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I have a couple of projects going. My intent is to finish them with automotive paint. Has anyone done anything like this? The paint store is telling me epoxy primer that builds and can be sanded....then you can base coat/clear coat. I am concerned about expansion and contraction. I have a temp paint booth and all the respirators and such.....I just need to know if anyone has done this with success. Thanks for all replies.

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Hello Tim,  I have used automotive paint finishes many times when doing custom cabinets such as kitchen, bath utility and garage shops with success many times.  This is another method of finishing that many have not used and it is as easy durable and an excellent finish.  What I like about it is that not only has the automotive finishes opened a wide spectrum of finishing but it also allows you to adjust the finish from a dull matte finish to a high gloss finish that can be buffed to a mirror finish.    It depends on how much paint you apply and how much prep work, you do to either high lite the wood grain or totally hide it.  I have not had any trouble with using it and even have applied it outside of a spray booth.  It will build up a fast coat and you can sand it without problems.

It has been awhile since I last did one as customers do not like the high price of the automotive finish.  The last one I did was an entertainment center.  This one was done for a customer who paints automobiles frequently.  I applied the base coat and sanded it then prepped it for a finish.  It was transported to the Portland area about 40 miles on a flat bed and the customer then put the top coat on once it was at the customers shop.  We did this to prevent any scratches and or dings in the hauling as it was quite large.  it turned out well and it was left with a light grain showing in the maple.  It is slick and excellent looking and has brought many compliments.

Photos above show the finish and the unfinished piece.  As you can see it is quite large.   

  

Hi Tim - I haven't done anything as large as Jay with the automotive paint, just some small boxes, but have had excellent results even with the rattle can. A couple of years ago I gave my son (the Family Ford Freak) a code analyzer and made a gift box for it with a ford hood emblem (the little blue oval) inlayed in the top and painted Ford blue from a rattle can. He loved it. Incidentally, the inside was done with rustoleum appliance epoxy enamel and it also turned out well. I think the key to hiding the grain was using a high build, sandable automotive primer. Good Luck.

Those are great replies and very nice projects. I do have some specific questions since I have found someone with the same interests. Jay, can you tell me what kind of paint you shot outside of a booth? I would be very interested in that.....I live in the south, and we fight humidity.....and bugs.....they love auto paint, just like any other finishing product. How do you think my wood will react to the paint? I am using 3/4 birch ply. Should I seal the ends before priming them? I am looking at using a buildable, sandable primer...then basecoat/clearcoat. I am not doing anything as extravagant as your entertainment center, Jay, but I am doing a roll around shop cart. There will be airbrush work on it (the reason for the basecoat/clearcoat). John, did you spray clearcoat over your rattle can work....I would have really like to have seen that little project as I am a car freak as well.

Hi Tim - No, I didn't use clearcoat. I figure it will likely get scuffed pretty good rummaging around in my son's shop so I didn't think clearcoat would bring much to the party. I also didn't seal the edges of the plywood but it probably wouldn't hurt. I used locking rabbet joints on the whole thing; front and back to sides and top and bottoms to the front, back and sides. The top wasn't hinged, it just slides into the lock rabbet groove the ford emblem acts as a grip to help slide it open. I had to relieve the front for to do that. I was a little concerned that the lid might stick in the groove if the wood swelled any so I treated the groove in the sides and the lip on the top with a mineral oil/paraffin mix and last time I asked he said he hadn't had any problems.  Sorry, I don't have any pics of it.
 
Tim Hadaway said:

Those are great replies and very nice projects. I do have some specific questions since I have found someone with the same interests. Jay, can you tell me what kind of paint you shot outside of a booth? I would be very interested in that.....I live in the south, and we fight humidity.....and bugs.....they love auto paint, just like any other finishing product. How do you think my wood will react to the paint? I am using 3/4 birch ply. Should I seal the ends before priming them? I am looking at using a buildable, sandable primer...then basecoat/clearcoat. I am not doing anything as extravagant as your entertainment center, Jay, but I am doing a roll around shop cart. There will be airbrush work on it (the reason for the basecoat/clearcoat). John, did you spray clearcoat over your rattle can work....I would have really like to have seen that little project as I am a car freak as well.

Tim I wrote you a long detailed post however when I went to post it I got a message,  " Ning is not responding" and the post I wrote you was lost.  I will write you again later when they fix the problem.  I have got this messageseveral times lately and it is not only annoying but wasteful of a persons time.  I am not sure if it is "Ning" or Comcast in my area as they are continually messing with the Comcast service.


I understand.....I have faced that frustration as well.....as crazy as it sounds it may be worth it if you have a long meaningful post such as that, save it to Word (or comparable)....then at least if you lose it then you have it saved.....at least until you know it is posted somewhere. That entertainment center is awesome. My project will be much more on the simple level....it is only a work bench/assembly table/outfeed table for my table saw. It will house all of the items that I use to build cornhole boards.....I will probably build one more, for the paint sprayers and airbrushes, stencils, etc. I do truly appreciate any advice that you can give me.
Jay Boutwell said:

Tim I wrote you a long detailed post however when I went to post it I got a message,  " Ning is not responding" and the post I wrote you was lost.  I will write you again later when they fix the problem.  I have got this messageseveral times lately and it is not only annoying but wasteful of a persons time.  I am not sure if it is "Ning" or Comcast in my area as they are continually messing with the Comcast service.

Hi Tim, I finally got back to writing this again as I promised I would.  I tried last night but when I opened and signed onto the community a new thing happened.  I started getting ads from  ning coupons from of all places, "Ning" which I believe is the same as Kreg Community is on.  I fixed the problem be removing an ad carrying software that had wiggled its way into the computer.  It is called "Tidy Network" and hides in the program section of your registry.  I'm sure that is what caused the post to disappear as ads started appearing all over the web pages. 
 
First to explain the building of the entertainment center.  It was built in multiple pieces for ease of moving and installing into the residence that it was built for.  The project was sprayed in pieces so it was spread out over large tarps in a driveway and separated enough to prevent any chance of over spray hitting the surface of each other.  The size of this thing required it to be outside as I did not have enough shop space to spread it out for finishing.  Canvas tarps were used to set the pieces on and the surrounding area was covered to prevent not only the lacquer hitting the driveway but also to insure a good control of dust and other undesirable contamination from the driveway.  A large tarp had been set up overhead to prevent the sun from hitting the finishing area.    I also started in the early morning  hours  (spraying when the sun first came up)   in order to beat the sun's heat as I did not want too much heat to hit the lacquer before the lacquer had time to dry.  By mid morning all the coats had been applied and had dried.  The main thing here is to prevent spraying in the sun and heat and to protect the project from being contaminated with foreign debris.
 
I like spraying outside as long as the heat is not excessive and there is no threat of rain. What some do not realize is that it is the movement of air that dries lacquer faster than heat.  As long as you can control the air borne contaminants, such as Tim has mentioned that bugs like lacquer, and have control over moisture and heat it is actually as good or maybe even better than spraying in a shop. Of course you will have to control over spray just as you would in a shop and this is done with good painting techniques.  Something that I have done in the past is that I have used multiple fans sit up around the painting area of which none are directed towards the painting area but are blowing away from the area, helps in controlling the number of bugs that seem to swarm in when you start spraying lacquer. 
 
The entertainment center was painted using acrylic lacquer.  Since I didn't want to hide all of the wood grain I did not use any primer but instead  used only the lacquer as a base coat and color coat.  I began sanding the wood to a  smooth surface using 220 grit sandpaper.   After this was completed I began spraying the lacquer in a light coat and allowing it to dry before sanding between the coats again with 220 grit a paper.  The drying time was about 10 to 15 minutes.  I again applied a light coat and as before sanding between the coats just enough to knock down the wood fibers that were standing above the lacquer.
 
As I progressed up to about the 4th coat I was able increase the amount of lacquer spray thickness building up to about seven or eight coats and quitting when I had what I wanted for a base coat.  This was where I could still see the major grains in the wood but giving a nice smooth base coat.  I left the last coat as it was until after it was transported to the owner's home.  It is important to try to spray all the base coats within a few hours to prevent any cracking and or wrinkling of the lacquer base coat.  Although it is not to apt to happen on wood like it can on metal it was still good insurance to keep the coats within a reasonable time period.  What many do not realize is that lacquer coats melts into its preceding coat and if the lower coating has been applied too long when another coat is applied it can cause the finish to wrinkle or develop a kind of "crackle" (alligator type surface) .  Should this happen you have a real mess to deal with and you will have a large job of sanding to do to remove most of the finish and start over.  The same thing will happen is a thick coat of lacquer is applied and it is applied to a heat source in an attempt to dry it too fast.
 
Once the entertainment center was transported it was prepared for the top coating to be applied the following day.  The surface was wiped down and checked for any flaws and or dings that might have occurred in transport. It was then carefully sanded using a micro abrasive pad of which left a ultra smooth surface with a good bite for the top clear coats.  Clear coats were applied with a careful wipe down between coats, using the micro abrasive pad.   A total of four coats were applied with the last coats left untouched until it has dried and cured.  This was several hours at which time the top coat was then again lightly sanded and then buffed out to the desirable finish.  It was moved under a car port and allowed to cure out for a couple of days then move inside and assembled. 
 
During the spraying of the base coat I did not use any thinner or reducers as I like to spray my lacquer as an unaltered finish.  I was fortunate to have a mixture of lacquer that was thin enough to pass through my spray unit.   In the event that I have to use a thinner I  add only the limited amount just enough to allow it to spray through the gun in a good even finish fan.   The problem with thinning lacquer is that if you add too much thinner you get such things as runs and sags in the finish and often get uneven coatings.  Thinners can also leave you with a "Flash" look in the finish and caused by improper mixing of the finish and thinner.  If using thinners it is very important that each mix for the gun be exact the same each time.  This is especially important if you are needing to fill up a spray gun while still in the middle of having to finish coating a surface.  You will get uneven surface coating every time.  You must strive to keep a wet edge at all times.  Since lacquer dries at a fast pace you need to keep the spray gun moving over the surface.
 
What I used to spray the project with is a graco brand turbine hvlp gun.  I have also used a simple hvlp cup gun with excellent results.
 
The brand of finish I have used is ones that I get from a local supplier.  They have been from Dupont lacquers to BASF, PPG, and Spies Hecker.  These are my favorites but I have used some from TCP Global called "restoration shop" however not with the same results as the above.
 
Tim since your project is going to be a piece of shop equipment, I would consider using an acrylic enamel as it is a tough finish and you could get a good coating that will cover the plywood grains easier than with lacquer.  I would use either a epoxy based primer or a urethane primer. 
I do not think you would need to seal the end grains of the plywood as the primer of either choice will do a good job of sealing up and hiding the grains and plies.  If you wish to seal them I would make my own sealer out of water and glue and apply it in a heavy coat and then same smooth once it has glued.  this would be insurance against any possible ply separation from either the adverse effect of the finish and or just from the normal use in the shop.  It will be exposed to the rugged use of shop work and even the most careful movements and or placement in the shop it will at sometime or another get its share of smacks.    
 
I am excited to see your finished project as painting wood with auto finishes is actually fun and rewarding as it does open up a large spectrum of colorful possibilities.  I started doing this several years ago as painting my share of automobiles and other metal pieces I had a large amount of left over finishes so I tried it out on a project and liked the results.  This started me to doing this to some of my projects where customers liked a finish that was different than the normal stained wood with a lacquer finish.  Some liked the idea of being able to choose from a larger color selection that enamels that you either sprayed or brushed on.  There is something unique about the difference between automobile finishes and  other enamel finishes.  The only draw back is the cost of the finish materials as automobile finish is expensive even at a discount.
 
Good luck with your project and if I can answer any questions feel free to contact me any time.    Enjoy your day and the excitement of doing something new and out of the normal wood finishing. 
Last but not least,  THANK YOU for the nice comment about the entertainment center.  It was a fun project and it had given the owner numerous comments about the finish and design. The owners are very happy with the results. 
 

Jay, wow, that was really detailed and much appreciated. You are right....it will experience its share of dings, but I am mostly a wood shop.....except for when I have to do something to the Jeep, then all of the wood stuff gets slid out of the way. I was thinking about an epoxy primer with a silver basecoat.....then light coats of red, orange, or possibly even blue, then some airbrush work on top of that....finalized with a few coats of clear. I believe I will be going with urethane.....I was really disappointed to hear about TCP Global.....I had looked at several products there. There is a Sherwin Williams Automotive store here in town, but my goodness......their primer alone is out of sight.....but like you say, you get what you pay for. Since this is my first project, of sorts, I believe I will try to stay as reasonable as possible with the prices....this will definitely be a learning experience.

Tim,  I like your color idea and think it will be very eye catching and and appealing project.  I think the choice of the epoxy primer is a good choice as well as the urethane.  yes TCP Global has a lot of products and they may be good stuff however the ones I picked for a project was not as good as the others that I have used.  Since I have a large industrial paint outlet here in town I have pretty much stayed with them as a customer.  They carry all sorts of finishes from industrial to automotive as well as all the finishing needs from abrasive cloth to large heavy sandpapers for sanding wood floors.

 The prices of anything you purchase in the line of automobile paints are going to open your wallet up to splitting the seams.  It is just plain high priced and most customers do not like to pay the big price,  Unless you have a f automotive finished project for them to look at they can not see the difference between the automotive finish and the plain enamel finish.  Even the automotive rattle can paint job, if done right, will out shine  any other enameled finish or at least in my opinion.

The air brush work is also something of beauty when combined with automotive paint.  It sounds like a work of art and again I will be anxious to see your work.  Have a great day and take care.
 
Jay Boutwell said:

Hi Tim, I finally got back to writing this again as I promised I would.  I tried last night but when I opened and signed onto the community a new thing happened.  I started getting ads from  ning coupons from of all places, "Ning" which I believe is the same as Kreg Community is on.  I fixed the problem be removing an ad carrying software that had wiggled its way into the computer.  It is called "Tidy Network" and hides in the program section of your registry.  I'm sure that is what caused the post to disappear as ads started appearing all over the web pages. 
 
First to explain the building of the entertainment center.  It was built in multiple pieces for ease of moving and installing into the residence that it was built for.  The project was sprayed in pieces so it was spread out over large tarps in a driveway and separated enough to prevent any chance of over spray hitting the surface of each other.  The size of this thing required it to be outside as I did not have enough shop space to spread it out for finishing.  Canvas tarps were used to set the pieces on and the surrounding area was covered to prevent not only the lacquer hitting the driveway but also to insure a good control of dust and other undesirable contamination from the driveway.  A large tarp had been set up overhead to prevent the sun from hitting the finishing area.    I also started in the early morning  hours  (spraying when the sun first came up)   in order to beat the sun's heat as I did not want too much heat to hit the lacquer before the lacquer had time to dry.  By mid morning all the coats had been applied and had dried.  The main thing here is to prevent spraying in the sun and heat and to protect the project from being contaminated with foreign debris.
 
I like spraying outside as long as the heat is not excessive and there is no threat of rain. What some do not realize is that it is the movement of air that dries lacquer faster than heat.  As long as you can control the air borne contaminants, such as Tim has mentioned that bugs like lacquer, and have control over moisture and heat it is actually as good or maybe even better than spraying in a shop. Of course you will have to control over spray just as you would in a shop and this is done with good painting techniques.  Something that I have done in the past is that I have used multiple fans sit up around the painting area of which none are directed towards the painting area but are blowing away from the area, helps in controlling the number of bugs that seem to swarm in when you start spraying lacquer. 
 
The entertainment center was painted using acrylic lacquer.  Since I didn't want to hide all of the wood grain I did not use any primer but instead  used only the lacquer as a base coat and color coat.  I began sanding the wood to a  smooth surface using 220 grit sandpaper.   After this was completed I began spraying the lacquer in a light coat and allowing it to dry before sanding between the coats again with 220 grit a paper.  The drying time was about 10 to 15 minutes.  I again applied a light coat and as before sanding between the coats just enough to knock down the wood fibers that were standing above the lacquer.
 
As I progressed up to about the 4th coat I was able increase the amount of lacquer spray thickness building up to about seven or eight coats and quitting when I had what I wanted for a base coat.  This was where I could still see the major grains in the wood but giving a nice smooth base coat.  I left the last coat as it was until after it was transported to the owner's home.  It is important to try to spray all the base coats within a few hours to prevent any cracking and or wrinkling of the lacquer base coat.  Although it is not to apt to happen on wood like it can on metal it was still good insurance to keep the coats within a reasonable time period.  What many do not realize is that lacquer coats melts into its preceding coat and if the lower coating has been applied too long when another coat is applied it can cause the finish to wrinkle or develop a kind of "crackle" (alligator type surface) .  Should this happen you have a real mess to deal with and you will have a large job of sanding to do to remove most of the finish and start over.  The same thing will happen is a thick coat of lacquer is applied and it is applied to a heat source in an attempt to dry it too fast.
 
Once the entertainment center was transported it was prepared for the top coating to be applied the following day.  The surface was wiped down and checked for any flaws and or dings that might have occurred in transport. It was then carefully sanded using a micro abrasive pad of which left a ultra smooth surface with a good bite for the top clear coats.  Clear coats were applied with a careful wipe down between coats, using the micro abrasive pad.   A total of four coats were applied with the last coats left untouched until it has dried and cured.  This was several hours at which time the top coat was then again lightly sanded and then buffed out to the desirable finish.  It was moved under a car port and allowed to cure out for a couple of days then move inside and assembled. 
 
During the spraying of the base coat I did not use any thinner or reducers as I like to spray my lacquer as an unaltered finish.  I was fortunate to have a mixture of lacquer that was thin enough to pass through my spray unit.   In the event that I have to use a thinner I  add only the limited amount just enough to allow it to spray through the gun in a good even finish fan.   The problem with thinning lacquer is that if you add too much thinner you get such things as runs and sags in the finish and often get uneven coatings.  Thinners can also leave you with a "Flash" look in the finish and caused by improper mixing of the finish and thinner.  If using thinners it is very important that each mix for the gun be exact the same each time.  This is especially important if you are needing to fill up a spray gun while still in the middle of having to finish coating a surface.  You will get uneven surface coating every time.  You must strive to keep a wet edge at all times.  Since lacquer dries at a fast pace you need to keep the spray gun moving over the surface.
 
What I used to spray the project with is a graco brand turbine hvlp gun.  I have also used a simple hvlp cup gun with excellent results.
 
The brand of finish I have used is ones that I get from a local supplier.  They have been from Dupont lacquers to BASF, PPG, and Spies Hecker.  These are my favorites but I have used some from TCP Global called "restoration shop" however not with the same results as the above.
 
Tim since your project is going to be a piece of shop equipment, I would consider using an acrylic enamel as it is a tough finish and you could get a good coating that will cover the plywood grains easier than with lacquer.  I would use either a epoxy based primer or a urethane primer. 
I do not think you would need to seal the end grains of the plywood as the primer of either choice will do a good job of sealing up and hiding the grains and plies.  If you wish to seal them I would make my own sealer out of water and glue and apply it in a heavy coat and then same smooth once it has glued.  this would be insurance against any possible ply separation from either the adverse effect of the finish and or just from the normal use in the shop.  It will be exposed to the rugged use of shop work and even the most careful movements and or placement in the shop it will at sometime or another get its share of smacks.    
 
I am excited to see your finished project as painting wood with auto finishes is actually fun and rewarding as it does open up a large spectrum of colorful possibilities.  I started doing this several years ago as painting my share of automobiles and other metal pieces I had a large amount of left over finishes so I tried it out on a project and liked the results.  This started me to doing this to some of my projects where customers liked a finish that was different than the normal stained wood with a lacquer finish.  Some liked the idea of being able to choose from a larger color selection that enamels that you either sprayed or brushed on.  There is something unique about the difference between automobile finishes and  other enamel finishes.  The only draw back is the cost of the finish materials as automobile finish is expensive even at a discount.
 
Good luck with your project and if I can answer any questions feel free to contact me any time.    Enjoy your day and the excitement of doing something new and out of the normal wood finishing. 
Last but not least,  THANK YOU for the nice comment about the entertainment center.  It was a fun project and it had given the owner numerous comments about the finish and design. The owners are very happy with the results. 
 

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