Thursday, 31 August 2006 10:00

A guide to creating a show-stopping finish

Written by Rich Evans

Do you have a project car that has been sandblasted down to bare metal and needs a spectacular finish? To explain in detail the complete process of transforming a bare metal vehicle into a show quality finish, the project I'm breaking down is a 1956 Chevy Bel Air Convertible. 

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The project begins with a 1956 Chevy Bel Air Convertible sandblasted down to bare metal...

This particular car was for Art and Dan Danchuk of Danchuk Manufacturing, Inc., the world's largest manufacturer and supplier of 55-57 Chevy parts in the world. Needless to say, there were some high expectations to meet. While some parts of this project might go above and beyond what is needed for your average car, this process is still the way to complete any car and also have a show stopping finish in the end., these are the steps you will need to finish it. 

Grind down welds

On this project, the original floors of the '56 were replaced. We did all the bodywork at Hungtington Beach Bodyworks where I did all the metal refinishing myself. Begin by grinding down the new welds to get a factory look using a grinder and die tool with a bit to recreate factory spot welds. I used a brillo pad disc for any excess weld material and to generally clean up the welded areas.

Blow off any dust or residue and feather your edges with a DA sander, 150, and 320 grit sand paper to give the primer something to bite on to. Use a red Scotch- Brite pad for any areas the DA couldn't reach. Do not leave any excess weld material, dust, or residue or you can pretty much count on the paint lifting and having adhesion problems. Use seam sealer over the welds in the floor. I also applied Drip Check to the work done in the wheel wells, to keep water from leaking up and creating rust.

Apply sealer

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And ends up with a spectacular two-tone finish. This Chevy is ready for a drive along the coast or a trip to Lookout Point. 

Now it's time to apply sealer. With bare metal, the first thing to do is spray a self-etching primer to make all the other primers, basecoats, and clear coats adhere to the metal. For my sealer, I used PPG's Non-Sanding Epoxy Primer - mixed two parts primer, one part catalyst and one part DT885 reducer.

Rich tip: Always test the mixture on a spray card before applying to the vehicle. This rule holds for any mixture for any project vehicle. It's an integral step to test the integrity of the mixture and avoid any possible contamination.

This being a "non-sanding" epoxy primer, go right into spraying the PCL Polyprimer, which is a Hi-Fill polyester primer surfacer that is mixed by the quart with a catalyst and is not reduced. This is going to create the surface of the project which will be sculpted in the block sanding stages of this process.

The epoxy primer and polyprimer stages are where the project can get really messed up by not mixing exact measurements or by laying down coats that are too heavy. Using too much or too little catalyst in either primer will prevent it from drying. Be sure to mix exactly according to the instructions. Take your time. Don't rush.

Block sanding

Now that the surface has been prepared, the next step is to shape it by block sanding with various grits of sand paper. First create a black guide coat to show the high and low areas of the project. For this, I use a reduced down version of PPG's Black Epoxy Primer for the guide coat. Just a quick thin coat is all that is necessary to show the condition of the body.

Rich tip: With the guide coat on, start with a long block and some 80 grit sandpaper. My preference is to use a long block in the early stages which actually lets the block do the work. By this I mean do not to apply force to the block or angle it to do certain jobs that it wasn't meant to do. Also, do not try making it cut faster. Keep it flat and just move it back and forth.

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Using a long block in the early stages of sanding actually lets the block do most of the work.

I also use a cross cut pattern, where I'll move the block in one direction for a few strokes and then in a new direction for a few more strokes - like an "X" pattern. This helps to smooth out the surface more quickly.

High and low spots

If you come upon an area that's starting to sand down to metal again, that's your high spot. The reason it is down to metal again is because the surrounding area is to low. It is normal to have a low area surrounded by a few high spots. To raise these low areas, I apply a smooth coat of Polyester Finishing and Blending Putty. The Poly Putty needs a good 80 grit to adhere to.

Using the high spot as a guide, being sure not to sand past it, resume block sanding the Polyester Putty and feather out edges into the surrounding surface. This stage will sometimes have to be repeated to obtain a true panel and a smooth surface.

Block sand the entire surface one panel at a time to keep track of what's been blocked and what hasn't. It can be hard to tell simply by looking at it when you get into the higher grits and the surface gradually becomes smoother and smoother. After the surface has been blocked with 80 grit, apply another guide coat and then block sand the surface again with 150 grit and then again with 400 grit, applying a black guide coat between grits. The whole time I used a long block, only switching to smaller blocks in the end to sand the smaller areas like the door jams. This can sometimes be a long tedious process, but necessary to achieve a beautiful finish.



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When spraying paint, Evans recommends following the air flow by starting at the back of the car and working forward.

Now with our panels true and the surface smooth, it's time for basecoat. The first color of the two-tone project was PPG India Ivory White. The color white can be problematical with coverage when working with white basecoats, so the first thing to do is to scuff the surface with a red Scotch-Brite pad and apply a few coats of white epoxy primer (PPG DP48) reduced down 2-1-1 making it a sufficient sealer. Because the primer is mixed with a catalyst, it won't reactivate when the clear coat is sprayed and bleed through the second color.

Next spray three even coats of the PPG India Ivory White. I used a Sata Jet 2000 Digital HVLP2 with a 1.4 tip. Some painters like the 1.3 tip for their basecoats, but I personally prefer the 1.4. Allow 5-15 minutes of dry time for basecoats (15-20 minutes for clearcoats) before applying your next coat. I usually spray basecoats at 27 psi and clear at 33 psi.

Rich tip: Since this was a two-tone Chevy, there were some layout and masking techniques that I won't really get into, because it doesn't pertain to every vehicle. However, when masking off any area of a car for graphics, I generally try to apply the masking as tight and flat as possible. The reason being that sometimes a crease or a fold can give your spray pattern something to bounce off of and create an imperfection in the finish.

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Proud owners Art and Dan Danchuk of Danchuk Manufacturing, Inc., the world's largest manufacturer and supplier of 55-57 Chevy parts in the world, prepare to drive off with their masterpiece in tow.

With the masking peeled and the edges cleaned up, apply three wet coats of clear - allowing 5-15 minutes of dry time between coats. When spraying basecoats or clearcoats and using a cross-draft booth, I recommend starting in the rear of the booth because the air flows from the rear to front. Starting at the front and working toward the back, all of the overspray would land on the freshly coated surface. Moral: Follow the air flow. Start at the back and work your way forward. I also tend to work from top to bottom as well.


Different brands and types of clear coats have different cure times. Processing time will vary depending on the type of clear being used. Some types of clear will permit color sanding in as short as two hours. To obtain a show-quality finish, use a high quality clear that cures more slowly. Allowing itself to flatten out more and then I'll let it sit over night before color sanding and buffing.

Color sanding

When color sanding, start with a clean bucket, clean water, and a clean block, so there won't be any dirt particles in between the sand paper and the finish to gouge the paint and cost more work, time, and money - all because you were too lazy to get up and get some fresh water.

Rich tip: It's a good idea to add a few drops of dish washing detergent to your water bucket, which allows the sandpaper to cut faster and last longer.

Start with a good block and some 800 grit wet sand paper to smooth out any imperfections and flatten out any orange peel. From here, use the 1000 grit to remove the 800 grit scratches. Then use 1200 grit to remove the 1000 grit scratches. Finally, use 1500 as a final step to remove the 1200 grit scratches.

Stay Away from the Edges. Always remember that the paint is thinnest at the edge. Once you burn through the paint, the only way to fix it is to sand the whole thing down and spray clear again.

Rich tip: Don't touch the edges - protect them with blue 3M vinyl tape. Also be careful about dips and crevices. Keep in mind that your buffer must fit in the same area with its pad.

Buffing and finishing

Grab a buffer, some 3M Heavy Rubbing Compound and a #1 wool pad to start buffing the finish back to a shine. Next, buff with a 3M Finesse-It Finishing Material. Then switch to a foam pad or a waffle pad and buff the finish with a glaze of your choice - either 3M or Meguiars, whichever you prefer. Finally, with a micro fiber cloth, apply some hand glaze and some Meguiars wax and polish for a pristine finish.


This is a summary of the process I use in finishing a car. I'm not saying that this is the text book standard - do it this way or don't do it at all. I'm just saying that this is the process I've developed by taking what I've been taught, what I've learned, and what I've proven to work in the last 20 years of winning awards, shows, plaques and trophies.

All the parts are here and can be used to take any vehicle from metal to finish, but if you would like a more detailed, in-depth instruction of this process, go to HuntingtonBeachBodyworks.com or KustomShop.com to order the '56 Metal to Paint Instructional DVD. There are a whole lot more tips and techniques included that spell out all the steps in this involved and somewhat overwhelming project.

Here's hoping this information will help many of you out there who are doing one-off projects. I'll be back again with a new custom paint project for you in a future issue.

Rich Evans, owner of Huntington Beach Bodyworks in Southern California, is an award winning painter and fabricator. Currently he is offering workshops at his facility so he can share his special techniques to other industry professionals. For more information about Evans, visit www.huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com.