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Inside the Blasting Booth

Safely stripping topcoats, fillers, undercoating and rust

By Rotten Rodney



Would you let this abrasive character blast your hot rod, custom or restoration project? Back before today’s modern alternatives, when abrasive blasting commonly involved sand, stripping that way was risky business. But don’t worry. The man with the gun in his hand is Hot Rods & Custom Stuff media blaster, Zach. Having been personally trained by HR&CS master blaster Randy Clark, Zach is up-to-speed with the latest in blasting technology. Now with years of experience, he’s on top of his game, and ‘round these parts he’s the only game in town.


At HR&CS it’s not unusual to find Zach stripping the most precious of metals, or even fiberglass bodies and parts. Here vintage Ferraris and Lamborghinis are frequently found in Zach’s care and custody as satisfied customers travel long-distance to benefit from his expertise.


Amongst HR&CS’ preferred blasting customers are a good number of other hot rod and restoration shops. As a frequent flyer myself, I’ve seen many tech-worthy media-blasting jobs come and go, but I hadn’t had opportunity to document the procedure from start-to-finish until just recently. Jobs of this nature present unique and different challenges and sometimes grizzly discoveries are made—as the job at hand will illustrate. For an up-close and personal insider view, you’re all invited to follow along as today’s cover-up mystery unfolds. Let’s get to the bottom of it.


Farmed-in from a neighboring shop, this 1970 Plymouth 440 ‘cuda appears cherry from this angle, but underlying ugliness is about to be exposed.


To this point we’ve not divulged the exact media used here at HR&CS. This is Garnet—an all-around versatile media, which is less aggressive, but far superior to sand for our purposes. The procedure will take longer than it would with sand, but the risk of damage is far diminished—providing it’s used by a qualified professional like Zach.   


When properly propelled, Garnet media works well to remove layers of lacquers, enamels, urethanes, polyester fillers and even bounce-back rubberized undercoatings—as well as rust below. Here Zach loads the hopper in preparation for the first of several sessions to follow.  


On the left is Zach’s standard gun—the big gun. On the right is a smaller version, which enables better access to tight spots, and this job, will have plenty of those. The smaller gun is also handy for one-handed blasting of loose parts, but even with rubber blasting gloves, loose parts are a manly handful to hang onto.


If you’ve ever done your own blasting, even on a small scale, you’re likely aware of static ‘lectricity. Here in this industrial setting, it’s a serious concern, so a well-connected ground cable is a must.


With initial prep-work completed, it’s time to suit-up. Oftentimes bodies come to HR&CS on rotisseries. This one, however, is affixed to a non-rotating cart, which positions the body high for access to the floor’s underside. Because this body will remain stationary, Zach will be doing a fair amount of clambering on ladders, scaffolds, etc.     


At this point some of the difficult-to-reach areas are already stripped. In order to avoid damaging vulnerable sheetmetal, Zach keeps the gun moving at an angle, exposing old paint jobs and filler one layer at a time.


While none of this is easy, certain areas are harder than others. Wheelhouses for example; cause the fast-moving media to swirl directly back at the blaster. Besides the abrasive pummeling he’ll receive, Zach’s vision will be compromised here, so several check-stops are made along the way.   


Who remembers the ‘70s? Those who survived may recall that custom-fabricated flares were the fashionable trend. Let this one exemplify how poorly some were done.


Back in the ‘70s, and even ‘80s, before '70 ‘cudas were considered valuable by conscientious collectors, the “punch ‘n’ pull” method of panel repair was a little more acceptable. When backside access was difficult, a screw-in slide-hammer would come into play. But that was then, before the advent of ‘lectric stud guns.


For years yours truly has been under the impression that rubberized undercoating should be removed prior to blasting, either chemically or via heating and scraping. Today at HR&CS, that’s just a matter of personal choice as Zach’s newest gun enables him to blast the goo away.


It takes a while or two for Garnet dust to settle, so know that this is a lunch break photograph. Despite its liberal undercoating, this body’s floor was not immune to corrosion.


Here after lunch, just seconds before Zach resumes blasting, we’re able to sneak a peek at the blasted passenger compartment.


This shot, according to Zach sums up a typical day in the blasting booth. This is hot, physically-demanding and tiring work—not for sissies.


As he nears the finish line, Zach works his way out of the trunk where he’s now addressing the last of this body’s crooks ‘n’ nannies.  


By this time there’s been much vacuuming and blowing with clean, dry, compressed air. With the blasting booth doors reopened, we see another job well-done. But as Zach is quick to point out; it isn’t ‘til the job is out in the sunshine that we’ll get a good look overall.


To the professional blaster, this step—just rolling out the cart is the moment of truth, as sunshine don’t lie. 


And with nothing left to hide, this body is ready for transport, back to the neighboring shop where the rest of the restoration can get underway. Depending upon customer preferences, further steps (like the application of epoxy primer) can be taken. From start-to-finish, HR&CS does it all.  


So after all you’ve seen; would you let this abrasive character blast your hot rod, custom or restoration project? Those who have before; would again—and if he wasn’t so gritty, I’d give him a hug.