I am part of the latest generation of kids who grow up trying to life hack our way to the better things in life. I try to frequent thrift shops and look for things that I can UP-cycle. Belt buckles are normally part of this category because the old buckles are really well made, take a beating, and add a uniqueness not found in brand new accessories.
Step 1: Step One: Clean Your Buckle Up
I forgot to take pictures of the skull and wrench buckle but I did remember to take pictures of other buckles I subsequently cleaned up for refinishing.
That disclaimer aside, throw you solid metal buckle into your sandblaster and clean off any finishes that may be still intact after all these years. These buckles had been chromed so I decided to also remove the layer of copper used in the chrome plating process before I took them into the powdercoating room.
When I learned how to perform powdercoating my instructor said that "95% of a great powder coat job lies in the prep work. You can still ruin it in the last 5%, but you are far more likely to destroy your finished product during preparation." With that statement in mind, take your time in the sand blaster. It often takes the same amount of time to do something correctly as it does to do something incorrectly. I made sure that I cleaned one small area of the skull and wrench buckle before moving onto another section. ie: I began on one side of one wrench before I moved onto the next and only after I was completely satisfied with all four wrench sections being clean did I start cleaning up the skull that had already been hit in the crossfire.
The last picture shows me handling my cleaned part after coming out of the sandblaster WITH GLOVES ON. I say this because human hands are always secreting oils and other liquids that can adversely affect the awesomeness of your finish. I cleaned my buckle with Simple Green and a nylon brush to remove the grit and grime of sandblasting gloves, then proceeded to dry it with compressed air. Drying your part this way deals with the dust that could collect in the water droplets and thus remain on the part when dry.
Step 2: Step Two: Prepare Your Powder Coat Room and Shoot Your Part
Start this step by turning your oven on because it is going to take much longer for your oven to heat up than for you to prep and shoot your part. In my case I set the oven thermostat to 425 degrees because I know that I'm going to lose heat when I open the door to load my buckle. Per the instructions of my powder, I do not start the 10 minute timer until I have loaded my part into the oven and my thermostat measures a temperature over 400 (so if I'm at 425 before loading and 387 after loading, I will wait for the oven to recover to 400 before starting my 10 minute timer). As soon I load my buckle I change my thermostat settings back to 7 degrees above my target temp so it will never cycle below 400 during the curing process.
Now that I have shared my oven thought process, its off to the powder coat room to actually cover your buckle with color! I used a brand new piece of picture hanging wire wound through the buckle attachment points on the reverse. For such a small buckle I only loaded about 50g of Black Chrome powder into my coating system (and I ended up transferring a little back into my bulk bag at the end). I would advise following the directions that come with your coating system first and foremost.
At the Techshop in San Jose we have access to an awesome new powder coating system that has both a high (~240Kv) and low (~120Kv) setting. I used the low setting because that is what was recommended to me by the staff for this project.
Step 3: Step Three: Bake/cure Your Buckle
In this step it will be crucial to NOT touch your part after you have coated it. Be very careful with it. The powder is stuck to your part but a stiff breeze or a slight touch can undo all your hard work forcing you back to step 2.
As I mentioned in the previous step, the curing time does not begin until your oven reaches the cure temp printed on your powder manufacturer's instructions. I normally crank up the heat 20+ degrees so that I can minimize the amount of "reheat" time once I open the oven and load my part. Once the buckle is securely inside the oven I re-adjust the thermostat to about 7 degrees over the target temp.
Step 4: Step Four: Remove and Inspect Your Buckle
Like my instructor told me "95% of a good job is in the prep work" and I couldn't agree with him more. Shooting your part and baking it is like driving the last 500 feet of a 500 mile journey and since you have everything hot, dirty and ready to go again its worth it to inspect your part at this stage and decide if you are willing to live with the results or begin again at the sandblasting cabinet.
Remember everyone! All of this and more is possible at The Techshop!