DIY Body Panel Prep - CHP Step By Step
Old Roots, New Skin
Prepare Your Own Body Panels
From the June, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Sean Haggai
Photography by Sean Haggai
There are countless ways of slashing costs when you've got more than your fair share of bills to tend to, let alone a project car sitting on the back burner. It's important to realize that you can do most of the work yourself in the comfort of the garage for cheap. All it takes is a little elbow grease and some hours on the clock. So when it comes to giving that old skin some new life, what's the best and most cost-effective method for getting that done? Well, doing your own bodywork can save you hundreds of dollars at the paint booth. Plus, you'll even benefit from a good workout and possibly develop more defined biceps, which is always good for the missus!
While we realize that not all bodywork may be completed on your project car, we still want to emphasize the point that most of the work can be done with minimal experience. Take for example our '71 Nova. While the paint has seen better days, the body is fairly straight, which is the situation most of you guys out there probably find yourself in. Aside from a bit of rot running along the lower rocker panels, the roof, hood, decklid, and doors, for instance, are free of major defects and would only need to be prepped for paint. This means no dent pulling, no panel replacement, and not much cash to get it completed.
As always, we go step by step to show you how to prepare your dent-free body panels for paint. This way, your project car spends less time in "paint jail" and your wallet stays a bit fatter through these tough times. We grabbed up our project '71 Nova, and John McGann from our sister publication Car Craft, who has become the paint and body guru around here, and guided us in the dos and don'ts. We spent half a day getting it done the right way, saved a few coins in the process, and learned a thing or three.
What We Did
Sanded, ground, stripped, filled, and primer-coated our panel to cut costs in the long-run.
Time spent here saves a bit of dough in the long run and gets the body ready for painting yourself.
At first this job may seem...
At first this job may seem like a ton of work, but we were quick to realize that it takes more time and patience than actual labor. Surprisingly, this factory paint has held up quite well in the California sun. Pockets of rust had just begun spreading across the roofs skin, so it was important that we reverse the wear and find fresh metal to start over.
Realistically, it would be...
Realistically, it would be best to complete the entire roof as one panel. However, to showcase the job in an easy-to-understand manner, John McGann planned out a small section instead. He started out with a dual-action (DA) sander with 40-grit sandpaper and slowly worked in small circular patterns to remove the first layer of paint, all the while being careful not to flatten the natural body.
Almost immediately we could...
Almost immediately we could see that the rust was deeper than we expected. After seeing the extent of the panel we needed to prepare, we decided to use an electric grinder with a pad attached. With the grinder, the paint easily flew off the roof. A word to the inexperienced: You can expect more harm than good from using these grinders. Take it from us. If you apply too much pressure or concentrate on a single area for a little too long, you'll end up with flat spots.
While we could have continued...
While we could have continued to remove the old paint with the DA sander, we wanted to showcase another method for removing the old color, namely the potent aircraft stripper. This is a harsh chemical that actually eats away the old paint. McGann grabbed a can, a mask, glove, and using a wire brush, applied it in thin sheets across the roof. From there we let each sheet sit for 10-15 minutes to dry before we began to scrape the old paint off.
Depending on the condition...
Depending on the condition of the paint being stripped, you may have to repeat the process shown here. In our case, we laid down two applications of aircraft stripper and then cleaned the area with fresh solvent. The aircraft stripper is a great way to expedite the removing of paint, but be sure to work in a well ventilated area.
With the panel clear of debris,...
With the panel clear of debris, we hit the roof again with the DA sander (40-grit) and continued to sand evenly until the paint was gone. We ran our hands across the clean, freshly exposed metal to check for defects.
This is when we learned that...
This is when we learned that we had applied a little too much pressure with the electric grinder. We had created small dents. These would have to be filled, but the rest was perfect for painting.
We applied a liberal coating...
We applied a liberal coating of Eastwood's Fast-Etch spray to the bare surface of the roof. This one-step rust-fighting liquid effectively dissolves rust and leaves a protective zinc-phosphate coating. We let it soak for 20 minutes and then cleaned the surface again with lacquer thinner.
To fill the dents we had created...
To fill the dents we had created with the electric grinder, we prepared some Eastwood body fill on a spreading plate with catalyst. McGann then ran a thin layer over the roof to cover and fill the spots. We let the body fill dry until it was almost chalky to the touch and began to sand it with 60-, 80-, then 150-grit.
With Eastwood's trick body...
With Eastwood's trick body sanding block, we began to take down the body fill. We were careful to follow the natural body lines of the roof. We worked diagonally until the low spots on the roof were filled. Once again, we cleaned the surface of the roof with some cleaning solvent to prepare it for paint.
Finally, we taped off the...
Finally, we taped off the section we wanted to paint, covering most of the windshield and the passenger window. Using Gray Paint Primer, McGann laid down a thick coat. Primer dries quickly. We applied another coat 10 minutes later. Now all we have to do is complete the rest of the roof-no problem!