Paint your wagon! Or rather a shiny frame the rattle can way


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Ok as I paint my own frames with rattle cans I was asked to do a thread on painting them so here goes.

Apologies up front for the lack of pictures or any details I miss as the weather is not as good as it was so I've had to take the painting opportunities while I could which doesn't always give time for enough step by step photo's. Also I’m doing two frames together at the moment and the 2nd might form the basis of Paint Your Wagon Part Deux as it does have different issues to consider.

This guide is meant as a help to those fancying a go at it but please only take it as that because I’m no professional and the following are some thoughts and pointers on what I’ve found works for me, they are by no means a thorough reference and I’m sure others can chime in with more advice or suggestions where they have better ways of doing things.

I’m not the greatest teacher so if you feel I’ve left info or steps out please ask and I will try to help, and conversely if you feel I’m trying to teach your granny to suck eggs then apologies but wind your neck in as not all of the class is up to your meteoric standards.

I've selected my unknown modernish frame that's scruffily painted and has other issues like a dent and some corrosion.

Here is the frame where it's had a bit of rub down to find the original colour and to see if there were any decal ghosts on it to identify it, and no there was nothing there so its a blank canvas really and ready to be worked on.

So on to the next step which is what to do with the finish that's on there now.


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The key to a good finish is preparation, preparation oh and preparation and that is labour intensive, it’s also the reason a pro job costs so much money, you are paying for the materials along with someone’s skill and knowledge but also a large amount of their time. You can cheat certain steps but you always have to bear in mind that it will reflect in the final finish and that trade off is your choice.

The basic tools needed here are:

Wet and dry paper of varying grades but 180 grit is pretty much de rigueur for most things until you get to polishing much later on.

Warm soapy water, a little bit of washing up liquid helps to de grease as you go.

Fibre rubbing pads

Your hands to feel how smooth your surface is.

And of course lashings of elbow grease.

You can add, wet and dry blocks, sanding blocks for paper, Stanley blades, paint stripper, filler, rust treating chemicals and and all manner of other things to make the job easier but the basic principles of good preparation leading to a good finish never change.

Now I could have cheated with this one by rubbing it down and just applied primer and a new colour over the top of what ended up being left of the original finish, because provided you don’t have any real rust or corrosion to deal with the new finish will key to rubbed down paint better than it will to bare metal, that and the original paint could well be already filling small blemishes quite nicely so could save you some work, but all those layers of paint will make the finish look very fat and anything that is underneath could well eventually show through.

As this one already had two colours on it, the only dent I could find I has happy to deal with and the only corrosion was on the chromed rear stay I decided taking all the old paint off and starting again was by far the best course of action.

There are several ways of removing old paint, you can simply rub it down with wet and dry paper until you’ve removed all the paint (time consuming but a good way to get a very nice starting point), get it shot blasted (not easy to do at home) or even using a Stanley knife blade to carefully peel the old finish off, either on it’s own or in conjunction with other methods to get into the hard to reach places. But for this one I decided to use a proprietary paint remover.

Because of health and safety concerns (we’re all obviously pig poo thick and will probably drink it) modern paint removers are just not very good at removing older finishes but can work very well with more modern finishes, so as this was reasonably modern I thought I’d give it a go.

I favour B&Q’s own, its cheap and the most effective I’ve found. The simplest way to apply it is to suspend the frame from a stand or the ceiling (depending on where you are working) and make sure you put some newspaper down underneath it, pour some paint stripper into a plastic pot (I use an old margarine tub) and then dab it onto the frame using a 25mm (1”) paint brush. You need to get a reasonably thick (a couple of mm at least) covering all over it and make sure you work it into all the nooks and cranny’s

Try not to get any on your skin, the B&Q stripper does wash off and washes out of the brush well but others may well be more corrosive to skin so safety first kids. I’ve got asbestos skin it seems from years of soldering and it doesn’t seem to affect me but don’t take me as an example I was always the child your Mum warned you about.

The B&Q paint stripper suggests you put a 2nd coat on after around 20 minutes and this does seem to help the process.

Picture of a nice bowl of soapy water with some wet and dry soaking in it, the paint stripper in a pot, the stripper covered frame and the reason for the newspaper below it.

On to the next stage, getting proper messy.


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When the stripper is starting to work you will see one or 2 things happening depending on the paint, it will craze as in the picture below or in the case of the top coat on this frame just dissolve on to the floor.

If nothing happens after a few hours you can keep trying or opt for one of the other methods.

Picture of what you should expect to see below.


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Now you need to remove what’s left of the paint stripper and dissolving paint so for this I use old worn out wet and dry rubbing down pads that I get from the Poundshop soaked in warm soapy water and simply rub it down and then hose it off. And then any residue left in hard to reach places I get with a Stanley blade.

Once complete you should have a completely clean and paint free frame so before you can apply your primer there are four things that are important with primer to consider:

1) A smooth clean surface, so all the rubbing down and is complete and any contaminants are gone, if you leave old paint, corrosion, dents and deep scratches these will show through and for contaminants like chemicals or grease you can get all sorts of strange effects where the paint just won’t stick to the surface and you get things like fish eye blemishes where the paint just wont go over the contaminant.

2) A good key on the surface you are putting the primer on. I use a fibre pad and simply rub it down, this leaves very fine scratches that the primer will fill but will also key to.

3) The colour, don’t try and put a light paint over a dark primer

4)The thing you are painting should be warm as should the primer, so if like me you paint outside pick a warm day and sit the paint in a bowl of warm water before you use it.

Then you can mask any areas that you don’t want primed like chromed ends as with this frame, the lever braze ons and where the forks crown race goes on.

Now with this frame I said there was a dent and some corrosion of the chromed stay so the dent I will deal with after it’s been primed because it’s an irregular shape and not very deep (I’d been able to take the worst of it out by using a flat punch through the bottle cage hole). For the corroded stay I rubbed it down starting with a low grit paper (80 grit) and then went down to 180 grit via 120 grit to remove the corrosion and the harsh edges of the chrome where it had corroded. I then applied some rust converting chemicals and when it had done it’s job applied a layer of filler primer. Filler primer tends to be yellow and as the name suggest fills, it won’t work miracles so is only good for blemishes where a skim of filler would be too thick.

The pictures below are of the corrosion before being dealt with and the masked areas (after priming, sorry forgot to take the masking photo’s before I’d primed it).

Oh and finally before application remember to shake the can like a Poloroid picture for a good while to make sure it’s properly mixed in the can.


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When you’ve done all that you should be able to apply your primer and have a fully primed frame as in the 1st picture below.

Painting tubes is a lot more difficult than painting a flat surface like a car panel as you are always trying to avoid paint build up in areas that then lead to runs and these will happen all over the place if you’re not watching what you are doing but also where you have been. I find applying paint to a frame is actually easier with rattle cans than with a gun and hose.

To apply the primer I use the can between 100 and 150mm away from the frame and apply a light coat to the brake and stay bridges, the lugs or tube joins and any braze ons.

I then paint the tubes themselves and do this by applying paint along the length of the tube in overlapping stripes around the circumference of the tube so up and down strokes as I walk around the frame.

For the forks I do the opposite in that I paint the tubes first and then paint the crown to stop build up around the crown,

If you’re painting the drop outs in a frame deal with these at the same time as the lugs on the frame and the crown on the forks but make sure you get everywhere as their shapes mean its very easy to miss bits.

This should ensure you don’t miss anything but always always take a good look over, under and around the frame and apply some more in the same way if you need to.

A cup of tea between coats is always a good idea, it keeps you hydrated for the task ahead, reinforces your allegiance to Queen, country and Empire but most importantly means you take a step back and come back for a fresh look before blundering on. In days gone by it would have been a thinking fag but that’s now frowned upon in polite circles, they tell me even racing drivers don’t partake of a crafty Rothmans behind the garages any more, shocking..

The 2nd picture shows the fibre pads used for light rubbing down and before the application of the primer and paint coats. I don’t use them prior to the lacquer coat but that’s not to say you can’t and we’ll get to that later.


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Earlier I spoke about a dent, with a small dent always put in too much filler, its easier to rub it down than to try and add some more. The down side of course being the dust it generates so once you have rubbed down the filler and are happy with your repair get rid of the dust before going any further

Primer dries pretty quickly but I tend to leave it until the next day before I work on the next coat but in the case of filling you can add the filler within 30 minutes to an hour so that you can work on the dent and any other areas the next day.

You can of course paint or add a 2nd coat of primer after an hour or so but I like each coat to harden by a reasonable amount before applying another coat as modern paints take weeks to really harden properly without an oven which is the biggest issue with the rattle can finish and why it needs to be protected well in the first few weeks and months after completion.

Once I’m happy with the dent and any other blemishes I then do a light rub with the fibre pad to remove any dust or containments and then add another thin coat of primer.

Picture of the filled area prior to rubbing down.


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Finally applying the paint, WoHooo.

Now before you go mad, is the primer clean, flat and completely blemish and dust free? Are you sure? Are you really sure? It’s not? Go back and clean it again.

It is? Good because if its not anything now will show through to the top coat and it isn’t always easy to see in the primer coat because of the lack of gloss, your sense of feel is your friend here so have a good look and feel to make sure its as smooth as you think.

If I were doing a car panel now I would dust black over a heavily worked on area and then lightly rub it down with a flat pad and see where the dusting remains to show me where I need to fill, build up or rub down, that’s not usually a problem with a tube unless it’s really badly corroded or treated but a useful tip never the less.

Ok one final rub over with the fibre pad and if you have it a wipe down with panel wipe and you can finally add some colour to your frame.

Earlier I spoke about the importance of the primer colour and I hadn’t decided on a colour for this frame when I primed it. Well after much cogitation (and seeing what paint I had) I decided on a three colour fade starting with yellow and ending up with red, now yellow on a dark grey primer just isn’t going to work (see picture below)

So to overcome this little issue for the areas that are going to be yellow I have two choices which are either put on some white primer or some white paint. In this case as the the bike is going to be a three colour fade which can mean possible thin areas at the overlaps I went for a thin coat of white paint to give the area an initial layer and then left it to dry overnight.


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Right finally time to add some proper colour.

My white base coat is dry so another rub with the fibre pad and then start to add some colour. With a fade I always start with the lightest colour applying it in the same way as with the primer but going a little farther down the tube than my intended colour transition point.

I then straight away add the next colour and the next until the whole frame is painted (pictures below)

Don’t whatever you do take the masking tape off and if you’ve made any little errors walk away and leave them until its dry and you can work on it again.

On this one I made a tiny little run so I left it until the next day, rubbed down the area carefully, added some localised primer, waited about an hour or so (well luncheon was being served), then carefully rubbed that area down again, applied some localised paint and then left it again to dry with the result being you can’t see the run or where I dealt with it.


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Now its decal application time, with this one I have no idea what the frame is and had some Falcon decals to hand so for the purposes of this guide that’s what’s going on.

At this stage I lightly polish the final paint finish with high quality high grit (600 grit minimum) wet and dry paper from the soapy water in the same way as rubbing it down, now you might think why rub it down again you’re going to take the shine off but panic not the lacquer adds the shine, needs something to key to and high grit paper on a decent covering of paint will help give the top coat of lacquer a really deep shine. You might also ask why lacquer a non metallic paint and reason is the decals as a layer of lacquer over the top protects them as well as the paint.

Lacquer needs to be applied in thinner coats to paint because well it’s thinner and has much more of a tendency to run, also it’s clear so you can’t see how much you are applying. Coloured lacquers are a real pain as its oh so easy to make them run or get build ups of colour around joints etc. so if you are applying coloured lacquer do it slowly with lots of thin coats over a long period.

Finished painted frame and forks below to be left to dry for at least a week if not two before I will then polish the whole thing with T Cut or similar before I even think of building it up.

Chances are if the weather stays reasonable this will get built up around the end of the month.

Well hopefully that was informative and enlightening, and if it wasn’t well there’s just no pleasing some people is there.


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allenh":1lxx7vap said:
I’m not the greatest teacher so if you feel I’ve left info or steps out please ask and I will try to help, and conversely if you feel I’m trying to teach your granny to suck eggs then apologies but wind your neck in as not all of the class is up to your meteoric standards.

Brilliant Allen, and the above quote did make me smile. :D

Speaking as someone who used to make a living from spraying stuff, I would say the above sequence pretty much covers all the basics and should be pretty accessible to most with basic skills/apposable thumbs.
Hopefully this might end up being a sticky if enough people add simple hints and tips or maybe new product knowledge (I’ve not sprayed in 10 years)

Can I start with the first tip?
Namely, its worth asking how much your local powder coating or chrome plating business would charge cash for a chemical dip, mine is £20 for a frame set.
The 5L Dial paint stripper cost £28 so unless you plan on doing a number of frames this could be a cheaper option, with the added bonus of no mess, fumes, skin irritation or upsetting the Mrs… :shock: