The Basics of Refinishing
Painting wheels is one of the most common modifications made to our cars. It is often the first step down the DIYer’s path to modification. When it comes to wheel paint, just about everything has been done. Gloss, matte, plasti dip, patterns and even printing, chances are it’s been tried before. Painting wheels is one of those simple mods that can immediately set a car apart from the rest. So, what does it take to do it? Well if you have any, and we mean any, DIY ability then painting your wheels should be easy. We will cover the basics for you here as well as offer a few pointers. First things first, painting requires preparation and patience, especially the latter. Painting is often 80% preparation, 10% painting and the rest is time spent drying. The more time you spend sanding, taping and cleaning, the easier it will be to achieve great looking coats. This patience also goes for drying as well, knowing when to stop spraying and when to leave it longer is a hard thing to master. Once you can get into the mind set of moving slowly and carefully, you are well on your way to laying down some nice coats. Time is the key element here, so be sure to set aside plenty to get the job right. Now, with the mental prep out of the way, we can focus on the process. Let’s start with a very basic overview of what you will need:
- Paint – Duh
- Primer – This depends on what you are painting, if you have a good painted surface already, you can get away without it.
- Sandpapers – It is important to have a few grits (100, 150, 400, 600)
- Tape – Tape is by far the best and safest way to mask off what doesn’t get painted. Think Scotch Blue.
- Cleaning pads, soap, etc. – Use this to prep the surface of the wheel. Ie: removing brake dust and such.
- Good light – This is very important to ensure a quality and even finish.
- A cool dry work place – Make sure the temp is moderate (50F -85F) with low humidity. Otherwise your paint will suck, no matter how good you are.
Now that you have the basic materials sorted, let’s focus on the process of painting. The steps are not hard (Although they could be depending on what you paint), but they are time consuming and require a lot of patience to get right. We will run through a basic set of procedures to give you an idea of what to expect. First things first, cleaning. Clean the wheels thoroughly to get as much grime, brake dust and dirt off of the surface you will be painting. The better the clean, the less chance dirt will ruin the paint job down the line. The next step is sanding, it is the most important step and consequently the most time consuming. Sanding not only preps the surface of the wheel for paint by removing the clear coat, it also helps to take off any leftover dirt and smooth out any imperfections. It is always faster to work your way up the grits, rather than starting with a high grit. Take the heavy stuff off with a 100 grit paper, and then come back over the wheel with a 150 grit. You can do this dry, but the next two grits should be done wet. After wiping the sanding dust off the wheel, start to work over the wheel with a 400 grit. Make sure to sand with a wet base, you can do this with soapy water. The wet sanding allows for a smoother finish, and does not wear the finer grain down as fast. Finally go back over the wheel with a 600 or 800 grit wet. This will smooth out the surface to a final quality for painting. The next step is simple, but must be done with care. Start to tape out the wheel and anything that shouldn’t be painted. (Like the valve stem) After protecting the wheel wipe it down once more with a dry cloth to take any excess dust off. Now you can start the painting. If you need it, prime the wheel and sand with an 800 or higher between coats. Let the primer fully dry and do not sand wet. Do not forget to wipe off the wheel between coats. Now you can apply the paint. Do so in light even coats. This will take some practice, but the more even the strokes and flow of the paint, the nicer the final finish. Keep coating the wheels until the coverage is solid, allowing for ample drying time between re-coats. If a clear coat is needed, the methods are the same. Just remember patience and prep work makes all the difference. As always, happy wrenching. Here are a few shots of some wheels we have refinished: