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Meccano restoration – Painting

For the previous page on stripping and preparation, click here.

Part 1: Painting with spray cans, easy and cheap

For information on using spray guns and another way of hanging parts, click here.

Hanging parts for painting

There must be as many ways of doing this as there are people restoring Meccano.  Here's what I came up with, which works very well for me.  I have since improved this (see the next page), but this was a quick and easy solution that's let me get a lot of Meccano painted well.

I decided that I needed flexibility in order to paint all of the different types of parts.  You need to separate painting of red and green parts, otherwise you can end up with a transfer of paint.  Also, red and green parts are very different in size and shape.  Many red parts are 2.5" wide in one direction, except for the large parts which are all sorts of sizes (but mostly large).  Green parts are mostly half an inch wide, or an inch, or somewhere in between.

A view of the hanging strips.  You can just see the left-hand
vertical row of screws on which hang the horizontal wooden rails
Loading picture Restore8 You can see the basic layout on this picture.  A large board is mounted vertically, with a row of screws down each side at intervals of about one and a half inches.  These lines of screws must be absolutely parallel.  Between each pair of screws sits a piece of 1x2 timber, with holes in each end to fit over the screw heads.  This lets us mount any of the horizontal strips at any position down the board.  When you're painting long girders you can only get two or three down the board, but for small parts there might be one strip every other pair of screws. 

Each horizontal strip is fitted with a row of small nails – these are 40mm panel pins.  They are quite carefully spaced out, and you'll want a range of different ones.  For most parts, I chose a spacing of exactly half an inch times root 2.  About 18mm.  Weird huh? Well, no.  This is exactly the diagonal spacing between Meccano holes, and gives a reasonable space between nails when hanging strips.  It's also ok for hanging flat girders, although you may need to tweak each pair of nails together to make this easier.  I now keep this 'flat girder' rail specially for those parts.  The beauty of this system is that you can make new strips regularly as you discover different tricks.  When painting strips you want the nails quite close together (this leaves less empty space which wastes paint).  With angle girders you need a little more gap.

Where the 18mm trick is really good, is with red parts.  At the marks laid out 18mm apart, I nail in two pins and leave a gap of three, then two more pins and a gap of three again, and so on. You can hang each flexible or flat or flanged plate diagonally, by the two holes next to the corner hole.  Hanging parts diagonally like this means they stay stable while you're painting them.  If you hang vertically, the plates flap all over the place and are more difficult to paint well.

Close-up of the right-hand side, showing the
other set of screws and parts hanging from the nails.
Loading picture Restore10 You'll also want another hanging strip for black parts (pulleys, sprockets and so on), but in an emergency you can use the red ones I suppose.  I also have one with just a few pins in it, for large flanged rings, hub discs, large circular plates and so on.  Or you can normally wangle these on the double-pin red strips.

Fairly obviously, you have to do a batch of one colour at a time.  Try to do as many identical parts together as you can – it makes the spraying so much easier and that means you get more consistency of finish.  To start with you'll want to do whatever you need, a whole mix of parts like in these examples, but now when I need some of a particular part I try to do up to about fifty of that part at a time, which makes every process much quicker and easier.

Spraying the parts

Make sure when you hang the parts that they're all stable and evenly spaced.  You want them close together (so you're not wasting paint on fresh air), but not too close so they swing together and stick to each other.  You'll gradually get the hang of this...  (ho ho!)

I've found dramatic differences between different brands of spray paint.  This explains why some people swear by spray can paints and some hate them, I think.  Try a few out before you give up and build a spray booth.  I found Dulux spray paints were hopeless, gave a grotty finish and threw out so much paint that they ran out very quickly.  Some cheapy no-name brand I found gave a fantastic smooth glossy finish to the pieces, but flaked off the parts as soon as you touched them! Shame, because they were NZ$3(1) a tin and had a superb dark green colour! Get a lot of 5.5" strips prepared and try out some different types before you settle on one colour or type.

Having slated the Dulux cans above, I have to say that I use Dulux 'satin black' for sprockets and pulleys, which gives a superb finish.  Same for the outside of road wheels, loaded hooks, sides of magic motors, and anything else you want black.  Horses for courses, as they say.  For red and green, I now use a brand called Plasti-kote for red and green, who were as unhelpful as it is possible to be and if I ever find a better paint can I'll switch to it in an instant.  You can't have everything I suppose.

The spraying technique will vary from brand to brand.  I completely ignore the instructions on the tin, and spray quickly at close range.  Probably about 10-15 cm from the parts, holding the button down hard and moving quickly. I make one pass from the top left, spraying down and right on each part and doing each one along the strip from left to right.  This ensures you've sprayed the left-hand edge and the top, as well as the face of the part.  Then I wait two or three minutes, and do another coat from the top right, spraying down and left, scanning the parts from right to left.  This does the other edge and doubles up on the top.  I immediately do another coat from the first direction – the combination of the two coats makes the glossy finish.

Parts immediately after spraying, showing the 'wet' look needed
Loading picture Restore11 The first coat puts some colour down, and letting that dry slightly means the next coat sits on top (giving a more opaque colour).  Merging the second and third coats together means that the surface gets 'wet' and blends together to give a gloss finish.  If you wait too long, or particularly if you're a bit wimpy pressing the button, the paint starts to dry before it's blended into a single surface, and you get a lumpy or pitted finish.  You need to get to the point just before the paint starts to run, as close as you can but obviously not at the point where it actually does run! This gets easier as you get the hang of your particular type of paint.

After 10-15 minutes, the parts can be handled (gently!), provided you hold only the sides and don't get big fingerprints on it.  Turn the parts over but also flip them top to bottom.  This ensures that you get paint on the other side of the insides of the holes, and the other end of the strips. Make exactly the same passes – one from the top left, then one from the top right, then one from the top left again.  The painting is done and you now have to wait about 20-30 minutes before they're ready to be lifted off.

Baking

Now for the critical part – baking the paint.  Most spray cans don't say you need to do this, but you do! If not, the parts will definitely stick together, particularly if you stack them or bolt them together, which is exactly the point of Meccano! Apparently, if you leave the parts hanging up for about two or three months you don't need to bake them, but this is somewhat impractical I would have thought...

Parts hanging in the oven.  The long curved strips are hanging between
two wires (although they probably don't need to), the smaller parts
at the front are on a wire by themselves
Loading picture Restore12 I have set up my oven (not SWMBO's oven, of course, a second-hand one I have installed in the garage!) with a series of hooks on the extreme right of each rack.  There is then a series of pieces of wire, with a hook on one end and the entire length slightly bent up and down in a series of small waves.  These allow the parts to sit apart so they don't touch each other in the oven.  Take a piece of wire, and thread a series of parts on to it.  I can get about 20-25 across each one.  Hook the end in one of the hooks in the oven, and the left-hand end (which is hooked, remember), on to the rack at the left.  Bingo, lots of adjustable racks.  With strips and small parts you can get six to eight wires on each oven rack, which is over 100 pieces of Meccano.  With long parts and flexible plates, you thread them on at one end, and thread another wire through a hole in each part at the other end.  Hook up both wires and the parts are held safely hanging horizontally.  This makes more sense in the picture, I think.

The parts need about 11 minutes at 150 Celsius.  If you do them too long, the paint starts to darken.  You will see when you open the door that a whole cloud of the solvents in the paint have come off the parts.  The baking process, particularly if you do it immediately after painting (rather than waiting until the next day when the paint is much drier), also helps to merge the paint surface such that it leaves a flat and therefore evenly glossy finish. 

Once they've cooled off a bit, you can take them out and use them immediately.  The paint is rock hard and won't stick to another part even if you bolt them together.  And they are just lovely to look at and use!

For a new page on the way I do it now, click here.

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