Question & Answer
Here you will find frequently asked questions and answers. To find something fast, you can either search this page in your browser using “Apple + F” on a Mac or “CTRL + F” on a PC, or you can use the search bar at the top of any page.
Q: What kind of materials can be powder coated? A: Almost any metal can be coated. If they meet certain criteria, glass, porcelain, ceramic, wood/MDF, rock, concrete, and some other materials can be coated.
Q: Can you powder coat over chrome? A: Yes, and it looks absolutely awesome coated with a candy powder, but it can only be done without a lot of added cost if the chrome meets certain conditions. Chrome quality varies much more than any other type of metal finish. The poor quality stuff – and there is a lot of it – can be troublesome to coat. Bad chrome tends to blister or peel when heated in the oven. If it peels readily enough, it can generally be blasted away without damaging the base metal beneath it. If it peels in spots, but is otherwise well-intact, the edges can be feathered out and coated. Real-deal hexavalent “triple chrome” is generally fine to coat, so long as the chrome plater prepped the piece properly to create strong adhesion. In recent years, “environmentally-friendly” and cheap “chrome-look” (aka “flash chrome”) chrome substitutes have become popular. They’re hit-or-miss for coating. The type of substrate (base metal) also affects chances for success. E.g. pot metal is much more difficult to coat than aluminum, and aluminum is more difficult than steel. If you bring the piece to us for us to look at, we can generally tell you the chances for success.
Q: What do you mean by “hexavalent” or “triple” chrome? A: Hexavalent chrome is often called “triple chrome” because the part is first plated with a thick layer of copper to fill in imperfections in the base metal. The copper is then smoothed and polished to provide a good even base for the nickel and chrome. Next, a nickel layer is plated. Nickel, when plated, is self-leveling and provides the glass-smooth surface for the chrome. Lastly, a very thin chrome layer is plated – generally measured in millionths of an inch. The thin chrome layer gives the nickel beneath it a brilliant bluish tint. Its extremely difficult to strip triple chrome. The three layers of plating cannot be blasted off, because it will leave the base metal uneven. The chrome layer itself can be blasted or eaten away by acid. The nickel layer can be removed slowly with a special nickel stripper chemical. The copper layer can be removed with a special copper stripper chemical, but that chemical also disolves aluminum and pot metal, so its only good for use on steel.
Q: Does Figure Finishing™ do chrome plating? A: No. Hexavalent chrome plating (the original and only type we recommend) has gained a negative repution for being environmentally damaging, and the goverment has regulated it out of most states. Most chrome platers reside in Tennessee or California. We work with two chromers, and we send parts to them regularly, so while we don’t chrome in-house, we can send it out for you.
Q: Is “chrome” powder a good alternative to chrome plating? A: No, not if you’re looking for a real chrome mirror finish. “Chrome” powder has its place (makes a great base under candy powders), and while it looks good on its own, it won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s real chrome. If you find a photo of “chrome” powder and it looks really good, the piece probably hasn’t been cleared yet. “Chrome” powders require a clear to provide durability and to prevent the silver from oxidizing and dulling out. Clearing the “chrome” powder reduces its luster.
Q: Does Figure Finishing™ anodize aluminum? A: No, not at this time. We do however have “anodized” powder that matches real anodizing, and it looks awesome. Also, real anodizing can only be performed on a very narrow range of aluminum alloys, and not on any castings (which most bike parts are). “Anodized” powder can be applied to anything.
Q: I took some parts to an industrial stripper for blasting, and I was disappointed to see they still looked a little dirty when I picked them up. Is that normal? A: There are different levels of “clean” when it comes to blasting, as seen by the table below. Besides the level of cleanliness, different types of blasting create different anchor profiles (level of roughness of the surface). Most industrial/commercial blasting is no good for custom work. The metal is not clean enough, and the surface is left jagged making a smooth finish unlikely. We white blast all custom work.
Q: What is the difference between “sand” blasting and “media” or “bead” blasting? A: Most people use the terms “sand, media, bead, abrasive” and some other terms interchangeably. “Media blasting” covers all types of blasting. There are dozens of types of media, which include sand, coal slag, glass bead or shard, plastic, aluminum oxide, walnut shell, carbide, and lots more. They all have their place and specific things they’re effective at. We use aluminum oxide (AO), which is a very high quality media that is effective at cleaning paint, contaminants, and rust, and AO is very consistently sized, which minimizes the risk of blasting damage and leaves a very uniform surface profile for optimal adhesion and aesthetic quality of the coating.
Q: What do I need to do prior to bringing my frameset to Figure FinishingTM for powder coating or paint? A: Everything that can be removed should be removed. On the frame, this includes the headset cups, bottom bracket, rim brake bosses, etc. On the fork, the crown race must be removed. We can generally remove parts requiring special tools, for a minimal fee. Parts should be “paper-towel” clean: no chunks of dirt or globs of grease.
Q: Can Figure FinishingTM use hand-drawn or computer-generated customer graphics for airbrushing or vinyl? A: Yes. Hand-drawn graphics must be clean and high-contrast. Use a of black Sharpie on plain white paper is recommended. We can then scan the image and edit the image electronically. We can do cleanup with the software, but the cleaner the starting point, the cleaner the final result.
Q: Is powder coating heavier than conventional paint? A: No. Whean applied properly, powder coating is very thin – typically 0.003-0.004″ – and thin coatings are tougher than thick ones. Paint typically requires at least three layers (each layer usually consisting of two coats); a primer/sealer, a base or color coat, and a clear. Solid colors of powder are generally applied in one. One coat of powder can be much lighter than 6 coats of conventional paint.
Q: How much weight will powder add to my bicycle frame? A: For a medium/large hardtail frame, powder typically weighs roughly 1 oz per coat. Factory paint is generally in the neighborhood of 2 oz, which gets stripped off, providing a net weight savings of around 1 oz.
Q: What materials shouldn’t be powder coated? A: Carbon fiber and fiberglass should not be coated because the oven temperatures affects the strength of the resin. Plastics should not be coated because heat either melts them (thermoplasts) or embrittles them (thermosets). Easton® Scandium™ bicycle frames should not be coated with regular-temperature (400*F) coatings, because they are heat treated following welding, and temperatures above 250*F can affect the heat treatment (per Easton® product engineer).
Q: I’ve heard people say my thin-walled aluminum bicycle frame shouldn’t be blasted… What would happen? A: A big thin tube is stiffer and weighs the same as a conventional smaller tube, and more and more frame builders are taking advantage of this, resulting in frames with walls in some places that are roughly the same thickness as a soda can. This means aggressive blasting can blow a hole in the tubing in no time. We use a lot of precautions in refinishing every frame. Every bicycle is chemically stripped, cleaned, and inspected. Then, the frame is blasted 1) with very high quality, consistenly sized, low-aggression media, 2) at reduced pressure, 3) with a specific type of blasting nozzle, 4) at a low incidence angle. The goal in blasting is not to remove paint or metal, but rather to “scrub” and condition the metal for strong powder adhesion. We know bicycles, and we have never damaged a frame.
Q: Do tires need to be removed to powder coat wheels? A: Yes, wheels need to be absolutely bare; tires, stems, and weights need to be removed. Additionally, motorcycle wheel bearings need to be removed. At the present, Figure FinishingTM does not handle tire or bearing removal or installation. If you need tires removed or installed and balanced, we work with Pure Hell Customs up the street, and we can take care of that for you (fees apply). If you don’t use Pure Hell Customs to mount tires, we highly recommend taking them to a competent shop that won’t damage them.
Q: Wheel weights are ugly, particularly on motorcycle wheels where they can’t be hidden. Are there any alternatives? A: Yes. Dyna Beads™ from Innovative Balancing (read more about them on their website) are internal tiny ceramic weights that make your car, truck, or motorcycle ride like its on glass, provide extremely even tire wear, and never require re-balancing. Dyna beads are great for truck wheels, most car wheels, and cruiser motorcycles. They are not recommended for racing applications (soft rubber can create imbalance), for tires on vehicles that will exceed 100mph (high speed imbalace, usually at 120-130mph), or for low profile tires (limited effectiveness). We run Dyna Beads™ in our vehicles and swear by them.
Q: Will powder coating temperatures affect the strength of forged wheels? A: There is a lot of misinformation out there, both for and against powder coating forged wheels, so to get to the bottom of it, I went straight to the source. Craig, a technical veteran of 25 years with BBS Wheels, was kind enough to shed some light on this issue. Craig has seen a fair number of powder coated wheels crack over the years (uncoated wheels, too). The main reasons he cited for wheel failures with respect to powder coating were 1) abusive stripping practices, such as using a burn-off oven (generally 700-900*F) or hot sand stripping to disintigrate the originial finish, 2) poor process control, such as ovens with large temperature swings, inaccurate thermal control, or infrared heaters that bombard the parts with heat to accelerate the process. These elevated temperatures over-age the heat treatment of the alloy, increasing its brittleness and making it more prone to crack, and 3) repeated stripping, coating, and heat cycling over a wheel’s lifetime. Craig also added that the factory finish on BBS wheels consists of a powder coated base coat with liquid top coats. The powder coating temperature and dwell are considered in the manufacturing process and are tightly controlled.
We minimize the risk of embrittlement through extreme care: 1) We chemically strip virtually all parts, followed by a thorough cleaning and visual inspection. We NEVER use heat to strip parts. We NEVER use brute force of blasting to strip parts. 2) Our oven controls are extremely tight, to the degree (0 degree swing). High-tech PID controls and electric elements with forced convection mean the oven temperature is predictable, precise, stable, and uniform. 3) We monitor part temperatures, rather than oven temperatures. Powder cure schedules are based on the part temperature, NOT the air temperature in the oven. Under some circumstances, it is possible for a part to get HOTTER than the air temperature. 4) Cure time is tightly controlled, again, in conjunction with part temerature. 5) Our ovens feature shieldable elements, so that infrared radiation may be introduced or eliminated depending on the specific application. Sometimes IR radiation is good, sometimes its bad. We control it.
So would I powder coat my own forged wheels? You bet. Would I let someone else coat them? Mmmmm, no.
Q: I saw powder coated finned (air-cooled) motorcycle cylinders and heads in your portfolio. Does powder coating affect cooling? A: No. Powder coating is a poor thermal insulator, so the engine temperature is not affected. If you have an oil temperature gauge, you won’t see the needle move. If it runs at 205*F in traffic on a hot day prior to coating, it’ll run at the same temp after coating. I’ve even seen an HD rider claim his black powder coated engine runs 4*F cooler than it did bare. I would probably attribute that number to either variation error in measuring temperature or to slightly different external conditions, since I doubt this was a controlled test. Also, most engines – air-cooled or liquid – are powder coated from the factory, including Harley Davidson motors, which are powder coated to look like a rough aluminum casting (i.e. like they weren’t coated at all). The color is called “Harley Davidson Bead Blast,” which we stock along with the similar but darker “HD Warlock Grey.”
Q: How does powder coating hold up on finned (air-cooled) motorcycle cylinders and heads? Can it handle the heat? A: Powder holds up great on motors. Most powders are baked at 400*F, and most engines shut down at 250*F, Harley Davidsons included. Also, powder technology has been progressing aggressively, and most powders have an excellent overbake stability, easily exceeding 450*F operating temperatures without failure.
Q: Will powder hold up on an exhaust? A: Only on components that are isolated from direct combustion heat, like mufflers and heat shields. There are some “hi-temp” powders available, but their performance and lifespan are poor, so we don’t offer them. Hi-temp ceramic is the proper material for headers, pipes, and other heat-exposed components.