Zenith Paint Job — Part Two

By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102, Langley, British Columbia

Last month we reviewed the process of applying primer and topcoat to the wings of Greg Booker’s Zenith CH 750. This month we will further discuss the joys of actually finishing the job and getting the airplane back to the hangar.

Painting can be a distinct pain in the nether regions sometimes, particularly when applying colours that don’t “hide” very well. In this particular situation, Greg’s choice of yellow as the major colour only added to the “joy,” requiring some four coats on the wing panels and later five coats on the fuselage.

Moving the wings to storage

Once the wings were done and moved to the hangar for short-term storage, next came many smaller parts that included the lift struts, jury struts, and some of the many inspection covers, one of which eventually would have all three colours — just to create more challenges.

That Inspection panel

The next day was occupied by a final cleanup of all those bits and pieces, followed by applying the primer-sealer. As the primer coat was allowed to sit overnight, it needed to be sanded. This is not a bad thing because it allows an opportunity to get rid of any dry spray or orange-peel and even, heaven forbid — the dreaded rivet run.

When these bits and pieces were finished, it was time to apply the orange to the elevator and the rudder as was done with the wingtips. This colour took less coats to cover as it is a “good hider.” The elevator was then taken to the hangar for storage but the rudder would have to remain as it had to be masked once more in order to paint a small black Canadian flag on each side. This would be done when painting the black on the cowling top and the fuselage trim.

Prepping the fuselage took quite a bit of time, not because it is particularly large but because it was 99 percent complete, sitting on the gear with the engine and windows installed, all of which had to be protected. Complete masking of the interior also had to be done to protect the instrument panel and assorted interior hardware. Remember the gear? That too had to be “bagged” for protection from the overspray. All this work took a full day for three people to complete.

Once the fuselage was sanded, three coats of yellow were applied and surprisingly it looked like we had good hiding. This was then allowed to cure for a full two days to remove any possibility of tape marking as the masking for the remaining red and black trim still had to be applied. However, once cured another little problem was found. Actually a lot of little problems in the form of dust and dirt in the finish and truth be told, even a few rivet runs. Surely that was to be expected in an aircraft with about a billion pop rivets. All excuses aside, the dirt and runs had to be sanded out and two more coats of yellow applied followed by yet another day of watching paint dry.

A couple of hints about reducing the risk of dirt in the finish in your next paint job:

  1. Wet the floor to eliminate dust from that source.
  2. Ground the parts to be painted to remove any static electricity that may have developed when tack wiping.

Once sufficient time had gone by, the aft end of the fuselage was taped and masked in order to be painted orange. All of the rest of the fuselage had to be “bagged” to prevent the yellow from being damaged by overspray.

Now we had come to the last of the three colours to be applied. The black trim had to go on the fuselage, the door frames, the trim around the doors, and the top of the cowl. Some discussion surrounded the idea of using a flatting base for the cowl top. One thought was to scuff the finished (shiny) coat and the other was to use a flatting base in that area. Greg’s decision was to leave it glossy and scuff it later if it becomes problematic.

Stencils were used for both the registration and for the Canadian flag on the rudder. These saved hours of masking and ensured that everything lined up correctly. All of the other lines had to be carefully laid out with fine-line tapes and a great deal of discussion. As always, the actual painting took only a small fraction of the time required to prepare for it.

And then it was done and off to the hangar for final assembly. As to the remaining paint, we have some of each colour leftover and that will come in handy later for any touch-ups that may be required when it is all put together.

Once all of the parts were back in the hangar the real work began, careful assembly of all those painted parts. Care to get everything together properly and care not to scratch any of those shiny surfaces. Once together, I convinced Greg to roll it out on the ramp for some pictures, and here is the finished project:

Someone asked how long did all this take. I had tracked my time and logged slightly more than 80 hours of prep and paint time. My best guess for Werner and Greg’s time is another 140 hours for a grand total of 220 labour hours. Add in the material costs and this will help you to understand why paint shop quotes tend to be so high.

There was one thing that did slow us down a little. That was the use of house painter quality masking tapes. These admittedly cheaper tapes had to be continually reset as they would blow off when cleaning or in some cases just spontaneously fall off! Do not risk your work or waste your time and money by buying the house paint products. This particular hobby horse is one that I will continue to ride to the end of days. Go to the specialty jobber who sold you the paint and buy his shop-quality products. Pay a little more upfront and save yourself a ton of pain. My personal favourite tapes are 3M’s automotive line. They have never let me down.

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