If you’re planning to clearcoat it like the Velocity Camaro, the metal should be stripped and very clean before you start, otherwise you can push contaminants down into the brushing. Once your surface is clean, start with the heaviest-grit sandpaper and only move it in one direction with a steady speed and no stopping. As for the progression of grits, there really is no set standard, just keep working it and changing papers until it looks good to you.
If you’re working with small accent pieces and would rather leave them bare than hassle with the clearcoating process, it can be even easier. On Project Laguna, our NASCAR-inspired aluminum plates over the headlights, rear quarter window covers, rear window straps, and hood air extractor vents were treated with a red Scotch-Brite pad and WD-40. The WD-40 is the trick, and will make it look much smoother and satiny than just the Scotch-Brite alone. This will create a nice, even finish and protect the aluminum from corrosion. Just remember to re-treat it occasionally, especially after it rains or is washed.
Powdercoating used to just be a tougher alternative to paint for chassis parts or other high-wear areas, but the technology has advanced to a point where a good gloss powdercoat can look as slick as paint. Matter of fact, we’ve seen a couple track cars prepped this way since powdercoat tends to last longer in the harshness of racing. Not only that, but the color range has expanded to hundreds of options, plus textures and satins. Want a finish that’s chrome-like and nearly as tough? Check out Eastwood’s HotCoat Reflective Chrome.
The best part about powdercoating though is that it’s simple enough for anyone to do at home. Both Eastwood and Harbor Freight carry DIY kits that can get you going right out of the box. The only potential downside is that you will need a dedicated oven to cook your coated creations. We prefer to scan the classifieds for secondhand ovens, but Eastwood also offers solutions with industrial-type ovens, and a very nice infrared powdercoat curing system. It might take a while since the unit can only cure a 10x10 area at a time, but it’s the DIY solution for powdercoating large parts like rearend housings at home without having to find space for an oven.
Engine Turned Finishes
Engine turning (or damascening) has long been recognized as a hallmark of fine quality metalwork and engineering, since it’s historically been a process requiring specialized tools and years of experience to perfect. That, of course, means it was a bit pricey to have panels done since it was time intensive. All that changes in short order with Eastwood’s Engine Turning kit. With this, a drill press, and some patience you can create an engine turned-style finish on almost any metal surface. The kit includes special solid abrasive cylinders with abrasive impregnated throughout a rubber bonding material. You can choose from ½- or 1-inch size turns. Alignment and spacing is the key though, and that part is all up to you. The trick is to lay out a grid for yourself on the panel that makes it easy to see exactly where the abrasive needs to be placed, and always make sure the panel is securely clamped in place before attempting to apply the abrasive.
Chrome can’t be simply painted over, and prepping the surface can be costly. Then again, sometimes the simplest answer to bad chrome is the right way to go. A quick session of mediablasting can be used to clear away chrome or paint and get to a surface that can be prepped for paint—or just left as is. Clever use of media can also achieve different nice surface textures.