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Painting Basics - How to Throw Some Color on Your Mud Truck

Before And After
Kevin McNulty | Writer
Posted September 2, 2013

Adding Some Color & Protection

IIf there's one project not many truck owners tackle, it's painting their vehicles. Most do-it-yourselfers think it's complicated and messy, and if they screw up, their work is final. While it's true that painting can be tedious and frustrating, if you follow a few simple steps and basic rules you could crank out a basic paint job your friends will envy.

A garage paint job will turn out as well as the amount of effort you put into it. We're not talking about a show-stopping paint job here (which of course you can achieve with some detailed work); we're talking about a good, quality paint job you can do yourself, even if you have never painted before. Think of it this way: You paid a nominal amount for that old rig in your garage; do you really want to spend thousands for a halfway decent paint job? Have some fun and do it yourself!

We used a single-stage urethane paint, which means a clearcoat isn't needed to paint our junk. However, waterborne paint is the latest paint technology and was in part created to meet regulations to lower the VOC content of paint. By 2020 all states will be mandated to use waterborne paints. Waterborne doesn't mean water-based; water is used as a reducer that's a replacement for petroleum-based fillers and thinners, which lowers the VOC content of the paint. A waterborne basecoat reduces with a co-solvent, which makes it far more durable than water-based paints. The benefits of waterborne paint are that it gives off a less offensive odor, is excellent for color matching, lays down easier, provides quicker coverage, and has a cleaner appearance.

Let us put a home paint job in perspective for you. Depending on your skills and ambition, you could paint your vehicle and do an amazing job for $300-$500. It could have cost up to $2,000 at a paint shop. Also keep this in mind: More than likely your mud truck is going to get scratched up anyway, and you only see the color for a few seconds before it's covered with mud. We have always wondered why a lot of garage building truck owners don't paint. It's really no big deal—just paint it! We'll get you started with the basics. It's up to you to do the best job you can and make a masterpiece out of that truck.

Step By Step

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  • Some of the supplies we used for our basic single-stage paint job A. HVLP spray gun with regulator. B. Flat-faced sanding board (hand file). C. Wet-sanding sponge block. D. Body filler applicators. E. Dolly for bodywork. F. Chemical degreaser and cleaner. G. Nason paint catalyst/hardener. H. Nason paint. I. Body filler. Use good-quality body filler, not cheap stuff. J. Thinning the paint requires virgin acetone. Do not use the lacquer thinner or acetone found at a hardware store. K. Seam filler. This is a flexible, paintable material. L. Wet or dry sandpaper. You will need 36-grit up to 1,500. M. Compressor (not shown).

  • We wanted to test the green color we picked up at a discount, so we tested it by painting one door. We're sure there are computer programs that could have done this for us, but painting was much more fun and its good practice. The door we chose to paint wasn't in bad shape and required very little bodywork, and if we didn't like the color we could just sand/scuff it down and paint over it.

  • Disassemble as much of the vehicle as you can. Things like door handles, hinges, and emblems are usually easy to remove. When removing our door handle, both screws snapped off, so we’ll deal with this problem later. If you are removing parts from an older vehicle, oil the nuts, bolts, and screws the night before. This will ease their removal and prevent problems like these broken fasteners.

  • An easy way to keep all your parts together is to place them in a Ziploc bag. We realize this isn’t cool, but it works and it works well. If your memory is really bad use a marker and write the part description on the bag.

  • The window sweep weatherstripping on this door was cracked and hard as a rock. We cut along the edge so we would still have a place to stick masking tape. If you don't remove the weatherstripping, push your masking tape underneath it, sticky side up, and then fold the tape over. This will keep the tape from being blown off by the spray gun.

  • If your old paint is in good shape you don’t have to strip your car or parts to the metal; it can be used as basecoat. Wash all the parts with soap and water, then wet-sand the paint with 400-grit paper. Make sure the edges of any chips in the paint are sanded smooth. Prep work is the most important factor when it comes to a good paint job.

  • Not all body fillers are created equal. Use a good-quality filler and follow the manufacturer’s directions to a T. Mix only what you can use in three to four minutes, and use the proper plastic spreader as well as a good base. Once it starts to harden, get rid of it instead of trying to work it in.

  • Mixing paint is not as complicated as it seems. We chose Du Pont Nason paint, which is a good-quality, economical paint. A gallon of Nason, catalyst, and reducer may cost just around $150. Using the paint requires a 6:1:1 mix (six parts paint, one part catalyst, one part reducer). These foolproof mixing cups are a cinch to use. Choose any point on the cup, such as line 5, and fill to that point with paint. Fill to the second 5 line with catalyst, and the third 5 line with reducer. Don’t mix more paint than you can use, we recommend mixing a cup at a time.

  • You can apply the filler in layers—thinner layers dry faster and are easier to sand by hand. Start knocking the filler down by using a coarse-grit paper, and the closer you get to your desired surface height use a finer grade. Don’t sand the body filler by hand or your work will end up uneven and lumpy. Make sure you use a sanding board or a sanding block for smaller areas. Once you are happy with your work, clean the surface and spread a quality glazing and spot putty over the filler. The glaze will fill pinholes and tiny imperfections. Let the glaze dry thoroughly, and once it is fully cured sand it down with 400-grit sandpaper. After you’re satisfied with your bodywork, prime the entire surface of your project. Once the primer is dry it should be lightly sanded with 400-grit paper.

  • Make sure your high-volume low-pressure (HLVP) spray gun has an air flow regulator. Pressure (psi) ratings vary from paint to paint, and the technical data sheet (TDS) will give you all the specification. For example, we shot our Nason at 10 psi; Du Pont recommends 8-10 psi. Most guns have three adjustment controls. The fan control is usually located on the side of the gun; it controls the air distributed around the fluid nozzle. It also atomizes the paint and ultimately controls the spray pattern. The fluid control located at the back of the gun controls the amount of fluid being dispersed by the gun. The air micrometer adjusts the air volume and pressure that is delivered to the air cap.

  • To test our gun’s spray pattern, texture, and paint we taped a large sheet of paper to the wall before painting. We highly recommend you do the same. Your gun should have come with instructions on how to adjust the spray pattern and paint volume. When painting, start from the left or right and move slowly in one direction, and stop at the end of each pass. This is where the practice on your paper comes in.

  • Once you get the hang of painting with your gun, move on to a smaller section of your work. This Nason solid color paint was applied in two coats: A medium coat was allowed to tack, and then came a second coat. The paint will dry tack-free in 60 to 80 minutes and will harden overnight. Dependent on conditions, we recommend letting the paint sit three days and come to a full 100 percent cure before color sanding.