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Home Garage Paint Booth - Paint Your Car in the Garage

How to turn your garage into a paint booth

By Eric English, Photography by Eric English

What image first comes to mind when you hear of a car that was painted in a garage? Do you envision a flawless finish that is worthy of a high-caliber show car? Probably not. Do you imagine a hulk with questionable bodywork and more than an occasional flaw in an unremarkable topcoat? Maybe. The truth is, the paint booth or where a car is sprayed has much less to do with the end result than the expertise of the guy behind the bodywork and paint gun. As we'll illustrate on the following pages, remarkable results can come from a most humble environment, a revelation that is equally important to both the do-it-yourselfer and his checkbook.

Right up front, this isn't a story that's going to teach you the ins and outs of paint and bodywork. We've run several articles in recent months that are oriented toward those disciplines, but our objective here is to show you how one expert gets stunning results—not from a high-dollar paint booth, but out of a nondescript 25x30-foot garage.

No doubt, Dale Knutson is truly a master of his craft after laboring some 30 years in the industry, and, after watching him at work, we wonder if he couldn't lay down a perfect finish in the midst of a Saharan sandstorm. During his career, Knutson has at times worked for commercial collision shops and at other times right from his home garage. In between, he's churned out some pretty cool garage jobs for himself and friends, and we figured to glean some helpful hints by looking over his shoulder in the paint booth for a day.

One thing we picked up on right away: Do not misconstrue a garage paintjob for a cheap paintjob. Expertise doesn't come cheap unless you possess it yourself, and you'll pay for professional quality work no matter where it's done. That said, a guy like Knutson—essentially a one-man show who has a lot less overhead than a big-time shop—may be able to complete a job for less overall cash. Nevertheless, the old axiom "you don't get something for nothing" is definitely true here. To be sure, what doesn't change based on the location of the work is the cost of materials. Depending on the paint system and color of your topcoat, materials cost can be tremendous. "A few years ago, I did a custom Mustang using a top-of-the-line three-stage product line, and the materials alone were right at $5,000," Knutson says. Of course, this is one end of the spectrum, but it's a point worth illustrating.

"Conversely, a much simpler solid-white hue using a quality two-stage product could be more in the realm of $600 for materials, but it all depends on the specifics." We've recently covered worthwhile paint systems that can be had for considerably less, so if you have the ability to do it yourself, yes, a garage paintjob can be cheap. Again, it all depends on your situation and skill set.

Home Garage Paint Booth: The Space
As we mentioned earlier, Knutson's garage measures a modest 25 by 30 feet. There's some accumulated clutter after 30 years of use, but the majority of the space is usable. We'd consider the detached nature of the structure mandatory for keeping fumes away from living spaces, one of several safety considerations we'll focus on a bit later. Winter temperatures can fall to around freezing, so Knutson uses a home furnace to heat the space when required—again, bringing up safety issues that need to be the foremost consideration in your planning.

Equipment
Beyond the furnace, Knutson's equipment is basic but high quality. He purchased a U.S.-made, 5hp, two-stage air compressor in 1977 that's still running strong today, and it's equipped with an 80-gallon tank. He's confident a 60-gallon unit would provide plenty of capacity but would otherwise advise similar specifications. We expected to see some fancy air-drying equipment in use, but after tracing the air line from the compressor, up the wall, across the ceiling, and down to a simple water trap, we realized there's nothing special going on here. "I've never had a problem with water in my air lines," Knutson says. "I just do what works for me." Obviously what really works are his quality Sata and Iwata spray guns—one for primer and paint, the other for clearcoat. In terms of the painting equipment per se, this is pretty much it—simple, huh?

By Eric English
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