How to Apply a Hand Rubbed Lacquer Paint Job to an Auto

Written by chris deziel Google
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How to Apply a Hand Rubbed Lacquer Paint Job to an Auto
A high-quality hand-rubbed finish requires several coats of lacquer. (Vintage Automobile image by Ray Carpenter from

A well-done, hand-rubbed finish on an automobile adds that final touch of class to a restoration job. Auto painters do not use acrylic lacquer as much as they did in the past, due to its toxicity and because the finish is more brittle than urethane or enamel. Even so, it is still the best choice for hand rubbing because, unlike paint, it does not have to cure. Successive coats blend with previous ones to produce a continuous--rather than layered--finish that rubbing enhances.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Masking tape
  • Masking paper
  • Body filler
  • Orbital sander
  • Wet/dry sandpaper, 120, 220, 400 and 600 grit
  • Rust preventive
  • Air spray gun
  • Compressor
  • Respirator
  • Primer
  • Coloured lacquer
  • Clear-coat lacquer
  • Damp polishing cloth
  • Polishing compound

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  1. 1

    Mask off the areas that you won't paint. Use masking paper for the windows, bumpers, tires and other larger areas.

  2. 2

    Sand away all rust and brush on rust preventive. Fill dents and holes with body filler. When the filler has cured, sand these areas down with an orbital sander and 120-grit sandpaper, feathering the edges into the body to make a smooth transition. Finish feathering by hand with 220-grit sandpaper to remove scratches.

  3. 3

    Spray primer and lacquer. Adjust the spray tip of the gun and the air pressure from the compressor to get a vertical fan that is about 8 inches wide from a distance of 6 inches. Hold the gun 6 inches from the surface and spray in a continuous left-right pattern from end to end, overlapping by about half the width of the spray pattern on each pass. When you are finished, turn the nozzle 90 degrees and spray in an up-down pattern.

  4. 4

    Apply one coat of primer and then one coat of the lacquer colour. Sand the lacquer coat with 400-grit sandpaper and apply a second coat. Repeat until the colour tone and sheen are satisfactory. This may take anywhere from 6 to 10 coats.

  5. 5

    Apply two or three coats of clear-coat lacquer on top of the colour to provide a surface that can be buffed without altering the colour tone. Sand between each coat with 600-grit sandpaper. Do not sand the last coat.

  6. 6

    Let the finish cure for several days. Rub it out with a damp rag and polishing compound. Do not over-polish or you will go through the finish. Apply wax and buff it for a final touch.

Tips and warnings

  • If you do not have a spray booth, the best conditions for spraying outdoors are cloudy, windless days when the temperature is between 21.1 and 26.7 degrees Celsius.
  • If you develop drips or runs, you may be holding the gun too close or moving too slowly, or the lacquer may be too thin. If the surface is dusty or bumpy, you may be holding the gun too far away, allowing the lacquer to dry before it hits the surface.
  • The solvents in acrylic lacquer are toxic. Use a respirator and make sure the spraying area is well ventilated.

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