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Painting Tips by Kenn Kopitzke

If you have spent much time observing sleighs and carriages, especially the antiques, you were probably struck by thieir beauty . They were by and large light, strong and very attractive. The paint jobs were to a large degree responsible for their attractiveness. This article will attempt to give you some clues as to how you can get a good, but not necessarily superb finish on your vehicle without spending a ton of money on equipment.

sleigh photo  sleigh photo
Russian Child's Sleigh with folding seat

Lets start with some general rules:

1. Getting a good finish on wood is a lot harder than finishing metal.

2. Before trying someone's "magic method," take a good look at their results. I can't tell you how many paint jobs I've seen that look like they were applied with a broom.

3. Paint will not hide or cover up your mistakes - it will showcase them.

4. If there is a quick, easy way to get a good finish on wood, I haven't found it.

5. Do not use satin paint or varnish. It's not as durable as gloss. You can get somewhat the same effect using fine steel wool and paste wax. Satin is less durable and harder to keep clean.

6. Most auto paints are designed to be used on metal, not wood. They tend to get too hard and brittle and don't do well with flexing, shrinking and expanding of wood.

7. The old time proven oil-based paints take a day to dry between coats.

8. It can't get too hot or dusty free for oil paint.

9. And, finally, please do not accept my method of painting as the only method. If you have a thousand dollar spray gun and a professional spray booth, stop here. However, if you are just a schlep who would like to have a decent looking rig and have limited resources, read on.

Choice of wood
First is choice of wood. Whenever possible, use close grained wood. For instance, it is difficult to fill the open grains of oak. Fir is nearly impossible to get smooth. Clear pine, poplar, or basswood are just fine where strength is not a factor. Hickory is great and ash is fine where strength and ability to flex is a factor. For panels, birch plywood is fine.

Initial Sanding
The first step is to get the wood smooth. I use about 180 grit sandpaper for this step. For a wood filler and to fill screw holes, I use bondo. Wood fillers tend to shrink and plugs tend to fall out.

I then prime it - wood and metal - with thinned out Rustoleum rusty metal primer. Sand this with 180-220 grit and fill in minor imperfections with spot body filler. It comes in a tube. Sand and reprime. When dry, resand.

Now comes the only slightly non-standard part. Apply a fairly thick coat of primer/filler paint. I get mine from Witmer Coach in New Holand Pennsylvaina. They have it made up and it works fine on wood and metal. It also can be brushed on, but I highly recommend spraying to greatly reduce the amount of sanding. For this, the cheap PVLP sponges are fine. This paint has to be thinned cown about 50/50 to go through the spray gun. It sets up quite fast, so I recommend going over the vehicle lightly 4 or 5 times to build it up. Don't sweat a few runs in this layer, they are easy to sand out. I sand this with about 220 grit. If you've got enough of this primer/filler on, it will literly be as "smooth as a baby's butt" after sanding. Witmer's phone number is 717-656-3411.

Now comes the color. The white sleigh was painted with Rustoleum enamel. I used gloss white and mixed in a little sand (tan color) to give it a slightly off-white look. The straight gloss white make it look too much like a refrigerator. I also added 10-15% Penetron to the paint. This somewhat thins it, but more imortantly makes the paint flow better.

sleigh photo

Russian Child's Sleigh - back

Now, wipe your rig off with a tack cloth and heat up the paint to 130-150 degrees. this helps thin it and helps minimize runs. An old crock pot with some water in it works fine for heating your can of paint. Now use a foam brush to brush on a thin coat in a warm, light, draft-free area. A day later, this can be wet sanded with 400 grit wet or dry paper. Remember, I said thin coats. The first couple of coats are probably not going to look good at all. The white sleigh has 4 coats.

Finally, I like to go over everything with fine steel wool and then paste wax it. This slightly softens the sheen, makes it smooth and makes it super easy to keep clean.