We did some research into what it would take to powder coat our own small 280Z parts and were surprised to see how cheap and easy it is to get started for us schmoes working in the garage. A basic, starter powder coating system from Eastwood cost us about $130 and it even came with a few small containers of powder to get started. That and a $30 used oven out of our local classified ads and we were in business!
I’m not going to bore you here with a long description of how to do powder coating. There are plenty of other sites that have this information, not to mention the books that will come with most powder coating systems. As the name implies, powder coating is a process of applying dry powder “paint” to the surface of metal using an electrostatic process that causes the powder to stick to the metal surface because of reversed charges between the metal part and the powder. The metal part is then baked and cured at high heat, causing the powder to melt to the metal, creating a very tough surface.
The hardest step in the process is getting your parts completely stripped of all (and I mean all) dirt, oil, grease, paint, etc. You also need to pre-bake any cast parts as there are often impurities that have penetrated the porous surface of the metal that will come out when you bake the part. You don’t want this to happen when you’re cooking the Datsun 280Z valve cover that you’ve just spent several hours prepping and powder-coating. There are no cutting corners on this step. Either you do it right or you start over.
You’re going to need a 220 outlet for the oven and if you’re cheap like us and buy an old one, you are likely going to need to upgrade the cord to work with a modern 220 outlet. Most powder coats “flow out” (melt onto the metal) at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit after about 10 minutes. Then you continue to bake the part at around 350 degrees for another 20 minutes to cure it. This will vary with the kind of powder you’re using. High-temp powders (like what you would use on exhaust manifolds, etc.) bake and cure at a slightly higher temperature.
Needless to say, this is a major fire hazard. If you don’t already have a high-quality fire extinguisher in your garage, don’t even think about doing powder coating until you get one. And while we’re on the topic of safety, do not powder coat (or any other kind of painting for that matter) without some form of respirator. It will greatly diminish the fun of driving your freshly restored Datsun Z-car if you have to carry an oxygen bottle around with you after you’re finished.
Also, to all you boneheads out there; I know what you’re thinking and the answer is an emphatic and unequivocal, “No! You may not, under any circumstances, bake your first powder-coated part in your kitchen oven!” Not only will you most likely set off every smoke detector in your entire house, but anything you cook in the oven after this will not be fit for human consumption! And don’t get any stupid ideas about baking tasty snacks in your powder-coating oven in the garage either. They won’t taste good and you’re going to sound like an idiot explaining to your doctor why you’re so sick.
With your parts cleaned and the safety issues addressed, the rest isn’t much harder than the shrinky-dinks you used to paint and bake when you were a kid. As I said, a regular oven will only fit small parts but the results are stunning. We’ve already coated our Datsun 280Z brake calipers, drums, valve cover, exhaust manifold and other small parts for our motor. We’re so happy with the results that we’re seriously considering using this process to refurbish the original Datsun 280ZX wheels that came with our 260Z parts car, assuming they’ll fit in our oven.