanks I am already finding it very useful. –  Andy H. Jun 12 '11 at 4:45
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3 Answers

I'm not an expert on this, but I do have a friend who immaculately restores vintage bicycles. I've helped him on a few projects and this is roughly what he does. (My friend started out 5 or 6 years ago with an old cruiser and cans of spray paint. Wound up becoming obsessed and ended up with a spray painting set-up that he found on Craigslist...)

Basically he starts with your steps 1 - 4 for paint removal, although more advanced. My friend has professional grade spray painting equipment and uses industrial grade coatings, so he's not using rattle cans of spray paint.

  • After the paint removal, he re-tapes with a finer grade of masking tape.
  • Usually 2 coats of epoxy based primer.
  • 2 - 4 coats of color, which is an industrial grade polyurethane paint.
  • During the color phase, he deals with lug detailing and decals. This part is tedious and time consuming.
  • Finally, 3 coats of clearcoat. And then the frame hangs in the paint shed for 24 to 48 hours.

If you're serious about it, I can find out what brands, etc he uses.

And for powder-coating, another acquaintance recently spent ~ $200 USD on a frame.

Yeah, totally possible However, sending your bike frame off to the paint shop for powder-coating ceases to be DIY. ;~)

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Thanks for the information, I fear I may also be getting obsessed with restoring bikes. - I would be interested to know if the stuff your friend uses is NOT the industrial grade epoxy paint that requires special temperatures, thinners and catalysts all mixed at a precise ratio. That's the stuff I have already ruled out. –  Andy H. Jun 12 '11 at 4:46
    
So the solution seems to be many coats and a primer, which I didn’t use till now. But I did not remove the former color, just roughed it a bit. –  erik Aug 15 '13 at 14:29
    
And it seems to depend on the color. The expensive spray can color (400 ml for 14 euros) that I got from a automobile repair shop, lasted much longer on my frames. The cheap spray can color (400 ml for 4 euros) from a graffiti shop has to be touched with care, to not scratch it. –  erik Aug 15 '13 at 14:35
    
The spray can color from the automobile repair shop contained acrylic resin. That seems to be more resistant to scratches. Should be used at least for the clear varnish coats (which I haven’t applied yet). –  erik Aug 15 '13 at 15:16
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I put in a lot of effort painting a bike as you describe, i.e. properly given non-specialist materials and lots of elbow grease. However, for the effort, I do think it is worth removing the bottom bracket and headset cups. (Or getting someone to remove them for you.)

I was traumatized when my freshly painted-in-yellow bike fell over for the top tube to scratch its way down a stone pillar. That made me think 'never again' to spending a whole weekend and a week's worth of evenings 'getting it right'.

For my next attempt I went for stove enamelling. This was with a local place and the price was a bargain. They did not specialize in bikes but they had no problems with my frame/fork. The look was good and I had not had to wait long, just strip my bike down, and on return 3 days later I could build it up again.

Stove enamel is different to powder coating. You can look up the pros and cons of stove-enamel vs powder, personally I think that it depends on the look that you want. Other than that enamel is easier to maintain as it is T-cut compatible with no clear-coat needed.

If you want a bike that looks different then there is a lot that you can do with the stove-enamel paint job. It has a different shininess to it, verging on matte.

With some things it is better to do it yourself if you want a proper job. This is not the case with paint as people that do it everyday have skill and experience that your extra effort and attention to detail is not going to make up for. It is like plastering - all considered it is better to get a professional in.

There are other strategies for painting a bike. You can give it a good clean and slap loads of Hammerite on it with a brush. This will result in the distinctive Hammerite finish - usually reserved for garden gates and tin sheds. Totally bulletproof.

On another bicycle I liked the paint job but I knew I would be kidding myself if I tried to touch it up. So I used a complementary colour. With a wire brush I cleaned the new chips and quickly put the touch up paint on every time I refurbished the bike. This resulted in an 'art-is-tic innit' theme that people complimented me on.

If you want to go for something really unusual you can go for nickel plating. This is like chrome but better when it comes to rust, particularly if you clearcoat it too.

On balance powder coating is better than stove enamel: http://www.windridge.co.uk/content.php/412

Also of note is that a professional paint shop can shot-blast the paint off your bike in minutes, to a better result than spending all weekend with wet-or-dry paper.

My recommendation: posh bike - get the pros to do it. Heap-of-junk, touch up with complementary colour(s).

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What are the advantages to stove enameling? I've never even heard of it. –  Neil Fein Jun 10 '11 at 16:58
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Thanks for your answer, I had never heard of stove enamelling either, but it looks like, according to your link windridge.co.uk/content.php/412 "Therefore the [powder coating] price is comparable, or even cheaper than stove enamelling" - this might rule it out as an option for cheaper bikes. –  Andy H. Jun 12 '11 at 4:55
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Powder coating production has come a long way, and I know at least three shops local to Portland, OR that will do a single bike frame and fork for under $100, which includes a thorough media blasting and some peripheral services. I get a lot of that work done on bike frames I repair and build, and I've gotten excellent deals on larger volumes of work. Occasionally Ill do my own custom paint work, touch ups, pinstriping and such, and if you don't have the experience of doing production work, no amount of care and time will equal the deft hands of a professional. I build an occasional show bike, in which case there's cause to do an uncommonly fine paint job, and for that there's nothing like many coats of lacquer and a hand rubbed surface. Its easy to get great looking results on a bike frame with just rubbing compound by hand because the convex surface of the tube maximizes the friction and you just have to correct the buffing lines to the length of the tube and they disappear into the mirror finish. too fragile for your daily ride, but it bears mentioning, and anyone can do it. Its not practical for a daily driver, but it looks nice.

For the cost of a bottom bracket tool for your socket set, you can save painting your bottom bracket firmly into place, and even though they're not hard to mask, even the tiniest bit of paint on a headset just looks rubbish, so do it well.

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