Where does one begin with preparing a bus for painting? Sanding and applying primer sound like easy enough tasks. Not if you are a newbie as I had been.
Step One: Remove All Decals
Michael initially thought a heat gun is the best way to remove any vinyl letters. I set out to do this but soon after starting the project, I realized we had broken Uncle Frankie’s heat gun! Never fear, my dear, fingernails prevail! Out of impatience, I started picking the decals with my fingernails and … lo & behold … the process was faster than the power tool!
Step Two: Sand the Existing Paint
I had two options for roughing up the existing paint: an electric orbital sander or a pneumatic one. Oddly enough, I did not like the latter. Sure, compressed air can be powerful, but pneumatic tools are heavier than their more ubiquitous electric counterparts. So unless you’re a strapping beefcake of a human, consider the more agile counterpart.
Your goal here is to just lightly roughen up the surface so as to take off the sheen. We used either a 180 or 150 grit paper to achieve this. There was a part in the back of the bus that I did not get to sand off as well because I had reached it at the end of the day. This didn’t matter in the end because the primer adhered just fine despite my novice paint-roller skills, or lack thereof.
Step Three: Mask
Cover the areas you do not want to paint. Duh.
I’d like to tell you the best brand out there, but it may have changed since we masked. We enjoyed using 3M because it was the right amount of stickiness. It is more expensive than the big box stores’ generic brand, but it’s worth it. The few times we used the cheaper version out of curiosity and frugality, the weak stickiness of the cheap tape caused us to use more material to keep our butcher paper from falling off the masked areas.
Step Four: Paint Primer
Before the bus, I had painted maybe two walls in my life. And I helped in the middle of the project so others had already done the prep work such as masking, stirring the paint thoroughly, and evenly saturating the roller. So when I slathered the first amount of primer on, Mike was on top of the bus unaware of the havoc I was wreaking below.
“Hey, Mikey, am I doing this right?”
Mike looks down from the top of the bus. Pause. “What are you doing?!? I thought you were going to do the edges first!”
“I was supposed to do that FIRST? I thought we just decided which tool to use – not which order to use them!”
Mike grunts and sighs. “Ok. Do you have the roller charged yet?”
“Charged? What does that even mean?”
“I’m coming down.”
He ended up doing the starboard side while I held the tray and “learned.” I put that verb in quotes because I’m hoping I remember it the next time I ever paint the outside of a vehicle, which may be decades from now. The primer ended up being so splotchy and textured that Michael congratulated me that I would be doing more work than had been anticipated. I had to sand that side down to be smooth enough for the finish coat.
Step Five: Throw Away the Paint Roller
Our friend Dick had tried to warn us nicely about rolling on the primer. He said that spraying is the best, but rolling could be done. He said that after we did rolled, we could wet sand it later here and there. It didn’t make sense to me until I was spending an entire day sanding the previous day’s primer mishap. As I was attaching my 6th 120 grit sandpaper onto the orbital, I cursed roll-on and brush painting.
Spraying is the way to go for primer and for finish coats on a bus.