Hobby Auto Restoration: Primer and Sanding




Introduction: Hobby Auto Restoration: Primer and Sanding

A few years ago, my family and I restored a 1976 Camaro.  We started with a rusty, dented 76 body, bought out of a junkyard with a running motor for two hundred dollars.  From there, we replaced the original front clip with a 1970 1/2 Rally Sport front and also welded on a 1973 tail end.  If you are unfamiliar with this ear of Camaro, 1970 1/2 through 1973 are almost identical.  Other than the front and rear, the rest of the body did not change much from those three years to the 1976 either.  In the end, the restoration was completed for about $3,200, much of this applied towards paint and painting supplies.  I would like to be clear that this car is not restored to show quality; we use it as a daily driver.  As our first projects with body restoration, we developed some useful methods that will be outlined in this Instructable.

The project taught us there are endless ways to approach classic car body restoration. I will detail the processes used on this 1976 Camaro.  I strongly encourage gaining as much other information as possible to form your own ideas as well.  This Instructable enters the process after the welding of patch panels and application of body filler.

Step 1: Supplies and Saftey Issues

- These can be found at many auto part shops, tool stores, or home improvement stores

- 17" wooden sanding board
- Rubber sanding blocks (3M brand shown)
- Wet/Dry sanding pads (3M brand shown)
- Kitchen sponges
- Rubber squeegee
- Bucket
- Sandpaper - 150, 220, 320, 400, 500, 600 grit
- Face mask

Note: Primer and mixing supplies listed in Step 2.

Safety Precautions:
As always when working with tools, general shop safety must be practiced.  Mixing and applying paint and primer requires extra caution to ensure proper ventilation of the work space.  We commonly used box fans to circulate fresh air.  In addition, you must wear the face mask when spraying paint/primer to prevent ingestion of dangerous fumes.

Step 2: Mixing Primer

Primer Supplies:

- Sandable Primer - Valspar 96N*
- Sandable Primer Activator - for Valspar 96N*
- Thinner
- Clean soup cans
- Paint stirrers**
- Paint filters**
- Gravity Paint Spray Gun
- Air compressor

* We chose Valspar brand due to its hard-drying properties.  It sanded off slower, allowing more room for mistakes and learning.  However, Valspar is very expensive.
** Both paint stirrers and filters are usually included for free when you purchase paint or primer, but you may need to ask for them specifically.

1. Thoroughly clean a container to mix the paint in.  We used large soup cans.
2. Make sure that the bowl of the paint gun is free of previous paint, dust, or other debris.  Pour 
     some thinner in the bowl to clean, then spray some through the nozzle of the gun, wiping off the
3. Refer to the proportions listed on the labels to determine the correct mixing ratio of paint and
    activator. These values will differ between types or brands.
4. Add thinner to allow the mixture to pass through the gun nozzle and lay smoothly.
Note: the amount of thinner added may change depending on the kind of coat you want to
         produce. For example, the first layer of primer should be thick, so use a one-to-one 
         ratio (equal parts thinner and paint/activator mixture).
5. Pour the desired amounts of each into the can and stir thoroughly with the paint stick.
6. Pour the paint mixture through the filter and into the bowl of the paint gun.

Step 3: Sealant Coat

Mix a batch of sealant, in this case black epoxy primer, as seen below.  This will trap all contaminates, such as oil, from affecting the primer and paint.  Spray it on the vehicle in two or three coats.

      Note: From this point on, any type of oil, grease, or other general contaminates must be kept
      free from the car's body.  They will cause reactions in the paint such as orange peel, which 
      has a rippling effect.  Take special care of rags and tools, and keep your hands clean.

Scuff the entire body with 150 grit sandpaper.  Scuffing is sanding lightly to ensure that the primer will stick to the surface.  You can do this either by hand with blocks or with a DA (dual action sander).

Step 4: First Layer of Primer and Basic Sanding

Next, mix a batch of sandable primer.  Sandable primer is meant to fill in imperfections and allow you to take any waviness out of the body.  For this layer, a heavy coat of primer should be applied to the entire body.  Do not worry if runs form, focus on creating a solid base coat to blend in body filler and remove dents and waves.

Sanding steps:
1. To start, wrap the 17" wooden sanding board with 150 grit sandpaper.
2. Sand the body in an elongated X-pattern as shown in the second photo.  This allows you to
    follow the contours of the body.  Sanding only in parallel horizontal lines can cause a chunky
    effect, sort of like window blinds.
3. Overlap the X-patterns, as shown in the third photo. 
4. Finish each section with straight strokes following the body lines (the last picture).

      Note: Areas such as the front and rear of the car are too small for this large board and
      X-pattern.  Here, wrap sandpaper around any of the other blocks or use your hands, still
      following the original contours.

Basic Sanding Methods:
- Always remain aware of the body lines of the car.  Generally, sand in strokes from the front to the 
  rear of the car.  On the door, for example, do not run the sandpaper vertically.
- Use the full extension of your arm for sanding strokes.  These should match the longest 
  possible lines on the panel.
- Let the sandpaper do the work for you.  Apply only light pressure to the board.  Excess force
  causes uneven sanding and deep scratches.
- Keep continuous with your movement, not dwelling on one stroke.
- Primer will be removed from edges and body lines more quickly than flat surfaces.  For
  example, sanding through the primer occurs quickly in places such as around the headlights or
  down the main creased body line.

Step 5: Problem Areas and Second Coat

Focusing on dents and body filler areas:

- Low spots in the primer can sometimes be identified by sight, as in the picture below.  Other 
  times, watch for spots where you can tell your sandpaper is not reaching the surface. Scratches 
  may follow a different path than you are sanding, or previous, deeper scratches may be visible.
- Many times, the eye alone cannot completely identify a dent or wave.  We found it very effective to
  physically feel for them with our hands.  Use your non-dominant, more sensitive hand, and look
  away from the area in question. This removes what your eyes see (or think they see) from the
- If you find a low area, sand the surrounding primer down until they meet, and vise versa for high
- While sanding, work towards a mirror like finished product, and this will give you an intuitive
   idea of the coreect processes
- Keep in mind that you may need to repeat some of these steps multiple times.  Also, if you find
  difficulty with a certain area, feel free to spray only that spot with additional primer and sand

With most major problems removed, spray a light coat of primer.  When mixing this coat, add much more thinner than before.  This will not create much build up, but it should fill in large scratches left by previous steps.  This way, you can save time sanding these out and work towards finish sanding.  Proceed with the same sanding process with 220 and 320 grit sandpaper.

Step 6: Wet Sanding Processes

Wet sanding (using water with fine grit sandpaper) keeps both the paper and surface free of dust that accumulates from sanding.  During this step, the surface and paper must always remain wet.

1. Fill a bucket with water.
2. Wrap the flexible wet/dry pad in 400 grit sandpaper.
3. Dip both the block and paper into the bucket.  You should squeeze water on the area you will
    be sanding with the sponge.
4. Sand the entire car in the longest possible strokes, following the same process as outlined in
    Step 4 (replacing the large wooden block with your wet/dry pad).
5. The rubber squeegee can be used to clear the body of residue to view our work.
6. Make your way round the vehicle again using 500 and 600 grit sandpaper.  We noticed with
    these finer grits, the primer started to show a little shine.  This reflection helped us check for

A tip for hand sanding:
If sanding with a flexible pad or simply your hands, keep your fingers perpendicular to the sanding motion.  If they are parallel, ridges form matching your fingers.  Try to think of your hand as if it were a block.  Do not press with excess force on any one finger or finger tip.

      Note: No single step of the sanding process will remove every dent, wave, or imperfection.  It
      is imperative during each step to actively look for and sand out these problems, even if it 
      means backtracking.

Step 7: Color Sanding

At this point, you could go ahead and paint.  We chose to "color sand" the car, or spray a layer of the base coat paint and wet sand once more. 

1. Wipe or spray all dust particles and residue off the car.
2. Mix a small batch of the base coat color, and spray on to completely cover the primer.
3. Once dry, wet sand the entire body as described in Step 6 with 600 grit sandpaper only.

You can easily identify high or low spots due to the sharp contrast between the paint and primer.  Feel free to go all the way through this color coat if necessart to remove these spots.  Do not sand to quickly, take your time as this is the final step of preparation.

Step 8: Finishing the Project

Once you are happy with the straightness of the car, you have finally finished the sanding process. To clean the body, wipe it off with clean, dry rags to remove all dust, and it is ready for paint!

Even if you are not painting the car yourself, completing the prep work can save a lot of money at a restoration shop and is a great way to spend time with family or friends.  Overall, patience and perseverance are key with any auto restoration, especially body work.

Good luck with your projects!

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    20 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Just several days ago i saw this car at the auction https://1bid1.com/ As far as i remember it had good price.


    5 years ago

    great job on the resto. I wasn't sure if you could weld a 70 rear clip without hacking it up.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    amazing car!! the able aint so bad either..


    10 years ago on Step 2

    What size nozzles did you use for the sealer, primer, and finish coat?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Wow.. this auto restoration instructable sure is good. I suddenly thought of my dad's old camaro out in the garage. I am having thoughts restoring it really soon like what you just did. Nice instructable!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable! I will definately be using this when me and my dad start painting our MG. I have a couple questions, it seems like having a very slightly damp rag to wipe the dust off the body will get more dust off. Is this a bad idea? Also, would doing a final wetsand with say, 800 or 100 grit before the finish paint coats make a noticable difference in the finish paint quality?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks!  You could use a damp rag; the main thing is to be sure the car is clean and dry when appliying paint.  Also, we ended up with a very good finish with 600 grit sandpaper.  I don't think that 800 or 1000 would hurt anything, we just didn't find it necessary.  If you are doing base coat-clear coat, you can use a buffer with compound after the color and clear coat have been painted to really make it shine and smooth.  Good luck!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    hey, great instructable!!
    ill be prepping my camaro for paint later this year (when there is no snow)
    and where in the world did you get a camaro for $200? my camaro was 2000 from the junkyard near me


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks to everyone who has posted comments about my Instructable!  I'm glad that people have found some use from it.


    Awesome. my question is how did you get your hands on a '70 front clip? I'm sure those aren't cheap!

    Readers who like that generation of Camaro and who may be a bit on the young side might like to know that it shares a lot of parts with the Pontiac Firebird. A couple of Camaros supplied body pieces and glass for my '77 TA when I had it.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    We found the main part at a junkyard that holds on to many classic parts, and it was in very rough shape.  It took a lot of straightening and body filler to fix.  Other parts, like the nose cone and bumpers were searched out online.  Overall, we were surprised that the 1970 1/2 front fit up almost bolt-for-bolt to the 1976.  Thanks! 


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Haven't You got a problem with paint quality after using wet sand paper? Any special kind of drying after sanding??  Very niece Instructable 


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks!  The water actually dries off of the surface very quickly, and yes, you must wait some time before you paint.  We finished our wet sanding, touched up some masking, and then wiped the body down one more time to remove any remaining dust and residue. This process took us a few days, so it is not an immediate thing to paint right away.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    i wish my car was as half as cool as this! im respraying my reliant rialto soon.

    thanks for this excellent ible.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    this is one of the sickest machines i have ever seen good job the only thing i can say that will beat your car is his


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very informative.  I have been painting Jet Skis lately and had to discover this info the hard way:)


    10 years ago on Step 6

    Outstanding instructable. I so want to ask your parents how they raised a daughter who restores/fixes up cars. :) Working on a car with my kid is a dream I have been denied.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you!  Good luck with the MGB.