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Doing bodywork yourself: finding supplies and guides

Hello, all. I'm back with another edition of Police Car Collecting.

With the show season winding down for '08 and thoughts going in other directions like the economy and the impending holiday season, I thought it might be appropriate to touch on what might be going on in your garage over the winter months. I also was thinking about what the economy currently might be doing to your plans.

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With the current state of the economy, I'm relatively sure that many of you have had to rethink pending projects, or unfortunately put them on hold indefinitely. Hopefully, they haven't had to be cancelled. I know it's put a crimp in my plans for the next year or so. Don't despair because in many instances it is possible to economize and still keep your project on track, if not just to a degree. One of the ways to do this is to attempt to do more of your project yourself instead of farming the work out.

Now, you might be saying right now "Has he lost his mind!!?? I never did body work (or whatever work you need to accomplish) before!" Maybe you are good at doing mechanical work already, but never used a body hammer, paint gun, or welder before. Well, I have a secret to reveal.

I never took any classes on restoration, except for a brief welding class. I never went to Wyotech or Ohio Technical College or any other formal school to learn how to replace body panels, repair suspension components, replace engine peripherals, much less anything else. I'm completely self taught. Now, I have received advice and some assistance along the way from others that already knew what they were doing, but not for that much.

Back many years ago when I was breaking into actually fixing cars, there was not the plethora of books and videos to help you learn how to do what you need to learn. They do exist now and are available through numerous outlets, especially through the internet. Some self teaching references can be bought right at your local Pep Boys, Auto Zone, or other parts retailers.

Now, at this point, you are probably saying "Okay, I can buy these reference materials, but it never takes the place of good hands-on training." You are right. But it is still possible to do it this way and get hands-on experiences to some degree. Whoa, I don't mean necessarily on your '68 Fury.

Let's take, for example, learning how to paint. What you will need is a good book or video, supplies, and a junk body panel or two. The supplies can be bought with a savings, for example, by not buying the most expensive paint gun you can find. Start cheaper with a generic HVLP (hi volume, low pressure) gun kit which is available most everywhere at places like Harbor Freight, Northern Tool, etc.

I have a set of two HVLP guns and one small touch up gun that I bought at a local body shop supplier for $90. Yes, $90 for all three complete guns and a cleaning kit to boot. They aren't what a professional would likely buy, but for a beginner and for only occasional use, they fit the bill very well and give nearly professional results.

You will need an air compressor if you don't have one by now. This is an invaluable tool for hobbyists and no garage should be without air tools. Again, you don't have to buy the best or most expensive right away. I bought a Campbell-Hausfield setup at Wal Mart for around $200 over 8 years ago. It is still working well and does what I need it to do adequately. Keep in mind, the more horsepower and larger air holding capacity the compressor has, the better the job it will do at higher psi settings like with an impact gun or cutoff saw.

A paint gun uses low pressures so a gargantuan compressor is not necessary. One with a decent capacity holding tank is a better choice all around, however. It really sucks to lose your air pressure half way through your job, but that's what can happen with a small undersized compressor. Now, you have to wait a minute or three until the tank pressure builds back up.

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Make sure you get moisture filters for the paint gun. Compressed air holds moisture and it is not a good thing to mix moist air and paint in your gun. You can either buy a static moisture filter that mounts on the compressor air outlet or disposable ones that attach to the air inlet fitting of a spray gun or air tools. Both work well, but the permanent one will protect not only your spray gun, but your other air tools as well from internal corrosion by introducing moisture along with the compressed air.

You might nave noticed the growing push to switch from the traditional hydrocarbon based paints to water based ones. They are pretty much mandated now in California. I'm not going to get into the politics or pros and cons of these, but be warned that you cannot use conventional spray guns with water based automotive paints. You have to use spray guns specially made for water based paints. They have stainless steel and plastic internal parts that are corrosion resistant. You will ruin a conventional spray gun in short order with water based paint.

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Your local body shop supplier can guide you in what specific supplies you will need for the project you are tackling. I've found these guys are very helpful to both beginners and pros alike. They are extremely knowledgeable in their products and are more than willing to help guide you in selecting the best products to complete your project to a satisfactory end. Just be forewarned and be ready for some 'sticker shock'. Body shop supplies have skyrocketed in price steadily over the past several years. Even such staples as sanding medium have gone up drastically in price. It is not uncommon to pay a couple hundred dollars for the primer, paint, reducer, and additive chemicals you absolutely need to paint a car correctly. Believe it or not, even with the same brand of paint, the exact price per gallon will vary with the color and composition of the particular paint you are using.

Some shops and hobbyists are particular with the brand of paint they use, such as Sherwin Williams or Transtar, but most are good quality and will give you professional results if prepped and shot correctly. There is a big difference in quality between the supplies at a shop supplier and the ones you can get off the rack at Wal Mart and Pep Boys. There are also major differences between the quality of body putties the pros use and the cheaper ones sold at retailers.

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If you have a decent idea on specifically what you need and there is a swap meet scheduled in your area, often there are vendors selling supplies at deep discounts at these meets. Be careful not to buy very old supplies that were sitting on a store shelf for years; most of these supplies, other than sanding media, have a finite shelf life. You will be able to tell if the can of body putty or paint looks like it is pretty old. Stay away from these products.

I'll be back with at least one more new column between now and the end of this year. Again, if you have any ideas or suggestions for a new column, please let me know. I get writer's block sometime and this column is for you. If you know of someone's police car restoration worthy of note here, let me know also, even if it your own.

Until next time, I hope you and your families all have a safe and warm Thanksgiving holiday. For those not fortunate enough to be able to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones such as our troops still in harm's way and those of us here on the front lines of public safety, we thank you for your sacrifices. For those that have lost loved ones in the military, police, fire, and EMS services in the line of duty from the rest of us protecting the public trust, you have our thanks, thoughts, love, and prayers. They are not forgotten and neither are you.

Also see this DIY bodywork page!

Other columns

Introduction | The basics of police car collecting | Who are collectors? Why do we collect?

Emergency lighting | Sirens | Where to find retired police cars | Emergency vehicle shows | Investing in police cars

Restorations: Rules and regs for restorers | bodywork | Do-it-yourself mechanical work

Shows: Chicagoland Emergency Vehicles Show | Aquidneck Island Police Car Parade (2008 | 2009)

Also see the EVOOA home page

Police and fleet cars, trucks, and vans

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