Refinish: The Painter’s Virtual Toolbox Includers Training, Education

Refinish: The Painter’s Toolbox

A painter’s toolbox shouldn’t just include equipment but also intellectual resources as well as education and training to further their knowledge and development.

When we think about what’s in a painter’s toolbox, it’s natural to think about spray guns, DA sanders, hand tools and related paraphernalia. The toolbox itself may be an old Kennedy or Craftsman box, or with increasing regularity, a behemoth off one of the tool trucks. But what of the virtual toolbox full of intellectual resources? In it are cerebral tools such as education and training that further our individual – as well as collective – knowledge base and development.

The Most Important Tool

But before we discuss the “software,” we must consider the “hardware.” There’s a minimum system requirement for any program, and so it is with the painter. We must emphasize the role mindset and attitude play in utilizing this software for the evolution of the educational skill set.

Without question, the most important tool is the painter himself. The painter who continues to learn; analyzes the successes and not just the failures; asks “What went right?” so he can repeat the success, not just “What went wrong?” so he can avoid the failures. I was fortunate in that my first mentor, a fella who went by the name “Dad,” said to me, “Cain’ts (Can’ts) dead, boy; you must find a way.” That put me on the path of constant and never-ending improvement.

It goes without saying that the latest greatest spray gun is rendered less than its advertised excellence without the skilled painter to wield it. Any prima donna can spray, and frankly there’s a bunch out there. You’ve met him; any problem is the fault of the equipment, paint system, weather or body work. He’s the guy who’s been spraying for 10 years, but really only has one year of experience because he already knew it all and fails to recognize he’s the common denominator in every challenge encountered. He’s simply not learning and progressing. Conversely, there’s the young, quiet student of the craft who truly has 10 years of experience and continues to learn and grow. He asks, “What can I do different to avoid this? What can I do to ensure success?” That’s the guy I’m referring to when I say “the most important tool.” He’s the one who religiously practices the fundamentals while expanding the techniques, and it’s worth repeating: The fundamentals are few, the techniques are many.

The Technical Reference Manual

I wouldn’t dream of using anyone’s system without the written instructions from the geniuses who developed it. There’s typically an electronic version to be had, but I want a hard copy technical reference manual (TRM) in my hand whenever available. I’m a pro, and as long as I demonstrate fidelity to the instructions, the proper activator/reducer selections as well as proper ratios, and apply the product as directed while “reading” the material as it’s applied, then I know I’ll stay out of the “garage chemist’s” woods. I’m smart enough to realize I don’t need to understand hydroxyls, resin strands and isomer molecules or their specific interactions with each other. It’s enough that I know too little or too much activator will result in poor performance at best, or failure at worst. I just have to follow the directions, and I’m confident the product will perform as advertised.

Also, I don’t know what I don’t know; therefore a TRM can inform me about products I’m unfamiliar with and educate me on how and when to use them.

Technical reference manuals are valuable resources.

Ongoing Training

Dovetailing with the TRM is honest-to-goodness, off-site training. You know, the kind that owners/managers often resist because “…we can’t afford for the painter to go…” Really? I would submit that you can’t afford for him not to go. Or the painter himself resists because, well, I guess because he knows it all and there’s nothing for him to learn there. (See the above point regarding system requirements.)

While I fully recognize the value of doing some in-house training for the sake of convenience, it’s the formal off-site training that pays additional dividends to not only the painter but the shop as well. In a manufacturer’s training facility, the painter is often exposed to new products, new equipment and new techniques. New challenges in the field such as matte finishes are often covered – and these are normally wet classes. Also of value to the painter is the interaction with other students attending the class, most of whom are from different climates that represent different challenges and, as a result, a deeper toolbox of techniques to draw on when their own climates are seasonally extreme. Additionally, product certification is an I-CAR Gold and OEM certification requirement, so the value to the shop is obvious.

Electronic Tutorials

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse as a learning tool. There is an unbelievable amount of videos and how-to instruction that can have incredible value, but it’s also a seemingly bottomless chum bucket of crud, so enlist it as an aide at your own risk. A decent rule of thumb is: If you can only find one obscure reference to something, perhaps it’s from the chum bucket. The old saying about “keep an open mind” is only half the sentence; “not so open your brain falls out” is the second half. Staying within the manufacturer-produced video libraries or a reputable site such as I-CAR is a safe bet as well.

Information like this from Audi isn’t common knowledge, underscoring the need for resources such as ALLDATA or

Color Tools

In addition to the color tools we’re familiar with such as a variant deck, toner position charts and a color camera, paint manufacturers also have a “1-800-color-lab” number available to painters. This tool is best used in conjunction with either a standard variant of the color in question from the manufacturer’s chip deck or a sample from the painter’s personal color library. We can then assess the vehicle color and be able to describe it as “…the car is…” redder, coarser, darker, whatever. And after ascertaining that the “redder, coarser, darker” isn’t already a published variant, you can call the 1-800 number and ask for a “redder, coarser, darker” and many times, the lab will have an unpublished formula they can fax over to the shop.

Naturally, this brings us to the color library. While this is a physical tool, it’s very much a cerebral tool too. In my opinion, there is no greater color aid than a painter’s personal spray-outs that have been saved and organized.

Magnetic film thickness gauges can still be used on steel, but technology has brought us ultrasonic models that work on nonferrous substrates.

A repeatable exercise in a training scenario is to pass a loaded spray gun to four or five painters and have each one spray their own card. The result will be two to five different “renderings” of the sprayed color, and this is due to each painter’s individual spray style: distance-speed-overlap. This results in differing coats – heavy-medium-light – which in turn dictate the rate of drying and therefore the metallic behavior. This exercise demonstrates the value of the personal color library every single time and underscores the importance of consistent application techniques. Unfortunately, it’s been my observation that most spray-out cards are thrown away; the painter creates the spray-out and then tosses the effort in the trash.

Colleagues and Co-workers

Working alongside a like-minded professional is a fantastic resource for both painters and offers the opportunity to share experiences and techniques and see a different perspective or solution that you alone may not have considered. A second set of eyes can come from another painter or office co-worker. However, a painter needs the appropriate mindset/attitude to hear and consider an honest critique without becoming offended and closed-minded.

Another co-worker asset to the painter is the estimator – not just for the obvious symbiotic relationship of getting everything available on the estimate (which typically results in greater compensation for both parties) but also for the estimating expertise. As the cars become more sophisticated, resources such as ALLDATA and are being used to ensure proper repair procedures are being practiced, and this reverberates into the paint shop. How else can the painter know that there is a film-build limit on some bumpers that cover a Lane Change Assistance control module? And what kind of thickness gauge do we need for that? Are you aware that an Adaptive Cruise Control system cannot be painted over? Forget paint. How can a painter know that some lithium-ion battery cells can be damaged by a temperature threshold of the typical 140-degree bake cycle? We need the estimator researching and communicating previously unbeknownst nuances and procedures to the painter, not just the body tech.

Temperature and Humidity Gauge

In years past (pre-waterborne days), a painter could get by with a simple temperature gauge. Solventborne systems have always been pretty forgiving as far as environmental conditions go. Sure, you needed to match the appropriate solvent/activator to the current temperature, but that could be fudged a little in a pinch. Waterborne systems are less forgiving in that regard; therefore a temp/humidity gauge is a huge asset. OK, if you’re painting near the equator, then it’s less of an issue, as the temperature and humidity are predictably consistent and nearly humidor ideal; perfectly fine to leave your cigars on your dresser as the humidity is often 68-ish and the temperature 72-ish. I’m not suggesting you can ignore temperature and humidity at the equator, but the point is that some locales experience a really wild temperature/humidity swing, and knowing those conditions helps ensure success. There are many areas that have a really “long thermometer” with seasonal 32-degree mornings and 85-degree afternoons accompanied by a mix of single- and double-digit humidity variances. Perhaps winging it worked with solvent, but moving to waterborne requires this additional bit of paraphernalia to be pressed into service by the painter.

A handheld IR thermometer is fine for checking panel temperature, but a wall-mounted humidity/temperature gauge is a better bet.

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