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Aircraft Painting 101

A video by Sam James










What is it?: video about painting an aircraft in a home shop

Who produced it?: Sam James

How long is it: 1:50

Where do you get it?: Builder's Bookstore
                                  Winterland Publications
                                  P.O. Box 270
                                  Tabernash, CO  80478
                                  (970) 887-2207                                    

What does it cost?: $25.95

Format: VHS


Cheers: Offers many real-world tips from somebody who has "been there, done that"; Shows construction of paint booth; Sam's "guy next door", conversational manner; Explains the mystery of basecoat/clearcoat system; Detailed instruction of metal and fiberglass prep.

Jeers: Wish finished aircraft was shown; would like to see more repairs to typical boo-boos.


One of the biggest hurdles facing the RV builder is painting the aircraft. Either a check for several thousand dollars is handed to a professional paint shop, or the builder embarks on a very labor-intensive and often stressful painting process. Much of the stress a builder feels is due to the "black science" often associated with spaying paint on a large surface such as an aircraft. Hanger tales are replete with horror stories of paint jobs that feature large areas of peeled paint or other terrible goofs. Also feeding the perception of the incomprehensible nature of painting is the inability to extract much good information from a a professional painter. Whether it is due to spraying too often without a mask or a fear of releasing trade secrets, it seems few painters will reveal how to get a great paint job. Maybe it is because many painters really aren't sure why some paint jobs turn out better than others!

Andy Gold, of Builder's Bookstore renown, was kind enough to offer Sam James's painting tape for review about two weeks after I finished painting my plane! Let me tell you, painting an RV is a BIG JOB! It is however, a job that can be successfully completed by most builders if provided with some basic information. And that is the purpose of this tape.

Sam James is located somewhere in the subtropics of south Florida and is known for his fiberglass components. I have seen his Fiberglass Tape, so I was already familiar with his down-to-earth style of commentary. Sam is not a professional, blow-dried, video gas-bag; He is just a regular guy who seems to have accumulated a host of shop knowledge over the years. I rather enjoyed the homey, amateur quality of the tape because it reminded me of how it would be to have the local expert a couple of hangars down the row drop in and give you some valuable painting tips.

Sam mentions that he liked the paint on Pat Carr's Backyard Bullet, and decided to use the same system on his RV-4. An important feature of the tape is the specific product info offered on the paint system used by Mr. James. If you decide to use the same system, all the info necessary for dropping a load of cash at the paint vendor is supplied. While the paint used on the tape is a basecoat/clearcoat system, the same painting techniques will work with a single stage system.

I was very impressed with Sam's emphasis on importance of proper ventilation while painting. The modern paints, while remarkable in their durability and gloss, are also potentially deadly if inhaled. A flimsy particle mask is not sufficient to protect us from these paints. The best method is a fresh air system which Sam recommends. While he demonstrates painting at times without a mask so he can comment on the techniques, he rightfully describes maskless painting as "really stupid".

The tape shows the construction of a spray booth, and prep work on fiberglass and aluminum components. If you are unfamiliar with the prep required, you will be aghast at how much stuff and time is required to get your airplane parts ready for the final finish. Also shown is how to "fix" minor boo-boos. I just wish more time could have been devoted to this subject because you can count on a deranged bug committing suicide on your freshly sprayed wing! Also lacking is footage of really large areas of the airframe, such as the fuse or wings, being painted. It is really challenging trying to manage overspray on large surfaces, and we are left wondering how Mr. James met the challenge.

While the tape didn't include everything I wished it did, we have to remember that it is impossible to completely cover the topic of painting on a two hour tape. I found the tape to be very informative, and I enjoy listening to James as he putters around the shop. He reminds me of the guy a couple of hangars down the row who has tons of experience, and is always a welcome visitor to the shop with his expertise.

By the way, there was a glimpse of a very cool looking plenum on an RV4 at the beginning of the tape. I sure would like to see a tape with more info on high-tech cooling techniques for our RV's. Get this tape if you are considering painting your project. Matter of fact, get the tape if you are not sure about whether or not to paint your plane......after seeing the investment required, you may end up writing a large check to a professional painter!

Highly Recommended!


Sam Buchanan



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