Jim Smart
September 1, 2001

This has to be one of the most dreaded tasks associated with building a restomod. Bodywork and painting are undertakings no one wants to tackle. It's a filthy task good for blisters, dust-impregnated mucus in your nose, absolute boredom, and certainly anticipation. Anticipation is about the only positive because we're eager to get to that all-important finish coat when our efforts become fruitful and we feel productive. To get there, we have to pay our dues and give a budget restomod abundant sweat equity. Or you could spend a lot of money and turn the whole thing over to a body shop.

Can't afford it? We thought so... Again that darned incentive to save money. There are two basic ways you can strip a body down to the bare steel while staying within a tight budget. Wrap your hands around an orbital sander and begin with 80- and 100-grit sandpaper. The second way is to buy a gallon or two of paint stripper from your favorite autobody supply store, which takes less time, but it costs more and makes a bigger mess.

We were going to build the small-block V-8 engine for Project KISS this issue. Because all of the parts haven't arrived for our budget small-block, we're going to be productive anyway, and begin paint and rust removal. Like we told you earlier, there are two means to budget rust and paint removal: sanding and chemical. Sanding takes longer, but it's cheaper. Chemical stripping costs more and it's messier, but it's faster.

If You Had A Dream Budget
There are two more expensive means to paint and rust removal we won't be addressing at length here: chemical dipping and media-blasting. Chemical dipping is very expensive, around $1,500 to $2,000 for an entire car, and it is labor intensive when you get the body back. The body must be thoroughly washed and the stripper neutralized afterward. This means blasting all seams, rocker panels, torque boxes-everything. The nice part is, chemical dipping yields a raw steel body ready for bodywork and paint. It's just very expensive, which puts it outside our KISS requirements.

Media-blasting costs approximately $1,000 for an entire car, depending on the shop and location. It's also labor-intensive when it's time for cleanup work afterward. Media-blasting can sometimes bite you in the posterior because not all shops do a professional job. We've seen decklids, doors, and hoods so badly warped after media-blasting they had to be thrown away. If you choose media-blasting, shop carefully and ask to see examples of their work. Professional shops use specialized media (not sand). They also understand the technique necessary to remove paint and rust without warping the sheetmetal. This is what you want from a media-blaster.

Another approach to paint stripping is dry-ice blasting. Not all areas have this service available, but we've seen it in Los Angeles. Dry-ice blasting is undoubtedly more expensive than media-blasting, but the dry ice melts and evaporates, leaving only the paint dust and rust particles. It's the cleanest approach to paint stripping we've seen yet. Again, too expensive for a KISS budget. But we can dream.

Reality Check
We're going to show you two approaches to paint stripping on Project KISS: sanding and chemical stripping. Then you can decide what works best for your project.

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Chemical Stripping Or Sanding?
If you're still having a tough time deciding which type of paint stripping to choose, we'll make it easier for you. Sanding versus chemical stripping boils down to which is more valuable to you-time or money. Sanding takes more time. It can also be harder on you physically. Orbital sanders cost anywhere from $40 to $140. Anyway you dice it, you're going to need an orbital sander regardless if you sand-strip or chemical-strip. An orbital sander is a good investment for your garage arsenal. Sandpaper can be expensive, depending on the brand you buy. The best sandpaper is 3M, but it's also the most expensive. We like 3M because it lasts longer.

Chemical stripping is messier. If you get chemical stripper on your skin, it will get your attention almost immediately because it stings. Cleanup after chemical stripping can be challenging. Because you want to be environmentally responsible, dead paint and chemical stripper need to be collected. It's your responsibility to make sure none of it goes down the storm drain. This means building a dam at the foot of your driveway to collect paint and stripper. When it dries, it can be collected with a shovel. Some of it will likely find its way to the storm drain, but we just want minimum effect on the environment.