Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paint Along. 3. Cleaning the Surface

Just joining us?  Welcome, and you can catch up here.

Let me remind everyone that there is no one correct way to do things.  Let me also advise you to ignore any previous advice you have read here or elsewhere about cleaning the exterior surface of the machine.

It isn't that other advice is wrong.  It's that most advice focuses on how not to ruin the decals.  Almost anything will ruin decals.   A product that you successfully used on one machine will destroy the decals on the next machine.  AMHIK.

Good news here--we don't give a darn about existing decals.  We are going to destroy them anyhow as we prepare the machine for painting.  So use anything you like and destroy away.

I am going to show you the products I use and describe how I use them but feel free to try anything you have sitting at the back of your cleaning products shelf.  Tell us in the comments how it worked.  Or better yet, send photos!

The goal is to remove every trace of dirt and oil from the surface so that later on the paint won't fall off.  This is an important step and you do need to get it right, but is just about as far from rocket science as anything we will do in the whole project.

We will follow up the cleaning in this post with light sanding in the next post.  So why not just sand the dirt off, you ask?  Lots of reasons.   Grease would get stuck in the grit of the sandpaper and just get smeared around.  It's just easier to get the grease and oil off first. And we won't be sanding down to bare metal.

The machine I chose for this project was clean as a whistle when I acquired it from the raffle table at the NC TOGA. Thanks, Maria (who donated it).  So I am going to show you pictures of a dirty machine.

I have written about this before, so with no apologies I am just re-posting that earlier information.

SURFACE CLEANING  with Tuff Stuff or the cleaner of your choice

My favorite product for (relatively) easy deep cleaning is Tuff Stuff, labelled as a multi purpose foam cleaner.  You spray it on, it foams up, the foam turns brown as it dissolves the dirt.  I do this in a large shallow metal pan and the dissolved dirty cleaner runs down into the bottom of the pan.  As the foam starts to dissolve I give it a light scrub with an old toothbrush and then wipe dirt off.  Spray again and repeat.  And again.  And again.  Etc.  

You may also find 0000 steel wool to be useful in removing the layers of dirt.

Remember, it took about a hundred years to accumulate this dirt, so don't be surprised by how long it takes to remove it.  

You will know when you are finished when a) the foam no longer turns brown and b)  the machine no longer feels sticky with grease.  

I also spray this into the workings of the machine as far as it (and the toothbrush) will go. 


In my experience alcohol (either denatured from the hardware store or rubbing from the drug store) does a fabulous job of removing dried up oil.  I use a toothbrush and scrub away with the alcohol on all the unpainted metal moving parts. Remove the access covers and the nose plate and scrub out all the innards you can reach.

Of course this only removes the visible varnish at the surface, but some of it will run down into the joints and melt away the old oil in there too.  For this reason it is VITAL that after EVERY cleaning session you completely re-oil the machine.  Even with this precaution you may find (as I did on one machine) that the next time you work on it, it will not turn.  Not to worry, at least you know what happened.  More oil and the heat from a blow dryer (repeat, repeat).  And when you finally get it clean you will know that it as clean as it can be without totally disassembling it.

So there it is.  Hope you don't feel that I am "cheating" by reporting my previous advice, but I didn't have anything new to add.

We are getting closer every week to applying the actual paint, but there are still a few more things to do first.  The cleaning process described here may turn out to be the most time consuming part of the whole process, so get scrubbing!


  1. I love the line, "Remember, it took about a hundred years to accumulate this dirt, so don't be surprised by how long it takes to remove it." because when I am cleaning a machine for someone and have used a zillion rags and cleaner, I get thinking why isn't this clean already? I will keep this in mind when cleaning the next machine. I was cleaning a Featherweight the other day and couldn't imagine why it was taking me so long! Even though it was only 60+ years old. Thanks for the jolt!

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