How To Use Spray Paint as Part of a Motorcycle Restoration

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Want some advice on how to use spray paint as part of your next motorcycle restoration?  I am what you might call a “frugal restorer.”  Don’t get me wrong, I have built chrome monsters in the past.  

I just think that with time I have mellowed.  I have learned to focus more on the essentials of a restoration, to appreciate the character that old parts and age can provide, and to do things on a budget.  As a result, I have become a Jedi-master at using spray paint (modest too).

That said, I want to share my knowledge regarding how to use spray paint with you – some of it is technical in nature and some of it is artistic/aesthetic.  My hope is that you can utilize some of these tips and tricks yourself and save some money (leaving room in the coffers for that next project)!

Keep in mind that in this post, I am generally talking about smaller parts and not the larger sheet metal (tanks, fenders, etc.).  Not that with careful planning you can’t do those also, but there is something to be said for a professional job on the more critical/visible items.

My Tips and Tricks on How to Use Spray Paint:

1) Make sure you are using the right kind of spray paint.  In the world of motorcycles, you generally want to be using a rust-resistant paint that is designed for the temperature of the part being painted.  Regular temperature paint can be used on your run-of-the-mill part, but high-heat engine enamel should generally be used on anything connected to the engine or transmission.  I would err on the side of using high-heat enamel anywhere that gets warm.  If you use a paint that isn’t designed for high-heat applications in an area that gets hot, it will flake and peel almost immediately creating a giant mess.

2) You should work to make the starting surface for paint as squeaky-clean as possible.  I mean, seriously, clean whatever part it is until literally you would almost eat off of it.  I know this isn’t always possible, but this is what you should strive for.  

Remove any all all rust – you can refer to my related post on rust removal.  Use wire brushes, sand paper, and good old fashioned elbow grease.

3) Remove parts from the bike where possible.  I have painted many parts on the bike, but it is definitely easier to paint parts with them off the bike.  Where you have to leave parts on the bike, make sure you carefully mask everything you are not trying to paint.  Mask off more than you think – overspray can be a real jerk.

4) Build a make-shift paint booth.  For small parts this can be a cardboard box that is open on both sides.  For larger parts, I sometimes line the inside of a tall ladder with plastic sheet.  You should have as much fun and get as creative with your paint-booth setup as you do with the painting itself.

5) Hang parts for painting.  I have bungee cords of all sizes laying around specifically for this purpose.  Hanging allows access to all sides of the part while painting and allows it to dry without touching anything (in other words, you can paint all sides at once, resulting in a more uniform finish).

6) Take your time with the pre-paint setup.  The longer you take with your paint booth setup, hanging, and masking things from overspray, the better off you will be when it comes time to paint.

7) Paint in an area with good ventilation, but with no wind or strong air currents.  If you paint outside, you are guaranteed to get dust and small particles embedded in your paint.  I like to paint in the garage with the door open on a windless day.

8) Read the directions on the paint can well.  They provide insight into how that particular paint works.

9) Keep the can a uniform distance from the surface you are painting while spraying.  Keep the can moving and err on the side of further away, rather than closer.  It is better for the paint to gently lay down on the surface from a further distance than to accumulate and drip.  Do several light coats rather than one heavy coat.

10) Flat, lusterless paints lay down better than gloss finishes.  In addition, blacks and dark colors are more forgiving than bright colors.  I use black all the time, including truck bed coating, on my Harley’s because it gives a classic look.

11) Don’t paint every single part.  The eye appreciates the juxtaposition of color.  For example, a black fender strut, offset with some new chrome plated bolts from Home Depot looks fantastic.  Keep some of those gray rustless parts, as is.  They will also look good against the newly painted parts and some new chrome fixings.

That’s it folks – my advice on how to use spray paint on your motorcycle parts.  I hope you found it helpful and if so, please share on social media.

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