Painting and Custom Rocketry

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Nov 18, 2017
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Hello everyone I am relatively new to the community and on the journey towards getting certified in high power rocketry. One of my first goals toward this was to create my own (mostly) custom rocket and to fly it with a commercially bought impulse G motor , not trying to reach a high altitude but rather test my designs.This will be a test rocket so I will not be using any expensive paint or a paint gun for this particular project. I will be doing this in a manner than everyone can do at home. But anyways back to the main little how to's for painting a rocket in a custom color.

STEP 1 *Skip ahead to step 2 if you already have your rocket made and only came here for my mini painting tutorial. So anyways the first step was to go down to my local hardware store and pick up a standard 12 foot length by 3 inch diameter schedule 40 thin walled PVC pipe. [ ] Then cut to the desired length. As for the Nose cone i bought off of Apogee's Website since it would be much easier to buy a plastic nose cone than to create one. Since this is more of a test build than anything i decided to go for plastic and PVC since its relatively affordable. You could however build all these parts on your own out of fiberglass. (Possibly I will show how to do this in another post).

STEP 2 For a good and durable finish prepping your surface is the most important part. [ ] First I used a sander with some 60 grit sandpaper to remove the PVC pipe's finish and the rough texture of the apogee nose cone. Then on to 150 the sander to remove some of the heavy scratches from the 60 grit. Remember to be careful with a machine sander in order not to leave any flat spots. Then with 220 and 400 grit by hand. I found it helpful to get a small piece of sandpaper and wrap it around the tube, applying as even pressure as possible to the surface to keep the tube "round" .

STEP 3 Primer - before you prime make sure to clean the surface with something and wipe off with a tack cloth in my case I used 90% isopropyl alcohol and a clean microfiber cloth to clean the tube and nose cone. *Make sure you have favorable weather conditions usually above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In my case i had to deal with sub freezing temperatures in my garage. Preferably use an electric heater to heat up whatever space you are working in. Kerosene heaters could be used, however this could cause your paint to be prone to fish-eyes. First apply around 2 -3 coats of sand able primer allowing around 15 minutes or so depending on weather conditions. I just used some cheap off the shelf sandable primer from my local hardware store, nothing fancy. Then I allowed for the primer to dry overnight. In the morning I wet sanded the primer with 800 grit and then 1500 grit, going up to 1500 on primer is not necessary, however i wanted to have a very smooth surface.. be careful not to burn through the primer. Sand the surface lightly with a sanding block or in my case just a piece of wood. [ ]

STEP 4 Base coat & Clear Coat - Again remember to properly clean off the primed surface with a cleaner and a tack cloth and allow it to completely dry before painting. Okay now to the fun part, your base coat. I chose to use a high gloss metallic blue paint. Three to Four coats of base coat should be more than plenty for complete coverage. * for my primer I just layed the pipe on my makeshift table and flipped it over to paint both halves. However by the time I was ready to spray the base coat i decided to hang the pipe (rocket body) and nose cone from the ceiling , which would allow me to paint the entire thing at once. After applying your base coat allowing roughly 15 minutes in between coats, after applying the final coat i allowed the base coat to dry for around a half hour before applying the clear coat. No prep needed between the base and clear coat. For the clear coat I just used a standard enamel of which i applied three to four coats of as well. Here is the final product after i allowed it to dry overnight. [ ] [ ]

STEP 5 Finishing - I am currently waiting around another three or four days to let the body and nose cone to completely dry before color sanding (Wet Sanding) , buffing and waxing. After you have allowed your parts to fully dry, which at a minimum I recommend allowing several days depending on weather conditions, you are now ready to really make the color pop. As seen in the pictures there is some slight imperfections in the clear coat. These are easily taken out by first wetsanding with 1500 and 2000 grit sandpaper. Again, be careful not to strip the clear coat off. after wet sanding wipe the surface down. Since the finish turned out nicely I will only be using "Polishing Compound" and not cutting compound. Since the parts are relatively small there is no need for a orbital buffer. Just a buffing pad and polishing compound will be all you need. Rub a small dot of polishing compound on your hand and rub in a circular motion until the part is smooth. *Although not necessary I recommend applying a layer of ordinary car wax to protect your clear coat from the elements.

**Final thoughts - at the time of writing this tutorial the thick polycarbonate sheets I am going to use for the fins have not arrived yet, however the process is the same for all the parts. I will also be posting an update to this forum of the final pieces after STEP 5 once they dry properly.

Thanks, I know this post is super long but I hope it was helpful! I look forward to sharing more how-to's whether it be painting, or something such as construction methods for rockets.
Maybe in the future i will post a thread on composite rocket construction such as fiberglass or carbon fiber.

Cheers! :smile:
Looks good. There are some really good rocket painters around here, and lots of good threads. Do a search for posts by Nathan.
Looks good. There are some really good rocket painters around here, and lots of good threads. Do a search for posts by Nathan.
Thanks for the recommendation, I will go check out his work, always good to see what fellow painters are doing.