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Painting 101
Goal of this Article:
A simple beginners guide to painting cabinets properly.
I get lots of questions about how to repaint a cabinet and get original factory looking results in both sheen and finish. This page will attempt to share what i've learned in the 30 plus cabinets i've refinished over time. Aside from the right amount of patience and an eye for what original really looks like, it takes:
  • Good Sanders. I have a Porter Cable orbital sander that has worked wonders since I switched to it. Combine that with a nice hand sanding block to do details and you'll be set.
  • Sandpaper. You should get 60, 120 and 220 grit paper for your sanders.
  • Tack Cloths
  • See my bondo tutorial for physical cabinet repair
  • Air Compressor and Gun (I have both an HVLP and a Standard Duty gun)
  • Paints: Some paints I use are Oil based, and match the original sheen of the cabinet to be painted while others are water based. I used to be oil only, but recent changes in paint technology have maid some enamels as durable as oil..
  • Rust Oleum Satin -- This paint is by far my favorite.. It dries fast and on satin finished cabinets it's a perfect match for painting where there was once vinyl. This paint can also be tinted for various colors. NOTE: Unlike most oil paints, you use Acetone to thin this one.
  • Acetone
  • Paint Thinner
  • Test Board
  • Automotive Gray Primer
  • Killz 2 primer
  • How To:
    For more details on anything in this section, see the Joust cabinet pictures and examples page on this site.

    Ok, so you have this beat up cabinet you want to bring back to original.. First, do your homework and be safe. Wear a partical mask and protect your lungs. Look at flyers, ask questions and get the idea of just what the original finish that the cabinet had was (gloss, semi gloss, rough textured, smooth etc.). Once you have that, go about finding the colors you need. There are many sites, including this one that share paint codes for many games. The single best way to match your paint is to take an inconspicuous piece of the cabinet to your paint company and have it computer matched. Try looking for blocking behind marquees or overspray inside doors etc to get a good sample.
    Now that you're all set with paint and equipment, it's time to attack the cabinet. Don't be shy about it and don't be lazy either. If you're gonna take the time to repaint a cabinet, do it right. Start with your 60 grit sandpaper and take the bulk of the original paint off completely. Once the cabinet is clean of most of the paint, switch to your 120 grit paper and take the cabinet completely down to fresh wood. At this point, take the time to use bondo to repair any physical damage to the cabinet (Tutorial coming soon). Once the damage has been fixed, sand the entire cabinet one more time with the 220 grit paper. Carefully feel the side of the cabinet with the palm of your hand to feel for irregularities or rough portions, keep sanding until they are nice and smooth.
    Now that you have a nice sanded and repaired cabinet you're ready to paint. First, prepare your equipment.. Get everything laid out and ready and have your air compressor set for no more than 40 pounds for a standard duty gun or 25 pounds for an HVLP gun. Take one of your Tack Cloths (basically a piece of cheesecloth with sticky material all over it) and wipe down your cabinet to remove any dust. Now, make your choice of what paint to use and if primer is needed or not. Here's some of the choices I make:
  • Plywood cabs -- I often choose not to use primer on these cabs if I don't have to do heavy repairs. If repairs were needed, I usually use a nice coat of Killz 2 to create a nice even color.. That's the reason to use primer on these cabs, to blend the repair with the bare wood so they don't show through the paint on the finished product. Something to remember is that Primer is meant to adhere paint to a surface, primer is not a paint, and too many coats will just make your final color chip easily. If you've prepped yoru cabinet right, one coat will do the job.
  • Pressboard cabs -- On pressboard cabinets like almost any atari cab, it's super important to make sure the sides are sanded glassy smooth and the primer you use is oil based (like automotive primer). The reason for this, is that unlike plywood, when pressboard gets the slightest bit wet it will become really bumpy like an orange peel. Oil based primers will prevent this.
  • Melamine Cabs -- Some Konami/Centuri cabs were made of black melamine that was painted. If you can take the time to use strippers to remove old paint, this melamine makes a fantastic surface for paint to adhere to. Just clean it really well and spray.
  • Once you've sanded and primed your cab, you need to take that 220 grit paper on your sander and smooth things out one more time. This will take a very light touch and only a few seconds. A lot of people skip this step that only takes a few minutes and it changes your results completely. After this sanding, use your tack cloth again to remove any dust and get ready to paint.
    The most important step.. applying color... When you use a sprayer, you have to thin the paint. Unfortunately there's no magic formula for how much to thin paint. I just go by the heavy cream method. Paint straight out of the can is very thick, but if you thin it with Acetone or Paint thinner to the consistency of heavy cream you'll be ok. I usually put a portion of paint in the canister of the gun and thin it in that canister. As you thin paint, do it in steps and test it.. It's easier to thin a bit more than to over thin and waste paint. After you've thinned it and mixed it up well, test the paint on your test board until the paint
    Spray gun tips:
  • Set the pressure properly for the gun you're using.
  • Use a CLEAN gun.
  • Start with no paint flow and open the flow up. You'll find that you will crank the gun almost closed when you're happy with the flow of paint.
  • Avoid the temptation to blast a ton of paint through the gun to paint a lot at once.. This will only lead to imperfections, runs and splatter! If you try to spray too much paint you'll only make yourself thin it too much to force it to spray right and you'll be very dissapointed.
  • Always test your paint pressure and flow on a test piece before spraying your project.
  • Use a side to side movement, not a sweeping movement when you paint. What this means basically, is move your entire body side to side and keep your wrist firm.. don't fan the paint.
  • As you spray paint over the last pass 50%. Imagine if you are mowing your lawn and you mow a stripe.. on the next pass, remow half of the fist pass... It's a silly analogy, but it's very important if you want a nice consistent finish with no stripes, feathers or other imperfections.
  • As you paint, move at a consistent pace. If you stutter, you'll cause too much paint to spray and get runs.
  • Paint from approximately 12 inches away from the surface.
  • Always paint top to bottom, with the cabinet standing upright.
  • Some Manufacturer specific tips:

    Some Stern cabinets (Berzerk style) have a rough textured finish on them.. To recreate this, I mix a little black paint into some wallboard plaster to turn it dark, then I use a medium nap paint roller and roll plaster onto the side of the cabinet and mimic the original rough texture. Williams cabinets (Joust, Sinistar etc) not only used gloss paint, but they had a thin coat of gloss polyurethane on them too. Vinyl coated cabinets.. Save yourself some headaches and just remove the vinyl and paint the entire cabinet. A lot of times this lets you also pull off original sideart that you can take to Kinko's and have new adhesive put on so you can re-use it. I hope this page helps you with your paint project!
    Chad - 10/10/2006 10:48:12 AM
    Excellent info Brian! What size compressor do you use with your spray gun (capacity, scfm, etc.) Thanks
    Brian - 10/12/2006 7:45:51 PM
    I've used a 5 gallon pancake compressor for years before moving to a turbine sprayer.. a standard duty cheapo spray gun from campbell hausfeld works great too.
    Tim - 1/30/2007 3:29:17 PM
    Brian, this info is very helpful, but still had a couple questions for you. With Rust Oleum Satin, (I will be using Black) on presswood/particle board, what kind of roller would work best for this to give it a smooth finish. I don't have a spray gun, nor do I know how to effectively use one. Can I get a perfectly smooth nice finish with that paint and the correct roller? I've already tried a waterbased black semigloss, with a foam roller and it came out like crap. I have already stripped the sides, sanded, and it's perfectly smooth. Thanks for the time...!
    Brian - 1/30/2007 7:13:22 PM
    Well, you're in luck.. this particular paint comes in rattle cans.. and it sprays very very well in large areas provided you overlap your strokes. It also rolls on well should that be what you need to do.. just don't forget to prime.
    Ladrica - 3/4/2007 4:04:49 PM
    Hello I need some help I ran accross your web page after typing in painting cabinets...well I have some preschool wooden kitchen sets each piece is 3feet high with cabinets they were made 25 years ago and the paint has faded and their needs to be some sanding...the structure is in excellent quality and their in decent conditin.....I would like to bring them to life with a color change and painting and replace hinges and knobs ...what do I do? LADRICA [email protected]
    Gary - 4/16/2007 3:44:26 PM
    I have a metal control panel that I am trying to get down to the bare metal. The remnants of the glue is a real pain and is not easily coming off. What is the best way to get it down to the metal?
    Brian - 4/18/2007 9:36:55 PM
    I use Goof Off to strip old glue the most.. but if it's metal, grab some 80 grit paper and an orbital sander will make quick work of it.
    Dawn - 3/4/2008 8:05:21 AM
    I found this info when I typed in how much to thin oil based paint when using an air spay gun. Although I am not restoring a game I found all of your information relevant for paint an old piece of furniture. Explaining the thining to cream and checking a little bit at a time was great help. Thank You so much for the info it is always amazing how wonderful people will/can be about sharing info and posting it for others to simply type in their question and find an answer. Again Thanks

    GameTalk about this project!