Engine Painting

By Staff
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As I was collecting the material for this month’s article, we had a visit from a friend bringing some bearings for a Hercules that he’d picked up for us at the Portland, Ind. show, along with a couple of calendars. As he left, the mailman turned up with a large envelope containing yet another show calendar! I’m starting to think that people are trying to make sure we don’t make the error of missing a show next year!

I know that I have covered the subject of whether or not to paint an engine before, but in the most recent discussion of this dilemma, several new and interesting points were raised.

– Now that I’ve got this Economy running, I’m wondering which way to go with it. Is it better to clean and paint, or leave it all original? The Economy sat in the orchard on its side for Lord knows how many years ’til my dad and I rescued it. The original buzz rig fell apart as we tried to rescue it, to the point the wood powdered when touched. It’s still a greasy old thing and looks like both the original undercoat and final coat of paint are partially intact. I got it running in the “found” condition, and at the least I think I should probably give it a good steam bath to see exactly what’s left there. No traces of original decals are to be seen anywhere.

– Steam cleaning would remove the old grease and oil, but might also blast off some remaining paint. I like to go easy on a new engine with a bucket of kerosene and a brush. It’s slower and messier, but less aggressive. You can always steam clean later. You’d feel really bad to spot pieces of decal and paint sitting in the drain at the steam cleaners.

– Is there currently a mix of original paint blended with the patina of well-oiled cast iron showing through? Perhaps a faded but still visible Economy logo? Is some of the pin striping still there? If this is the case, then I would certainly leave it original.

However, if it is a rusty lump with no paint anymore, or if it has been repainted in the past, it needs some painting TLC.

If you embark on the path of repainting your Economy, you need to decide to what extent you will refinish it.

There are guys that blast and simply paint the engines as the castings are, imperfections and all. This is not the quality of finish the engines left the factory with. The manufacturers had some “paste” they used to fill the casting imperfections before painting. That original product is no longer available, but modern (and superior) products such as body filler do a great job.

When you buy the replacement decals (either water transfer or stick-on), the translucent background will turn invisible on a nice slick/smooth surface. Decals placed on an as-cast and painted surface look pretty bad as the “translucent” portion of the decal takes on a milky look.

– I generally don’t like to paint unless I have something to hide. Since I usually do any cast welding with the torch and old cast iron piston rings, I can even rust a weld to make it match.

I have owned a few hundred engines. I used to really like to buy, sell and trade. I learned that money spent on cleaning and painting was usually wasted if I wanted to maximize the return on my investment, not to mention the time involved. The engines that sold the fastest and got the best price were nice, clean engines -with little or no paint on them, not rust-pitted or broken up, had no great amount of wear on them and were fit to run just as they were. These engines make for fairly easy restoration projects for both the real newbies and for the really old guys who just don’t want to start out with a basket case.

– One of the greatest tragedies in the hobby is when someone has an engine with faded original paint, striping, decal, etc., and they sandblast it to do a cosmetic restoration. A hand-wipe using a 50-to-50 mix of kerosene and non-detergent motor oil brings out that faded color and decal, and darkens the rusty bits leaving a soft shine. A more permanent effect can be obtained by wiping on a thin coat of boiled linseed oil. The engine, of course, must be clean for the treatment.

– What do you think about touching up a little paint to improve the look, without undertaking a full cosmetic restoration?

– We’ve got a fellow in our club that is a master at this. He will mix up a little “faded” paint, spray the areas in need of help and later scuff it with a Scotchbrite pad to dull the paint and expose some of the cast iron under it. This exposed cast rust, and the result, is very nice looking.

If it’s all rusted up with nothing to save, there is no loss. If it has something to save – decals, original paint, etc., I’ll go with cleaning it and a little oil on the rust. My Maytag was once clean and shiny but it seems running an engine will dirty them a bit. The great big smile when others see it running is what counts.

Which seems to sum the whole argument up quite nicely! Also, while on the subject of appearance, the List enjoyed a useful discussion on the application – and removal – of decals for that final touch.

– I have a couple of water transfer decals and would like a little advice on putting them on. I think I was a pre-teen the last time I did these and that was on model airplanes or something. Can anyone tell me the procedure and the tricks of the trade?

– When I did them a couple of years ago, I just put some warm water in a shallow pan and let the decals soak for about 30 seconds (there are probably directions on the back of the decals). Then I just held the decal up to what I was putting it on and gently slid it off the backing onto the surface. For the first few seconds, you can position the decal around a bit if there is enough water. Take a sponge and dab the excess water off, taking care not to dry off the decal too fast.

– Any need to have a soft squeegee or something to squeeze the air bubbles out? Or should one just use a thumb or finger to do so? Should I mist the surface being transferred onto with water?

– I put some fine pencil marks on the paint in advance where I wanted to position the decals.

– Soak transfer in water for no more than 30 seconds. When the design releases itself, slide it off face upwards into position. Press down, wiping gently from the center outwards to squeeze out surplus water and air bubbles. Leave at least 24 hours to dry, and varnish if required. One point worth mentioning, it is worthwhile to rub the area where the transfer is to be fixed with liquid dish soap, as this helps the transfer slide into position.

For a larger area, use a sponge and liquid dish soap to wash it. Don’t let it dry, then apply decal as per directions.

– The last decal I put on recommended a drop or two of dish soap in a quart of water. Wet the receiving surface and slide the decal onto it. The soft rubber edge of a window washer, sponge, or such applied gently to the decal will help remove bubbles. If you have a small trapped bubble, prick it with a pin and the air will escape without harm to the decal.

Depending on your location, it’s creeping towards that time when engine hoppers should be drained down for the winter. We’ve got to take care of the collections so they are in peak condition for the next show season!

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at:Helen@insulate.co.ukYou can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at:www.atis.net

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