One of the better parts of building a custom bike (after riding it…!) is to get a little satisfaction from your work. A great way to do this is by painting your bike, and one of the most prominent parts is the gas tank. Some people just go to a paint shop and let someone else do it, but I prefer doing it myself. Not only by the fact that it’s a lot cheaper; when your ride is ready it will remind you every time you’ve painted it yourself.
And if you follow these steps, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of satisfaction ;).
Please note that these are the particular steps I took and that I’ve used rattle cans. There are a lot of different ways and some people have some other tips and trick, but these steps gave me the result of a professional looking paint job!
Paint Motorcycle Gas Tank: What do You Need?
In this specific situation we’re stripping down the gas tank to bare metal. For this you need:
- Different grids of sanding paper: from about 100 to 1500 (rough for removing old layers, fine (wet) for sanding between layers)
- Different cloths: dry and wet
- Buffing cloth and wax
- Sanding block/pad
- Masking tape
- Thinner or other paint remover (eg. acetone)
- Automotive primer
- Automotive paint
- Automotive clear coat/finish
- A place to spray and dry
If your gas tank is in a pretty good shape you also can choose to sand it down to it’s original primer. In this case you can forget about thinner and rough sanding paper (only 400 and up for removing the color layer).
Quick process overview
- Remove Gas Tank
- Remove Old Paint or Rust
- Make it Smooth…
- Bringing on Primer Coats
- Bringing on Color Coats
- Finish with Clear Coat
Preparing the Gas Tank for Your Paint Job
A good preparation is everything when it comes to painting. Painting is about 70% of preparation and 30% of actual spraying chemicals on a surface!
Step 1: Remove Gas Tank
This sounds a bit obvious, but it starts with removing the gas tank from your bike. Before you remove it, be sure that there is no fuel left. If you have fuel left in the tank:
- grab a jerrycan (with a funnel)
- close fuel valve(s)
- remove fuel lines from the carburetors and direct them to the funnel
- open the fuel valve(s)
When most of the fuel is removed you need to close the valve(s) so you can remove the gas tank off the bike. When there is still some fuel left, you can hold the tank above the funnel and reopen the valves again.
When the tank is off: remove the gas cap and valve(s) and protect the openings. You can also just protect them by wrapping them in tape.
Step 2: Remove Old Paint or Rust
Now it’s time to remove the old paint or rust or everything else whats on the tank what you don’t want there…
For this you need some rough sanding paper (100 – 200 grit) and a sanding block. So roll up your sleeves, find a good position and start sanding with the lowest grit, moving up to the 200 grit and sanding block. Sand, sand, sand till you’ll see the original primer and have a nice and smooth surface. Please note that this takes a while!
If the tank is in good condition without rust or bits in it, you can choose to work only to the original primer and start from here. Please note that ‘some say’ that not every primer/paint will ‘love’ the old primer and that they not attach properly. If you want to strip it down to the bare metal: grab the thinner (or acetone) and a dry cloth and make sure that you’re in a well ventilated area.
Put some thinner on the cloth and rub the tank in. Let the thinner ‘work’ for a couple of minutes and start sanding again. You’ll see that the paint/primer is getting off more easy. Repeat this until you’re only see bare metal.
Tip: also check the inside of your gas tank! If it’s dirty/rusty, check out this video how to clean the inside of your tank.
Step 3: Make it Smooth…
When you’re down to the original primer or bare metal, it’s time to give the surface a last sanding job to make the surface smooth. If you still have bits, nuts and dents you will have to use some metal filler/putty. You can not only see if the surface is smooth, but you’ll also need to FEEL it with your hands. Use a fine grit (+800) to smoothen the surface.
Painting Your Motorcycle Gas Tank
Now it’s time for the fun part! As mentioned before, the biggest part of the paint job is the preparation, but now you can actually start spraying (but still needs a little sanding…!).
Step 4: Bringing on the Primer coats
Important: only use automotive spray paint
Important: keep a good spray distance; 8 to 10 inches away from the surface
After the hours of sanding and smoothening it’s time for your first layers of primer coats! You need a minimum of 3 layers, but 4 or 5 is better. Every layer should be applied like this:
- 1st light spray, covering 30% of the surface
- 2nd light spray, covering 80 – 90% of the surface
- 3rd light spray, covering 100% of the surface
Let this first layer dry for about 30 minutes (please be sure to follow the instructions on the can) and then repeat this process for every layer. After your last layer: let it dry for a 1 or 2 days (the longer, the better).
Step 5: Bringing on the Color coats
When your primer coats have dried for at least 1 day, it’s time to bring some color on your gas tank! The technique is pretty much the same as with the primer coats. Before you start painting, make sure that the surface is clean. For this you can use the wet and dry cloths.
When you’ve hit a minimum of 3 layers (remember: 4 or 5 is recommended) it’s time to let it dry for a couple of days; the longer, the better!
Step 6: Finish with Clear Coat
The clear coat gives your paint job extra protection. But before you can start with the clear coat, it’s time to grab your sanding paper/block again! for this final round of sanding, make sure u use a fine grit (+1000) and do it with water (wet sanding). Most important in this step is to do it gentle, you don’t want to sand off the color coats, it’s just to rub of dust and bits. Bring on 1 or 2 layers, using the same technique as with the primer and color coats. And then: let it dry again!
Now you have 2 choices:
- you’re ready: put the gas tank back on your bike and enjoy, OR;
- you want to take the extra mile and polish the gas tank for some extra shiny effect.
The extra mile? Grab your sanding gear (very fine grit, wet. And yes: this is the last time!). Just remove dust and bits and grab your buffing cloth and wax. Think of Karate Kid’s Mister Miyagi: wax on, wax off. This extra step will give a very nice and super shiny effect. Cool huh?!
And that’s it! I hope that this post will help and inspire you to paint your motorcycle gas tank yourself. Remember that there are a lot of other different ways and that I’ve excluded specific instructions for striping or details. But if you have some constructive feedback or some more tips: please let me know!
Need a step by step building plan for your café racer? Check out this post!