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Paint and re-finishing

I thought a long time about the information that follows and am reluctant to publish it. However, due to the interest in painting tractors common within the hobby I though it best to present some information so that you can navigate through the variety of re-finish products plus be aware of the dangers inherent with the painting/refinish process.

I am not a chemist nor an occupational health professional. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information presented. Everything shown here is easily found on the Internet, in forums, and from the manufacturers. I make no claims as to what is safe as there are far to many considerations to be made. If you decide to paint yourself, buy your supplies form a professional who can also tell you how to protect your health. Your first choice is to have your tractor painted by a professional. Regardless of what product you choose you need to determine what personal protection is needed.

Paint Products

In order or ease of use (best) and cost (least)

Acrylic Lacquer. Lacquer-based auto paint was popular between the mid 1920s and 1960s, and is still available today. Lacquer paint is cheap and goes on easy for the inexperienced painter, plus it provides a nice high gloss. However, it also chips easily being a relatively “soft” paint, and it doesn't stand up well to UV and chemicals, making it a short-lived paint job. Today lacquer is most often used as a primer-surfacer.

Alkyd Enamel aka Rust Oleum, Van Sickle, XO Rust, Val Spar 10.00/qt
Low cost, easiest to find and use, can add hardener for increased chemical resistance, increased gloss, and quicker cure time.  Usually reduced with Naphtha or Mineral spirits.

Modified Alkyd Enamel aka Paint sold by N Complete and some tractor manufacturers. This product usually comes with an MSDS sheet reporting it to be Alkyd modified. I tried some paint from N Complete and found that it dried much faster than standard Alkyd and generally refused to mix with products typically used with Alkyd paints. The paint worked well with Omni Acrylic enamel reducers and hardener. Val Spar Restoration Series paint may be a modified Alkyd.

Acrylic Enamel aka PPG Omni AE, PPG Del Star, DuPont Centari 22.00-45.00/qt
Next step up, still easy to use, hardener usually required. Has increased chemical resistance, increased gloss, and quicker cure time. Cured paint is harder than Alkyd, more resistant to oils and fading than Alkyd. Reduce with Acrylic Reducers 24.00 gallon hardener is 24.00 pint and 2 needed per gallon.

Acrylic Urethane aka PPG Omni AU. The next step up.  Urethane paints are newer than enamels, are more expensive and more trouble, but they lay down easily like lacquer while having the toughness of enamels.

Epoxies, 2 part product. Impervious to just about anything known to man, used to paint aircraft and Diesel locomotives, $200-400 gallon, need Epoxy reducers and catalyst.

The best advice is I can offer if you are new to painting is to use 1 product line and all products from it like the primer, color and clear if so inclined. I've settled with epoxy primer and Acrylic enamel top coats, everyone has their favorite.  I liked the Val Spar Restoration series primer, perhaps the Resto series paint is nice too. In the Alkyd family I prefer Van Sickle which is also the Tisco product.


If you are going to use hardeners (isocyanates), do not attempt without a respirator system designed to protect you from your product.  Some people are very sensitive to the iso in hardeners and have severe reactions even resulting in death.

Additional Info on isocyanates from CDC click here
Additional Info on isocyanates from OSHA click here
Another thing you should review are the MSDS sheets for each product you use. It's likely the info on hardener will not be in the MSDS for the paint. You need to review the MSDS for each component used and whatever you mix will have all the hazards of all the ingredients.

Personal Protection

I can't possibly over emphasize how important it is to protect your health while painting. Again, I am not a chemist nor an occupational health professional. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information presented.  If you decide to paint yourself, buy your supplies form a professional who can also tell you how to protect your health. Your first choice is to have your tractor painted by a professional.

This is a half face respirator. Note that the filters in the 3m line are marked for organic vapors to do any good. There are a variety of filters out there for protection from different chemicals.  While better than nothing it offers no protection for the mucus membranes of the eyes which really makes it not suitable for spraying . This mask retails under $50.00 

This is a full face respirator. Within the 3m line it uses the same filters are the half face while offering full face protection. These usually come with replaceable clear covers for the mask to protect it from over spray. This mask retails in the $100-200 range. Filters must be changed frequently to be effective against paint vapors. I have one of these and would never go back to a half face respirator. There is also an adaptor kit that allows this mask to be used in a fresh air system.

Fresh air breathing system. This system uses a remote air generating device which provides positive air pressure in the mask thus making it least likely for paint vapors to enter the mask. According to most Internet sites this is the only type of respirator deemed safe when using isocyanate hardeners. These systems retail about $400.00 and up.

Spray Guns

This is a syphon feed spray gun. The air passing through the guns creates a vacuum on the paint pot and draws the paint up. This is a very old style gun but is nearly bullet proof. The good side is that I have sprayed gallon after gallon through this gun and always have had great results. The bad side is this style gun produces a lot of over spray. This gun was 175.00 20 years ago but has worked flawlessly.

This gun is a gravity feed gun. The tip size in this gun is over 1.4 mm and I've not had good results spraying enamels as it lays down a lot of paint. I bought this used from my neighbor who paints cars for a living and it likely has a 1.8 tip in it for base coat/clear coat. This gun works well for epoxy primer.

These guns were inexpensive and purchased as a set at a local hardware store for under 50.00. The touch up gun on the left has a .8mm tip and sprays great. The paint does have to be reduced a little more. The Gun on the right has a 1.4mm tip and works great also. Both of these guns are gravity feed plus HVLP (High volume low pressure). The HVLP guns have a different air tip and spray a more condensed pattern reducing in much less over spray. It's taken me a while to lean to paint with them and everything is more critical like paint reduction, dry times between coats etc, the plus side is less paint is wasted. Being imports, when they need parts they will likely have to be discarded.

This is a paint mixing which has graduated scales to aid in reducing your paint. If your paint is a 4.1.1 reduction and you want a half a container you would use the far right scale and add paint until the first #5 is reached (left column of right scale), then you add hardener until the 2nd # 5 is reached (center column of right scale) and then add reducer until the last #5 is reached. Higher end paints are very dependant on exact reductions. This is a handy tool regardless of the product you use as you can mix the exact same batch time after time. These plastic cups are marketed as disposable but I still use the first one I bought.

Paints that I use


This is the primer I use. While not connected to the brand its readily available. I use epoxy primer on wheels and anything I think will be wet often, was heavily pitted, or likely to be hit like lower lift arms. According to the mfg site it contains no ISO's. I always prime with this product outdoors as I can still smell it through my respirator. Epoxy does a good job of not allowing rust to spread under it. While the time varies by brand, you usually have to over coat epoxy with a certain window or scuff sand before over-coating if the window is missed. I always allow mine Epoxy to set 24 hours then scuff coat with Scotchbrite pads.

For clean metal I've used Val Spar gray primer and recently Val Spar Restoration series primer which is sandable.


On surfaces  that I want smooth (typically sheet metal), I use lacquer based hi-build surfacer. This can go over bare metal, epoxy, or enamel that's been cured for a long time. This product goes on easy and has a lot of filler which is then sanded back off filling minor imperfections. This paint can be sanded 15 minutes after spraying. I use both red and gray. This product has to be reduced with acrylic lacquer reducer or it doesn't spray right. There is an Omni AE product similar to this but I've not had a chance to try it. I'll probably switch to it once I run out of this. I've seen this lift off of cured bondo which was wet sanded with 400 grit. Upon a little reading I've found that its better to prep the surface for this product with 150-220 grit sand paper.

Top Coats

This is what I used to use for my tractors. A good Alkyd enamel with Val Spar hardener added to the paint. My red/gray tractors are painted with Van Sickle.

This is the product I've switched to. A step up from Alkyd but not crazy expensive. My 2600 and 9n are painted with Omni AE.

Other Supplies


Like most people I use Bondo type polyester filler for dents. The best method is to hammer out as much of the dent as possible and keep the fill to a minimum. I've always heard that Bondo was intended to be used over bare metal but I don't know that to be true. There are a many products on the market like this one.

Spot filler. This is typically a toothbrush shaped tube with green or red product. Its intended as a filler for fine scratches only. It dries fast and can be sanded but its soft and shrinks. I use it on occasion but think of it as an outdated product. Another problem is that is shows through when top coated meaning you have to paint over it first, then prep like the rest of the surface of it will show through.

Glazing putty. This product is based on polyester fill but has been modified to be more fluid and set much faster. According to the label it can be used over paints if cured and properly prepped. While not cheap its a great product work filing small dents that show up after you spray gloss. This product can be sanded with 20 minutes of being applied. This has become my fill product of choice.


This is a collection of air tools and wire wheel products that I use. These are used mainly in the preparation of cast surfaces.

These are 3m Scotchbrite pads. They come in different colors and textures. They are a replacement for sandpaper and I prefer them over sandpaper in some instances. These pads work exceptionally well when surface prepping something with rivet head, bolts etc as they flex much better than sand paper. The pad on the right is gray and is similar to the green pads sold for kitchen use. These are coarse texture. The Maroon colored pad is similar in grit to 400 grit sandpaper. The white pad is very fine.

                                                                 Paint and re-finish part 2 

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