Saturday, August 30, 2008

Expanding my powder coating system with a new oven

I touched on it in my last powder coating article, about stepping up my powder coating services by expanding to a larger powder coat oven. The benefits of this are great, as it will allow me to step away from the smaller, low income pieces, and get into the larger profits of motorcycle powder coating, more automotive powder coating, and plenty of other opportunities.

Eventually, I will be upgrading my powder coating gun, but for the time being it and my sandblast cabinet should suffice, and in a worst case scenario, I can easily chemically strip and clean anything larger needing some powder coat paint applied to it.

So lets get into building a powder coating system beyond your standard home powder coating kit.

To begin with, I will be building a 4' x 4' x 8' structure out of structural steel framing available at most hardware stores like Lowes or Home Depot. The studs can be bought in either 8' or 10' sections, so naturally I will be going for the 8' pieces, which I priced at $4.97 a piece. I will definitely be going with the 4" metal studs so that I can apply plenty of insulation to the inside of the powder coat oven. Eventually I would like to be able to cure ceramic coatings in it as well for turbo manifolds, headers, and items like that which powder coating generally will not withstand. Anything over 450 degrees is kind of overkill for aluminum powder coating and most automotive powder coating, but the overhead will be nice so that I don't need to build another one down the road.

Utilizing the metal studs, the walls will be built with studs every 24 inches. Roughly 16 studs will be used in total, accumulating a whopping $84.29, and probably about $10-15 bucks for self tapping screws to assemble it all. Once the frame is built (with one side being the door naturally... so it's not attached yet) I'll get some quotes for all of my sheet metal. This will probably be the most expensive part of the project, as I want to use at least 20ga sheet metal for the inner and exterior walls. The powder coat oven needs to be fully skinned, so that it will hold the insulation and keep energy costs down while I'm curing the powder coating. I have figured in about $700 for sheet metal work, which will include some recesses for the heater elements in the bottom. By far, the most expensive portion of the powder coat oven, but, well you can't avoid it.

Once the sheet metal is fabricated, I will attach the interior walls of the powder coat oven but not the exterior. This will allow me to mount the 3 burner elements, which will run about $45 for the elements, the 2 light fixtures in the ceiling, which are about $10 total, and I'm also going to fabricate some rack trails and 3 overhead channels to hang from. The rack trails and channel will all be made out of 90 degree angle iron, or c-channel if it's not strong enough. The top channels on the powder coat oven will allow me to hang parts from the top like a frame for motorcycle powder coating, or a rear end for automotive powder coating, and the 3 removable racks in the middle of the oven will allow me to use it for valve covers, suspend intake manifolds below it, or any various small items I'll need to apply powder coat paint too. Also a small recirculation fan will be installed near the top of the powder coat oven to give it more of a convection type heating and will allow the powder coat to warm up evenly across the piece.

After the interior options are added to the oven, I will be installing the power supply and doing all of my wiring. Other then the lights, all control will be ran through the control unit. I found a guy on ebay that sells power control units for custom oven setups (I forget his name at the moment, just leave a comment if you really need to find him). I'll test all electronic connections and make sure that it's working correctly before I button up this new puppy. The control unit was about $400.00 so figure that into the costs.

My next supply site is I found a few small casters capable of holding this weight, for $2.00 a piece, $8.00 total. They also have a 3 pack of cam style latches (to lock the door when not in use) for $4.52, and fiberglass oven rope (to seal the door to the front of the powder coat oven) for $0.75/foot, which will cost $18.00. The most important piece they carry for my new powder coating system though is the roxul mineral wool. I'm waiting to hear back if the price is per sheet or not, but they come in 24" x 48" sheets, and 2" thick. I will need to double this up to insulate the 4" thickness of the new powder coat oven, so I will need 42 pieces total. The site lists @ 10.67, but from what I've heard they come 4 to a pack. Even on the high side of things, the insulation for my powder coat oven will costs $448.14, but probably quite less then that. Also a piano style hinge for the right side of the door, at $18.00, and a handle at $2.00 will finish off most of the perceived costs of this build.

So in my endeavor of expanding my powder coating services, I'm looking at about $1,680 total. I definitely think this will be a good investment, and will keep you guys updated as I go further along my process. I haven't even lifted a finger to start working on it yet, just planning right now. Hopefully by that time I will figure out how to add pictures to this powder coating blog... I mean hey... I'm good at coating, not a web junkie :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A new powdercoating oven

So I've been thinking lately while doing this blog. Why not pursue something I absolutely enjoy, and take it to the next level. It's fun, I'm very creative, and it's good money once you have enough of it. At this point, all I've ever used for powder coating was a cheap oven I bought off of e-bay.

Sure it's gotten the job done, and I've been able to do tons of small brackets, control arms, and such like that, but I'm ready to go bigger. I want to be powder coating motorcycle frames, chairs, entire tables, not just the random parts on my project cars.

With that, over the next few months, I will be building a home-made powder coating batch oven. I will probably end up building 2, as the amount of power required to power an oven that would hold say a car-frame is ridiculous, and that isn't needed at the moment.

My plan at the moment is simple. I'm going to build a powder coating oven, 4' wide, 4' deep, and 6' tall. This should be enough to hold a motorcycle or atv frame suspended. I've been over at the caswell forums recently with their oven building forum and reading up, and it really doesn't seem hard for someone of my skill level to put it together. I'm going to take it one step further though, and have a sectional divide that I can place inside of it, so that for smaller items I can run at half power, and only worry about a 4' x 4' x 4' oven, and remove the expansion when I need to go larger.

Building this oven won't be incredibly cheap, I've estimated having at least $1,500 into this, but I feel the benefits far outweigh the cost. If I can get 2-3 bike frame jobs, at $500 a piece, I will have covered my costs with ease, and everything after that will be profit for me. It's an investment I'm willing to make though as I feel the returns will be easily made back on it. Hell even if I never do a frame, at my standard rate, I could pay for it in a year.

I will definitely be using this blog to chart my progress on my new powder coating oven. I'll even have some pictures and the plans I used in order to get the job done, and also post any of the contact I come across that make this job easier. I will show how to build the overhead trolley system I want, plus removable racks for holding media on a horizontal surface. This should be alot of fun overall, and I hope you guys stick through for it ;)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Preparing your part for Powder Coating

The most important thing to learn as a beginner and starting out with powder coating is a phrase coined from the auto body industry.

"Any monkey can spray a car, but preparing it correctly so the job comes out right is the hard part"

That's never been more true then when it comes to powder coating. Your piece must be meticulous, absolutely spotless, and free of any contamination for the best job possible. As you start working with different objects you will spot problem areas that arise with hobby systems and work around them so that it looks professional. Don't be disheartened if your first one or two jobs have flaws in them, just see what caused it, and fix them. That's really all there is to powder coating!

So lets get started shall we?

Obviously, the first thing you want to do is clean the piece your powder coating up. If it's greasy, oily, grimey, dirty, you name it, it needs to be cleaned. Be careful of using anything too agresive at this point, as leaving an acidic film or something of that nature on the part can leave you with problems during the coating process. I generally spray all my parts off with regular water to remove the big stuff.

At this point, the part may look clean, but you're really not ready for powder coating yet. Many prepping agents are good at removing surface impurities you cannot see with your eye, but in my personal opinion, I prefer sandblasting every piece before coating. Even areas that look spotless, I go over at least once or twice so that I'm 100% positive there are no contaminants on the surface. Sand Blasting is the process of using abrasive sand to basically strip away the top layer of material, much like sand paper would. If you do not have a sand blasting setup, you can either purchase a very cheap setup from a company like harbor freight, or hand sand the piece, but that is quite often difficult as you're not working on flat surfaces.

After that, masking and covering any areas that you do not want powder coated is up. Eastwood sells a very nice system of high temp silicone plugs and caps that you can use on hose barbs, bolt threads, and even bolt holes. They also sell specialized high temperature tape that you can use to mask off gasket areas such as the flange of an intake manifold being powder coated. A major tip that I've learned along the way is not to worry about masking off things like lettering on a valve cover or small raised edges you do not want powder coating applied to. It's extremely easy to come back once it's finished and use an orbital sander or something to remove the powder coat from the raised edges and leave the powder underneath it perfectly fine.

My next part of the process is a burn-off and pre-heating system I've been using all along while powder coating. To further purify the piece, I will place it uncoated in the oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes. This will generally burn off all contaminants, and also warms the piece up for the coating process. Care must be taken to slowly raise and lower the temperature of the piece you're working on so that the sudden changes do not effect the metallurgy of the part being powder coated. A inexpensive thermal temperature reader should be used to verify the temperature of the part.

This is where the spraying finally happens! After it's burn-off session, I remove the part from the oven and let it cool down to roughly 150-200 degrees. On the inexpensive hobby systems, no amperage adjustment has given me troubles getting powder to stick evenly and issues with faraday cage effects. I use this slightly higher temperature to help adhesion with the powder and the part that I'm working on. Using this technique while powder coating is commonly referred to as a hot flash, and that is basically stating the temperature isn't high enough for the powder to melt, however it starts to gel just a bit and helps stick to the part. Spray very evenly, in broad strokes and paying attention to the hard to reach spots and doing them first. Once your piece is fully coated, remove the ground strap, and stick it in the oven. Using your infrared temperature probe, wait for the part to reach the powders optimal flowout temp and set your timer.

For the highest gloss, smoothest finishes, when the curing process has completed, turn off the oven and crack the door but not remove the part. Let the part slowly, over 20-30 minutes come back down to room temperature. Cooling down too fast I have found lead to cloudy finishes, or I've also had dust and debris fall into a freshly coated piece leaving the oven. Inside there's little turbulence, and the temperature drops a few degrees every minute, instead of every few seconds.

That's one of your first powder coated pieces step by step right there. Pick up a powder coating kit and give it a try, it really is so easy an idiot like me can do it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Powder Coating equipment for beginners.

You're going to hear me talk about a few companies on this site that have been extremely good to me as I was starting out. First and fore-most, Eastwood Company is the entire reason I got into this after stumbling across their very cheap powder-coating gun, and I've used many of their powders with great success. Another company I have been extremely happy with in regards to supply is Columbia Coatings, who lately have been my #1 powder supplier due to a vast selection of colors and great customer service.

First and fore-most, you're most important piece in powder coating is the gun itself. Me personally, I started out with Chicago Electric's powder coating system available from Harbor Freight. This unit worked well for me over about 2 months before I started having some issues, and browsing a few other powder coating communities and forums I was turned onto Eastwood's hot-coat system, and have never looked back. Both of these guns can be had for under $100 + shipping, and both will be perfect for the beginners hobby setup. The Eastwood gun hasn't been perfect, in the past 3 years I've replaced it twice, but both times were absolutely hassle free and timely thanks to Eastwood's amazing customer service.

You will also need a compressed air source to run the gun. These guns spray at an amazingly low pressure, so a large compressor isn't required. Generally 5-10psi is ideal for powder coating, though a few times I have had to turn that up a bit and blast a part for extra coverage. If you already have a large compressor in your garage for air tools, that will work fine. In my personal setup, I installed another regulator at my gun itself, so that I could use a blow-gun to clean off my work and area before hand, and then only get 7psi through the gun w/o having to go back to the compressor.

Curing the piece simply needs some heat. Eastwood also offers a very nice, portable propane heat lamp type thing-a-majig, but this should only be used for pieces you couldn't fit in your oven. Using an open source heat to cure your pieces is not ideal, as #1, it doesn't cure the entire piece at once, so you have to constantly move the heat along it, which for the beginner will prove to be some costly mistakes, and #2, the piece becomes far more likely to get contaminants in the powder, which will leave blemishes in the finish. These 2 factors are extremely important in regards to powder coating. This stuff is not easy to get off by any means, all that durability and toughness I already mentioned before is true. Sand-blasting, sanding, it all takes a lot more work to strip powder coating, so bad in fact some companies have developed chemicals just for removing it.

As for curing, a simple old house-hold oven will work wonders. I use a 30" oven I picked up off of e-bay for about 30 bucks. Currently I'm going to finish building a much larger custom oven I have made to do motorcycle frames and the such. It is very important to use a dedicated oven for this, as the chemicals released during burn-off on certain pieces that may have oil contamination have been known by the state of California to produce cancer... like everything else they've tested. Seriously though, do not share an oven between powder-coating and food. It's no bueno, I'm positive you'll get terribly sick, and after all it's just pretty disgusting that 2 days ago you had a 10 year old valve cover in there baking and today it's a chocolate cake... c'mon now.

That's it. Seriously, that's all you need to actually apply the powder coat and cure it. It's not all there is to the equation though, nor is it all the equipment you need to do a top-notch professional quality job. The majority of the work is in the preparation of the piece, which is covered on a different page.

How Powder Coating Works!

It's a lot like painting, with half the mess! Powder Coating has a few very distinct advantages over conventional paint aside from it's toughness and durability factors.

The powder particles are a dry, almost dust like consistency compared to the liquid based paints which have pigments suspended in a solution that has to dry out. In a clean setup using only one color, powder coating over spray can actually be recycled and used again and again until 100% of the powder is used up. In contrast, once paint is sprayed, it's pretty much there for good, and there's no looking back.

Powder Coating also supplies the piece with a far thicker coating then conventional paint, which is a key to it's durability. In fact, powder coating a piece compared to painting it will result in it's finish being approximately 10x thicker, and with it's baking process, or flow out as some call it, it comes out smooth as glass with absolutely no orange-peel. In some instances though, a person may want a thinner application on their piece, which a hobby system will fail to give, but this is where your major corporations with fluid transfer tanks come in.

Enough about why powder coating is so much better then painting, lets get into how it really works.

Your specialized powder coating gun has a polarized rod running through the center of it, which basically charges the powder particles running past it. The piece that you're working with will have a ground strap running of it, to basically complete this 'static charge' type situation it's looking for. It's not exactly static charge, but since this site is built for beginners, I'm sparing you all the technical jargon in the beginning, we'll get into that stuff later on once you're up and running. Since the powder is now positively charged from the gun, and the piece is holding a slight negative charge from the unit, the powder actually clings to the piece you're working on. At low air pressures, you can actually see the powder make turns in mid air to find the path of least resistance to the ground (i.e. the parts of the piece you're making with the lightest coating). This significantly reduces the amount of powder over spray by utilizing up to 95% of the powder exiting the gun on some systems and settings.

Anything capable of holding a small electrical charge can have powder applied to it. Some pieces will conduct far better then others, and more advanced methods such as hot flashing are needed. You will also un-doubtably run into the dreaded faraday cage effect eventually with a hobby unit, and later articles will help you with fixing that.

The act of curing the powder is done by raising the temperature of the powder coated piece past the flow out temperate of the powder you're using. This will vary depending on the different types of powder available, but basically what it boils down to, is melting that dry powder that is clinging to the part. As the temperature comes up, the powder melts, and some powders actually re-align their chemical makeup to add further strength properties to it. After the part has been heated up for the powder to flow out, it is removed from it's heat source (often an oven, but can also be heat lamps) and cooled to room temperature slowly so that the powder and the piece come down to room temp at the same time.

That's really all there is to how it works, well the basics at least. There is still a ton of information to learn on different techniques and applications, as well as different equipment setups to get you started.

Introduction to Powder Coating

Currently, I've been having a blast powder coating for the past 3 years. I am not a professional shop, nor do I own big money equipment, but frankly, people love my work. Patience and preparation are 2 of the things I have learned in my endeavors with powder coating, but I have picked up so many different tricks by... well... simply trying them.

Powder Coating has been around for years, and with new hobby style equipment from companies like EastWood producing very affortable, extremely versitle products. Couple that with some great distributors such as Columbia Coatings who are just as happy to send you half a pound of powder to your house as they are 50 to a manufacturer, and you too can be on your way to a fun, rewarding, and often profitable hobby.

Turning this hobby into a profit is quite easy once you've gotten the hang of it, and start up costs are extremely low with very good returns. You will need some 'equipment' to begin powder coating, and I use that term very loosely as to what it actually entails.

Powder Coating has a TON of uses too, which you will probably figure out after reading some of the benefits later on. Personally, I use this mainly for automotive parts, as the finish is highly more durable and will withstand aging, abrasion, and chemicals. In the engine bay of my vehicles, I'm constantly tinkering with them, and years ago when paint was my preferred method, it would get trashed within months, if not weeks from being put together. Optionally though, you could use it for hundreds of other items as well too. Powder Coat your tools to give them a more unique look, older metal lawn furniture that has seen the ages rusting away in your backyard will look good as new with a fresh coat of powder on them. Even some woods can be powder coated with traditional setups. All it takes is a static charge and some heat :)

After we get you through some of the basics, we will get into some of the equipment that makes powder coating happen. I will even show you how the big companies do this and turn it around incredibly fast, plus all the tricks to a proper prep job for the best results. If you stick with me, you should be having professional looking pieces, and eventually some pretty damn unique designs with a low cost, easy to use hobby style powder coating kit, or who knows, may want to turn this into a business yourself.

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